Laos - Riding What You Got!

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by Noel Akers, Aug 19, 2008.

  1. Noel Akers

    Noel Akers Ol'Timer

    Laos “Riding What You Got” July 2008

    Honda Degree XL 250
    Honda Shadow 400
    Tina and Noel Akers
    Peter and Dorothy Hermit

    Our Rough Plan:
    From Phuket ride/train to Chiang Mai - do a month in Laos north to south and hopefully return to Phuket.

    Okay, agreed. There are definitely more suitable bikes for riding two up through Laos, but after deep thought – about 5 minutes, the decision was made to ride “Wot We Got” and it worked out far better than expected.
    A few basic modifications on the Degree were essential. First the seat was widened and contoured similar to a TDM, which provides passenger with a more level playing field. Previous down slopes had ended up with both of us trying to wrap the fuel tank around the steering head. Fitted highway pegs to allow leg stretching and passenger could bring feet forward to rider’s pegs. I could still brake and downshift with heels, but used standard pegs most of the time. A rear brace for the luggage rack was manufactured and gave lots of essential support for sub-frame. I have seen too many cracked sub-frames over the years and didn’t fancy trying to get a re-weld in a hill tribe village in Laos!! These 3 mods worked perfectly. 40 litre dry bag on rear rack for clothes and mossie-net, tank bag for heavy stuff brought the weight forward, modified a couple of old skateboard bags to make tank panniers. These held water, wet weather gear and chain lube which kept weight lower. Two sheepskin pads thrown over the seat and we were gone.
    Ready to rock ‘n roll but where’s the wife?

    P & D had already taken off northward on the train to Bangkok with their Shadow, to then ride the Mae Sot, Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son road before we joined them in Chiang Mai.
    We rode up to Phun Pin (near Surathani) and trained the bike and ourselves to Bangkok then onto Chiang Mai. Relaxing time on the “rattler” with flip down beds organized by train staff. Bought food before departure as train tucker is a bit ordinary and quite expensive.
    Arrived Chiang Mai very early a.m. and caught up with P & D for breakfast. Spent the morning buying a new helmet, gloves and jacket for Tina and spent the night at Bang Wiang Guest House around the corner from the Kafe.
    Would you accept blood or travel through Laos with this man?

    Peter has one of those rare blood types and was asked by the GH owner if he would donate a pint for a waiting patient at the hospital where she worked. After the ‘blood-letting’ we hit the 118 to Chiang Rai and then onwards to Chiang Kong at the border. Nice ride up, but arrived about 15 minutes before immigration closed – luckily all went smoothly, quick dash to customs – ditto. Had been advised previously ,to do this on arrival to save time in the morning prior to catching the ferry. Booked into guesthouse and a few sunset sherbets by the mighty Mekong River ended a great first day.
    Noel and Tina doing it hard on the mighty Mekong.

    Unfortunately Pete and I had grabbed some tucker from the street markets which must have had MSG – now my wife Tina has an allergy to this crap and consequently spent the night “talking into the big white telephone”. The next morning a raging headache didn’t enhance her feeling of gaiety but after a “clan meeting” she still wanted to hit Laos, so we headed off for the ferry departure point in the drizzle ,to catch the officials opening. Final stamps from them saw us waiting for the ferry. Loading our bikes into a narrow, wobbly longtail boat in the rain did not look like an attractive proposition in the swirling muddy Mekong. Fortunately a grader appeared which also needed to cross. We loaded up on the ferry with the grader and soon it Laos soil. A quick trip to customs and then a visit to the sly little AGL insurance rep for our bike coverage.
    Fortunately I had heard before that the cost for this insurance was about 350THB. After filling out all the paperwork he came up with a bill for a couple of thousand baht!!! Please explain???? “Oh so sorry – I thought car!” This is with our two green books in front of him which are very obviously for bikes. Amended bill was 1000+. Once again “please explain!!” After much paper shuffling, “Oh so sorry – me think one year!!!” This is after he has already read our completed AGL forms with the dates showing one month. 436THB each and we were gone. Nice scam if it works!!! Beware the AGL agent!!! Down to immigration for more stamps and we were officially in.
    None of us felt too flash after the previous night so we opted for overnight in Hoeui Xai. The couple of weeks before had been pretty stressful and it was starting to catch up ....we needed relax time. A few beerlao and sleep and we were good to go.

    The next day saw us on this beautiful windy road heading north to Luang Namtha. This road is a major trade route between China/Laos/Thailand. Excellent surface, great scenery – perfect soul tonic.
    Locals busy planting rice.

    The weather looked a bit ominous at times but we only received a light shower. Dinner at the Banana Restaurant Luang Namtha was delicious and good value. A few more cleansing ales and a good sleep and we were off to Boten on the Laos China border. This felt like a typical border town – kinda seedy, with some uncomfortable moments for us. Most of this was due to the live animal trade which is obviously thriving. We saw many animals jammed in tiny cages such as Asiatic Black Bear cubs, Slow Loris’, porcupine looking critters and huge fat rodents with teeth like wood chisels. There was also a number of covered in trucks that were obviously loaded up with animals by the squeaking and grunting that we could hear. Many of the stalls had bear claws and lots of dehydrated animal parts for sale. We took photos to email to some live animal trade opposition groups and left for Oudom Xai.
    Back at the Luang Namtha T-junction in Na Teuy the road immediately deteriorated with a section of mud and stones. The Shadow got a bit twitchy in the mud and then everything went pear shaped. In 2.4 nano seconds she went all horizontal and perpendicular giving P & D a bit of mud tasting. A few tense moments and they stood up – nothing broken. Now I wouldn’t recommend washing a motorcycle with an M150 bottle dipped in a roadside ditch but it was a necessity as the mud was not a good look! I took off on the Degree to ‘recce’ ahead and see if this section of mud was a one off. Of course it wasn’t. A few kms later I realized that short broken sections in the paved road were common. Some were muddy, others pot-holey with rocks dumped in them. Went back to the others and we agreed to press on as the options were basically non-existent.
    There were lots of landslides with rocks and mud due to the heavy rain overnight, and the prevalence of animals sleeping and generally hanging out on the road brought our moving average down to 40kmh.
    Pete riding the Shadow through one of the typical short sections of mud during wet season.

    Spent the night at Oudom Xai, which is quite a large industrial centre with a high Chinese population and a mix of over 20 minority ethnic groups. Bikes were washed to remove all the mud and the next morning we travelled east along route 13 to Nong Khiaw. Road conditions were similar, twisty, paved but bumpy as the road never had a proper base laid. Moving average down to 35kmh. Stayed 2 nights at beautiful Nong Khiaw on the Nam Ou River, which originates in China and dissects the most northern part of Laos running down to meet the Mekong just north of Luang Prabang. This was our favourite stop in all of Laos.
    Our accommodation at Nong Khiaw...nice laid back spot.

    We propped in bamboo bungalows with thatched roofs (which didn’t leak) and verandas right over the river. Scenery is spectacular and with some heavy showers and low clouds scudding through the mountains it was a great venue for sinking a few chilled ales. The great little restaurant on the right hand side as we crossed the bridge going east, provided great tucker and a cute bubbly little waitress made returning several times an easy decision. Wandered along the road to Tham Pah Thok, a large cave where hundreds of villagers lived during the Indo-China war to escape the bombing. We spoke at length to an ex-teacher who runs a small shop with his wife in NK. He explained how his wife was born in the jungle but had to move into a cave with her family where they lived for about 10 years to avoid being detected. Most of their food gathering and basic farming had to be done at night. As we listened, she sat on a tiny stool spinning thread for making fish nets and chatted in very broken English/Thai/Laos. Her gentle smile hid the pain and fear of her earlier life. These are incredibly resilient people.
    A lovely lady with a remarkable past.

    Next we were off to Vieng Thong. This 160+ km run took us over 6 hours. Sure we had a few chick and photo stops but the paved, twisty, bumpy road with lots of rock and mud slides really kept the pace down. Add to this the incredible amount of cattle, buffaloes, goats, pigs, chickens, dogs, ducks, and kids that live on the road and you have got some serious concentration going on at times. Only had the wet weather gear on for a couple of hours but it rained a lot during the night.
    Resourceful happy kids ..... yes, they are wooden wheels, so no worries with punctures.

    A hunt around town for “vittles” the next morning and just couldn’t come at the fried pig’s appendix or pig intestine stew. We settled for bags of sticky rice , chopped bananas and poured condensed milk over the lot.
    Onward to Phonsavan through some great twisties and speccy scenery. Two nights there and our love of Indian food was temporarily satiated along with the local brew. This area and Plain of Jars had interested me a great deal since reading “The Ravens” Pilots of the Secret War of Laos. This whole region had been blanket bombed between 1964 and 1973 in an awesome display of US government stupidity. The results of UXO (unexploded ordinance) will be suffered by innocent people for future generations, many of them peaceful farmers and children looking for scrap metal to sell. Arms and legs will be blown off and many people will die.
    Rain overnight made the ride out to the Plain of Jars very interesting. Not only for the amazing rock jars but the mud roads. The Degree, with Dunlop Trailmax hoops and 2 up, kept my attention from wandering across the European type landscape. The ominous black mass roaring across the sky from the northwest, flushed us out of this area and back onto the black top after only visiting 2 of the sites. Guess we will have to return for Site 3– it’s on the cards. Laos is a blast!!
    Tina at site 1

    Next morning we hit the road east and had a fantastic 260km ride to Luang Prabang through amazing country. Great twisty road and quite good paved surface. Of course a lot more heavy traffic on the north/ south Vientiane – Luang Prabang road kept speeds in check .
    3 nights in LP and back on the Mekong, gave us a bit of a break from early starts and we kicked back sampling some great food and of course the local brew. Day trip out to Kuang Si Waterfalls was an enjoyable sojourn with a couple hours spent with the Asiatic Black Bears that are kept there. These bears have been saved from the Bear Bile Gall Bladder trade, and seem quite happy in their surroundings. Unfortunately they cannot be released as they would only be captured again by poachers.
    Southward to Vang Vieng along windy route 13. Good road and great scenery.
    Low cloud wafting through the mountains.

    Yep, we got altitude or is that attitude?!?

    Pete managed to pick up a nail in the Shadow’s rear tyre just as we hit town. Fortunately got the tube patched at Somsach Motor fairly quickly. Unfortunately one tiny hole was missed and required another melt on patch the following morning. This worked perfectly.
    Our trip so far had been pretty cruisey, but witnessing 3 accidents within the first half hour of hitting Vientiane gave us a reality check. Combined with the overturned bus which missed a corner 3 days later when we left, the need to stay focused was amplified. Whilst in Vientiane Peter had a new rear tyre fitted (flown in from Bangkok) at Mr Fuark’s Bike shop ,and we got new chain and sprockets (easier to get here than in Phuket). Met Jimoi of who had helped Peter organise pick up of tyre etc. Real nice helpful guy.
    Four of us at the fake “Arc” departing Vientiane

    Spent a few days travelling the lowlands along the Mekong via Pakxan, Thakek – great duty free (no passports etc required), Savanaket to Pakse. We spent several days around Pakse and then headed south to the wetland habitat of 4000 islands where the Mekong approaches the Cambodian border. 2 nights on Don Khong, the largest of the islands, and had relaxing days riding around the island through the paddy fields and hanging out with the local villagers.
    Back north to Pakse where we parted company with Pete and Dorothy. They were off to Vietnam for a few weeks and had been great travelling buddies. We headed up to the Bolaven Plateau for a night by Tadlo Waterfall. The red volcanic soil in this region supports an amazing amount of agriculture and home for a lot of fine Arabica and Robusta coffee growing. After more rain through the night, the dirt road from Beng to Thateng was as slippery as duck crap and we did the 18km or so in first and second gear. I’m real glad it was mostly uphill .......downhill would have been a white knuckle zone. There are some interesting waterfalls up on the plateau, but we had heavy fog in many areas which altered our perception somewhat.
    With our visas for Laos almost expired, we crossed the border back into Thailand at Chong Mek. Easy going customs and immigration guys made a pleasant re-entry and we turned the handle heading for a night in Surin. Next morning, an oil change and got away just after lunch for the 450 odd km to Bangkok.
    This next bit was not part of our original loosely structured plan. We hit Bangkok at peak hour, in the rain , with no map and the idea of visiting a friend currently undergoing treatment for a brain tumour at Bumrungrad Hospital. After a little frustration and much high volume cursing into the helmet regarding the intellect and parentage of local drivers, we arrived. After spending some time with TJ and Elle (his girlfriend), it was back on the streets to find accommodation. As it was now well and truly dark the traffic was even more enjoyable, but we now had a map. Ever noticed that the most frustrating vehicles are operated by tourists with maps who still don’t know where they are going??? It was our turn!!! Found “digs” near Kao San road and just after sunrise we were gone.
    One final night in Prachuap Kiri Khan, a small coastal fishing town on the west coast of the Gulf of Thailand and we were heading for home.
    We had a fantastic 5 weeks away and although each wet season is different, we would definitely consider riding Laos in July again. Dirt tracks are often impassable and river crossings very questionable (sometimes relying on local boats) however if you only want to do the paved roads, it is definitely doable.
    Would we use the same bike again? In a flash! For a 250 with 2 up it did an amazing job.

    Average Cost per day: 1200 THB (fuel, food, accommodation & incidentals)

    Train & Ferry Costs:
    Phun Pin to Bangkok aircon sleeper 1466THB for 2 pax & 1035 for the Degree
    Bangkok to Chiang Mai fan sleeper 980THB for 2 pax & 1200 for the Degree
    Ferry cross from Chiang Khong to Huoei Xai 500THB total ....2 pax and 1 bike.

    Accommodation Costs
    Chiang Mai: Ban Wiang Guesthouse (GH): 250THB, fan, hot water (HW) clean and comfortable (C&C), quiet, undercover parking (UCP)
    Chiang Khong: Huanthai Sophaphan Homestay: 200THB, Fan, HW, basic room, quiet, good balcony overlooking Mekong, UCP
    Laos – Exchange Rate averaged at 258kip per THB
    Huoei Xai: Thanormsub GH: 70,000Kip (approx 270THB), fan, HW, C&C gated parking
    Luang Namtha: Houng Heang GH: 60,000 Kip, fan, HW, TV, Balcony, C & C, reasonably quiet, Inside parking.
    Oudom Xai: Oudom Kham Hotel: 60,000 Kip, fan, HW, TV, C & C, quiet some undercover parking
    Nong Khiaw: Sunrise GH: 70,000Kip, Great bamboo thatched bungalows, veranda overlooking river, fan, mossie net, HW, quiet. OUR FAVOURITE
    Vieng Thong: (Last GH on left heading east before Xam Neua turn off): 50,000 Kip, fan, HW, squat loo, bikes placed under a tarp by GH owner.
    Ponsavan: Keo Kong GH: 50,000 Great HW, fan, C & C, UCP, quiet.
    Luang Prabang: Chanthy Banchit GH: 45,000, Fan, HW, C & C some UCP.
    Vien Vieng: Muokdavanh GH: 40,000, great bungalows in nice garden setting, Fan, HW, C & C, quiet.
    Vientiane: Ekalath Hotel: 500THB, large room, TV, aircon, fridge, HW, UCP
    PhoneThip GH: 100,000 kip including breakfast, aircon & fan, TV, HW, fridge C&C, quiet, UCP.
    Paksan: BK GH: 50,000kip, fan, HW, UCP, C&C.
    Thakek: Khammoune Mekong Hotel: 80,000kip, fan, HW, fridge, not so clean.
    Savanaket: Leena GH: 55,000kip, fan, Cold Water, C & C, quiet.
    Paxse: Fang Sedone GH: 50,000kip, fan, cold water, C & C, quiet, deck overlooking river for sunset drinks.
    Don Khong : Povis GH: 60,000 kip, fan, TV, HW, quiet, mossie net, some undercover parking.
    Thadlo: Sipaseuth GH: 60,000 kip, fan, mossie net, HW,
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  3. siinthai

    siinthai Ol'Timer

    well done mate , great first report. Looks like you had a blast and can't wait for my turn to go into Loas. Maybe end of high season next year. Muppets in ?
    Awesome scenary and good job.
  4. Dougal

    Dougal Ol'Timer

    Great report and fantastics photos.

    Congratulations on an exciting trip. Looks awesome over there.

    Thanks for taking the time to post.
  5. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Noel & Tina, Peter & Dorothy
    Congratulations on a great trip & wonderful report.
    It just goes to show that you all you need is the spirit of adventure & reliable bikes 'n bums. To have the latest greatest most modern RTW adventure machine is not essential to leave home, do a few thousand kms & enjoy yourself.
    You guys all had a fantastic time - well done, & thanks for the detailed report & nice photos.
    Some of you fence sitters can give Lao a go with all the info in this report.
    (Don't forget your AGL Lao insurance now!)

    Any photos from Tad Lo Falls & Ghouse. Id like to spend a night out there with Happy Go Lucky in the future.
  6. Noel Akers

    Noel Akers Ol'Timer

    Thanks for words of encouragement. Having a few grey moments today and also very slow speeds on net. Combine that with pouring rain and no wind means minimal power to run panels and wind generator ,as I live on a boat. Will post pics asap.
  7. Noel Akers

    Noel Akers Ol'Timer

    David here’s the pics of Tad Lo Waterfall and the guesthouse we stayed at. Hope you and Happy Go Lucky have a nice time up there.
  8. burnjr

    burnjr Ol'Timer

    nice journey and story noel.... :D love it
  9. jimoi

    jimoi Ol'Timer

    Excellent report and I was glad to be of service to you in Vientiane on the tire. Hope to see you again in Laos or down south.
  10. Pikey

    Pikey Ol'Timer

    Hi Noel et all,

    Great report, full of good info and you certainly had a blast! Fantastic pictures and it was really nice to have met you all on your stopover in CNX. Look forward to seeing you again and hopefully having a bit of a ride together next time.


  11. scot harper

    scot harper Ol'Timer

    Noel, and co, great post, mate Its the ride Iv'e been plannig for ages,

    Any more pics, thanks again !! 8) Scott

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