Saturday, October 27, 2012

Breath taking Laos...

Neil and I were on our way out of the loop, enjoying the dirt to good tar and amazing limestone mountains surrounding us. Laos is truly the most beautiful country in that respect, maybe I am just a bit bias, but it is truly one of my favourite countries for its natural beauty.

Not a bad view

Neil radioed ahead that there was a view point and we have to stop. Little did we know what would come next. Urals, a gaggle of them, with New Zealand flags waving behind each bike. To me I thought cylinder heads out the side of the engine equals BMW but Neil quickly corrected me. It was a group of males and females travelling through Vietnam and Laos on hired bikes. We were invited to ride down the road 40kms to stay and eat with them. It was mentioned that there was going to be a pig on the spit. Hell yes! Also apple sauce brought from New Zealand. Done and done. So we went back down the mountain to follow the gaggle to their night stop. This is where I experienced my first official water crossing. Most of you are probably thinking “so what?" Well let me tell you, big deal. I was second in line and did not have trusty Neil to back he up as he usually does. I radioed after I had done it ...eep. Scary, but if in doubt gas it out. I basically just gassed it the whole way. World travel, BMWs, other motorcycles etc was the topic for the rest of the day and night.

What a sweet ride!!

Mr Pig joined us for a Beer Lao

After a day of long riding

The following day the group had planned to visit the Konglor Cave via boat. There was no more room so we decided to ride three kilometres down the road to the entrance of the cave. We needed to move on and get to Vientiane which was some 300 kilometres or so away. We couldn't do the full one and half hours cave tour. Neil managed to find someone who spoke enough English to tell the ticket man we only wanted to go part way into the cave. So with that sorted, we descended to the boat and our two guides. The cave runs 7 kilometres in length. It connects through to the Natane village at the other end and is the only way to access it. The river has formed a natural tunnel 30 metres wide and between 20-100 metres high. Within the main chamber is a large collection of stalagmites and stalactites. Just a little more information on the geology. The Karst of Khammouane area, is a belt of Karst limestone 270 km long and 40 km wide. It was laid down in seas over 300 million years ago and then forced to the surface by tectonic plate movements. It lies between the Mekong River in Laos and the Vietnamese border. Over all it was a truly breath taking sight. I only wish now we had more time to explore the rest of the cave, but there was the rest of Laos to explore.

Boat ride into cave of wonders

Neil believes this is a perfect place to make spells

Our guide snapped this photo of us.

Toot Toot, next stop Vientiane. A very tiring 300 km later we hit the capital. Here we needed to obtain our Thai visa and some much deserved R & R from riding. Neil managed to find us a wonderful Vietnamese Guesthouse to stay in. I think we were to only “phalang” (foreigner) to stay there. The first night, the humble and generous owner, Tuan, asked his daughter, Tuey to prepare us a traditional Vietnamese dinner. Which was different from other flavours we have encountered in SE Asia. We descended on the very busy Thai Consulate the next morning after a long earned rest. One day and 1000 baht each poorer and we are laughing.


Neil enjoying his coconut

Neil had managed to find some very large markets and took me for a look... Holy Moly. You name it they had it, but was available at 10 other shops as well. Which meant for serious bargain shopping. Being sincere to the budget I resisted purchasing. Zeus help me if I ever return! Considering we only have limited time in Laos, we had to get moving. Vang Vieng next stop. Neil had visited with a best mate four years ago and had a ball. Unfortunately the Vang Vieng he knew had been torn down August this year. Just our luck. I kept hearing these fantastic stories but this is the way things are. There is still tubing though.

Neil stayed here four years ago, its tripled its rooms now though.

So we navigate through Vang Vieng and end up at the same guest house where he had stayed years before, unpacked, and went off to explore. Food was great and fresh I ended up living on a bacon, chicken and cheese baguettes for like 3 days straight. I believe I could have kept going, heheh. The people were lovely too. Explaining where they could what had happened in the community since the government had removed the river bars and dangerous flying foxes and trapezes. Apparently tax evasion was a major cause to the grand end, let alone the regular deaths on the river.

On the road again

Neil decided to take me tubing so I can say at least I did that. Good fun and nice and relaxing. Although Neil and I kept getting free back massages from rocks under the surface. Tomorrow we move onto Luang Prabang.

Better run through the Jungle

Riding took up the next day and we arrived late at Luang Prabang some 270 kilometres. Big rides considering prior in Laos we had only done about 130 kilometres in a day and were completely exhausted. But these rides included dirt and hair pin corners, an off road riders dream. I have never seen so many twisties in my life!!! By the end I was saying no more, but the experience meter sky rocketed I think. Pretty good trade off. Two German blokes on Honda Baja motorbikes had passed us on the road up the mountain and we stopped for a quick yarn at the look out. Amazing!!

Nice headlights

Breath taking

Accommodation was found and we went to explore the night market of Luang Prabang. Again I had to fight the urges to buy and if only I just came here, I would need at least one extra bag to bring home all the goodies. Only one night here then in the morning north to the Chinese border. I am not sure why exactly but apparently there is an abandoned casino or town.

Flat as

My friend Mr Dirt came for a visit again, along with those twisties. Although there was beautiful scenery and a chance for a quick glimpse into the life of rural Laos people. Most smiled and waved but some looked too consumed by their back breaking labour. That is something I noticed, they are all really hard workers! We stopped for a break and began winning the local children with a packet of chips with bonus Angry Birds cards. A bicycle rider passed by, we found out that he was from China riding to Australia!!! Broken English, but top bloke. Then one big new BMW pulled up. Then around 3 more joined, always a welcomed sight. The air filled with laughter, ooooos and arghhhhs. I just had to stand there and laugh. We found out through broken English they were from China riding back home. They invited us to join them to the border. Well where we could. With the exchange of details, one man said 'call me' when you get to China. We tried to explain we weren’t going into China, only the border, but thought we would leave it at that.

This is how you dry chillies

Our little friend and his Angry Birds, and angry shoes!

Our mate Yang Wei from China

Our new Chinese friends

 It was decided to stay overnight at Udomxai or Muang Xai. Where we explored the local markets again and Neil invested in some fireworks. This then filled our night, to awake the next morning with chickens trying to eat the spent firework packets. I had the best baguette of my life here.

Admiring the magnificent Laos country side

Heading to the Chinese border, the roads were flat and beautiful. Minus the occasional crazy bus, mini van or truck. We then started for our last port of call, Huay Sai. The twisties came to Neil’s joy while I plodded along, but wow, some of those hills were freaking steep!! We did however manage to see the recent remains of an overturned truck full of grapes. Maybe we should have picked some too as the whole village was out in force scavenging.


At the Chinese border

We are now resting up awaiting for the 1st of November so we can head across the Mekong for the last time on the trip. While I sit writing weeks of blog, Neil is be-friending a local to modify the bikes even more. I am so excited as soon I will have to opportunity to meet up with my bestie in Chiang Mai! Till our next adventure.......

Till next time....

Moving on and up....

Seeya later Cambodia, well not quite yet. Although it is the currently leader in 'wave's returned while riding' and the most smiley-est people seen so far! This doesn't even take into account the unrelenting barrage of amazing temples that you have to enjoy while rolling around the place.

Omg next time I will travel Asia on one of these

We enjoyed some time in Kapong Cham at the Mekong Crossing. The crew made us feel like crusty expats with their wonderful food and friendship. Thanks to a fit/strong Mr. Chai for his brilliant effort in translating for my wild goose chase for motorcycle parts. All the best guys and girls, keep up the great work on keeping us falang fed!

Some of the Mekong Crossing crew

We encountered our first breakdown here too so to speak. Only of course after Neil had boasted a day prior on how reliable to bikes have been. Which to their testament, have been amazing. Apart from the cats+alarm = flat battery in Thailand. Just as we were to leave, Neil tried to start his bike but to no avail then he realised, hydraulic lock in the left cylinder. Which would be a fatal blow for the engine. Meanwhile I stood back to watch, which resulted in being shot with a jet of petrol from the sparkplug hole. Luckily, it didn't have the battery power to bend anything and after swapping out engine oil (which had been diluted by petrol) and swapping some leaking fuel taps we were off again. Even though the fuel taps were off, this one had me a bit worried that big Zeus may need a heart transplant MUCH earlier than expected. A thorough test ride proved no perceivable harm done and that we could try again to leave the next day.

Working it out baby

 Impressive off road skills with pannier dogs.

Next we road off north towards Laos. We decided to stop off at Kratie to see the endangered river dolphins. At first I thought this would be like one of the many whale watching and dolphin tours I have been on. You know, there is no guarantee etc. Well blow me down, a few minutes and they were there. It was really hard to grab a good photo of them, as they were so quick and we were not sure where they would surface. So we opted for video mode. Apparently there is only around 90 or so left. A saddening concept that in the near future there may be none. Randomly we met up again with our Kiwi mate, John, that we had met the town previous, Kampong Cham. John was a gem for another perspective on Cambodia, its history and the 'general' history we've heard mentioned before. He's done his research and even after 5 years is still getting the hang of the place. This has been mirrored by many that we've met that Cambodia. It has a messy past but from a couple of Aussies visiting on motorcycles – they are doing a bloody great job moving forward by the looks of it. Its a hard and long road. Thanks for the great company John and all the best mate!

Our chariot awaits

Life is tough chasing dolphins 

Stung Treng was our next stop after experiencing some “bumpy” roads. This is where it would be perfect tar, but every 200 metres pot holes the size I can not even describe but would result in a massive decrease in speed. Although the Rooney Specials could take on anything thrown at them. This continued to the Laos border crossing. A very large and quite impressive building was being constructed while we settled for the row of little shacks for our customs and immigration. Simple and hassle free. We paid our $1 bribe and went onto the Laos side. Where again sweet and simple with the addition of another massive $2 bribe.

Chris and Inna's conquering machine

Sabidee Laos! So we tried to go and see the four thousand islands first up. I'm not sure if there's actually that many islands but we shall never know. We didn't have time to count. Its on the Mekong though – not the ocean. Alas we had yet to come across a Laos ATM for some local currency. So our path was guided further north. This was as we we're short $1US so couldn't afford the ferry. As it turns out it was a blessing in disguise. As if we had spent time on the islands we would have missed running into Chris and Ina in Pakse. A Kiwi and German couple riding a Triumph Tiger from Germany to NZ! We had a great number of days enjoying their excellent company. Gave us some great perspective on our own trip and was great to hear alternate ideas and thoughts for our planing. I harassed Inna for the best trip around Europe considering our time, money and weather constraints. It was great to be able to talk about things that only an overland traveller would experience. We ate loads of food up on the Bolaven Plateau and enjoyed another ride on the wondrous elephants together. Mama's Guesthouse is currently the cheapest rate a night we have encountered. About $2 US for the both of us in a queen bed (dorm style). It was so much cooler as well so no fan no problem. Another plus was the beautiful waterfalls located just a short walk away. We all jumped in a few times but it was sooo cold. Another amazing positive from Mama's Guesthouse was the cheapness of the food and the portions. Geez one plate could easily have fed all of us. One funny thing I noticed was I think Mama uses the same straws. I saw mine was dirty on the inside and just did not use it. But when I ordered another the same dirty straw came out hehehehe.

Enjoying another elephant ride

See the excitement 

Chris and Inna enjoying their first elephant ride

Bath time

Thanks to Inna and Chris for the excellent time, your wealth of knowledge and overall awesomeness. Neil and I sincerely hope to see you on our travels or make a trip to NZ especially.

Smile...some kids we meet at a Coffee Plantation

After we reluctantly parted ways from our Triumph friends it was time to see if Mr. Bigfella needed a hand with his beaten KTM. Whilst we had been sipping coffee on an exotic plateau, Ian had been doing single handed combat with the bloody Ho Chi Mihn Trail in the wet season. Which to anyone and a feet within itself a truly remarkable achievement. The man is 900 foot tall and makes all our big bikes look like scooters. An exemplary domination of the HCMT by Ian had him slipping and sliding all the way to the end with his epic ride. His boots had fallen apart, his battery gone dead, got stuck in almost thigh deep mud, had to eat rat, just to mention a few trials. We talked about this over a number of cold beverages, both of the carbonated and fermented families. Neil an I continued enjoying another great friends company. While getting productive work done on Ian's monster of a KTM 525 and discussing how we can run into each other again. Thank Zeus for his love of massage. Everyday at least once we went in search for a massage. I enjoyed two of the best massages of my life and wanted to take him on the back of my bike with me. A handy accessary I reckon. If you're riding around South East Asia and have the pleasure of running into the 'Bigfella' – be prepared for his excellent companionship and giant heart of gold.

Some dirt practice

First ferry crossing

A reluctant goodbyes were said, we needed to head north. Our visas only lasted 28 days and we needed to see all there was. Alas our next mission was to see this surface to air missile that Ian had mentioned. Luckily we both use Midnight mappers excellent GPS map of Laos and finding it was simple. You can see that they keep an allied cow attached by special unobtainable tether. We can only assume the rocket would take flight towards the 'western devils' if they cow was somehow freed of its eternal task. Brutal but this is the reality of the sirloin curtain.

CBMS - Communist bovine missile security


Breath taking Laos

While out this way it was obvious we should continue on 'the loop' we had read about in a few places. Backpackers have for sometime been hiring scooters and riding this loop. And well done to them. Its a bloody rough rode in some places and for many it will be a great trial by fire for their first scooter adventure. Otherwise I had some confidence inspiring riding of a hundred kilometres of dirt or so. Nothing outrageous but certainly good for skills for later riding adventures. We stayed at the near one of the two dams, not to sure on the name though. Nice and cool again in the middle of no where. The next morning we awoke ready and eager for a ride. It was decided we find some nice noodle soup on the road. Not some 15 kilometres from where we were staying that we pulled up at a cute little guesthouse and restaurant run but a lovely Laos lady. Who we later found out was around 6 months pregnant. Ten minutes is all it took before Neil suggested lets stay here tonight. Done and done, didn't take long to convince me. Time to chill and the provided hammock and watch the world go by......

Magnificent view from our Guesthouse

The next day we headed off for some good dirty fun!