Loas road tour on our crf250 2016
Touring Loas on Motorbikes
Touring Laos has been a goal for a while and what a better way to tour this country via a motorbike. My starting point was in Pattaya as that’s where I purchased my crf250 bike some 4 months back while I was on break from work. There I left it under cover waiting for my return in the new year, the bike itself is a motard, with many modifications such as high performance exhaust system, electronic fuel kit (EJK controller) and other small items such as indicators, break lights and silly mirrors that I changed straight away as they were just for looks and we’re too small for any practical use.
Sure at first glance, all these extra bits and pieces are great but I soon discovered that aftermarket accessories are just modifications to the tried and tested original components of years of research the Honda bike.
The plan is to meet up with Brian at Ubon Ratchathani which is a two day ride for me from Pattaya where the ride itself was uneventful and pretty much boring. In the meantime, Brian is taking the train with his bike from Chiang Mai to Bangkok then onto Ubon thus missing the boring roads, the cost comparison using second class sleeper compared to riding all the way was very similar if you factor in the wear and tear of the bike itself. Some say, that is the true hard core riders, it’s a waste of time using the train and it should be ridden all the way and blar blar blar, but remember the goal is Laos and he has already done this part of the trip many times.
After lunch at the nice lakeside restaurant and a few beers under our belt, we started the process of crossing the Thai/Lao boarder with our bikes into Laos at the Chong Mek boarder, took three hours of filling out forms but generally it was surprisingly easy. Only problem we counted was when an error was made three times on the official documents were they either wrote an unrecognizable name on the forms or just put “British citizen” Sure on the surface, it seems an innocent mistake, but I’m thinking it could have been a scam were the names on the ownership book for the bikes wouldn’t match up with the export documents when it’s time to return to Thailand. But it was eventually corrected.
Having a New Zealand Passport, it was cheaper than most other nationals including the Australians. If I had US dollars, it would have been cheaper still but with only Baht in my wallet we just had to accept whatever the exchange rate they offered.
Used Pakxe as our base for two nights where we took off down south to the Cambodian border with many detours such as the Thousand islands and random sides roads that turned out to be rewarding with views of the Mekong river on the Don Khong Island from a local restaurant near the new “bridge” . One of the other highlights was the Bolven highlands which was essentially a ring road that took 3-4 hours of touring with a few waterfalls, coffee plantations and great countryside views. It was at this point when we climbed in elevation and we started to feel the cold, and then in the flowing days a cold front covering Laos and Thailand that that would have made the most harden rider head for home.
Bounmyxay Hotel to Thakhek (4)
Travelling north to Thakhek was a very boring road which lasted most of the day, we had winds from all directions, and the worst were side winds that catch up unexpectedly while passing over bridges or in open farm lands. Savannakhel was our coffee stop where I sat and shivered over a horrible coffee with condensed milk, I usually don’t have sugar but in this case I had two teaspoons to dampen down the extra strong horrible coffee just to get myself warm. My favorite while on the road is café Amazon which is a franchise located at many garages in Thailand, we have seen a few in Laos and while leaving Savannakhel we found one, what a treat.
In Thakhek we stayed in a really funky old hotel, the ceiling height was twice the height of any other place I have seen, the furniture was very dated and the walls were tiled not only in the bathroom, but in the bedroom as well. (100,000 Kip per night)
I liked this little town, River was just outside the hotels gates where you could see the lights of Thailand, comparing the two towns Laos and Thailand, Thailand was defiantly more alive which reflected on the number of street and house lights glowing during the night. After visiting the local markets for a jacket to fit under my vented riding jacket, we went for dinner, the lady that worked there was from Thailand so Brian could speak to her without any problems. While there, a group of travelers sat and ordered food about the same time as us, when the time came to pay the bill, one of them started to dispute the bill, there were two issues, one was that he didn’t received a sticky rice that he ordered, but it was clear that he did going by the empty complainer on the table and the other was that he received a wrong dish, but instead of saying something straight away, he ate the lot them refused to pay, he won at the end and walked out of the restaurant after having a free feed. Wow, I would have never believed it is I hadn’t had seen in for my own eyes.
Thakhek to Vietnam Boarder
Great mountain side views for most of the way, a trip well worth taking. We got to the Vietnam boarder eventually with a few kms of rough roads and passing the many buses and truck in any way possible, either on their right or left side, just as long as we pass the erratic behaviors of these vehicles. The Vietnam boarder itself wasn’t very exciting, slight drizzle, mud and plenty of pot holes, it wasn’t an international border crossing where only locals and trucks carrying their loads of imports would cross between the two countries, We didn’t stay long, photos, fuel and with no coffee should about we hit the road again heading back the same way we came for 80km then headed north, through Dam and reservoir. Concrete roads most of the way with very low traffic, stopped off at a road side stall for some food and to warm up, very friendly people but this “restaurant” being made of wood and probable designed with the hot weather in mind didn’t provide much shelter with the only saving grace was the hot open fire and drink.
The last couple of kms of going through the reservoir was very challenging, road works were underway and the base road material was red clay which as like slippery soap, so it was two feet on the ground and going was slow for me anyway, but Brian with his off-road tires handled it much better.
Kak Xax (night five)
We arrived in Kak Xax late in the day, almost night full. The town wasn’t very exciting and we stayed at the first hotel we found. The room was basic and cold, I mean cold and even the shower was only lukewarm not enough to warm and recover from the cold bike ride. That night I went to bed with three duvet covers covering me as well as all the clean clothes I had, and still I was cold.
The town itself was not a place you would even stop for lunch or coffee. It seemed that nothing was open until we got to the T-junction were four shops well lit up selling mobile phones. Finally we found a hotel with a restaurant, services wasn’t good, slow and the lady gave the impression that we were just a nuisance and would probably have liked use to find somewhere else to eat. So cold it was, as we sat waiting for the food, the only interested thing was the jars along the wall with one filled with dead snakes suspended is some liquid.
Kak Xax to Vientiane
Vientiane is our next goal so I can apply for my visa for Thailand, the days travel was a miserable day, rain for most of the way and with the sand on the road turning into mud that covered us from head to toe with frequent stops to clean the visors.
Brian and I agreed that if the weather doesn’t change for the better, once my visa process was done in Vientiane, we would head straight back to Thailand, it’s too cold and with our riding gear designed for mainly warm /hot weather its becoming very unpleasant.
We made good time considering the miserable weather, Brian set the pace by following a pickup truck for over an hour were he later told me that all he could see is the tail lights and used them as a guild to follow, his film on the visor was peeling off which made visibility even more difficult . But we made it into Vientiane without too may stops in good time. Along the way traffic was chaotic where little respect for us motorbike riders were given with a couple of hair rising moment that just makes you wonder what the other drivers were thinking.
Vientiane two nights.
Found a great little hotel costing 200,000 Kip and most importantly and not far away, a rooftop bar to relax with views of the Mekong River (Bo Pen Yang) and the free lancers of the three sexes, male/female and the between working in the bar. Great to watch but a bit tricky to avoid their inevitable eye contact that’s like an eagle seeking it’s pray.
The business at the Thai embassy went relevantly easy as by 10am I was out of there with the instructions to can back tomorrow to pick up the new visa
However, not so lucky with the Australian embassy, I was selling my property in Australia and for me to do so, I needed some documentations signed buy an embassy representative, however, I was travelling on my New Zealand passport at the time. They wouldn’t accept my New Zealand passport as positive identification, unbelievable. Australian passport or Australian drivers licence they would accept but i had left all that back in Thailand. They told me that i had to go to the Embassy in Bangkok to get it signed. I really don’t understand why they wouldn’t accept my NZ as positive identification as it’s accepted at every boarder crossing i have come across even in Australia itself. So not every happy as its going to involve me flying down from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and spending the day down there just to get a signature on some documents.
Second day in Vientiane we had the first signs of the sun coming back alive and all of our riding gear were out soaking up the sunrays after a decent wash down in the shower, which made a horrible mess of mud everywhere in the shower.
Vientiane to Vang Viang.
Hit the road at 2:30 in the afternoon after picking up my new visa. It’s a great relief that this part of the process of obtaining a retirement visa is over with, probable the hardest due to the fact that I had to obtain it outside Thailand and should I have forgotten anything for immigration, I would then have to return to Thailand empty handed and start again.
Vang Viang is well populated with backpackers from all over the world, so therefore where there’s backpackers there’s usually well priced food and beer. I’m not sure what’s to see here except I had seen plenty of advertisement for water rafting, bicycling riding and tours for the surrounding hills. Guesthouse price (80,000Kip)
Vang Viang to Phonsavan (Plan of jars)
Wow what a day, every part of my body was aching, shoulders, back and bum. 200km today which isn’t very far but it took us about 7 hours. Great views and endless windy roads that went on forever, I have never done so many climbs and switch backs in one day in my life. We found a great Hill top restaurant with views along the way about half way which was probable our highest point of 1,200 height MSL.
At Phonsavan we did the typical tourist thing and visited the “plan of Jars” which I thought was going to be boring but if you traveled seven hours to get here I guess the thing to do is at least visit the local attractions . The ground surrounding the Jars were pockmarked with craters and shows the impact of the immense aerial bombardment during the war, The origins of the jars are not known but looking at the sizes of them one could come up with some creative explanations of their purpose. You could still see the trenchers on top of the hills and damaged jars adjacent to the large craters, makes you wonder what they were booming as back in the day I’m sure it would have been just a lot of farmland
This is just one of the warming’s about Phonsavan I have found:
“Warning – Phonsavan is one of the most heavily bombed places in the world. There are unexploded ordinances everywhere, and on average 60 people die each year due to UXOs. Take extreme caution when wandering around any off-the-beaten paths. Stay on the paths unless it is absolutely necessary to do otherwise.” (Wikipedia and signs outside the city limits)
So I guess we are not doing any off road riding with our CRF250’s today.
Great café we visited a couple of times for lunch and dinner with large unexploded bombs
Phonvan to Luang Praclang
It was cold again so some modifications were needed to gloves and newspapers stuffed in front under my riding jacked to keep the cold at bay. The drivers in Laos are simply crazy, it’s unbelievable the unnecessary risks they take and the result was that we had seen three accidents just in the 7 hours of today’s ride. As the road were very windy, the locals had the habit of cutting corners around blind bends were they would have no idea of any approaching traffic and the other bad habit was to overtake another vehicle at all costs, even to the extent of ignoring the oncoming vehicle headlights flashing in desperation, in this particular case, I have no idea how a collision didn’t happen.
Mystery solved that puzzled us for a while, we kept on following what appeared to be an oil spill/slick on the road assumed to be from one of the many trucks that climb these hills with poor maintenance, something you don’t want to touch with your front wheels of the bike if you want to stay upright. But what it turned out to be, as we observed while we passed one of these trucks, were water sprays obviously to keep the front breaks cool while descending.
Luang Prabung to Luang Namtha
Luang Namtha was another great backpacker’s haven, night markets provided great food such as baguettes which are the best in Asia I’ve experience so far. Walking about the markets that seems to go on for miles then around the river, I can see the attraction of the place and it’s a shame we had to leave the next day.
Hazy early morning and while finding a way out town, I noticed my handling around corners on my bike were very uneasy, after checking the tire pressures, it was found that it was very low, I mean so low that the tire pressure gauge hardly moved and it’s no wonder that the day before I was feeling nervous going around corners at speed. I thought it was just me getting tired after the many days on the bike.
We followed the Mekong River as we headed to the Chinese boarder, not to cross it but just to say we visited the four points of Laos. OK three, Cambodia, Vietnam and China as the fourth being Thailand.
Lunch at OadomYai on the way to the Chinese boarder
Great little place for a break, big lunch and of course a beer to wash it down, after that, a can of coffee to inject some energy into my tired body which did the trick.
We arrived at the Chinese boarder where we just bypassed the Laos immigration via a small bike track. From the Laos boarder it was about 2-3 kms to the Chinese boarder and what I sore really surprised me, large buildings, and many skycrains. The development was large and that was all on the “no man’s land” or that’s what I think it was as we still had to ride another 300 meters or so to reach the border post of China. Quick Chinese beer that tasted like water ,but still refreshing, and then the ride to the Thai border that would take us to Chiang Rai for the night.
Thailand, Chiang Khong-Huay Xai Friendship Bridge
Crossing back into Thailand with our bikes wan’t too difficult, extra fees for an unknown reason and then we entered Thailand crossing over the other side of the road from right to left.
It was nice to be back into Thailand, the drivers seem to be more considerate which I’d never thought i’d say about Thai drivers. We celebrated our successful tour of Laos in Chiang Rai and by nine the next morning I was getting itchy feet and really wanted to hit the road early. Brian wasn’t up or answering his phone so i just sent him a message that i’ll catch with him in Chiang Mai. However, bad carmer fell upon me and before i got out of the city limits, Police stopped me and fined me for the noisy exhaust, Meet up with Brian for coffee about an hour down the road where he took great pleasure in highlighting my errors in my way of deserting a fellow traveler back in Chiang Rai and showed no sympathy about me getting the fine from the police.
Coming into Chiang mai with only about 2 kms before reaching my home, I went through another Police road block and again they wanted to get me for the noisy exhaust, I showed them the receipt of the fine I received only a couple of hours before but he just said that’s Chiang Rai and we are in Chiang Mai now, what, it’s Thailand I replied. First he wanted 600 baht(25 dollars) then after some haggling I finally paid him 100 baht, under the condition that I gave it to him without anyone seeing. He was most please, even to the extent he came back to me after walking away and shook my hand with a big smile under his dustmask