Category Archives: Laos

Motorbike touring in Laos. Blog and video

Someday in Laos, Part 2

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Luang Prabang – Muang Khoua

Day of two halves. Don turned up as we were taking a break waiting for a tyre repair and two guys getting astray on the wrong road, they missed a turn. Rest of the ride in two groups to secure arrival in daylight.

Last 50 km in three hours. Rain yesterday, now slippery mud on hillside paths. Villages were partying – as new year was on Sunday, Monday is day off and everyone was enjoying the day. In the typical Asian fashion, music was VERY loud!

We got to Muang Khoua just before sunset for dinner. One of our team got sick during the night and may need to stay behind and joined us again later in Luang Nam Tha

I was wondering about the women working and young men carrying small children. Something unique for Laos is that in the extended families, the unmarried men look after the children!  

M Khoua – Phongsali

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA very muddy day! As soon as we got out of M Khoua, we diverted to a new Chinese road built for a hydro energy project. The road was muddy but nothing prepared us for what we were about to encounter later that day. The lake created by the dam had cut off roads and a new thriving business was created, ferrying travelers across the lake to where the road continued on a dry land. A rather exiting ferry trip, ferry being more like a dingy, with three bikes per boat for a distance of about one kilometer.

The muddy roads on hillsides proved a challenge and we lost – and found – a bike in the bush on a very steep hillside. Rain provided extra entertainment, although I was already wet after splashing through some deep puddles a few times. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The last stretch in the dark on a tarmac/mud/crater road was again rather hard work in the darkness. Our bike lights were giving some modest guidance as to what lied ahead on the road and surprises were inevitable. Happily we reached the hotel safely with the widest of smiles at dinner in a local “pub”. The trip was hard for everyone. Luckily no injuries. Only wet and muddy clothes. I have seldom been so tired after a days ride as I was today when crashing in my bed.

 

Phongsali

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Woke up 6AM to the sound of heavy rain. Well, woke up a few times earlier for some noise through loudspeakers to the villagers. News perhaps?! Later we learned that the first notes we heard were an army wake up call for the morning exercise. We used the time in the rain for repairing the bikes. Tyre changes and fixing few hits from the road. Regardless, it looks to be a cold and rainy day…

… which it was. No Gnot Ou today. Difficult terrain in heavy rain called for a rest-day. Back in business tomorrow. The village has a Karaoke and we have a few enthusiastic singers in the group.

Phongsali – Luang Nam Tha

The day was still rainy and we opted for a more firm surface for today’s ride. Some of us wanted to test their limits on a short cut and seemed happy – and muddy – for their choice. The road was reasonably good and as we were getting closer to Luang Nam Tha the road got even better. Due to the Chinese projects they have built new roads and resurfaced new stretches.

This was a more leisurely ride, although a dirt bike is not built for highway use. Sore bum in any case after 350 km today. Luang Nam Tha seems like a more popular tourist town, compared to the remote places we came through. The forecast is even for some sun, which would be a nice change after the rain.

Local farmers market was colorful and had local produce we do not usually see in our local shop.

Trekking in the jungle

Today we did something different from riding the bikes. We needed some exercise and decided to go trekking to a minority tribe village for an overnight stay in a traditional Lao house. Trekking was tough as the terrain is hard to walk in the jungle and the path has steep hills to climb and to descend. In the jungle they had two poisonous snakes, the cobra and the green snake. Three hours trekking did the job. Enough exercise for a day.

We stayed at a Lanten tribe village. They also call themselves Indigo tribe due to their manufacture of indico colouring. They also made rubber from rubber-trees and some bamboo paper. The village was big with 300 inhabitants.

Lanten tribe is one of the 37 minority tribes in Laos. Here married women shave their eyebrows as a sign of being married. No rings. Lao marriages are not arranged and the village head will ask if the couple wants to marry. After marrying the couple usually stays with wife’s parents for a short time before moving to husbands parents, with whom they will stay and work. After a dormitory style overnight, we returned to Luang Nam Tha on the river – this time rafting. What a great day again. The sun was out and the river Nam Tha was flowing due to the earlier rain fall. Some nice rapids as well. Enough to bounce one guy off the boat! He survived with minor injuries. Lunch was served on banana leafs on the river bank. Fantastic.

 

Luang Nam Tha – Pak Beng

Fantastic sunny day after we left Luang NamTha in s drizzle. The route we took was a little bit of a gamble as we did not know if it was passable due to hydro projects. Well it turned out to be one of the most pleasurable rides ever, taking us on small mountain roads up to to hills through quite dense jungle.

At one of the very remote villages everyone turned up to see the strange people. We made it even more exciting by flying a camera drone over the village. Those faces!! On the way from the village we got stopped by the police in a very hostile manner, although the police turned up to be very polite. After some time waiting, they allowed us to continue. No real reason was given, nor any bribes to the police. They did however know what we had been doing and how many we were. So no making a mistake that we were not been watched, even though we did not see it.  

Soon we met again our friend Don, who appeared from nowhere, as he frequently did. As we did not have any booking for a hotel, he had that part quickly sorted. Pak Beng is again a bigger town and we saw some westerners on the road again. Boats from Thailand arrive each evening at 5 PM and fill the town and hotels and bars with tourists. Only to take them away the following morning 8 AM. This is again a more touristic town, though still seems rather genuine.  

Pak Beng – Xayaboury

Great sunny morning and a fantastic ride out from town. Some photo moments on the new bridge across Mekong – yes Mekong again!

Today we split into two groups, one taking a more challenging short cut and another using tarmac road. I was ready for the challenge and after an hour and a half and progressing 5 km, we had had enough. We were knackered, done, defeated,… It was really hot in the sunshine and the rocky mountain path with it’s inclines and descends were just too much for us. We soon caught up with the other group and as today’s ride was only 200 km, the rest of the day was easy. A minor inconvenience with rain that started just before Xayaboury.

Today’s accommodation looks good, but in reality is one of some very soviet style big hotels where we appear to be the only customers. Well, it is a nice warm day and the earliest arrival to the hotel so far. But again internet is virtually nonexistent… Don mentioned this had been the case in Laos for a few days now.  

Xayaboury – Vientiane

This was promising to be a long day. A ride to Vientiane, some 360 km and it was already raining in the morning. Road should be good, mainly surfaced main roads. Remember, we were on small dirt bikes! A hard day ahead.

The day proved to be a great day riding. Although it rained most of the day, it was not too bad. The road was very varying over a mountain area, across Mekong on a makeshift ferry and some nice winding roads before we hit the main roads closer to Vientiane. We also managed to get invited to party with the ladies at the service station. Crickets and beer, Great! The rain stopped and we rode on a small path along the river to the city centre. A great day.

We returned our bikes to Don, had a nice dinner and went for a few farewell drinks in a local nicely designed jazz bar (?no jazz here though).

 

The next morning would fly us out from Laos…
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My ride for this trip, Honda CRF 250cc. No Iron Horse but a feisty little number anyway. Nice and light in the woods and off-road, perhaps a piece of sh..t on tarmac. A little more umph would be appreciated. But it’s only 250cc…

Someday in Laos Part 1

Vientiane

Our team started to come together on the flight from Bangkok to Vientiane. Severi met us at the airport to take us to the City Inn hotel in the centre. Tired after a long flight (for some) and a long night in Bangkok (for some), we had just enough energy to visit the Patuxai Arch or the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane in the town centre and a few beers and dinner.

Patuxai Arch or the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane

  No hammer and sickle, did I say. Well, I was wrong. Hammer and sickle go hand in hand with the Laos national flag. In most official buildings and many other locations. Hammer and sickle are alive and well! As most Asian cities, Vientiane is a lively place with vendors of all sort almost everywhere.

Our bikes were provided by Don Duvall aka Midnight Mapper, adventure biker and round the world sailor, who has anchored in Laos for the past eight years and even sold his boat last year. Don gave us a short briefing on riding in Laos. No healthcare. Closest treatment is in Thailand. You do not want to get into a Lao hospital. You do not want to have an accident with a local. Nor their dog or their chicken. Also some advice on how to deal with the police to ensure the trip continues, etc.

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Don aka Midnight Mapper

Bikes were just serviced and ready for ride. We also needed some of the bikes Don normally does not rent out but rides along with them. After some adjustments, the only problem day one was a slipping clutch. The clutch was promptly sorted later when we met Don in Phonsavan.

In the evening stroll we were able to admire some custom Vientiane – bikes, cars, scooters. Surprising – well, for me at least.

 

Vientiane – Paksan

And after some 100 km, a punctured tyre with a nail sticking out! pade rengas The ride from Vientiane to Paksan was the normal exit from the city and main roads leading out of town, Mekong on the right. The traffic is relatively organised, though to a western eye somewhat chaotic, as one would expect. More cars than I expected and mostly good and new – Toyata, Huyndai, Kia, some Hondas and Mercs.

Xieng Khouan Buddha park

A short stop at Xieng Khouan Buddha park was quite amazing and the rode turned dusty. Very dusty due to roadworks stretching easily some 50 km. These are the kind of roadworks where you do not see anyone working but the road is just gravel and very light grey and red dust, which goes absolutely everywhere through your clothing.

We reached Paksan early evening at sunset and enjoyed our dinner at a riverside restaurant with some night caps in a small restaurant next to our hotel. The hotel was nicely between Mekong and a smaller river running into Mekong.  

Paksan – Phonsavan

Navigator indicated a long ride for this 270km stretch. Well, it took 11 hours and three punctures from Paksan to Phonsavan. This would be the norm from now on.

The road was varying gravel with some paved stretches, and climbed to 2000 meters before Phonsavan. On the hills the weather was turning really cold and a fog finalised the coldness. Beautiful scenery made up for any inconvenience but as our ride took longer than expected, darkness fell and we rode in the dark for the last hours.

The red mud was like riding on wet soap
The red clay-type sand was really dusty when it was dry but when wet, like riding on wet soap!

One of our team started having problems with his rear tyre, which was changed three times during the day. Luckily there are tyre shops usually close by and if everything else fails, eventually local vans or van-buses can carry the bike.

 

Phonsavan – Vianthong

Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars

A fantastic day once we got on the bikes. First thing, we visited the plain of Jars. A plain with a few thousand stone jars from approx. 500 bc – 500 ac and no one knows who made them and for what reason. A few bomb craters as well, and we know who made those and for no reason…

A rare jar with the lid still in place

Later Don turned up in Phonsavan and made all the necessary repairs on the bikes. He also led us through one of the most exiting roads ever.. Once we were through the gravel, we entered the jungle and the off-road section. What a road (?)! Hills, rice fields and jungle.

Very soon after leaving town, we were on new gravel/pebble road. This did not last long before the off-road section started, many places un-passable by car, most notably crossing a river on a flimsy suspended bridge. On the way we visited some of Don’s friends and an old gentleman took us across the rice pads to see an old Wat – or temple ruins in plane speak. Some riding in the woods was nice!

Local moonshine
Local moonshine

Perhaps we had a bit too much of sight seeing and eventually we found ourselves fighting time and had to push hard to get to the hotel in daylight. Tough day riding with many happy faces in the evening at the hotel. Again a cold evening and night.

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Suspension bridge

In the morning a short tour of the town market with all kind of food items you would not find in most European markets. Every part of an animal is used for food. The sun was getting higher and the day was getting warmer and it looked like a nice day for a ride…

Vianthong – Luang Prabang

New years eve! A fantastic ride to Luang Prabang, a very french picturesque town with a lively tourism industry. The town seems to live in a parallel universe with all the western tourists and many-fold prices compared to the earlier towns we have stayed in. This time the ride was first 100 km on gradually deteriorating tarmac and eventually just gravel. The last 50 km again on one of the best riding roads with reasonably (with occasional reminder that we are in laos) good surface and winding bends, making the progress quick and easy. Bar an other flat tyre with one of us. We lifted the bike on a local minibus and got on the road again…

Riding through the villages was an experience. Kids shouting, waving, high fiving – while we rode by – wonder how long it will take for their hands to recover. I had my cloves on and I tried to ride slowly. Still a fiver was quite a slam. The villages were all full of small children and young families with all kinds of farm animals running free. Pigs, ducks, cows, goats, dogs, cats, etc. Very few old people. Makes me wonder…

2016-12-31 11.04.08 (1500x844)We also met fellow motorists on the road. A couple from Kent was riding on a scooter two up. If they are still together, that marriage will last!

  The weathed got warmer and New Year celebrations at Nigt Market was a blast in a warm evening. Also a blast from the past with local politician’s speech flattening the atmosphere but the party soon picked up with fireworks and confetti filled the sky and air. A new year’s eve to remember on the Mekong river.

 

Lao People’s Democratic Republic, The Land of a Million Elephants

Around the Borders of Thailand, Vietnam, China and Myanmar.

Laos route strawman

Foreword

I seem to keep returning to the Mekong river. The river has crossed my path In Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and now in Laos. More precisely, the capital city, Vientiane. Laos is still relatively poor and isolated and one of the remaining Communist countries. Also described as ”Forgotten”.

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Flag of Laos, officially Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Laos was first created as an entity in 1353, when warlord Fa Ngum declared himself the king of Lane Xang – ”Million Elephants”. Sadly, the number of wild elephants is today low, only about 700. Eventually, in 1975 the country was named Lao People’s Democratic Republic. emblem_of_laos Laos is officially Buddhist, and the national symbol on the state seal is the gilded stupa of Pha That Luang in Vientiane – No hammer and sickle! True to the Buddhist tradition, in October 2016, some 10 kilograms of gold was placed on top of the stupa to mark its 450th anniversary since construction. Life in Laos has continued in much the same way it has for hundreds of years. In 1998 the government even declared “Visit Laos Year” – but despite their efforts monks still outnumbered tourists throughout the country. But things are changing… At least now there are some daring bikers among the monks.

The most heavily bombed country in history

Laos has a rich history of both local and colonial forces fighting over the rule. In the recent past, the country has been occupied a few times by the French, Japanese, Vietnamese (until 90’s) and both Soviets and Americans have fought there during the Vietnam war. c09290f9-4aca-4f61-a2dc-fef423487a1e-7304-00000673571ea8a5_tmp Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped two million tons of bombs on Laos, nearly equal to the 2.1 million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II, making Laos the most heavily bombed country in history. The New York Times noted this was “nearly a ton for every person in Laos.” Some 80 million bombs failed to explode and remain scattered throughout the country, rendering vast swathes of land impossible to cultivate and killing or maiming Laotians every year. The number of casualties vary by source from 50 to 300 per year. 65e735c9-43c2-4610-aa20-1d498f612974-7304-000006779382e090_tmp

Vientiane – City of Sandalwood

Vientiane, the capital and a former French trading post, is the biggest city in Laos with some 800.000 inhabitants. Wikitravel defines that today ”Vientiane is a laid-back, yet charmingly cosmopolitan village”. Vientiane marks the start point for yet another epic motorcycle adventure in Asia, this time in Laos. Can’t wait!

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Image:www.vientiane.holiday