OUDOM XAI-PHONGSALI : decided i had better buy some warm gloves as it was going to get even colder. Found some funky ski type gloves for a modest 100 baht. The start of the road was a downward mud slide. Enjoyed watching the mini songthews strugling up the hill (mainly being towed) The road improved not far out of town and became mainly asphalt for the next 67kms too sin sai. sin sai was a little market stop, full of mad looking hill tribes, out for a days shopping. Can fill up with petrol here, even a g/h (if you are realy desperate, which you would have to be to even contemplate staying in this rat hole!) the next part of the trip was a very muddy jungle road, with some good views for the first 12km or so and then into thick jungle. A few heavy lorries passed us and we passed the odd stranded vehicle in the mud. Hit some dry patches, began to pick up some speed, but was then slowed right down again by heavily rutted, wet sections. This was then replaced by very stoney, rocky sections. Steep upward and downward strips. The sun was dropping at an alarming rate and we had only managed 60 kms. Stopped at a village and where told we could definately sleep at the next main village of bon tai. I was a little unsure of what we might find to sleep on in the next village, judging by what we had already passed, but after meeting a Laos teacher on a chinese honda dream rip off (who managed too keep up with us all the way too bon tai) who guarenteed there was even a g/h, we carried on a bit happier. turns out the village was a large town, with electricity, a couple of g/h and a couple of resteraunts (with english menus) (SIN SAI - BON TAI : 80 KMS) some interesting looking turn offs towards vietnamese border 18/19 kms out of sin sai , called pak pork ( i always do!) BON TAI - PHONGSALI : (92kms) Filled up with petrol from a "how many jugs ?" system ( usualy only 2 !) The road began unpaved but in good condition and not difficult to get some speed going. At the cross roads at ban yo (take a right) the road turns to asphalt, but the condition graduly deterioates and more pot holes appear. Last 30/35 kms were down in thick misty fog, could hardly see in front of me and goggles were immposible to wear. Far too cold for mid afternoon! stayed at the phongsali hotel , a large grubby 4 storey building, with great views over phongsali (fog, fog and more fog.) A very strange, but interesting place, but far too cold too even contemplating staying . wanted to investigate the road north up too chinese border, but far too cold and misty. After sleeping in all my clothes decided too leave.(monkey mate had to get his rack welded again , i wandered around town taking photos a go-go, as cannot see me returning in the near future) SIN SAI- MUANG KHUA: (33kms) After a beer stop in sin sai too warm up, did the section too muang khua in the dark. Extremely pot holed asphalt road. Can do it fairly quick if you dont mind bouncing over all lumps in the road. Found a nice g/h (forget name) with friendly owners.(a naked asian lady pic on the bathroom tiles sold the place) Distinct lack of resteraunts in town, ended up a few kms out at a dubious kareoke resteraunt. Got an offer of a mute Laos nong but declined. MUANG KHUA - NONG KHIAW : The scarriest day of my life! Made another monkey descision to take a boat down the nam ou and relax with a few smokes and beers and having a lovely relaxing float down stream!!! (not a chance!) This was decided as it was mates birthday and would also save looping all the way around via oudom xay. Managed to charter a boat for 750 baht each. Looked a fairly sturdy boat witha roof and sides to lean the bikes on.(dreamer) On arrival the owner decided best to hammer off the roof and all of a sudden the boat looked no better than the canoes that take you across at huay xai! Spent 4 hours passing through rapids and mad twisting river , with the boat creaking and visably bending , the "captain" continuously looking back over his shoulder and checking the side of the boat and gazing into his wifes eyes(she was at the back behind us praying) with a look of "we've had a good life, i love you honey" No amount of beer or illicit substances eased the fear as everything of value(my life for one) i owned was on this boat!(bike, camera equipment, money, passport, lucky boxershorts etc) finally made it safe too the shores of nong khiaw (new years eve) we would see another year! Then had the added bonus of trying to get the bikes up a 40 degree slope, off our tits! Made it half way and then had to employ some laughing locals to help push it up. usual g/h "sunset" (highly recomended for view, food, rooms and friendly staff) over the bridge was full, but any piece of dry land would be welcome. Stayed around for a few days, shared new year with a great bunch of holidaying Thais and then hit the road too friends village. NONG KHIAW - BAN DON KEO : Good road out of town, began pissing down , so stopped at the turn off for a beer. The whole town was drunk, even the young girls. The local factory, that obviously employed most of the town was shut for holiday, so it was party time! Left late afternoon for friends village along mud road for 22kms. Spent the evening with the family and half the village . Spent the next day teaching at the local school (an experience for all involved!) Monkey mate had too leave for chiang mai in the rain, aftera few good-bye beers at nam bak. I headed back too nong khiaw for another night. Tommorow off towards xam nuea.