A Lexus Ute barreled down the steep concrete ramp, making a beeline for me. Angry at its lack of consideration towards me. I stubbornly continued in a straight line, until it dawned on me it was I that was completely on the wrong side of the road. With a wave of apology, I hide my embarrassment by ducking into the first of the three wooden customs shacks.
The ledger thumps open, making the dust particles jump but not enough to disturb the young Lao girl’s franticly coping data into the newly obtained computers. I was quickly processed thought and moved onto the next shack, where I paid the small fee that covers the entire desk. Once I proved to the man in the third shack, that I had payed and completed everything before I was free to go.
Spotting a petrol station to feed my starving engine, I turn off the beautifully paved road and onto a scrappy undulating gravel. Unlocking the petrol cap, the girl posed into position waiting patiently from me. I waved my hand over the opening with my palm up, trying to indicate that I want a full tank. Knowing exactly what I was after she pulled the trigger and filled the tank. As I paying a few local scooters pulled up beside me almost locking me in. Pushed my bike out of the bike lock, the owners of the bikes started yelling and pointing to me. Looking around wondering what they were yelling about I got on my bike and discovered my feet for the first time, was flat on the ground. Something indeed was wrong.
Dismounting, I discovered I had a flat tire. I felt instantly nervous about the overwhelming task of patching up my first puncture on the trip. Hearing the locals yelling out to me, I look to where they are pointing, down the road in the direction I was heading. Realising they were trying to direct me to a puncture repair workshop. Slowly riding up the road looking for the tell tale signs of the shop, I could hear the tire slapping the asphalt with every turn. Cringing, I finally found a tire wedge between the timber boards that spanned a deep ditch leading to a tiny timber building sitting high on the built up rubble presumably left over from road construction. Pulling the tube out, they find the hole quickly and pulled a shard of steel from my tire. Using a metal press they pressed the two pieces of rubber together and poured petrol over it and lit it on fire. Several minutes later the vulcanizing process was complete.
Waving goodbye, I rode off, but I could feel a thumping from my rear wheel. Annoyed, I was forced to stop to inspect this strange feeling. Straight away, I could see the issue, not believing my lack of observation at the tire shop. I pushed the bike into a small clearing. Having no centre stand fitted to my bike, I laid it down on its side to remove the rear wheel.
Children emerged from the rice fields surrounding me, all trying to grab and inspect all my tools, deciding that keeping an eye on everything was becoming too hard, I suggested that a couple of them help me. Giving a leaver to the eldest boy, I show him how to ease the tire over the bead. He worked systematically with me around the tire. The other children breathing down our necks, the sweat was building up under my shirt. With the rim back on the bike, I left the bike to a standing position.
Hearing a hissing sound, I look down to see I had another flat. Now really annoyed at my self I now had to repeat the process. The children stare in horror and groan. Leaving me to it, I lay my bike over again and repeat the process, discovering it was my fault, I had pinched the tube with one of my tire irons.
Australia guy called Richie, who I had meet in hired a scooter and we headed out to a small village called Muang Sing and the end of a dead end track. Following a scrubby bushed lined path, I turn a corner as a small boy leaps from the scrub holding an enormous machete in his hands. Pulling up next to him, patting my seat behind me, he leaps on. Riding into the barren village with dirt roads and bamboo huts, men gathered at each others houses while women immerge from the kitchen with only a piece of material covering their bottom half’s while bearing their weathered breast. Children gathered behind us, running to keep up. From behind me, the boy directed me to his house. Stopping outside he jumps off and talks excitedly to his father and mother who had come out with the rest of the adults from the village to see what the commotion was. Thailand
Richie and I tried to ask the parents if we could carry on past the village, hoping to see poppy field to take photos. The local gave us confusing directions, first nodding then shaking their heads. Finally, they came to a decision and made a cross sign with their arms. Taking that as a firm no, we turn our bikes around and headed back hungry for a Lao BBQ.
The beautiful newly paved road disappeared and replaced with a repeating pattern of asphalt and gravel all the way to Udom Xai. Each section only lasting a couple of hundred meters, with every transition completely different from the last, it made it a very slow and exhausting ride.
Arriving at Udom Xai I park my bike at a guesthouse and head out to stretch my legs. It is a dirty, grubby trading town between
China and . Later that night I head back to my guesthouse where I used sign language to asked if my motorcycle was ok outside in the alley way. Understanding me, he nods he gives me the thumbs up. I head upstairs to my room ready to crash into bed. Hearing a wedding party start up next door, I began to get nervous. Looking out my window, I could see guests of the wedding wondering in and out of the guesthouse garden past my bike to use the bush as an outdoor toilet. At every sound I jumped up to check my bike, then it was gone. Laos
Heart pounding, I grab my kegs while throwing on my jeans and boots, the sound of me clambering down the concrete stairs echoed through out the guesthouse. Arriving on the first floor the security guard looks up at me in surprised and points to the space under the stairs. I turn my head following the gaze, spotting my bike safe and secure. I let out a huge sigh of relieve and call out “khawp jai lai lai” (thank you very much). I think he must of got a fright him self as he returned the reply “khawp jai lai lai”.
I headed out of town bound for Phongsali, The most northern town of
. I hit a dirt road where I pulled off to the side and let my tires down to suit the conditions. The whole day was spent riding along this narrow dusty road, stopping to watch a local bus drive past loaded high with local people hanging on tight on to the roof. Following behind just out of reach of the bellowing dust, I watch the bus dip and dive through the deep ruts caused by traffic during the last down pour. Since this was my first real off road experience, I was riding on an extreme high with a huge grim spread across my face. I was winding higher and higher up into the fog that surround the mountains of northern Laos . Feeling the fog getting thicker as it soaks deep into my clothes, soon the dusty road turns to mud, and my mood had turned. I was now miserable as the cold bites into my bones. Laos
The terrible weather that caused logistic problems over the Chinese New Year period in southern
had descended on Loas. The temperature rose to a maximum five degrees with limited visibility of two meters at the best of times, I was frozen, huddling in bed drinking cup after cup of green tea and using an empty fizzy drink bottle for a hot water bottle. After three days stuck frozen, I headed for the market and brought the best thermal underwear I could find and a large purple poncho to keep the water off my pants. China
The following day now well equipped for the cold I finally leave Phongsali. I head out to my bike and load my bags onto it. My battery has gone flat, luckily I chose a bike that has a kick start. Every time I got the bike started, I would turn around to pile on my jackets, helmet and gloves only to turn back around it would then cut out. Frustrated, I would be forcing me to remove all my layers to kick it again. Finally, I get it going and it seems to be holding its reeves I managed to pile on the clothes and fill up with gas.
I leave the smooth asphalt and hit the thick sticky mud that had developed over the last three days of thick damp fog. The Kilometres pasted me by and I finally found myself reaching the next town well below the fog line. I need warming up over a hot noodle soup and a thick black
coffee with an inch of condense milk at the bottom of the glass. With my belly warmed and my fingers working again, I head off too the next village. Catching up with a mini van, I follow it down a particularly steep part, unable to pass when it started sliding down the road. The mud is stacking onto my knobblies rendering almost them useless causing me to slide down the hill behind the van. Around the next corner, I discover a long line of trucks and a bus parked on the side of the road with their drivers and passengers all warming them selves around small fires waiting for the weather to clear and the road to become useable again. I felt sorry for these people knowing they will be here for a long time. Laos
I drove through another tiny village at the end on the village stood the German cyclist dressed in clean tan pants and a crisp shirt. He had spent the night in the village’s hall when the weather had packed in. He showed me where he slept that night and explained that after he got changed for bed and settled down into his sleeping bag he looked up to discover that the entire village had watched the whole show through the gaps in the bamboo structure. Once he was settled in, they left him to go to sleep. He was hoping to catch a bus back to the main road where he would continue to cycle. While I was standing next to him, a bus passed with out stopping despite his waving. I explained to the cyclist that he could not wave at the bus he had to stop the bus with his palm flat and facing downward doing a patting motion. I do not think he believed me as I heard from another cyclist a few months later that he had to cycle the whole way back, in thick mud destroying all his clean crisp clothes.
After the turn off onto the main road heading into Udom Xai, I increased my speed thinking only of having a hot shower, my first in four days. I had been riding for seven hours now stopping only for hot noddle soup. While thinking of this luxurious hot shower I suddenly realise that the road dropped about a foot over two millimetres! I had no time to slow down so I just stood up leaned back over my back wheel and flew over it. Landing perfectly I decide to slowing down and not try my luck a second time.
I arrived just at dusk to the same guesthouse. Hearing me coming the owners held their door wide open so I could drive my bike inside to park it under the stairs with mud flicking all over the clean white tiles. One girl was already mopping and another was holding her hand out for my muddy clothes after my hot shower.
Paper work in Vientiane / Bike Piston Rings in
Reviewing my temporary import document, I discovered that it was only valid for 15 days. Stressing out I really needed to go to the main boarder crossing between
Laos and Thailand to find someone to extend my motorbike import documents to cover the rest of my time in . As I got all geared up, I could not get my motorbike to start no matter what I did. A passing tourist wiggled my spark plug lead, this for some reason allowed my bike to start. I didn’t really care. I’ll try and find the reason another day. I had to get to the import office before it closed for lunch. When I first entered Laos I failed to notice that my bike was only allowed in the country for 15 days. I found the office and within half an hour, I paid the small fee to obtain the stamps to allow my bike to stay in the country for a further four weeks. I now had so much free time up my sleave I headed back into the city to check out the large golden Wat, which stood as a backdrop to Laos . Vientiane
In the morning, I packed my bags and loaded my bike up. I went to start the bike, but it just wouldn’t start no matter what I did. I checked the spark plug, I had spark. I checked the petrol flow – it was flowing freely. I pushed down on the kick to discover I had no compression. That’s not a good feeling. It is Sunday it is the only day that
people have off in the week. Checking back into my room I was defeated to stay here for another day. Laos
Mr Ferk came and pushed me to his shop with one foot on my back pedal while driving his scooter. He managed to strip my bike down to confirm that it was worn piston rings with no spring left in them. He had some spares that fitted and replaced them. I was extremely thankful. On my way back to my guesthouse, I was pulled over by the corrupted traffic police, for nearly turning on to wrong side of the road. I managed to catch my self, but not fast enough, as the traffic police blew the whistle and waved me over to the side of the road. While he held onto my I had to bargain down my bribe to $5 from $50 USD. Still that was a lot of money.
I left Vientine for the second time the following day. Please to get out of the town, I am ready for more adventures in the south.
A week in the southern Laos
The following day I headed south, I stopped in a town called Pakxan where I checked into a guest house, the guest house owner and I got along really well, he asked if I liked to dance, I said sure! then he asked if I like men. Now I know where that's going - didn't you say you had a daughter my age?? I went out contemplating my new problem. While I was out I ran into a girl I had meet in Vientiane, so we walked around the village and had tea together. Just as she was leaving my guest house owner showed up, so I had a couple of beers with him. He then asked my if I’ve tried the pink egg - no was my reply. half an hour later one cooked pink egg turned up in front of me, but it was not pink - it was black, where the white is on a normal egg, it was a clear brown resin colour... now what have I gotten my self into.... I grabbed my spoon and thought it was too late to back out. It tasted pretty strong, but nice. I could eat it again - I guess. But that night I had the craziest dreams, which were so real, so scary - I woke up sweating and feeling like I had been screaming. It took me ages to go back to sleep. In the morning I asked the owner is the pink egg was a snakes egg - the answer was yes. My next question was - is it poisons? - Yes he replied... that figures! A word of warning, do not eat the pink egg before you go to bed. Other wise by all means try it!
I got into Paxse and who should yell out to me but Richie! I shared a room with him and quickly planned a trip together up to the Plateau.
We had a rough plan. Waterfalls seam to be high on the agenda... I won’t bore you with all the waterfall details. On our first night we meet up with a few people at the guest house, and had tea together, the beer Lao flowed all night, and then the Lao Lao... come out. That when I suggested we try a pig’s ear... everyone one was keen- surprising - it was quite nice. Only one girl didn't like it.
We decided to take the dirt road to another waterfall. We stopped for a drink of water and a couple of oranges by a quite bridge and headed off again. Only to find our self’s back there an hour or two later but going in the opposite direction. Realizing this, we were not defected but we come to the conclusion we were lost! Finally found the correct dusty road and got to Tadlo waterfall. Richie was getting grumpy by this stage, he was fucked off that we got lost but I didn't care, my family's motto was 'your not travelling until your lost'. We meet some great German guys travelling around by backpacking about to open a beer and settle in for the afternoon. AlI I felt like was hanging out with them and having a few beers, however Richie really wanted to get going to Salavan which was another 60km up the road. I gave in and we left, only to find Salavan a hole with no good guest houses available so late in the day. So we got suck it a shitty guest house that had condom ads on the wall. Realizing my mood was starting to match Richie's, I decided to get a separate room. To avoid I need my own space.
Then next day, things were refreshed and restored. We were ready for Taoy, deep in the heart of Tiger country. We had heard you could hear them softly padding around the village at night. After much searching, we found a man that would tell you how to get there. Trying to draw us a diagram of a fork in the road, got to hard, so he jumped into his new Lexus and showed us the fork and then took us right up to a mighty river we had to cross before we were indeed on our way.
Right before the river, we filled up with gas and brought some small cakes for lunch. Ploughed through our first river crossing we find ourselves then up onto a beautiful dirt road. Which quickly turned to shit? It took us 5 hours to complete 80 km’s. Most of that was over boulders and through bull dust holes. I was laughing the whole way - I guess it was my reaction to the hard riding, but I loved it. by the end of the day, my tummy was sore from laughing so much and we were dusty from head to toe and sweating dust. We turned up to Taoy to find an Australian mine clearer employed by a Chinese paper company, managed to have a quick chat before he left to get supplies, from the direction we just came from. It’s a pity I would have liked to speak to him longer and learn more about his job.
So we were left alone in this tiny village, hungry, tired, dirty and in need of a beer Lao. The bathroom in the guesthouse was more than I expected. There was a bucket and a big pool of cold water - but it was nice after the dusty day.
We then head south down to Attupetu, on the way we stopped to see different water falls, tucked away in the jungle. After seeing 7 amazing waterfalls in three days is starting to get tiresome, but Richie is enjoy them so I tag along.
After riding around the village trying to find a nice guest house we came across a hotel, which didn’t look like it belonged. The long concrete driveway leads down to a three story concrete structure where the white paint was peeling off the walls. I had this urge to look around inside, wondering if this was another building left over from the secret war. After checking in, we followed the young man down the long wide hallways, with the ceilings towering above. Turning several corners we arrive at our bedroom for the evening.
Looking out the window at a huge grassy field, I notice two children start to play a game of Sepak Takraw. It looks to me as if it is a combination of volleyball and soccer. The aim of the game is to get the woven bamboo ball over the next and touch the ground within the opposition’s court, with only the use of your feet. Richie and I joined in on the game, which I will never win any medals in.
It was time to come down off the plateau and head back to Paxse. After looking at my map we decided to take the scenic route and follow the road along the bottom of Cambodia. We didn't really know what to expect. The hotel manager explained that it was very bumpy and dusty, which didn’t give us anything extra knowledge.
Setting out at day break, we stopped to stock up on water and food for the day. Richie’s basket kept coming loose and almost falling off, driving him crazy, so I suggested he get some super glue to use as lock tight. Richie then proceeded to glued all the screws first and then tried to screw them in. By that time the glue has dried and it was no point. To add to the disaster, he cross threaded the screws. Now the basket was more wobbly than ever! Steam was pouring from his ears along with the swear words. I couldn’t help but laugh at him. I guess that didn't help the situation any more. Tying the basket up with string he was set to go once again.
We really didn’t know which direction to go in, so our game plan was to always follow the larger roads when given a choice. Suddenly our road stopped. With no warning, we couldn't go around or over because there just was nothing. Back tracking a few meters to a path that shoot off to the right. We came to some people who I stopped and called out ‘Paxse?’ She turned away from us and called out to a friend. A skinny old man emerged from the jungle wearing only white pants but spoke in perfect English. This is when he told us that this was the road to Paxsong. If you want to go to Paxse you need to turn left at the river.
Eight kilometres back we followed our new directions and turn left. We followed the smaller road through bush and rice field we were finally back on the right path. That day we came across many obstacles. There were five huge deep rivers, where the water came up to my engine, five smaller ones and three really deep puddles. We travelled mostly under the cover of the jungle. The road was compacted dirt, and we flew along where possible.
With less that ten kilometres to the main road, we were stopped by the sight of four men perched on top of the log all eating ice creams. The log was one of many strewn across the road. There was a large truck completely sealing off the road out. A man beckoned Richie to follow him, across the logs to the rear of the truck. Showing him the broken axel with oil sinking into the dusty road. He then pointed to the path we must cut around the truck but through the jungle.
A roaring sound filled the jungle as we battled through the vines on one side of the truck and a second truck was crashing through the dense jungle on other side. At the half way point, I realised what we were doing and how dangerous it was with the number of unexploded bombs. At that point I hit a root and dropped the bike trapping me against the rough logs. Seeing me struggle to lift the bike of me, the workers came over and pushed me up right position. We left them to carry on with their problem, as we made our way back to Paxse completely drained.