The Laos Way Round

"Wally" in the hills

Let me introduce you to ‘Wally’ the motorbike. He’s a Honda XR250 motor-cross beast that took us on one of the most exciting trips experienced so far…..

Following on from our awesome tour of the loop at Thakek we decided that our thirst for more 2 wheel action needed quenching, so we scratched our heads and came up with the idea of adventuring off for 8 days into the high north of Laos on a real motorbike (with a little more power and comfort).

When we arrived at Vientienne our first stop was to ‘Jules Classic Bike Hire’ to inquire about costs and availability of a Honda XR250. We found the ower ‘Tiere’ quite funny and amusing for a Frenchman and also cheap so we booked it for in 2 days time. Our route was to start in Vientienne and end in Luang Probang 8 days later. We had to pay$45 dollars extra to drop the bike off there but it also included transporting our backpacks which really helped having to not ‘lug around’ an extra 30kg so it was worth the extra cash…..

Day 1 – We set off around 10am from the shop with somewhat rather fuzzy heads (this can be explained from the previous nights drinking. It resulted from trying to forget the loss of all the video footage taken from the previous bike tour courtesy of an elderly Laos lady who managed to format the memory card when asked if she could change the language settings to English). Once we’d loaded up the bike with our smallish luggage we then said our good byes and headed off up route 13 to Vang Vien approximately 160km north. The drive was easy going with nice flat tarmac and not much traffic. As we got out of the city the scenery started to explain why Laos is such a beautiful country. We arrived at our first location with no problems and with enough time to search out dinner and a cheap room.

Andy with our fuel for the trip... NesCoffee in a can!

Day 2 – Got going nice and early after breakfast and made some good progress on the very bendy roads. The road started to get steeper the further north we travelled. Due to our budget backpacking we didn’t invest in a modern ‘sat nav’ so we had to make do with a compass tied on with a piece of string. Surprisingly it worked great, we knew which way north was…..after a short lunch stop in one of the tiny Laos villages we encountered our first problem. Wally got a flat rear tire.  In Laos there are lots of street mechanic workshops in the villages. Luckily for us we had it next to the workshop. Flat tires are very common due to the road conditions so we were provided with a set of spare inner-tubes just in case. The mechanic took the wheel off and started to fit the new inner-tube, it became apparent that there was a snapped spoke and also several loose ones which had caused the puncture. A bit of electrical tape and a rusty pair of pliers and we were back on the road for the sum of 10,000 kip (1 pound). Our destination was Ponsavan approximately 250km away.

Day 3- OUCH!!!!, our backsides were feeling the pain now. Se off to look at a tourist site called the Plain of Jars which were a collection of giant burial erns dating back thousands of years. The site was interesting but what was worrying were all the UXO or un-exploded ordinances dropped on Laos during the Vietnam/Laos war. This is a really big problem even after 40 years. These bombs are still being found all over and due to the price of scrap metal, villagers are going looking for them to dig up. These bombs can vary size from tennis ball to 2 meter long torpedo shaped. Most of the farm land is littered with them and on average 1 person every day dies from this problem. It is so important to stick to the paths. We were heading up to San Neua also approximately 250km away. The further north and the higher we went the colder it got. Not just a little but really cold. We both had to wear 3 pairs of pants and all our jumpers. The silly thing was that we didn’t have any gloves and the only available ones wouldn’t fit on my little finger so socks had to make do….the journey wasn’t as  pleasing today due to the large fog clouds and the lack of road visability but we plodded on and arrived around 5.00pm just as it was getting dark. If you go to San Neua don’t expect to eat, as there are no restaurants open and the only passable one serves comedy rubber chicken that you can’t chew. We went hungry…..

Day 4 – Set off to Vieng Xai on a special day……Valentines Day. We didn’t have to ride very far as the location was only about 25km away so it gave us time for our butts to recover. We’d been told to go and visit the Caves as they were interesting but we didn’t quite imagine how amazing they actually were. The story behind them is that during the war the American dropped bombs every day for 11 years trying to kill the Laos government who they knew were somewhere in the area. The Laos people had dug into the caves and made them into safe hidings by building concrete bomb shelters and emergency rooms. There were bedrooms and kitchens and even a performance stage area for when circus shows and cinema/movies were shown. The bombings happened through the daytime so farming and looking for food had to be carried out at night. The tour guide was very good and the audio guide was excellent. We headed back to ‘Rubber-chickenville’ and had a nice bottle of Laos rice wine to wash it down with.

Day 5 – Vieng tong was our next location. We expected it to be cold but as we rode on it became so hot we had to make a quick clothing change. On the way back we stopped off at a hill village where we’d previously purchased some petrol to hand out some books and pencils to the local children. They were very cute but also very shy. Probably none of the children had been to school ever so a book and pencil was pretty alien to them. Problem number 2 happened, the gear change lever came loose but once again we were fortunate to breakdown next to a mechanics so I borrowed a spanner and managed to fit it back on. At this place there was a hot spring so I was very excited as I’d never been to one before. I imagined bubbling hot water in a pool with a cascading waterfall……what we found was a damn with pipes with holes in squirting boiling water onto slimy rocks with old underpants stuffed in the crevices…. we still managed to spend about 1 hour boiling our feet though. Food in Laos is always a challenge in the smaller villages as there is usually only one place and the prices quadruple on the special western menu.

Day 6 – Filled up ‘Wally’ for about 8 pounds and then made our way to Nong Khiaw about another 150km away. The scenery once again was stunning. We stopped at a little village which was gorgeous. The river run through it and on the banks were local women with babies strapped to their hips picking the vegetables and chatting. We bought some oranges and they were probably the tastiest ones we’ve ever had. Problem again…..’Walley’s’ gear change lever came loose again, this time it was unfixable without a welding job. We were also miles away from anywhere. Fortunately the road was down hill for about 10km. I managed to get him into 3rd and we pushed off and rolled most of the way to the next village where 5000 kip (50p) sealed his fate. (No more problem). Nang Khiaw was a very stunning place. It was nice to see a few more restaurants with edible food and a few more travellers. We bagged a hut room overlooking the river and the giant mountain and went down to have a swim with the local kids, who liked to do crazy backflip jumps.

Day 7 – Absolutely stunning view from the balcony of the misty covered mountain. Set off to Luang Prabang approximately 160km away. The roads were less demanding as they were mostly flat and straight-ish. The road ran alongside the river and gave us some amazing camera opertunities. We finally arrived in Luang Probang to what seemed to be the hottest day since records began. We were melting and only had hot bottle water to drink. We tried to go in search of a room with the bike and all the gear but the heat was to much and I think I blew a gasket and fell out with co-pilot Rach. We had a cooling down period and all was forgiven and then headed out for some tasty pizza.

Kuang Si falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 8 – Our final day on ‘Wally’. We made our way to Kuang Si waterfall about 25km out of the city. A nice drive and no bum aches either which was nice. The waterfall was nice but a real tourist trap. The best thing was the rope swing which we both did. The water was absolutely freezing but it was a nice shock to the system. We returned back to the room and had a sleep ready for the collection of the bike and my safe return of my backpack and my passport. I think we were both glad and sad to see ‘Wally’ go but we can both say that we enjoyed one of the best experiences so far in his company…….

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