Hongsa Elephant STUFF UP!

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by SilverhawkUSA, Feb 22, 2007.

  1. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer


    Destination: Hongsa Elephant Festival
    Riders: David Unkovich (Africa Twin 750), Armin Schoch and Som (BMW 650 Dakar), David Early (Suzuki DR650)

    Date: 14 Feb 07 -19 Feb 07

    The small group met on Rte 118 near the outer ring rd.,rt 121, (CNX), and were on the road shortly after 8:00AM which is an early start for us. The usual route and stops to Chiang Khong where we cleared Customs and Immigration without a hitch.


    We ferried across to Huay Xai after being charged extra because they had made the “last trip of the day” already. Of course after we were across we saw them make at least two more trips, a common rip-off by the Mekong Mafia. I believe we paid about 550bt each.

    Into Huay Xai Customs next; go up the steps and turn right to the office buildings will the glass windows and counter. Enter the room that says “Computer Room”. We had no problems with the paperwork and had a light hearted conversation with the Immigration guys. A total cost of 240bt.

    Next we buzzed into town and cleared Immigration and came back to negotiate a price for a boat for the next morning. Even with Armin and David’s language proficiency the best we could do was 10,500 bt for a boat straight to Thaxoang bypassing Pak Beng. Not bad really as we thought we may have to spend the night in Pak Beng first. This saved us a day.

    A night in Huay Xai watching the sunset and we were on the river shortly after 8:00AM on the 15th.

    David in a more relaxed state

    We arrived Thaxoang late afternoon and had to climb a sandy hill at the boat landing. I tried a shortcut which nearly buried me had to power and paddle my way back onto firmer ground. This was the first of my ill chosen short cuts.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    We stopped at the checkpoint which was squeezed between half a dozen wooden houses and apparently a guesthouse. The Immigration guys checked all our paperwork but were pretty emphatic that we should not try and stay there but continue on to Hongsa.


    At this point I should mention that the Immigration guys were quite surprised at our paperwork. Armin, who has been in the tour business for many years in S.E. Asia, had managed to get us special permission to exit Laos via Nam Ngeun which is about 37Km south of Hongsa and not an International border crossing. As we all had long term Thai visas, the Thai Immigration was on board as long as the Lao’s approved it. Thanks to Armin’s efforts this was all approved in advance and we were supplied with some impressive formal documents. Thanks again Armin.

    The road to Hongsa was a twisty dirt mountain road and was about 26km. The sun was setting fast and we arrived at dusk. There were only about 5 guesthouses in Hongsa. We were able to find a cheap room for one night but everything was booked for the following days. We did find one room that was available and we all agreed Armin and Som should take that one. $20 per night, but a nice new Gh with hot water, comfortable beds and quite a character of an owner (Patthada GH).

    The following morning, 16 Feb, we went on to Viengkeo, about 4 km from Hongsa, which is the actual site of the festival.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    This was a really quaint little town and they were going all out for the festival. As you entered the main street, where they had constructed a large gate over the road, the organizers had set up tents for emergency first aid, security and visitor information.

    Checking in with information they took your name and matched you with a list of homes that were doing home stay. A couple kids acted as guides and led us to the home from the back of our motorcycles. Each home had a checklist in Lao and English which stated the agreed upon length of stay, cost, and if you desired any meals. Quite well organized.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Our home stay family consisted of an old Lao husband and wife, and a family of about 7 who lived on the adjoining property. David was able to communicate without much problem, but when I later found myself on my own communication became more difficult.

    We decided we would all head out for a ride as we had a day to kill, and would go down to the border to confirm our arrangements and then do some more exploring. The guys at Thaxoeng chechkpoint had told us it was a good road and should only take about 35 minutes. WRONG!

    The road was hot and twisty, with extremely deep dust on many of the corners and hill sections. As for what exactly transpired from the riders view read David’s first hand/one handed report:


    I came around the turn and there was David’s AT laying on it’s side. We always say “first get the photo, and then go get the bike”. True to form David jumped up and was taking out his camera as I arrived (we had ridden ‘stretched out’ to avoid each others dust) and shooting a photo with one hand. It didn’t take long for him to realize something was terribly wrong with his left arm and the pain was intense. (Again covered in his post.)

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    David taking the photo, note the limp left arm.


    You can see what was on the side of the road to get an indication of what was also laying under the dust in many places.



    The photos tell this story the best. I will say that I thought I had bad dreams after seeing Pikey drop his pants to show us his riding shorts, but undressing David is a truly traumatic event from which I am not sure I will be able to recover.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Reception and the Emergency Room

    David received some very poor bandaging, about 3 IV drips, and some injections for pain. We had to cover him with his sleeping bag for the night and of course bring him his meals. There were no nurses, and only two young men, who I guess were the equivalent of interns, but they did do their best to help with the little they had to work with.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    The only supply cabinet and the ONLY toilet

    . [​IMG] [​IMG]

    David’s Room, the only one with a mattress and real bed.

    David remained remarkably upbeat throughout the whole ordeal and I am sure I would not have handled it any where near as well.



    It was an interesting visit. It was at first difficult to crack the ice as there was some misunderstanding about how many were staying at the home. Apparently the organizers had led everyone to believe each home would have 6 people. This was not the case anywhere, and not only that, we were now down to 1.

    I was still made to feel welcome and we had fun snapping photos of the kids and the family and the neighbors. They all loved watching the falang trying to take a bath from a bucket of cold water dressed in only shorts. Even the neighbors came to see that one (no photos fortunately).

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    This was being prepared by our neighbors at breakfast.


    In the end I was able to move to Armin’s guesthouse for night three and a nice hot shower and soft bed. (I had slept on a mat on the floor).

    Trust me! For her this IS a smile.

    After I told them I wanted to pay for the full three nights, x 2 people, as we had originally agreed, I finally got a true smile out of everyone and an invitation to return any time. I also promised I would send them all the photos I had taken. The total cost 150,000 kip. Approximately 540 Baht…



    The festival itself was a little disappointing. It was a typical Asian festival with games, food and many types of booths selling merchandise. The food stalls were slow but the food pretty good.


    Ironically one of the tourism booths had David’s map of Chompasak Province, which he had made for them back in 2004, on the wall.


    The elephants paraded down the mains street and did brief demonstrations but were absent more than they were there. As I said before, the organization of the event was good and the overall atmosphere of the town really nice. As for elephants, the typical elephant camps offered much more.

    Voted Best Elephant.


    The final evening we had dinner with the heads of many elephant camps and hospitals from Thailand. It was like the who’s who of the elephant business and quite a nice night.

    Ran into many fellow riders from Laos and some from Thailand. Hopefully they will post about the various routes they took to get to Hongsa. Some pretty good rides.

    I did hear that another rider (French) had gone down and possibly suffered a broken leg. This was not confirmed and I hope it is not true.


    Armin/Som and I rode out the following morning and made the border in about 50 minutes of riding. The immigration process went smooth and was polite and congenial. We dropped a bottle of whiskey at each side of the border in hopes of paving the way for future contacts.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Exiting Laos and entering Thailand.

    We decided to take the Hwy 1081 around the back of Doi Pukha and cut back over to Pua before heading home. This was a bad decision as it was already around noon and we would not make it back to Chiang Mai in daylight.

    The road was twisty and in pretty rough condition with potholes and each curve presented a new obstacle, fresh tar being applied in two spots, washed out highway, cows, and the usual obstacles.

    As I rounded a curve which was a tight switchback and covered in loose sand and gravel, there was Armin pinned under his bike by his foot. I lifted the bike enough for him to get out and up and fortunately he was OK. Som had suffered some scrapes to her fingers and knees and probably quite a few bruises. Armin had mostly a bruised ego.

    Note Som’s riding gear. Sorry to be critical but she is lucky it is not a lot worse..

    We were able to continue and stopped at a noodle stand to patch up the scrapes. I must say Som carried one of the most complete first aid/medicine kits I have seen.

    AND THEN….

    A refreshing stop at Pua

    After a few rest stops Armin suggested near Phrae that I ride on ahead and they will catch up. I cleared Phrae and reached the junction of Hwy 101 and Hwy 11 to Lampang. I stopped on the side of the road to ditch my sunglasses and put on something warmer as it was near dark. I got back on my bike and continued riding as Armin had not yet appeared.

    After about 15 minutes of riding, apparently with my head up my #$$, I realized I was not on highway 11. Don’t ask me how I did it but I was now on my way to Uttaradit. It was 25kms back to hwy 11 and I looked at my map and saw a shortcut that should loop me back to hwy 11 about 36km west. I looped alright. It was dark and cold when I reached the T-junction. But the T-junction was not Hwy 11 but 101 again. Now 76km from hwy 11. A nice night time ride back to 11 where I had to again back track to fuel up as I knew there were no gas stations from the junction until Lampang and I couldn’t make it.

    A long story short, Armin phoned to check on me when he reached Chiang Mai at 7:30PM. I was still in the mountains. That’s what happens to your concentration after more then 10 hours of riding I guess. I arrived home at 10:00PM cold and tired and feeling pretty stupid. By the way for those that asked, the seat on the DR isn’t too bad.


    When David was getting ready to leave the hospital, a Lao family brought in a middle aged women in the back of a pickup. She was screaming incoherently in pain and placed in the room you see above with the mattress less beds.

    It took a while to find the doctor and we learned she had fallen off her Honda Dream/Wave, or whatever, near town. Of course helmet less. As we left it was said she was bleeding from her ears and needed to go to Vientiane as she was in dire need of a CT Scan and x-rays that were not available (obviously) in Hongsa. Later in the day we learned she had died…………….

    I usually try to keep these reports upbeat. But, read between the lines in this post and also look at the obvious. Guy’s we need to start doing some things differently. Counting the number of crashes this year, the toll is getting too high!
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  3. Tom Forde

    Tom Forde Ol'Timer

    Excellent write up Dave, you are right about too many accidents, even over here in oz it's the same with us old buggers. Maybe its natures way of telling us to slow down a bit.

  4. BignTall

    BignTall Ol'Timer


    As always, your reports contain great information and photos for those following in your footsteps. Who would have thought Hongsa would have bilingual tourist info for homestays[:0]!!! Quite interesting.

    Nice to see you wooing the Lao woman in that photo. The Silverhawk no doubt was melting her heart judging by the emotive responses of the lass[:D]. Another night there and she would have been swooning.

    As you mentioned a tip of the hat to Armin for the efforts involved in coordinating the border crossing locations. Not an easy feat given the recent mishaps with motorcycle tours over there I'm sure.

    Saddened to see David and the Africa Twin hit the dirt and the ole bugger injure his flipper. From his post it sounds a nasty break. Let the healing begin.

    David I don't see your post as anything but upbeat. Riding motorbikes can be dangerous business at times and we have all suffered the consequences of riding and crashing. Sadly in developing nations we cannot rely on world class medical facilities if we need them (so aptly demonstrated by your photos of the Lao hospital[:0]), such as we are used to when riding in our home countries. Like you say, there have been a few accidents as of late, hence another reminder to wear your protective gear. Sadly even when worn does not eliminate all injury as demonstrated by David on his spill. But at least it increases our odds, which is always good whether with the ladies in a bar or riding the motorbikes.

    Sounds like your riding will end you up with a new nickname, from Silverhawk to ShittyshortcutHawk[:D].

    Great report!!! Itching to head across to Laos with you on my return if you're game.
  5. aschoch

    aschoch Member

    thanks for your report which is spot on. for those who wonder how i could crash my bike in that corner: the photo doesn't indicate how steep that curve was and how much sand and gravel covered it. riding 2 up with a heavy bag i rounded the corner REAL SLOW, going at probably 20 kms an hour in 2nd gear. to avoid having to shift down to 1st and yank the chain, i was on the clutch as well. fact is that with the steep incline, gravel, sand and weight on the rear of the bike, my front end just slipped away from me. first thing that went through my mind was that i should have cared for better protective gear for som (she will get it now). she is still suffering from a heavily swollen knee, contused fingers and the consequences of a good tetanus shot she received back in chiang mai. in my case and as you say: bruised ego, a broken mirror and indicator...

    btw, i love that pix at the top of your report with davidfl casually resting his left arm on the bag on the back of his AT and i look forward to seeing him do this again really soon...

    look forward to riding again with you soon.
    "if it doesn't kill me, it makes me stronger"

    PICO-PICO Ol'Timer

    I clearly dont want to face truth, I must be clearly insane to ride in Phuket, classified as the province with the most bike accidents/death, insane to ride in any part of Thailand. I am clearly unable to comprehend, after all I survived an almost deadly car accident only because of a fully equipped ambulance with an emergency surgeon on board who, on the spot cut my throat open . Rehab took short 5 year.
    On the other hand, to be sitting at home watching CNN surely will get me into the mad house.
  7. Pikey

    Pikey Ol'Timer


    First off, brilliant pics and descriptions from Silverhawk as usual. Armin/Som, hope all is OK with you two now and I know that from skiing/biking, phots or videos NEVER show the steepness of the hill. Glad you both got away lightly from the crash.

    Onto the main point (sorry for the hijack Dave)

    With the UTMOST RESPECT to all previous posters on this thread, this is my view:

    Motorcyclists are individuals, and, by nature, will make individual choices based on their own perception of "invincibleness" or "it ain't gonna happen to me" syndrome. Unfortunately, it happens to both the well and the least prepared - I paint a picture here: young "SuzukiLuke, 23, GSXR1000 & XR250 and a good friend. The guy rides exceptionally well both on and offroad due to (IMHO) a combination of natural talent, self belief and pure luck, but he nearly always wears just plimsoles & jeans. You don't need me to paint the worst case scenario picture.....(no offence intended Luke, just using you as a current example of how most of us older b*stards used to be and I'd like to share a few bottles of Sangsom with you over the coming years!)

    Then, flipside, DavidFL, prob more than 200,000KM in S.E Asia so experience/skill are not in doubt (but prefers Jamesons to Sangsom [:)]), suited up with armour e.t.c and gets shafted at low speed in bulldust by a hidden rock and we know the rest of that story so far.

    The message is that in my personal, and very limited opinion, here in S.E Asia you just can never bloody tell whats going to be around the corner and compared to riding in "farangland" the hazards are much more likely and the repair facilities of much less quality if you are away from a main city. The locals will try their best to look after you when you are in pain, but in my book, I'd rather minimise the chances of pain in the first place by wearing decent protective gear.

    Sorry if this has turned into a bit of a diatribe and I realise that no matter what gear you wear, sometimes pain & injury cannot be prevented, but at least you can stack the odds in your favour...

    BTW, Pico, I believe that a lot of the "Phuket insanity" comes from inexperienced drunken falangs piloting bikes in unknown territory when they should know better (that's not directed at you, rather at the stupid, dumb-f*ck "football hooligan" types that only come to Thai for one thing anyway)?


    Pikey. (f*ck, I sound like my dad!)
  8. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer

    Well written Pikey but let's not start another debate. Not my intention at all. I don't want to get another post going as to the merits of safety gear and who should do what. It is indeed an individual decision.

    My only point is that we have had a lot of accidents/deaths this year. More than I can remember in the four years I have been here. I don't have answers as to what is causing this. Perhaps just bad luck. As in David's case,full safety gear is always worn, but, some impacts cannot be absorbed.

    I'm just saying maybe each of us should look at what we can do for ourselves to cut down on the accidents IF possible. Obviously no one wants to crash.

    Hey, how about that elephant festival???
  9. Pikey

    Pikey Ol'Timer

    Yep, gotcha Dave - we need to pay attention to the safety issue BUT what about the elephnts? Worth the trip? Any input from the other GT-R visitors? Any strange and wonderful (or embarrassing) stories?


  10. Pikey

    Pikey Ol'Timer


    Saw your edited post, and would add, that if Kat (my wife for those who don't know) had her way, I would not be "doing stupid things on motorbikes becauae you are too old".

    I came home yesterday after only 1 & 1/2 days of a 3 day offroader be because I crashed and didn't bounce like I used to when younger. What's the solution? a) don't ride where there is a chance to have some excitement or b) ride with guys who have the same size balls as yourself and you all go along sedately having maybe, 50% of the fun you used to have because you are in fear of the consequences?

    OK, each of those options are good from a wife's point of view BUT, for the majority of us who still enjoy the thrill of bikes and pushing it (I admit my threshold is less than most!), what can we do? Don't chase the young'uns? Brake earlier? Accelerate slower? Nope, common sense allied to percieved knowledge of road conditions (where possible) is our only defence.

    Like you say, let's not get into another debate about clothing e.t.c but just be grateful that we have chosen to live our lives and carry out our activities in such a wonderful part of the world, and if applicable, pray to our personal Gods to keep us safe. [;)]


  11. daewoo

    daewoo Ol'Timer


    Not going to continue the debate, but I understand what you are saying... maybe it is something along the lines of more riders coming, see more riders doing, and therefore get a bit more complacent about what used to be seen as something more adventurous, and become less careful...

    Anyway, really all I wanted to do was thank you for your report... I love reading about these trips and getting a glimpse of the road less travelled.

  12. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer


    Thanks for the observations, I think this is definately part of it.

    I also like to read of the trips and how others view them. We had quite a contingent from Luang Prabang at the event who rode a nice trail to Hongsa. I hope they will put up a report about their experience because from what they told me in Hongsa it sounded like a great ride.
  13. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    I only saw 1 elephant so it wasn't worth it just for the elephant show. And no I would not go to Hongsa again just for the elephant show, you see more elephants in the Mae Sa valley & probably get a better show. But yes I would like to go to Hongsa again & ride around in the area. There are roads that go west from Hongsa & link up with Mekong villages of Pak Khop & Pakpet. Plus there are still 2 more roads to do: (1) Hongsa - Xayaboury. (2) Hongsa - Luang Prabang, of which quite a bit is single track & impassable for 4-wheels. (I hope that those guys who did these roads getting to / from Hongsa will contribute reports.)
    Funniest thing I saw was in the immigration office on the Thai side of the border at Huay Kon. Inside the office, a small 4X6 metre room, was a golf club & a nice long green putting strip of carpet. So you know how busy they get out there.
    2nd "funniest" thing was the tail gate of the pick up collapsing as I sat on it, trying to edge myself onto the tray. If it was not so painful I would have laughed, but I'm bloody sure Silvehawk & Armin must have at least had half a chuckle. I know I would have in their position, despite the circumstances.
  14. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer

    Actually David, we talked about it afterward and we both felt quite bad about that fall. We know it had to be extremely painful.

    I also got a laugh at the Laos Immigration office when I saw the pile of shoes outside the door and all the Immigration Officers walking around in their stockings. I know it is the Lao custom, but I could just picture all these guys scrambling and digging through the pile of shoes as they attempted to go after some border runner...
  15. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Some more piccies

    In Houei Xai, headed for the boat loaded up with baguettes & the g/f.
    What you cant see here are the 3 bottles of Glennfiddich. Duty free in Houie Xai & a steal @ 750 baht a bottle for 750ml & 43%. Sort of makes the boat trip a lot more soothing later on in the day.

    In Pak Tha, delightful young snack vendors that playfully, but very firmly harass you until they get a sale. Difficult to say no.

    Slumming it on the boat & no doubt working on a plan to solve the worlds’ political, economic & environmental problems. I wonder if the final solution was – stay on the boat?

    Mekong views. I never get bored of this fabulous river & want to take a geologist on a trip one day so he / she can explain all the different rock structures & formations en route.

    The port of Tha Xaoung

    Silverhawk taking a different line, that was not as easy as the other one = luck of the game.
  16. aschoch

    aschoch Member

    david, i am not sure if you remember how the tailgate of that pick-up broke. you were sitting on it, legs dangling and asked for someone to pull you inside the back of the truck. when i hopped onto the tailgate, the chains holding it in horizontal position snapped and we both went down into the dirt. i could not suppress a laugh and said to you "if your shoulder was dislocated, maybe it now has snapped back in - check !" remeber this?
  17. BignTall

    BignTall Ol'Timer

    David - is road #2 above on your Laos map?? Enquiring minds would like to know[8D].

    So Dave...you think this one would be possible in April before rainy season starts? or are you Lao'ed out for a couple of months?
  18. SuziQ

    SuziQ Ol'Timer

    Big & Tall,
    your funny. "Lao'ed out". don't think I've heard that before. I suppose if one breaks an arm Lao'ed out would be right but if not I can't imagine anyone being tired of Laos. But then I'm biased.
  19. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer

    Big & Tall-

    Actually "Snail" and I were talking about a Lao trip sometime before the rainy season just last night. That one will probably be a two up trip however.

    But as SuzieQ says, I don't think one can really get "Lao'ed out" (except for border hassles) so I will be up for a new plan when you get back.
  20. BignTall

    BignTall Ol'Timer

    Sounds like a plan!! However I'm used to seeing you share your rides with Thim on the back of your bike. Snail must be really looking good as of late to warrant the change in pillions.
  21. kamster

    kamster New Member

    The picture are absolutely amazing!!! it is very beatiful there if you catch it just right. I'm glad that you are happy there and are having a good time. hope to see you soon.
  22. hello everyone...

    How do you feel David ????
    whwn we were in Hongsa I had a call from one of your friend in Chiengmai looking for you as he had news that you crashed and broke your arm...30 minutes later he called me back saying that everything was inder control.

    Funny I haven't seen any of you in Hongsa where we spent 3 days.

    As we know we left 6 bikes(off road), same team as last year, BO PENIAN TOUR 2007 from vientiane, after Ho Chi Minh trail in 2006 now heading for the North. we have fantastic rides throuh Nam Pouy National forest along side Thai border between Sayabouri and Ngai(Paklai). Then from LP to Hongsa through the hills, 6 hours ride, beautiful.
    Hongsa to Pa Khop, an another magic trail, bikes on boat to Pak Tha hen ride to Houexay. 2 days with my friend Jeff at Gibbon experience.
    Ride again from Ban Pung, 30 km from Houexay heading north to Xiengdao then bikes on boat to river Pak Pha and ride to Xiengkhok.

    From there....MAGIC, BEAUTIFUL RIDES up to 1900m during 2 days in IKO land to hand to Muang Sing.

    We ar now in Luang Namha and leaving this mornong to Pongsaly....

    As soon we reach Vte and have some spare time free, will send fotos.

    Tak care David and see you soon

    jean louis papaya
  23. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Big & Tall
    Yep it is on the map, & should probably be downgraded to mainly 4WD / single track for the bulk of the middle section. I understand that some guys did go to Hongsa via this route, but they have yet to report anything here. Maybe later if we are lucky & I can track them down.
  24. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member


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