Routes 11- 1246 – 1143 – 2013 – 203 – 201 – 211. A quick run over to Vientiane to deliver some new Laos guide maps. Date: 21 – 28th Sept 2003 Weather: hot ‘n humid & wet! Set off from Chiang Mai at 1.30 pm, after a planned mid day departure. For once, the delay this time was none of my responsibility, as the back up driver with the pickup carrying the maps had to wait for his female companion and guide to prepare herself for the arduous trip, sitting in a nice new air con pickup. Life’s tough when you’re an escort……… After fueling up on the super right outside of town it was on the road at last. Traffic was a bit busy and congested going down south on 11 to Lamphun & Lampang, and it might have been due to the fact it was the weekend, and the weather was not (yet) raining. Loaded up with 300 kgs of maps, the pick-up was not quite on the pace, so I sat on a leisurely 120 kph to keep it in view most of the time. With the weather generally cloudy it was wet going over the mountains each time, making conditions a bit tricky, as the road was alternatively wet & dry, and true to form mainly wet in the corners! This is where the pick-up was right up my arse each time, but you get used it after a while and it keeps you alert & “younger.” First stop was 190 kms out on route 11, after Den Chai & the Uttaradit turn off. There’s a good Shell gas station with a (aircon) mini mart, and nice restaurant on the left hand side after you make the right hand turn to Uttaradit. Depending on what speed you ride at, its about 2 hrs from Chiang Mai to here, so it’s a convenient stop for a drink, to stretch your legs & get the blood circulating in a numb bum. Route 11 from Den Chai south is one of my fave roads right now – steep, winding, but fast & flowing for a nice bit of speed. After Uttaradit I take the short cut across to Loei via Chat Trakarn – Nakhon Thai – Dan Sai. The route nos. are 1246 – 1143 – 2013 – 203. Getting onto route 1143 can be a bit tricky & I’ve stuffed it up once or twice before, trying to ride too fast & not paying enough attention to the signs! But basically your turn left onto 1246, 39 kms south of the Nan river bridge at Uttaradit. Then it’s a short fast dash across to the Ban Pae intersection and a right turn onto route 1143 to Chat Trakarn & Nakhon Thai. Route 1143 is a wonderful, fast flowing undulating sport bike road. You do however have to watch out for a couple of sneaky little decreasing radius corners, that are located right on the crest of a couple of small hills. They aint sign posted, and after at least 10 trips across 1143, I always get at least one wrong, as I can’t quite remember exactly where they are! Route 2013 is a ripper, but tight narrow, steep & winding with no room for error going through the steep hills – good for a smaller bike. It’s also a bit bumpy in places, and not a lot of fun for the pick-up driver behind. Then you hit 203 for one of fastest flowing roads in the country – brilliant for a sport bike & fast riding. If all this sounds too good to be true, it was. Before Chat Trakarn it poured with rain for over an hour and I was down to 60 kph for extended distances, just trying to see where the road went. And I had decided to take a chance & ride through the rain, not putting my waterproofs on. I think the fact that the water was running down the inside of my jacket, pants & boots kept me going - why stop when you are already saturated on the inside! This might have been a slighlty darker, “passing shower” but it was a seriously heavy and lengthy one. My mate in the pick up following behind reckoned this was the best part of the trip, even his female companion could not stop chuckling at the stupid farang on the motorbike who did not want to stop. We hit Loei at 6.30 pm not too bad considering the late departure & weather. In Loei the place to stay is the Kings Hotel, which is brilliant value at 270 baht a night. They’ve also got a nice little massage parlour if you need to have your body worked on and all the crinkles ironed out. But not tonight, we were all hungry and thirsty; so hit the good ol’ Muang Loei Pub until midnight. The Muang Loei is always a good relaxing, often drunken night out. The food, music & ambience are all good. Its also a good scenic spot for the observing all the hot young Loei gals going to the disco just 100 meters down the road. Next day was more of the same - overcast with showers & the odd bit of bright sun = no waterproofs. We got away from Loei at 9.30 am and headed North on route 203 to Chiang Khan & the Mekong river. Then from Chiang Khan, it is route 211 all the way to Nong Khai. At the moment, route 211 aint much chop at the west Chiang Khan end, and in fact it is a bit of a pig riding it in the wet, as the road’s a bit too tight, narrow & bumpy with no real room for error – just the Mekong river! But in the dry it really is an awesome hilly run alongside the Mekong river. At the east Nong Khai end, its real fast & flowing, with some really long straights. The best stop between Chiang Khan & Nong Khai is at Pak Chom & the cute little guesthouse / restaurant, that overlooks the Mekong. If you stop here, it’s hard not to take an extended break, and I’ve been caught each time! Our 11.00 am brunch stop with my mate’s female pax / guide turned into a 1 ½ hrs feast, but we weren’t complaining with the scenery and view of the ‘Khong. We hit Nong Khai at 2.30 pm & checked into the Pantawee Hotel, most of the most bizarre hotels you can ever stay in I reckon. The Pantawee’s owned & run by a couple of gorgeous full-on lady boys & the place really gets going late at night for drinking / fun & games, with a seemingly endless array of weird characters – Thai & farang. The tip here = Lolita, she’s the one to watch & drink with. Lolita also makes a mean cocktail, and does not mind sharing them with who ever is man enough to drink with her. If you’re ever in Nong Khai, check it out. Rooms start at 250 baht, with the 400 baht rooms good value for money – air con / hot water / TV. But be warned the place is powerfully adorned with posters screaming at you from every direction, advertising all sorts of tour & beauty services (if you want to be a pretty lady-boy.) Yep the Pantawee’s a weird spot, but well worth checking out & spending the odd night or two at. A couple of places in Nong Khai are well worth mentioning. 1. The Meeting Place, now run by pommy Maurice, is definitely the most popular & well-run expat joint in town. 2. The Winner Pub, just around the corner from the Pantawee, is a reasonable music pub to hang out late at night in town. 3. The Tawan Daeng music pub, about 4-5 kms right out of town on the super going east is the best late night spot & also a place where you might be able to pick something up, if you are astute and any good with the local lingo…..(and I’ll certainly be going back next trip.) Crossing over into Lao this time was a total pain & it took me a mere 3 hrs this time round. The main reason being I still don’t have a plate on the Africa Twin, and I dare say that this trip was the last one without the licence. Fronting up at the Thai immigration / customs my passport was stamped and bike papers prepared instantly. I was ready to roll then, when it finally tweaked that, yes he was back again on that bike without a number plate. Sorry David, no can go this time! A lengthy 45 minutes debate followed, with several senior staff not impressed with my copies of the docs for my previous trips for the bike without a plate. The boys were just applying the rules, but to me it was not too easy to accept after so many without too much trouble. I also thought the game being played was hard-ball when I was being shunted from Immigration officer to Customs officer to see who would hand over the docs first. I was not impressed , especially as it was that bridge built for free, with good Aussie tax payers money. Anyway, the final outcome was that I had to surrender copies of the all my old docs and was permitted across the bridge one last time, but no papers were to be issued. “David, this is the last time, no more, ok! Get a plate!” I had another lengthy wait getting into Laos, as I hit the Laos side at the start of lunch break, and a certain lady officer, decided to have an extended lunch break that particular day. After the boss respectfully pleaded with me “to help him with his job, an have a plate next time” I was issued with the normal 1-week temporary import. Just as I was about to leave the bridge, I spotted Julian and his yellow praying mantis trike http://www.geocities.com/julianbowyer/ Now there’s a guy doing it differently, and he is English, so perhaps there’s no explanation needed………. Julian & I then had 3 good nights in Vte checking out the local night life; and despite the new closing time of 11.30 pm, Vientiane is good at night, provided you know where to go and in what sequence. Without giving too much away: always start off with happy hour & sunset down by the river. Then migrate to the Khopchaideu, then head for Pub On the Rock for Vte best live music band & pub. For girls its either the Pak Lak / Chess / Samlor Pub. The last night in town we ended up at the Samlor after 11.30 pm and it was packed / overflowing onto the street – all good stuff & the lights were out to adhere to the closing time rules…….. I decided to leave Vte earlier, rather than later & get involved with too much partying. So it was back on the road, leaving Vte at 2.30 pm Saturday. I cleared the both sides of the bridge by 4.00 pm – its always easy when you are leaving – and hit the road for Loei. After an extended stop at that fave restaurant / guesthouse in Pak Chom (I still have to get the name of it), it was a late arrival in the dark at Loei at 7.15 pm. After a shower & clean up it was the Muang Loei Pub again & hit the sack at 11.00 pm – an early night for me! Next day was rather subdued & I did not get on the road until 11.30 am. 30 minutes out of Loei I went round a corner and everything was black – serious rain ahead. I immediately stopped but by the time I got my waterproofs on I was already wet – it was bucketing down. The next 45 minutes were somewhat painful, chugging along at 60 kph maximum. Eventually the skies cleared and it was hot & extremely sweaty with the full rain gear on. But I could not be bothered to stop & take it all off. I made my stop for fuel & rain gear removal just north of Uttaradit. After getting caught at those amazing slow traffic lights on the Uttaradit super I was as wet from sweat on the inside as if I had not being wearing my rain gear. Oh well you can't win them all. It was a good ride ahead in bright sunshine & I raced straight into Chiang Mai in good time, getting home at 5.15 pm.