Letters from Laos (or "18 days in Laos, March 2011")

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Vince_WA, Apr 11, 2011.

  1. Vince_WA

    Vince_WA Rides badly :)

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2008
    Oddometer:
    790
    Location:
    Tapping, WA
    For those of you experiencing a sense of deja vu', this is a repost of a report posted yesterday, which got eaten up by the database. All credit to advrider administrators however - and with my own 30+ years experience in computing I know that things don't always run like clockwork :)


    Introduction:
    In February-March 2011 I spent just under eight weeks in South East Asia; two weeks volunteering at a school in Siem Reap Cambodia, six days on an offroad ride thru western Laos with mates from Perth Australia and led by Yee from Remote Asia Travel, 18 days on a solo ride thru northern Laos, and then a week in Saigon.

    This ride report covers my eighteen day solo ride. When I get around to it I'll post up the group ride report.

    As I'm inherently slack by nature, rather than write an actual Ride Report however, I'm going to post up my daily emails sent back to family and friends in Australia, as that will provide a better insight into my thoughts and experiences as they occurred to me.

    Background:
    In March 2010 I went to northern Vietnam with Rob and Gary, two good riding mates from Perth, and we spent a fortnight exploring the north of Vietnam on Honda GL160's (ride report here - http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=534861). Whilst we all agreed to relive our adventures, neither Rob nor Gary could get time off work when I was free to travel, so I opted to go it alone.

    Main Players:


    My emails were sent to a wide range of friends and family, some of whom are mentioned occassionally in my emails. To introduce some of them:
    • Jim - head of Remote Asia Travel, Laos
    • Quynh - Jim's wife, and the real boss of Remote Asia Travel
    • Yee - Jim's number one local guide
    • Kev - Aussie riding mate and instigator of the six day group ride in Laos
    • Rob - Aussie riding mate, left behind in Perth for this trip
    • Gary - Aussie riding mate, also left behind to keep Rob company
    And so without any further delays, let's begin ....

    Date: 5 March 2011 6:43:38 PM AWST
    Subject: Sat 5th March - rest day in Vientiane
    It's Saturday 5th March - my rest day in Vientiane and the day that four-fifths of Team Beer Lao flew back to Perth from Vientiane via KL.

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    Team Beer Laos: L to R: Kev, Trev, Yee, Vince, Dave & Ian.

    Yesterday afternoon we rolled back into Vientiane, covering the mainly onroad section of highway 13 from Vang Vieng to Vientiane. Leaving Vang Vieng we crossed the rickety twin bridges and then followed a stony path that lead along the base of the limestone karsts until weaving thru a village and rejoining the main road south. After a long onroad section we peeled off into the dirt again where finally I found some off road form and managed to wind the little Honda up a bit. A river crossing via ferry broke up the afternoon, and the last stint was a fairly rapid transit thru Vientiane, back to our hotel and a celebratory group photo. Pre dinner drinks were enjoyed at Sticky Fingers Bar, where we met Vita, a young Russian lady we'd earlier met in Luang Prabang a couple of days ago. Vita joined us for a drink and then dinner at our local French restaurant where, not to be disappointed, we were suitably ignored by the waiters.

    This morning was our usual seven am breakfast, and then we packed our gear and went for a long walk around town, checking out the morning markets and then strolling back to our hotel along the Mekong. After a westernized lunch of burgers and fries - all designed to help the others readjust to their return to Perth - Yee took them out in a pickup to the airport, and then returned on his motorbike and took me out to see Jim and Quynh, for a detailed trip planning session. I've arranged now to take a Baja 250 out for 18 days commencing tomorrow, so should be back in Vientiane on the 23rd of March. With that in mind I'll probably then fly to HCMC on 24th March, depending on how timings work out. Jim will endeavor to cancel or change my flight from Pakse to HCMC, as my new ride plan will not take me down south as originally planned, but instead will do a big counterclockwise loop thru the north-east and north-west of Laos, returning to Vientiane. Kev - thanks for the loan of your dry bag - Jim has given me enough tools and spare parts to fill a suitcase, so I need every inch of carrying capacity I can scrounge.

    I have a fairly detailed ride plan, and there is a fair degree of flexibility in the plan, including multi night stops etc etc. The rough plan is:
    Day 1 - Vientiane to Nam Ken or Kasi, north of Vang Vieng.
    Day 2 - Kasi to Phonsavan.
    Day 3 - local ride from Phonsavan to the Plain of Jars, and back.
    Day 4 - optional local loop north of Phonsavan, returning to Phonsavan.
    Day 5 - Phonsavan - Sam Nua
    Day 6 - Sam Nua - Vieng Xay Cave - Xam Tai.
    Day 7 - Xam Tai - Vietnamese border - back to Sam Nua.
    Day 8 - Sam Nua - Vieng Thong.
    Day 9 - Vieng Thong - Nong Khiaw - afternoon boat ride to Muong Ngoi.
    Day 10 - Nong Khiaw - Luang Namtha
    Day 11 - Luang Namtha (optional) - day ride to Muang Sing
    Day 12 - Luang Namtha - Huaysai ( optional afternoon ride to the Golden Triangle area)
    Day 13 - Huaysai - Pak Beng
    Day 14 - Pak Beng. - Luang Prabang.
    Day 15 - Luang Prabang - Vang Vieng.

    .... There's space in there for some longer stays in places, and we've set an easy target of approximate 200km per day. I have a suggested guesthouse for each overnight stay. Jim & Quynh - thanks for all of your valuable assistance. I imagine that wifi won't be available in many places. I'll be traveling off road for some of the time, but nothing too severe. Some of the areas I'm going to are quite remote. If you keep an eye on my SPOT you should be able to see how I'm traveling. The SPOT website is
    http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0ZoI0186GFMNFBgXYnnly38jtONnndVSU

    That SPOT link above is one line without breaks, so try copying and pasting it into your browser address bar.

    If I get a chance to upload any photos to smugmug they will appear in here .... https://vince-wa.smugmug.com/Holidays/Indochina-2011/15803064_Zjova#1184875247_rWQqw

    Cheers,

    Vince


    Date: 8 March 2011 9:11:31 AM AWST
    Subject: March 8 I think .... Phonsavan ....
    It's the morning of March 8 I think, and I'm in Phonsavan. I arrived here yesterday afternoon and would have emailed yesterday but the wifi in my hotel is pitifully slow - I'd aimed to upload a few photos to smugmug and then send an email, but it took half an hour to upload two pics so I gave up in disgust.

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    Love that Baja !!!

    Everything is going well. First day out of Vientiane I got as far as planned, which was Kasi. Had an interesting game of charades with two children at the guesthouse trying to make myself understood re arranging a room for the night, and finally sorted that out. Trying to get some dinner was even more comical, but that came thru in the end. Highway 13 north of Vientiane runs along a plain before rising up to the hills - got stopped by a long traffic jam in the foothills and after squeezing my way to the front of the queue found a tourist coach on it's side.

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    The rest of the days excitement was provided by the livestock and other animals that continually cross the road.

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    Laos race face :)

    Took the rocky off road track into Vang Vieng, which included a small river crossing to avoid some bridge trolls that collect money if you want to use their bridge.

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    $2US to cross the bridge downstream vs a free crossing here ...

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    Bridge trolls guarding their bridge ...

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    Limestone karsts south of Vang Vieng. This is a great offroad detour and an exciting way to get into Vang Vieng from Vientiane ...

    Lunch was a pizza in Vang Vieng - first meal of the day. After I had unpacked my gear in Kasi I went for a short walk and saw some guys guiding bamboo rafts down the river, and kids using a long bamboo pole trying to dislodge some fruit from the trees.

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    bamboo rafts being punted down the river at Kasi ...

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    The bamboo pole dwarfed the kids using it to dislodge fruit from the tree ...

    Yesterday left Kasi, planned to have breakfast at a mountain lookout just south of Phou Khoun but the best I could arrange was a coffee.

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    Rice paddies, just north of Kasi ...

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    Everyone needs to ride the Phou Khoun to Phonsavan road at least once in their lives ...

    Chatted with a man who worked there - Tia - who used to be a tour guide in Vang Vieng, and his china doll-like wife, who had just returned from a holiday to Hanoi and Luang Prabang. No fuel in Phou Khoun as the servo had no electricity, so pushed on gently towards Phonsavan. This is an awesome road to ride on, and the Baja 250 is a pleasure to ride. Followed Jim's trip notes so stopped at Nam Chat and saw the river-powered dynamos generating electricity for individual households, and the Buddha Cave and ex military runway LS108 at Muong Souy, which is where I refueled.

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    The Phou Khoun - Phonsavan road runs along the mountain ridges and is lined with trees in full bloom - here's a close up of their flowers ...

    Arrived in Phonsavan just as it started to rain, and checked I to my hotel. Had breakfast& lunch combined at 3pm at Craters, then watched two documentaries on unexplored ordnance at the MAG (mines advisory group) across the road. They estimate that there are between 10 million and 30 million unexplored bombs in Laos, and villagers are finding them every day, often with terrible consequences. Had dinner at Nisha's Indian Restaurant, and it was starting to get quite cool last night. The hotel is about 100 meters from the night markets and they had loud music playing til after eleven pm, so that was interesting.

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    Creative dining at its best - Craters Restaurant, Phonsavan.

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    Only in Phonsavan could you find a truck tyre fitting shop next door to a restaurant ...


    Today is Tuesday I think and I'll go visit the Plain of Jars shortly and do some more exploring. I'll take my iPad into town this afternoon and try and find a quicker connection so I can upload some photos k.

    Cheers,

    Vince

    Date: 8 March 2011 10:27:32 PM AWST
    Subject: Tue March 8 - another perfect day in Laos
    It's about 9pm here in Phonsavan, and I've given up pissing around with trying to upload photos, so you'll have to do without til I can find a faster wifi connection.

    I think I emailed earlier this morning a comment about the night markets just up the road from me, well I think everyone in northern Laos comes to the markets. It's like a mix between Pinochio's Carnival Island, and the Playboy Bunny scene in Apocalypse Now, minus the bunnies. According to Lonely Planet, the bad guy character Kurtz in that movie is partially based on a soldier who was in Laos training local hill tribesmen to fight against the Pathet Lao.

    Went out today and visited the Plain of Jars, which a Laos' version of Stonehenge. Awesome.

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    Plain of Jars - Site 1, Phonsavan.

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    These stone jars are about 2,000 years old, and are thought to be ancient funeral urns ...

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    There are hundreds of these jars at Site 1. Sites 1, 2 and 3 have been cleared of uxo's by MAG and are safe to visit ...

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    Adding a sense of scale to the jars at Site 2.

    Detoured a bit and saw a local waterfall, but after a long walk along a jungle track I want sure if I was getting any closer to the base of the waterfall, so I turned back as the track was muddy and very slippery in motocross boots. Chatted to two guys who are from MAG (mines advisory group) who were out there rechecking for uxo's, and it was sobering to see their red spray paint marks where they had spotted stuff.

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    The MAG guys. There are also all-female MAG uxo clearance teams, and they are reputed to have steadier hands and cooler nerves than the guys ...

    Had lunch at site 3, and then I think I went exploring along some awesome single track - Kev - this track was made in heaven. Slippery enough to be challenging but not to the point of being treacherous, the track just narrowed and narrowed until it was just wide enough for the bike. Followed some other tyre tracks for as long as I could but when I lost the tracks when the track opened up into a field in turned around and retraced my steps, coming across a flock of water buffalo wallowing in a bomb crater. Jim - I think this is around Boung Noi.

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    Exploring the slippery single track - the Baja just loved it out here !!!

    Came across the wreck of the Russian tank (who needs a guide?) and a couple on a scooter - Othello from Hungary and Lee from Ireland - eight months into a twelve month round the world adventure by public transport, mainly. We had all seen the movies Bombies and On War last night at the MAG office, and so we debated US obligations for a few minutes, and then I headed off to find Moung Khoune. The Baja is an absolute weapon - it loves the roads and tracks out here.

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    Othello and Lee, south of Phonsavan ...

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    Stupa at Moung Khoune, the ancient capital of Laos, south of Phonsavan ...

    Got back around five and had a hot shower as it's frigging freezing out this way, then went into Jars Cafe for a mocha and their wifi, but it's no faster there than my hotel, so went and watched the last of three free movies on uxo's at MAG - Bomb Harvest - Australian production but not as hard hitting as Bombies. Went back to my favorite restaurant here - Nisha's Indian for dinner, checked outline night markets in more detail, and now sitting in the lobby of the hotel as wifi doesn't reach to my room.

    I have tonight and tomorrow night here, so the plan for tomorrow day is some off road riding to the north of Phonsavan. Kev - come quick - you need to be out here mate on your DRZ400!!!!!

    I got some good photos today both of myself and other things of interest, but I don't have the patience to wait five minutes for each pic to upload, so you'll have to be patient instead okay.

    Ken - what t shirt size do you take?

    Cheers,

    Vince



    Date: 9 March 2011 8:32:13 PM AWST
    Subject: Wed March 9th - not lost, just direction challenged
    The plan today was take the sealed road 35km out of Phonsavan back west in the direction of Phou Khoune, pick up a dirt track on the north side of the highway and follow that east until it met up with a highway 25km east of Phonsavan, and return via the highway.

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    Just a small taste of the wicked road just west of Phonsavan ...

    As things stand I found the start of the dirt road and followed that for about 50km, but it's easterly heading shifted and I was heading north into the wilderness, and the river crossings were getting deeper, so I ended up turning around and heading back along my tracks. Jim FYI - I'm not sure when you were last out but it looks to me as if some new unsealed roads have been built recently, which made navigation fun, plus the route and or tracks isn't on the gps chip that I can see. No problems though - I had an absolute blast!!!!

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    Your choice - bridge or water crossing ???

    Backing up a little bit - I had a late start to the day. At breakfast upstairs for around 7:15, and then down at the bike to run my spanners over it (I feel like a privateer in the Dakar now), and then I dawdled in the foyer waiting for my previous photos to finally upload.with the smug shot uploaded application I had queued about ten photos to upload, ad I couldn't delete queued pics so just had to wait it out. When that was done I had a coffee at Craters and brief chat with two guys and a girl on two Jules Rentals bikes .... They had just come up from Pakse in six inch mud. Gave them a few tips re sightseeing the Plain of Jars, then got water, fuel, and headed off. (tip - don't bother seeing Site 3 - long walk and all the jars are damaged).

    First part of the ride was fairly open country and quick for me - I gotta say it again - this Baja just enjoys to be ridden, and I get much better results on it with much less effort than the XR. When I came into Phonsavan the other day I took a detour as I thought I'd seen a sign that said Moung Lookout - so I went a few km north up a newly sealed road, but then I figured out that I'd misread the sign, which read Moung Phoukout. My dirt road intersected with the end of the sealed section I'd ridden a few days earlier, so I way pointed that corner as a reference point, and then picked up another dirt road. Eventually I came to a three way junction, and as I thought the south option would probably only lead to a village I could see, I pushed on north east, past an abandoned three storey airport control tower (that's the only thing it looked like to me).

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    Pushed on and entered a forest - great high speed riding until that gave way to tighter twisty sections that descended the side of the mountain. Lots of cattle around here ..... always need to watch out on the tight corners. The drop offs off the edge of the road are very steep - not as far down as Hongsa to Luang Prabang, but not the place to ride off the edge. Dropped down and started to pick up an assortment of river crossings. Most of these I would dismount and visually check first, unless the shallowest path was easily discernible.

    The riding out here was magical. No dust, just clear air. Drops, climbs, hard packed dry mud, rocky sections, rutted sections, mud holes, water challenges.

    Came to a junction. Main track went north, and I wanted to be going east. Eastern track just looked as if it was used by logging trucks, going by the tyre marks. Went north and quickly came across a village - rode around their volleyball game and past their school, crossed another river where a small truck was being repaired, and then came to a deeper river crossing. Waded this one in a number of spots and it was just below the top of my boots in most spots, with a deeper channel in the middle. With an eye on my fuel and not too keen to keep on this northern path, I turned around and headed back to the junction I'd seen earlier. Went down the logging track a few km but that track was obviously limited to trucks and it was getting shiittier all the time with foliage debris across the track, so in the absence of a gps route to follow and having consumed about 35 - 40% of my fuel I turned around and headed back to my Moung Phoukout waypoint and a quick way out. The ground I'd covered to my turn-around point was awesome so I was quite happy to reride it. Had a couple of small trucks to overtake on the way back which proved challenging, especially with the dust they threw up. The track isn't wide enough for overtaking, so a degree of co-operation is required.

    Found Moung Phoukout, and stopped to photograph the Russian tank I'd seen a few days earlier. The road ride back to town was a blast. Have I said how good this Baja is? Jim must know I have a weakness for Dunlop 606's for my DR650, as he'd fitted a new pair of Dunlop 605's to the Baja, and they are great tyres.

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    Stopped first at Craters for a 3:00 o'clock lunch, and got chatting with a Japanese lady there, who as it turns out, is the programme manager for the Japan Mine Action Service here in Laos - check out www.jmasvte.yolasite.com (if I have read her business card correctly as I'm at dinner at Nisha's Indian now and don't have my glasses handy lol).

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    Programme Manager, Japan Mine Action Service, sketching away at Craters Restaurant, Phonsavan ...

    Went home to get out of my wet boots and have a shower. Went down to the MAG office and watched Bombies again - this one hour documentary features some of the pivotal people in Laos recent history, including the American education officer who first became aware of and blew the whistle on the American bombing in laos, which was commenced the same year the that US signed a Geneva convention declaring Laos neutral. And the other guy, arrested 41 times in 30 years but finally got Honeywell to stop making cluster bombs. Plus others, so get the DVD if you can find it somewhere okay !!!!!

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    670 BLU-26 'bombies' to one cluster bomb, and each bombie is packed with 300 ball bearings ...

    Now it's 7:05pm and I'm just finishing my curry and parata and Beer Lao at Nisha's. Tomorrow is a new day - heading off to Xam Neu, which if memory serves me right, was the home of the Pathet Lao communist leaders in their war, and one of the most heavily bombed areas in the north. I'm enjoying this traveling on my own thing - I'm getting to see things that I perhaps wouldn't otherwise, and I can set my own timelines for wake ups and departures etc.

    Saw the two guys and girl from Craters again this afternoon at the Bombies screening, and they weren't overly impressed with their Jules Rentals bikes. One bike is hard to start, the other won't generate enough power for it's headlight. I'd like to have my DR650 out here - the track I rode today was built for it, and with a 30 litre fuel tank even more exploring could be had.

    Anywaze, my Beer Lao is starting to run low and it's quarter past seven - almost bedtime for me! If you are nice and email me this evening I'll read your mail tomorrow morning. Beyond that, I'm not actually sure when I'll have Internet access again, so it could be a few days or longer okay. Keep an eye on the SPOT.

    Cheers,


    Vince
    #1
  2. Vince_WA

    Vince_WA Rides badly :)

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2008
    Oddometer:
    790
    Location:
    Tapping, WA
    Date: 14 March 2011 4:48:34 PM AWST
    Subject: Monday 14th March - in Nong Khiew
    It's just before 3:00pm and I'm in total luxury here at the Nong Khiew Riverside Retreat. not cheap at $40 a night, but with wifi internet and breakfast thrown in, I'm sold. Also, I think I'm nine days into my eighteen day Laos odyssey,and I thought I deserved a treat.

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    View of the bridge at Nong Khiew ...

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    Nong Khiew Riverside Retreat - luxurious to the max :)

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    One of the Nong Khiew locals. I was told much later that these spiders have a fatal bite lol ...

    In the absence of wifi the past few days I had planned to at least keep my notes up to date and email them when I got a connection, but every evening I ended up chatting with strangers, and then going to bed. I have my rough notes and my photos to jog my memory, so I'll go into more detail later on,but for the moment heres a brief account of my past few days. If you give me an hour or so I'll have some photos posted up on smugmug.

    Last Thursday I left Phonsavan, bound for Xam Neau. And I got there as well, just after dark set in so I could test the big headlights on the Baja. What should have been a long enough trip was made longer when I neglected to check my map thoroughly enough, missed a turn off, and sailed blissfully onwards towards the Vietnamese border crossing at Nam Kanh.

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    Riding in the clouds, enroute for an unplanned visit to the Laos - Vietnam border crossing.

    The riding towards the border and hence my excuse is that I was just overcome with riding jollies, except for when the road climbed into the clouds and visibility was down to just a few meters, and to make it more interesting the muddy slush on the road obscured the centerline marking so I couldn't even tell what direction the road went in at times. Candid Camera should have been at the border crossing when I arrived there and the penny finally dropped that I'd overshot my turn by about 75km. Not to worry - just a good excuse to reride that road through the valleys. Pulled into Xam Neau in the dark and lobbed into the Xam Neau Hotel - very soviet in design and character. Walked back over the bridge to the only open restaurant I had seen, and had a crap meal served by the actors from Dumb and Dumber. People usually pay to see a good comedy and I was getting to see one free of charge, so I felt quite privileged. As a footnote this was a 400km day.

    Friday the plan was to head to Vieng Xay to visit the caves, and then push on to Xam Tai. Got to Vieng Xay a bit late for the morning tour,and whilst I was happy to pay the 50,000 Kip surcharge for a personal tour, the tour people just ignored me, so I scrounged up a late breakfast of noodle soup and dogs balls, and headed off to Xam Tai. Awesome ride. Lonely Planet describes Houaphan Province as the province of a million turns, and before I arrived at Xam Tai my motion sickness had well and truly kicked in - I must have ridden for hours with the bike never being vertical except when it was being flicked from side to side.

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    Thru the twisty roads heading towards Xam Tai - a remote village not far from the border with Vietnam ...

    No one home at the recommended guest house, but people where there next door so I checked in there and had a sleep for a couple of hours, and then wandered through the marketplace and then had dinner - fried chicken and sticky rice I think. Got chatting with a fourteen year old boy and his girlfriend - will post their photo later.

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    Thse kids joined me at dinner in Xam Tai and were great to chat with. They were very keen to practice their english-speaking skills and were good company ...

    Saturday was for heading back to Xam Neau, and I timed my run to arrive in Vieng Xay early enough for dog ball soup, and then catch the 1:00pm cave tour.

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    North of Xam Tai ...

    Lonely Planet recommends that you get the excellent 'Mr Boun' as your tour guide, and as luck would have it he took me around on my own. The tour includes an excellent audio commentary produced by an Australian company, using a lot of input from locals who endured the years of bombing. The cave tour was awesome. I kept it to a two hour tour - getting from cave group to cave group was helped as Mr Boun rode his scooter and I followed on the Baja.

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    Pathet Lao Command Centre, Vieng Xay Caves ...

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    The excellent Mr Boun. Ask for him by name - you won't be disappointed !!!

    Before arriving in Vieng Xay I was riding in the clouds again, and had an awesome experience. I'd stopped to get a small packet of biscuits out to munch on, and a hill tribe lady and a young girl walked past me, passing like the proverbial ships in the night. I gestured the girl to come back and gave her a packet of biscuits, and in exchange she offered the root plant she had in her hand (I politely declined at this point). They carried on up the hill, and when I followed half a minute later they had disappeared, I can only presume down some mountain track. Photo on smugmug soon.

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    My mysterious hill tribe lady and young girl. They just disappeared into the mist ...

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    Looking back towards Xam Tai ...

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    Scenic view north of Xam Tai. There are that many scenic vistas you need to choose the best ones to stop at and take a quick photo ...

    I also got a decent photo of some young kids out collecting firewood - first they ran away when I turned the bike around and came back a bit towards them,but they changed their minds when I produced a few more packets of biscuits lol.

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    Children collecting firewood, just east of Vieng Xay. The weight of their laden baskets would of been heavier than these children I guessed ...

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    I loved the look of this little house, tucked away in the shelter of a limestone karst just east of Vieng Xay ...

    Arriving in Xam Neau I avoided the hotel and went searching for the recommended guest house but again couldn't find that, so settled for one a bit back from the main street, and was immediately made to feel at home.

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    The only modern-looking thing I saw in Xam Neau ...

    Went for a walk thru the markets and saw a Captain Jack Black figure - he turned out to be Travis, from the US, two months into his honeymoon with his new wife Sarah - both modern day hippies and fun to chat with over dinner (in a better Restauarant than Dumb and Dumber, somewhat), along with Edward, their temporary traveling companion from France.

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    L to R: Edward, Sarah and Travis. I met a lot of interesting people in my travels - all of them good natured and good hearted ...

    After dinner and two bottles of Beer Lao I wandered back to my guest house, only to be greeted by my hosts, and more glasses of Beer Lao :)

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    Daughter of my hostess in Xam Neau, and her friend. He enjoyed his Beer Lao as much as I did :)

    Sunday I rode from Xam Neau to Vieng Thong. Thank goodness they replaced the road engineer with someone who had a straighter ruler, as my head was still spinning a bit from all the sharp curves. Sunday was the first day that I didn't freeze my tits off riding through clouds, and for that I felt quite fortunate. Just out of Phou Lao I headed up a little track to a great lookout over the surrounding countryside, and then later that even noticed that Jim had mentioned his in his trip notes.

    During the day I met Morgan on his BMW F800GS - he's making ten tv documentaries for Nat Geo, each documentary is for a specific charity. Check out his website www.wheel2wheel.tv (I think).

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    Morgan and his F800GS. I realised later that one of the charities he is supporting is the same one I volunteered at in Siem Reap Cambodia just a few weeks earlier - New Hope Cambodia.

    He had three video cameras on his bike, and a camera crew in a car, but just a standard car no 4x4 so not sure how much off road he plans. We had a good chat as the car was held up by a truck dropping off power poles, and when we headed off I split off soon afterwards as I'd seen a sign on my way up pointing to the Hinting Archeological Site, so I took the 6km steep off road track to find the Standing Stones, and then added another few km to this ride out as the signposting was non-existant. Jim - this is a nice little diversion, the right hand turn is about 35km north of Phou Lao, and then as I say it's 6km up the track.

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    Standing Stones, Hinting Archeological Park ...

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    Scenic vista ...

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    Question: How do you improve a scenic view? Answer: Put a Baja 250 in the centre of the frame ...

    Arrived in Vieng Thong mid afternoon and checked into the recommended guesthouse. Met two guys riding bicycles around Laos for four months- two Swiss teachers. Sucks to be them - give me a motorbike any day !!!!!

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    With a doona like this one, I was guaranteed to have good night's sleep. Souksakhone guesthouse in Vieng Thong

    [​IMG]
    looking out from my guest house in Vieng Thong ...

    This morning I rode from Vieng Thong to Nong Khiew, short ride of about 167km, and a bit quicker as the roads arent as tight. You still need to watch out on every corner - all it takes is one truck to ruin your day. Speaking of hazards, I used to think that cows won't be disturbed by a bike, but on my first day of riding one cow nipped another one and made it jump into my path, so that was exciting for us all. Dogs sleep on the road and won't even open their eyes when you pass them. I speed up for chickens as that helps them decide if they really and truly do want to continue crossing the road. Water buffalo are placid and just want to lumber on past you. Mature pigs just freeze, waiting for the knife to fall. Piglets always run back to their mother. Actually this afternoon I saw three little piglets playing on the road, and when they heard the bike they ran back into the safety of their pig pen beside the road :). Kids are generally good - most step back when they hear the bike - like Vietnam I now assume they can discern between a scooter and a wild fa rang on a motorbike.

    [​IMG]
    Moody atmospheric shot on Monday 14th March, somewhere deep inside the Phou Loei National Protected Area.

    Unfortunately my budget won't allow two nights at this riverside retreat,so tomorrow I will push on north west to Luang Namtha. If you watch the SPOT you might see me get lost before I notice it :) (today for example - the first half of the ride had distance markers every km apart, the second half did not have one marker. Then my real track as shown on my GPS was no where near aligned with the road as shown the GPS, so it's a bit of hit and miss at times). Still, to improve my odds I've now started to wear my glasses when reading the map - and they make an amazing difference.

    [​IMG]
    New day - new trick. Today I started consulting my GPS, rather than just switching it on, and the results were quite illuminating ...


    Cheers for now,

    Vince




    Date: 15 March 2011 10:13:17 AM AWST
    Subject: Tue March 15 - new day, new plan
    It's pissing down outside, so i've reset my goal for the day and will just go the 160km from Nong Khiew to Oudam Xay. According to Lonely Planet some of the guest houses there have Internet, so with luck I'll email again this evening.

    Have a great day,

    Vince

    [​IMG]
    West of Nong Khiew the scenery was spectacular ...


    Date: 15 March 2011 6:16:49 PM AWST
    Subject: Tuesday 15th March - Oudam Xay
    It's bit before 5pm and I'm in a dodgy wifi place in Oudam Xay. Dodgy as i can send & recieve emails, but cant get on to the www. That sucks. Set out lateish this morning from Nong Khiew, having revised my original plan of getting to Luang Namtha this evening, instead aiming for Oudam Xay, about 170km up the road, as it was raining quite hard when I set off. Checked the oil and it had dropped another fraction so stopped a bit east of Pak Mong at a helpful bike garage and got some oil, and they helped with the topping up. Scooted thru Pak Mong expecting to see a distance marker showing that I was on Route 1, with about 89km to Oudam Xay, so I was a bit surprised when the first marker I saw said I was on Route 13 and Oudam Xay was 281km away. Checked the GPS and it suggested I was in the right place on the right road so I think that maybe the Laos highway maintenance people recycle distance markers here. Can't upload the photos yet as the www is not working.

    [​IMG]
    Dodgy highway marker, 81km out of Oudam Xay ...

    Just east of Pak Mong the rain ceased, and the new challenge was the ripped up road surface that was stony and muddy, and the long muddy trails that stretched out either side of these chopped sections. I'm not sure if the road is under repair or just falling apart, but it was slippery and messy work, but fun at the same time.

    [​IMG]
    No need to go offroad for thrills - the sealed road was challenging enough with its mud coating ...

    Just out of Oudam Xay the road improved slightly, and I got here about 2:30pm, and planned to push on to Lang Namtha, but elated at finding an ATM that accepted my card I stopped for lunch at a REALLY COOL little restaurant and had the best yellow chicken curry I've had (actually the best chicken, as they were bite size pieces for the first time here), but after the ATM exercise, a quick refuel and then lunch it was 3:30pm,and whilst my moving average speed is just over 40kmh, with leak and photo stops factored in (I try and combine both of these into the same stop) my overall average speed is a bit under 30kmh, which put Luang Namtha about three and a half hours away or a 7pm arrival.

    [​IMG]
    Souphailin's Restuarant, Oudam Xay. Tucked away down a little alleyway, it's worth looking for and stopping at for a meal and cold Beer Lao ...

    Anyway I did go check out the road onwards and it is looking chopped up again so I turned around and came back into town. Lonely Planet says that Oudam Xay has no charm, and it is a trucking hub between Laos and China, but in a rough way it's pretty cool. Speaking of trucks - coming into town I counted about 30 big trucks loaded up with massive tree stumps, ready to be hauled off somewhere far away. Maybe its a bit like shark fin soup, with all the trees being cut down.

    The riding today was awesome, not too much oncoming traffic and beautiful scenery, and even when it was raining it was still warm. The constantly changing road surface made riding interesting, as having crossed a rocky muddy ripped-up section, the mud slick on the smooth tarmac was very very slippery.

    [​IMG]
    Don't worry Kev - I'll clean your gear bag before I return it to you okay !!!

    I told the lady who cooked the yellow curry for me that I would be back there for dinner if I stayed here overnight, and I will return there. (cross the bridge, past the market and about 100m up the hill then look for a yellow sign on the rhs pointing 20m down a small lane way to Souphailins Restaurant). And now that I'm off the bike, a Beer Lao may be on order as well.

    Tomorrow I'll get to Luang Namtha, with the intention I think of pushing on to Muong Sing and spending the night there. The bike is going great, Kev - I will wash your gear bag before I return it as it's covered in mud fling. Ps Kev - can you send me Ian's email address please as my previous mail to him bounced back.

    Jim advises that the rain will be here for a few days, but after this morning I'm not too phased. I keep the speed down (no laughing Dave) and just aim to get there in one piece at the end of the day. The good thing about riding on my own is that whatever time I arrive at my chosen destination for the day - I'm always the first one to finish :)

    As a footnote - the spell checker on this iPad frequently changes words I've typed and it doesn't recognize with another word of it's own choice, and as I'm looking ahead I often don't see the change take place. So if you read any of my emails and freaky words seem to appear completely out of context you can guess that the iPad has taken over and substituted another word.

    And on that note I'm going to scoot. Will email again when I get a chance.

    Thanks for all your emails - they are greatly appreciated. Donations and sponsorship would also be appreciated - email me directly and I will send you my bank account details.

    Cheers Big Ears,

    Vince



    Date: 16 March 2011 4:13:56 PM AWST
    Subject: March 16 - Living The Dream
    Its about 2:30pm Wednesday afternoon and I'm sitting in the restaurant attached to the eco-trendy Zuela Guesthouse, freezing my tits off, but at least I'm dry now, for the first time in about three hours.

    Had a great dinner in Oudam Xay last night - after doing some wifi stuff and buying a new padlock for the bike as I was concerned the old one was jamming, I wandered back to my secret discovery in Oudam Xay - Souphalin's Restaurant. It's a very small place but full of charm (Gary - think of the tiny bar in Sa Pa), and shortly after sitting down at one of the two outdoor tables, I was joined by Lisette, Belgium lady living in west Canada, working in marketing and communications for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. We were joined soon afterwards by three young people from a Melbourne company, which had raised $37,000 to open a school near Oudam Xay, and they had come over for the opening. Chantelle is the corporate social responsibility for the company, Matt was the highest fund raiser, and I'm not su why Natalie was there, but she reminded me of a thirty year old Niki, Glenda. Between us we had a great meal and great conversation, and when the Lao Lao whisky came out I was able to coach Matt in North Vietnamese drinking toasts, but only for a couple of rounds before he gave up.

    [​IMG]
    Lao Lao whisky goes down well on a wet night ...

    It started bucketing down over dinner, and progressively started to rain even heavier throughout the evening, keeping me awake a fair bit of the night. Saw a bit of CNN Asia last night re Japan.

    [​IMG]
    L to R: Lisette, Natalie, Chantelle and Matt ...

    [​IMG]
    It was bucketing down with rain, so Natalie pulled on her wet-weather gear ...

    [​IMG]
    Ms Souphailin, of Souphailin's Restaurant fame ...

    Up early this morning - checked the bike over (the rain had washed the mud away), did some online banking, then met Lisette for breakfast at Souphalin's restaurant (pancake with fruit inside and two Lao coffees), then back to my guesthouse to pack the bike. I picked up a lightweight poncho thing as the rain was very heavy still, and now a few hours later I guess it kept my torso dry, if nothing else.

    [​IMG]
    Have poncho - will ride.

    The road from Oudam Xay onwards to Luang Namtha was chopped up again - this time around I had everything thrown at me at once - heavy rain, sheets of running water across the road, muddy sections, ripped up sections, fog, roadworks. The riding was slow until I picked up the new part of Route 13 just out of Na Toei, and then positively exploded when I got onto the superhighway that Route 3 from Na Toei to Luang Namtha is. Even in the rain this road with its wide construction and wide open curves was like a race track to ride on. Speaking of construction - saw a lot of road gangs working on concrete bollards along the northern part of route 13 leading into Na Toei - and that looked like miserable work in the rain.

    Got into Luang Namtha and couldn't quickly spot Jim's recommended overnight stay, so found the Lonely Planet's recommendation instead - Zuela Guest House, and as they have wifi here I'm sold. Comedy arranging a room as I was soaked to the skin and my boots were covered in mud,and you're supposed to take off your shoes before entering the guesthouse, so I was standing in the rain gesturing from outside. Then i put on an impromptu strip show - down to my boxer shorts - out the front of the guesthouse as after taking off my muddy boots I then needed to take my soaking socks off, and that required the riding pants and the knee guards to come off first, so in the end I just had my riding shirt and boxers on, as I ferried my gear from the patio to my room. That impressed the day Trekkers no end. I've booked for two nights as I deserve a rest - not sure if I'll get to Moung Sing - may be a bit wet and I'd like for my gear to dry out. Luang Namtha is the Mecca for trekking here in the north west of Laos, but all I have at my disposal is a pair of thongs and a poncho, so I'm not really equipped for a trekking expedition. No tv in my room, so at least I can't overdose on CNN. Just had a warm spaghetti and now I might send this email and wander back to room and go warm up a bit - will email more later okay.

    And for those of you that haven't had the pleasurable experience of riding a motorbike in the rain and you'd like to enjoy the sensation - try this. Put on a pair of jeans, long shirt, some gloves (leather if you can), and a pair of boots; then put a plastic chair in the shower - turn the shower on with cold water only, and sit in the chair for three hours with the water beating down on you. Every now and then pour a few trickles of ice cold water down your spine for that truly authentic sensation. For even more realism - direct a fan blowing cold air over your body, for that truly windswept feeling.

    Be good,

    Vince

    [​IMG]
    Zeula Guesthouse: no explanation required.
    #2
  3. SR1

    SR1 Going to America!!!!

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2006
    Oddometer:
    5,464
    Location:
    Knockersville, TN
    Vince, I nearly posted up 'till I read the top script explaining the issue.

    Looking forward to your RR, but perhaps it may be better (this time 'round) to put all the updates in the same thread. I was sure I'd lose some the way you had it before. :cry
    #3
  4. Vince_WA

    Vince_WA Rides badly :)

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2008
    Oddometer:
    790
    Location:
    Tapping, WA
    Date: 17 March 2011 3:46:31 PM AWST
    Subject: March 17 - day off in Luang Namtha
    Last night, just a few minutes after posting a picture up on smugmug which featured my can of HTFU, Jim phoned me and told me to harden up and ride to Muang Sing today, and spend two nights there, exploring the local countryside. On waking up this morning however I had a crappy headache so I had breakfast and went back to bed to sleep it off. Including today (Thursday 17th) I have a week left before I need to be back in Vientiane, so I have some degree of flexibility left in my plans.

    [​IMG]
    A bit of HTFU comes in handy at times, so I always carry some with me ...

    In the absence of any riding today, my email this afternoon will probably just outline how I spent my afternoon, and catch up on some observations I've made previously but not conveyed. At a guess I probably remember about 10% of what I experience at the end of each day, and then manage to get only a fraction of that down in email form, so all you get is a small sliver.

    A few other thoughts are:
    If I spell place names differently at times, that's either because I've made a mistake, or I'm referring to different maps and they use different spelling. Same same but different, as the saying goes.
    Laos is a fantastic place to visit, and the people here are awesome. None of my of previous or future comments are intended to be deliberately inflammatory or derogatory. I save that for my work-related emails.

    At the moment I'm having a coffee (not the best or hottest) in a coffee place marked on the map not too far from my digs. My room is a mess - usually I try and keep my gear reasonably together, but as a lot of it is damp I have it sprawled all over my smallish room. I even have the ceiling fan on in the hope that may help my boots and riding pants dry a bit.

    Went for a walk this afternoon to the Luang Namtha Museum - impressive building, but no one was in attendance and I couldn't get inside to look at the exhibition, even though the outer doors were wide open. Before that I had spent some time looking at stuff on the Internet, and learned among other things that Morgan - the guy on the BMW F800GS travelling around making the documentaries has dropped his bike 20+ times in the mud here in northern Laos, and now the bike is damaged. Check out www.wheel2wheel.tv. The day we met he told me he'd just fitted more off road tyres and was looking forwards to trying them out.

    [​IMG]
    No joke - Complaints Box outside the Laos Telcommunications Customer Service Centre, Luang Namtha ...

    Took some photos this afternoon of how the locals zip around on their scooters, with an umbrella in their hand. Riders use different styles - some hold the handle with their hand, others hold the leading edge of the umbrella. If the rider has a pillion then usually the pillion holds the umbrella by it's handle, and sometimes teamwork prevails and the rider helps out by holding the leading edge. It's all very dainty, and you can tell when they start to ride too fast as the umbrella collapses inwards upon them under the wind pressure.

    [​IMG]
    Forwards vision is of secondary importance to keeping the rain off you ...

    My basic approach to riding here in Laos has been to keep to a bare minimum the number of "Oh shit" moments I have. The best self-induced moment I have had like that was when I was returning from my offroad ride north of Phonsavan and crested a hill at speed, only to notice that there was a narrow bridge spanning a river just below me, and I was nowhere near aligned with the narrow strip of planks laid lengthways along the bridge. It's amazing what that little Baja can do when put to the test.

    Yesterday I had a surreal moment when I was descending a hill. As usual I was gauging the curve in the road ahead when a bus popped up completely on my side of the road. We squeezed past each other and it's probably the only time here in Laos I've used some international sign language to communicate my assessment of his driving. I could see his wheel tracks in the muddy surface and the bus had almost leapt sideways from the verge onto my side of the road, so I don't know if he was daydreaming or not .....

    Had a reasonable beef curry and aloo parata last night, but not the best curry I've had in Laos. On the flip side I was served on by an Indian version of Mr Bean, so that made the evenings dining very memorable. I'll be back there tonight for another installment. I exercised my right not to mingle with other diners last night, as sometimes it's nice to enjoy the peace and quiet on my own. When I was in Oudam Xay a couple of days ago and I wasn't sure if I was staying there another day, the invitation was made to join Chantalle, Natalie and Matt for dinner after they had attended the opening of the school they had raised money for and I was quite interested in hearing how their day went, but I rationalized that I have their email addresses and can catch up with them via email.

    When I was departing Xam Tai a few days ago all of the women in the village we walking up the road to the centre of town, with hoes over their shoulders. There were dozens of ladies walking up the road in small groups, and it looked as if they were off to a collective work project. I would be keen to learn more about Laos customs and social practices, as this place is fascinating. Having lunch at Souphailin's Restaurant the other day, an old lady (really, really old) wandered up the lane way hawking firewood, with a big bundle tied up with twine and carried on her back with the string band across her forehead. She was accompanied by a younger lady who was not carrying anything at all, so it puzzled me why the old lady was doing the hard work. I don't know if I heard a comment the other week that the rate of suicide amongst Laos women is quite high. It's also intriguing try and gauge the social schism that will occur when traditional family and village lifestyles and cultures are disrupted by the growing amount of external influences coming Laos' way. I have mentioned in a photo comment previously how mountain roads pass through the middle of isolated villages - yesterday I travelled on smooth bitumen roads designed to carry high volumes of heavy trucks passing through similar villages - It will be horrific when the volume of traffic builds up (I suspect that the road needs to be completed first before the trucks start to roll in any great volume. Footnote to interested people - google Sunny Road and Bridge Project' and see if you get anything interesting).

    I was chatting with Lisette the other evening and remarked that often I see something interesting but choose to not take a photograph, as I prefer to respect the privacy of people involved and not intrude, and she fully agreed. Where I do take a photo I ask permission first wherever possible, using my comical sign language.

    I also wandered past a wedding reception this afternoon, and watched some traditional (I presume) dancing taking place there. I'll post a photo later this afternoon. I'm still the only guy in town sporting just a t-shirt and shorts and a pair of thongs, and my sole concession to the rain is a baseball cap, so I think these trekkers in their gortex rain gear and umbrellas need to toughen up a bit.

    Okay back at my guesthouse now so will send this, upload a few photos, then gaze at my navel for a while.

    Chat soon,

    Vince


    Date: 18 March 2011 6:47:01 PM AWST
    Subject: Fri 18 March - Muang Sing
    It's a bit before 5pm here and I'm sitting down at the Thilu Restuarant and guesthouse, as they have wifi so I can do some stuff online. After the rain of the past few days, and especially the constant rain of Wednesday and Thursday, it was nice to wake up to a dry day today. The sun was shining and there were patches of blue sky in Luang Namtha this morning, so that was a real treat. Had a short (60km) but very pleasant ride from Luang Namtha through the Nam Ha National Protected Area to Muang Sing, and lobbed into Thilu's for a Lao coffee and banana pancake for elevenses (not that I really needed a pancake but I was planning on using their wifi for half an hour so wanted to give a bit back).

    [​IMG]
    On the road north of Luang Namtha, heading towards Muang Sing. Awesome riding country ...

    Whilst there I consulted my Lonely Planet on my iPad and found the name and directions to a suggested guesthouse here - Chanthimieng, a bit off the main road but with a nice view over the paddy fields and distant hills, and hot showers. I arranged a room there (60,000 Kip/night, which is about $7.50, and roughly the going rate I've been paying on my travels except at upmarket places), and then pushed on towards Xoeng Kok, a Laos border town on the Mekong, with Myanmar just across the river. Yesterday I was chatting to a local guy in Luang Namtha and he assured me that the 70km road to the border was sealed, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't. Further, recent rains along the first 10km of the unsealed section had turned the road into a quagmire in places, though it was certainly doable. Did come across a truck that had slipped into the drainage ditch and jack-knifed a bit, but it was gone when I returned along the road a few hours later. Many sections of the road had smooth, polished and reasonably firm and dry wheel tracks compacted down by the trucks, and either side of these twin tracks where high mud drifts. The trick was to stay on the wheel tracks, and the catch was that approaching trucks and cars kept to the tracks, so bikes and scooters need to dive into the mud to get out of the way.

    [​IMG]
    Heading out to Xoeng Kok ...

    [​IMG]
    The scenery out here is just magnificent ...

    By and large the road followed the contours of a valley, and there were some very large banana plantations throughout the valley. In a number of places work gangs were loading watermelon into big trucks. Melons had been pre picked and piled into huge mounds, and human chains were loading the trucks. In other places work crews were carrying just-picked melons back to the marshaling point.

    Got to Xieng Kok, and rode out to the border post that overlooks the Mekong and the landing area for trucks being loaded or unloaded from river barges (see photo on smugmug), had a brief chat with a guy staffing the border post about my trip and the Baja, grabbed a coke and some water around the corner, then headed back to Muang Sing. Tried to refuel in Xieng Kok but their power was out so no pumps, so got fuel at Long - not that I needed it, but just to be on the safe side :)

    [​IMG]
    Trucks waiting for a river ferry at the Xieng Kok border crossing between Laos and Myanmar, across the Mekong River ...

    I'm not sure why but return trips always seem much faster. The bogged truck had been removed and the muddy sections had dried out, making the return trip much faster. For the first time in a week I had the helmet camera on, so hopefully I got some okay footage. I did notice this morning however that a screw has worked loose from the Vio POV recording unit. This happened to me a few months ago and the guys at Launch Helmetcam in Midland gave me a new unit as they arent supposed to shake loose, but I'm not sure how I'll go with trying to return another unit.

    On the subject of breaks, loss and damages, I have done quote well so far on this trip. I broke my sunglasses early on trying to jam them into my riding jacket, so I threw them out. I lost a pair of boxers in Xam Tai - I'd put them on the balcony ledge after doing some hand washing and they disappeared - I'd like to think that the wind blew them away into the rice paddy, rather than one of the Swedish cyclists flogging them. I've misplaced the protective cap that covers the end of my secure digital card reader that plugs into my iPad and allows me to get photos from my camera into the iPad and then onto smugmug (despite trying so hard not to lose it - it's small and clear plastic, and was bound to get lost sooner or later). Two days ago riding into Luang Namtha in the pissing rain I've managed to melt a small patch on the top of my left Alpine Stars motocross boot - I think I was trying to tuck into the bike out of the rain, but I can't find any goo on the bike so maybe the heat was radiated and not contact. My 'almost' biggest disaster was leaving the power point adapter (Asia to Australia) in the wall socket in my room in Kasi, after my first evening of my solo ride, but as I was warming up the Baja the cleaners found it thank goodness and got me attention thru the bedroom window. I would have been lost without that adapter - I need it for my GPS, still camera, and video camera, and I use it on a daily basis.

    It's now 5:30pm and Muang Sing is closing up for the night. I've had a coffee when I first arrived at this wifi cafe, and now I've finished my spring rolls and a fair portion of my first Beer Lao. Without wifi or tv in my room I'm stuffed tonight, so my plan is to eat and drink here at Thilu's until they throw me out, at which point I'll wander back to my guesthouse and bed. I should have downloaded some books into my iPad to read at times like this. I'm only half way thru the excellent book on the Khmer Rouge - "When The War Is Over", but that's back in Vientiane with the rest of my junk. I had hoped to get a copy of "Kissinger and Nixon: The Secret War" before I left Perth, but couldn't pull it off. That book covers the secret war that the US waged against Laos for a decade, and would make for fascinating reading.

    [​IMG]
    Beef and ginger at Thilu's Restaurant, Muang Sing. Absolutely delicious !!!

    Not quite sure what I'll do tomorrow, but something will spring to mind. This trip is slowly coming to it's end, as I need to give Jim his bike back Wednesday of next week, which leaves me five days to finish my exploring. Jim has given me the heads up on a nice overnight stay at Xiang Ngeun just south of Luang Prabang, so that's on the cards, as well as a stop in Vang Vieng - the most decadent place in Laos, though solely just for westerners who get absolutely shit faced on alcohol or drugs or both. When riding as a group a couple of weeks ago we went and saw the party going on down at the Mojito Bar on the river, and it was like going to a high school social night as a parent helper.

    And on that note, and because my typing is starting to deteriorate, I'm going to send this email now and go order dinner. If you like me - send me a reply, and I'll take a peek tomorrow morning as I enjoy my banana pancake and Lao coffee with sweet milk.

    New photos are up on smugmug, but not too many and the uploader program has crapped itself again.

    Cheers,

    Vince :)
    #4
  5. Vince_WA

    Vince_WA Rides badly :)

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2008
    Oddometer:
    790
    Location:
    Tapping, WA
    [​IMG]
    6:30am on Saturday 19th March in Muang Sing, and it's looking pretty foggy outside ....

    [​IMG]
    My lightproof and soundproof soviet bunker of a bedroom - excellent !!!!!

    [​IMG]
    Breakfast perfection - banana pancake and Lao coffee with sweet milk, both served hot at Thilu's Restaurant, Muang Sing.

    [​IMG]
    The owner of Thilu's. She was really nice, and gave me some mango over coconut-flavored rice after breakfast - scrumptious !!!

    [​IMG]
    Some animals just like to stretch out and hang around all day long ...

    [​IMG]
    The view from the road, on the way out of Muang Sing.

    [​IMG]
    Sunday 20th March - stopped in Pak Mong on the way to Luang Prabang for some water and a coke at this lady's shop. Here she is working on an old sewing machine, repairing some shorts ....

    [​IMG]
    Most often "Danger - Falling Rocks" signs usually just signified the possibility of small pebbles on the road ahead .....

    [​IMG]
    ..... So this car-sized boulder certainly caught my attention .....

    [​IMG]
    Rode thru some beautiful valley scenes between Pak Mong and Luang Prabang ...

    [​IMG]
    When Beer Lao just isn't enough - "Make Blood", as the signs says ... (Luang Prabang)

    [​IMG]
    With the setting sun on the rice paddy fields on route 4 south of Xieng Ngeun heading to the Kacham waterfalls, the views were spectacular ...

    [​IMG]
    Happy to have found the Kacham waterfall and resort, I thought I deserved a sit down ....

    [​IMG]
    Kacham Waterfall - very scenic and secluded .....

    Date: 21 March 2011 11:23:29 AM AWST
    Subject: March 20 - Sunday in evening at some waterfalls

    Rile one - dontvtry and tripe and email when ur pisse, regardless of the spell checker of your iPad of computer
    Rule two - do asi did a d eatv up before you go looking for for the waterfaLs at Kacham, because the Restauarant onlY. Cooks food when they feel like it.

    Do not despair a - after two fast beer Laos and few packets of chips I'm laughing. It's bit h black here and and I'm sitting h nextvto a waterfall which is making a lovelysound justlike my tinnitus only louder. Don't believe a word Jim says - it's not eleven kilimoteres here from the turnoff, maybe 18. Either way got here in tbe end, shacked up in my 80,000 room with with the actual separate shower, unloaded the bike, showered, photographed the local kids, walked month waterfall and the Restauarant, saybthe waterfall and almost got laughed atv when. I asked about dinner, so to big beer Laos, - a few packets of chips, and the last cheptars of around tbe world in eighty days and I'm storked, fark someone just fired a gin. Not at me thank goodness. That that may happen earlier today and I plucked a chicken I think, and the army were out in force or at least kids in pairs along the. Road from Oudam xaito Pak Beng with ak47s.
    anyway after figuring out that Jim had quoted Laos kilometers ad my gps was set to Australian kilometers, and with the help of many locals I finally found my overnight stay. I have I said that already. Yet? Anyway got here and showered and then walked up to the waterfall for a look and a beer and dinner and no dinner but got a look and two beers so maybe that balances outta. Finished around the world in eighty days excellent book. Now started Hary of N darkness by josef Conrad. Interestingly from what I have read this book influenced wove ever it was that made acopolyse now, even though heart of darkness is base in Africa on the Congo and acpolopse now is some riiver in se asai.I think they give the name at the startof the movie but it escapes me.

    Anyway mow it's pitch black here a d I need to get back to my chalet I guess. So I'm going to go now. See you.

    Vince
    Sent from my iPad

    [​IMG]
    With the restaurant closed at the waterfall, all of my survival instincts kicked in. Two Beer Lao and a few packets of chips saw me through the evening :)


    Date: 21 March 2011 11:52:53 AM AWST
    Subject: Monday 21st - chilling out in Luang Prabang
    It's late morning and I'm just finishing my American breakfast here in Luang Prabang. Stayed overnight, as you will have already deciphered, at the Khacham Waterfall resort, about 45km from Luang Prabang. Had my dinner of beer and chips, read a couple of chapters of 'Heart of Darkness' outside the waterfall until it was pitch black, then went back to my chalet and read some more. Now I can see were the parallels with Apocolypse Now come into view - even the central character bears the same name - Kurtz.

    Woke up early, and Beer Lao being the wonder drink it is, no hangover, but then again I didn't expect one. It's so peaceful and relaxing at the waterfall that I've decided to stay there another evening, and just spend my Tuesday night in Vang Vieng, rather than two nights as previously considered in Vang Vieng. I rode back to Luang Prabang this morning for breakfast and to use the wifi here, and I'll have a late lunch or early dinner and then head back to the waterfall, where again I expect the restuarant to closed, just like last night.

    It's a spectacular day here in Luang Prabang - the sun is shining and there is a gentle breeze blowing. Ive just figured out that parking on the main street here alternates sides, probably between am and pm.

    Anywise I'm about to upload a couple of days worth of photos and start my second coffee.

    Chat soon,

    Vince


    Date: 22 March 2011 2:44:40 PM AWST
    Subject: Monday 21st - chilling out at Khacham Waterfalls
    What a slack day Monday 21st March was. Cruised into LPB and ensconced myself at the LPB Bakery, as I knew they had wifi, and managed to stay there for the better part of the day. Even when its was subtly suggested that my time was up, I managed to change that into an order for an iced coffee and squeezed another hour out of their wifi connection.

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    Nico, ten years traveling on his Baja 250. Bumped into him in Luang Prabang, Monday 21st March.

    Motored back to the Khacham Waterfalls, and if I hadn't of promised my workmates that I would return to Perth as planned, then I could easily stay here. The 18 Australian kilometres of route 4 south west of Xiang Ngeun (11 Laos kilometres = 18 australian kilometres, and silly me I had my GPS set yesterday still to Australian kilometres but sorted that out eventually, and Rob you would have been proud of my map reading session with some local people), anyways as I was saying, the 18 Australian kilometres out here is on a hard cement-like surface, with rigid berms on the corners. Made for quick, but bone-jarring progress in places. For you Aussie outback riders, think of the graded roads out around the goldfields, especially the ones that run out to the gold mines. Arrived here earlier this afternoon (gotta love that Garmin!!!!!) and had a quick cold shower in the sink (why I don't know but the shower has no pressure, but the sink faucet absolutely rocks), put on my best clothes, and walked the few hundred metres up to the waterfall. Grabbed my Beer Lao and chips for dinner, and started off with a drink to toast Gary's 55th birthday today. Onya Gary !!!!!

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    Happy Birthday Gary - this beer is for you !!!!! (21/03/2011)

    This time last year Gary, Rob and I were celebrating his birthday in Halong Bay, north Vietnam. You couldn't mistake that it was Gary's birthday, as earlier that morning I had bought him a bright pink, helium-filled balloon on a stick, and his job was to carry it with him all day and night, and to his credit he did just that. I will put a photo up on smugmug on Tuesday evening for you to admire Gary and His Balloon, okay :)

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    This photo is from 21st March 2010, and shows Gary celebrating his birthday with his special birthday balloon in Halong Bay, Vietnam. Happy Birthday Gary !!!!!

    Making more progress on 'Heart of Darkness' this evening, and if you enjoyed Apocalypse Now then I implore you to read this book. I have a dreaded feeling however that I may have downloaded an abridged version of the book, so if that's the case I'll ferret out a complete edition when back in Perth.

    It's about 5:30pm, and there are no other guests here other than myself. I'm sitting above the waterfalls, listening to the birds chirp over the sound of the water. There is gentle, mellow Laos music playing from the restuarant nearby, but I wouldn't be so foolhardy as to enquire if that meant that a cooked meal may be in order. Truth be told I'm quite content enjoying my chips and Beer Lao, listening to the music and reading my book or typing. On the subject of typing - have you noticed the difference in typing between two Beer Laos like last night, and just one? Quite remarkable hey :)

    There is a huge butterfly on the grass near my feet, which reminds me to tell you about the suicidal butterflies of Laos. These butterflies you see when you're riding along, and when they realize that they can't avoid you, turn instead and head straight for your face. I've had that many head-strikes from butterflies I'm surprised I don't have whiplash.

    On the subject of Laos riding challenges, let me continue. Unlike Australia, where hazards and obstacles typically just occur as isolated, singular events, here in Laos you're frequently dealing with multiples. It's not just the pigs on the road, but the pothole just beyond them, and the water buffalo on the side of the road, and the kid on his pushbike weaving around. In this respect, you can't deal with and dismiss hazards as stand-alone occurrences, but instead you need to weigh up the totality of what is shaping up before you, and deal with that. As a corollary, hazards that impact oncoming traffic become your hazards, so you also need to read and assess what's happening on the other side of the road. Oncoming 4x4's, for example, will swerve to avoid a stopped scooter rider on their side of the road, fully taking up your lane. And on the subject of 4x4 drivers, I think they get my W@nker Driver Award. I can understand why truck and bus drivers pick a line and stay on it, but frigging fourbie drivers that howl round corners on the wrong side of the road are giving me the shits. I suspect that a lot of these may be foreign drivers, working on the Chinese projects up here in northern Laos. The worst experience was meeting a convoy of oncoming Prado's yesterday on a dusty section of road - the dust was that thick that I pulled over to the narrow side, but still the tail cars in the convoy were running wide and getting perilously close. And then the two convoy cars that had fallen behind and were cutting corners - literally - to try and catch up, caused me to swear for the first time on this trip. The funny experience yesterday was having an ambulance try and drive into me, perhaps he was looking for work, who knows.

    I have heard that India used to be the most dangerous place to ride, but was then overtaken by Vietnam. Vietnam, in my experience, is not dangerous to ride in, and after three weeks of riding in Laos, I wouldn't consider Laos to be acutely dangerous either - you just need to be on the ball, every step of the way. India, so I have read - has unique risks - as pedestrians have been known to deliberately push an old person in front of an approaching foreigner on a motorbike, so they can cause an accident and claim damages. The more serious, the better for them. So don't retire as an old person in India okay.

    I have two days left of my solo Laos ride to go - Vang Vieng tomorrow night (and my first massage on this solo trip), and then Vientiane. Originally I had only planned a short four day excursion on bike thru southern Laos, but upon inspection of my travel insurance it dawned on me that I wasn't covered for riding in Vietnam, and as a good friend at work has said many times, when traveling - always go somewhere new. So this extended trip thru northern Laos was completely unexpected, but also completely enjoyable. I think that Laos has about half the land mass of Vietnam but only 10% of their population, so it is sparsely populated, and all the more beautiful for that. In all my time here in Laos the people have been wonderful. At times in Vietnam I must admit to wondering if I'd manage to escape from a situation with my boots on - as they seem to fascinate people over there, but here in Laos I've never detected any adverse sentiments. Except for perhaps when I was in the middle of nowhere at the Hinting Archeaological Site and six young guys rocked up on three scooters - but really it was my choice to remount and ride off before anything developed, which probably wouldn't have.

    I've had the luxury of being in email contact almost every day, and I've appreciated the feedback and well wishes I've received from family and friends whilst on the road. That makes the travel a lot easier. In addition, I have my routine fully worked out now (arrived at that point over a week ago actually), with respect to packing and loading and unloading and unpacking - so it seems to get easier with time, not harder. Next time I just need a better jacket combination to cater for hot and cold days. And the small tank bag that Jim loaned me is priceless - I wouldn't have thought something so small would be so useful, but it's great. I put my GPS in the front, see-through pocket, then fit my SPOT, camera, wallet, and candy in the bag itself, and it things so much easier. I've got sores on the back of my knees from the Velcro on my knee guards, but I think Kev has suggested that Skins will alleviate that problem. Not having cash at the start of the trip was a pain, but since switching to my travelex cash passport card - that has been faultless, working in every town I've tried it (but not every ATM, as there is at least one Laos bank that won't recognize it - they have blue ATM's).

    And on that I'm going to save this email and send it tomorrow when I settle in somewhere in Vang Vieng, and then I should follow up shortly afterwards with my Tuesday 22nd email okay - so watch this space :)


    Cheers,

    Vince

    And as a footnote it's about 6:23pm now, so I've been hacking away at this email for an hour at least, probably more (but deduct then a few minutes for strolling time down to the waterfall for a few more photos, and sipping Beer Lao, okay !!!!!)

    Date: 22 March 2011 7:09:05 PM AWST
    Subject: Tuesday 22nd - chilling out in Vang Vieng
    Got into Vang Vieng this afternoon, and I was happy about that. For the first time on this trip my crook knee was playing up, and the last 100km's or so was a painful ride, so I dispensed with any photo stops and just rode in.

    Quite enjoyed my two evenings at Khacham Waterfalls. The first evening a group of about seven or eight local kids descended upon me when I left my chalet, and accompanied me on the short walk up to the waterfall and restauarant. I did grab a photo of them, but in the low light I'm not happy with the poor quality so may not post on smugmug. Anyway these kids followed me to the waterfall, and as I was walking down to pool at the bottom, they all started singing like they were at choir practice. Australians - think of the Qantas/Australian Choir adverts on tv. An obvious scam but they did well, so they scored a few bags of chips amongst them for their concerted efforts.

    Jim - the 10km signpost to the waterfall should read 15km, and it's 3km from the main road, making for an 18km diversion. Picked up my first puncture this morning. Literally in sight of the sealed road. Wimped out and asked for a hand with changing the tube over. The mechanic extracted some shards of broken glass from the tyre. 10,000 Kip for 30 minutes work, or about $1.25. I did tip generously, but the money went to the shop owner and not to the mechanic who helped me, but I hope it flows back. At least he knows I extended the gesture.

    Refueled in Xiang Ngeun (80,000 for my records), and just south of that town saw a great lookout overlooking the town so took a few pics, and bumped into the man that helped me with directions to the Khacham guesthouse a couple of days earlier, so had a quick chat with him, and thanked him again.

    [​IMG]
    Tuesday. 22nd March and looking north over Xiang Ngeun .....

    Stopped at the crossroad markets in Phou Khoun and grabbed a barbecued chicken leg for late breakfast, and took that up to the lookout just south of Phou Khoun and munched on that, along with a coke. In between I refueled in Phou Khoun (52,000).

    [​IMG]
    That's my breakfast cooking there .... Closest to camera ....

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    Baja mingling with the crowd at Phou Khoun markets ....

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    It's amazing how far the Alaska Riders get to ... Saw this sticker of theirs in a dunny at the lookout just south of Phou Khoun ....

    I think the video camera batteries died just after leaving the lookout. I have taken some footage I've been riding, but not too much, and keeping a track of battery charge and remaining space on the memory card gives me the shits at times, so often I just leave that camera in my bag.

    Checked my Lonely Planet guide this morning for a place to stay in Vang Vieng, but I picked a place with a slope on the driveway so I can start the bike tomorrow morning. For 70,000/ night the Santi Villa is a stone throw from the main intersection on the main road, with wifi, tv, fan, laundry service, and driveway slope. 110,000 if you want aircon, which I declined, but it is quite warm here this afternoon.

    Right now I'm having my 3pm lunch. Lonely Planet says that in Vang Vieng you come across restaurants that play old copies of 'Friends' on overhead tv's to audiences of drunk or stoned westerners, and I can now confirm how true that is. It's quite surreal. I've never watched five minutes of Friends so I don't see the attraction, but I guess that if you're tripping it may be just the thing. I have spotted a couple of Indian restaurants here, so may put one to the test later on this evening, and maybe even lash out and get a massage for my aching bones.

    [​IMG]
    Westerners watching Friends at Vang Vieng. Now that's what I call 'chilling out !!!'

    Finished my condensed version of Heart of Darkness last night. I think it was Francis Ford Coppola who made Apocalypse Now, and I hope he gives ample credit to Josef Conrad for his book - even the key dialogue is identical. Not sure if I shall start another book this evening, or slum it and catch some CNN.

    Okay now it's a couple of hours later - just gone 6pm here, and who should I meet in vang Vieng but Yee, our tour leader from a few weeks ago. Went with him on the back of his XR down to a riverside bar to see a friend of his, had a few beers (his friend runs the bar but for some strange reason we all three shared the same beer glass so took turns to have a drink), and now Yee has gone back to see his clients (three riders on a fourteen day ride), so I will send this email and then think about the evening. Will upload new photos later tonight k.

    Be good,

    Vince

    [​IMG]
    Down by the river in Vang Vieng at Phanh's new "Fire Bar". Phanh is a friend of Yee's, and Yee took me there on the back of his XR along a rocky and muddy stretch of single track. neither of us had helmets or anything, but we have youth on our side :)

    [​IMG]
    Yee and his mate Phanh, at Phanh's "Fire Bar", Vang Vieng.

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    On the way back into Vang Vieng. Three of us were drinking, but we all took turns to use the same glass. Maybe they were saving on the washing up .

    Date: 23 March 2011 6:09:48 PM AWST
    Subject: Wednesday 23rd March - back in Vientiane
    This will be a short email as the Beer Lao in the fridge here at the Khamvasonga Hotel in Vientiane is warm, and I deserve an icy cold beer this evening, having finished my eighteen day ride thru northern Laos. I've uploaded a couple of pics but didn't take many today, as the aim of the day was to get back. Had a slightly delayed start to the day as I couldn't start the bike. Ended up at a mechanic's with Jim on the phone and of all things - Yee our tour guide from a few weeks ago whizzed past, so I grabbed him as well and with a bit of work Yee got it started. I'm not convinced that the position of the killswitch was the sole issue, as I'd checked that and I think it was just bumped as people were looking over the bike, but nevertheless I'll buy Yee a beer when next I see him :)

    [​IMG]
    Wednesday 23rd March. Last day of my solo Laos riding trip, and I'm admiring the slope to the drive-way at Santi Villa, Vang Vieng. As I was to find out a bit later, I needed more than a slope to start the bike today ....

    [​IMG]
    After some exertion but no swearing, I called Jim for advice re starting the bike. As luck would have it, Yee, my tour guide from a few weeks ago was in Vang Vieng, and he came to lend a hand. Quick check of the valve clearance, quick recharge of the battery, and Yee's magic touch on the killswitch all combined to get it fired up for my 140km ride back to Vientiane ....

    Had a great but uneventful ride back to Vientiane, dropped round to see Jim and Quynh of Remote Asia Travel fame for a chat about the trip, and now I'm back at my hotel, no bike to ride, no time to ride one anyway as tomorrow morning I'm flying to HCMC. May read some more of Dracula this evening, or perhaps start working on my ride report for advrider :)

    It's just gone 5pm here so I'm going to go find that cold beer okay !

    Chat later,

    Vince

    [​IMG]
    Back where it all started at the end of my 18 day, 3,100km exploration of northern Laos, with the highly commendable Jim and Quynh at Remote Asia Travel, who helped me pull this whole trip off (and credit also to Yee, and Fuark their mechanic). Great team effort !!!


    Date: 24 March 2011 4:53:16 PM AWST
    Subject: Thursday 24th - Sweltering in Siagon
    Quick email from my $25US/night room at the back of the Orient Hotel in District One, HCMC.

    Jim's travel arrangements that he made on my behalf for Vientiane to HCMC via Phnom Penh worked a treat - one hour ten mins flight time from Vientiane to Phnom Penh, then just 27 minutes Phnom Penh to HCMC. Thanks very much for making all the arrangements Jim!

    Caught my favorite bus - the 152 - which for 8,000 Vnd (less than 50 cents I think) takes you from the airport to the backpacker part of Saigon - District One. Found a recommended hotel in my Lonely Planet that had wifi which is a must for me, grabbed a Vietnamese drip coffee so I could get my bearings, walked to the hotel and checked in.

    I have seen more people in the 30 minute bus ride to the Orient Hotel this afternoon than I saw in a month in Laos.

    Brett - FYI street address of the Orient is 274-276 De Tham St, Pham Ngu Lao, District One, phone 84.8 9203993 or 84.8 9203994. I'm in room 407 and don't have a phone. I'm almost on the intersection of De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao.

    I could have paid less for my room ($17us/night), but I upsized to get a window. I look out the back of the building. For $30/night you can get a street view, but Lonely Planet often recommends rear rooms to cut down street traffic noise.

    I have about five days here (and six nights), so will wing things a bit and see how I get on.

    Had a quiet evening yesterday after finishing my ride - a bit of an anticlimax almost. No group photo or welcome back banner, or escort across the bridge like Boorman and McGregor. Got some beef kebabs and a beer from a roadside stall on the Mekong and it was like trying to chew my boots the meat was that tough, so I left it. They had a couple of big frogs just sitting in a big basin of water, but after the crap kebabs I wasn't prepared to chance the frogs.

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    Anyone for frog ???

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    The frog in the previous pic is in the silver basin, low left of this pic. Lukewarm beer and the toughest and most unpalatable beef kebabs in the world was offset by the beautiful location - Mekong River, Vientiane.

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    Celebratory dinner, at the end of my solo Laos ride :)

    Saw a sign pointing down a dark alley to a traditional Laos massage place, so enjoyed an excellent Laos massage for an hour - the best I've had. Every time I have a massage I'm reminded of Kev's greatest fear, which is to fart whilst he's being massaged, and I can't help but laugh. Moved on to our local French restaurant and had their pepper steak and a big Beer Laos, and then wandered back to the hotel and a bit of packing and then tv, including an interesting French WW1 movie the end of which I did not stay up to see - "a Very Long Engagement".

    Over the next few days I will complete my notes and lessons learnt from this trip. Most of it's obvious stuff (read the map, consult the gps, etc etc), but nevertheless they may be helpful pointers for myself and others in the future.

    Having watched the traffic here in Saigon this afternoon I have no interest in riding a bike, I thoroughly enjoyed my riding in Laos, and now I'm happy just to chill out, rather than go all frenetic in the rushing crowds here.

    Be good, chat later,

    Vince

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    Saigon: I started chatting to his guy as he looked quite comical with his pudding bowl helmet and his scooter. Trevor rides with a gang and has a few Harleys back in Canada, but has lived and worked in Saigon for three years now and loves it here ...


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    Siagon: From the markings on it, I think this is a 124cc Honda. I want it, and I may have to steal it.
    #5
  6. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    67,015
    What a great adventure! Thanks for the detailed report and pics! You tell a good story! :thumb
    #6
  7. Tom48

    Tom48 Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2004
    Oddometer:
    1,025
    Location:
    Fremont NH
    A Perfect report.
    #7
  8. Gdiddy

    Gdiddy n00b

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2009
    Oddometer:
    5
    Excellent report Vince..can't wait to see the photos and video..
    cheers Gary ..:rofl
    #8
  9. 2-Dirty

    2-Dirty Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2009
    Oddometer:
    64
    Location:
    Perth, Western Australia
    Looks like you had loads of fun. i know both my dad and brother told me heaps of stories. :clap
    #9
  10. Vince_WA

    Vince_WA Rides badly :)

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2008
    Oddometer:
    790
    Location:
    Tapping, WA
    Otherwise known as "The Lion Amongst Sheep" ..... :freaky
    #10
  11. gavo

    gavo Slacker

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,816
    Location:
    Gympie QLD
    Great read Vince sounds like you had a terrific time. I'm in Laos mid October also with a bike from Remote Asia, I can't wait:clap:clap
    #11