Last year (April 2005) two of us traveled from VTE to Vieng Xai (27kms east of Xam Nua) and back on a couple of Bajas. Three of us are heading back later this year for a month in Laos, and emailed David U to ask a couple of questions about it. He of course made us aware of this board (god I wish we knew of it when we were there last year) and asked us to contribute with a report from our trip last year. Keen to avoid the stigma of being forum leaches we have got together some pics etc, so here goes… We had come from Chang Mai to LP (mid April) and after a bit of time further north (Muang Ngoi) we were back in LP and very keen to explore some of the country by bike. We were paying for a meal and discussing how we really needed a road map of Laos with distances and road types on it, when I looked down and saw the GT-rider map next to the restaurant’s till. We could not believe it! Brilliant. Considering the amount of times we referred back to that map in the days to come, it was the best US$7 I have spent. We soon figured out that there was no hiring of bikes for farang around LP (although I understand now that it is possible to get your hands on them through Discovery). Everything pointed to VTE being the best place to hire a bike, so we made the trip there by bus and hired a couple of Bajas from the friendly people at VPO. From there we headed up to Vang Vieng for the night. On the way I had my first puncture and pushed the bike back to a village where a local guy fixed it amongst a throng of interested Laos kids (now I know what it is like to own a Ferrari!) We got to Vang Vieng and chilled out after our first couple of hours on the bikes. From Vang Vieng we headed south to Tha Heua because we wanted to head east to Xaisomboune then on to Phonsavan. We knew the chances of getting near Long Tien were slim, buy were told in VTE that the road to Xaisomboune was fine to travel through. Bridge a few kms east of Tha Huea. About 10kms from the turn off from Hwy13 were stopped at a checkpoint and told to go back. When we showed them our map in a friendly way and tried to explain that we were not going to the special zone, just Xaisombone then Phonsavan, they asked for our passports. We didn’t have them because we left them at VPO in VTE, and when we tried to ask why we could not go they tried explain that it was dangerous by making a gun firing signal with their fingers. We don’t know what the real story is but weren’t going to push the point. The guards were nice guys as always in Laos though… So we headed north on hwy13. Great scenery. Enjoyed the ride. Just north of Vang Vieng. Due to the unplanned nature of the motorbike trip we were not very organized, so apart from helmets and gloves, we did not have any protection. We were paranoid about coming off, but a pretty risky thing to do, and something that definitely warrants criticism from fellow board members. Fire away! In the hills south of the turnoff to Phonsavan (Rte7) I got my second puncture. Well it was really just one big hole that existed before I hired the bike, but until we got to Phonsavan there was no one with a big enough tube for the Baja, so we had to just patch it. Jeremy rode back to a village with a photo of the flat tire on the digital camera so we could explain what we needed help with. He found someone who came with him to help. A few guys also stopped as the tire was being fixed to have a yarn. I think they were government militia guarding the road. We tried to buy the gear to fix punctures at the cross road between 13 and 7 (Phou Khoun), but we could not find tire irons for love nor money. We got into Phonsavan later that afternoon. Really good road on Rte7, with hardly any traffic. From Phonsavan we headed north towards Xam Nua. From Muang Kham (50km north east of Phonsavan) the road was OK but not very wide, and trucks etc had a habit of screaming around the corners on the wrong side of the road. It would be easy enough to get collected. For this reason it was a ride that demanded a bit of concentration. It was good to get away from some of the more tourist traveled routes, and we enjoyed our day. North of Muang Kham We stopped at the junction of Rte 1 and 6 (Phou Lao) for the energy boosting effects of a couple of M150s and a packet of wafer things. This is the road up to the standing stones at Suan Hin. It was a 40min walk to the stones from the road, and we unfortunately did not have enough time to do this as we wanted to get to Vieng Xai that night. Next time maybe. The owner of a petrol stop near Xam Nua seemed impressed by how much petrol we could fit in one motorbike… We arrived in Xam Nua and had a quick look around, but wanted to get to Vieng Xai and find a place to stay before dark, so we headed off. Near the monastery in Xam Nua. On the road between Xam Nua and Vieng Xai. Mat in Vieng Xai. If anyone is thinking of a trip to Vieng Xai, I would highly recommend it. The place was the center of the Pathet Lao revolution and there are about 400 – 500 caves in the area that solders and civilians sheltered from the constant aerial hammering by the US. You can head on a $1 tour of the main PL leaders caves with a guide, or just wander/ride about and find unmarked caves. I somehow a saw a dark spot off the side of the road and we stopped and checked it out. It opened to a massive cave with a big blast wall built in the cave and a well, steps, etc. There are craters everywhere 30+ years after the 5 years of constant US bombing. This is a crater from a 500 pound bomb. Around Vieng Xai there are numerous small roads/tracks to explore. We had a great day cruising about… …Until I got my third puncture of the trip – in my two day old new tube from Phonsavan! Jeremy headed off and managed to find some tire irons, so we could fix the puncture ourselves. Much to the amusement of a passing family on their Sunday drive. I thought I was clever fixing the tire with our new kit, so I smugly ordered Jeremy to pump it up for me seeing as I had done the technical stuff… But it did not inflate. I found another THREE holes before it was fixed! The puncture curse of Baja number 63 continued… Back at the guest house we realized that we each thought that the other fella had more money than they actually did. 650km from the nearest ATM we found that after scraping together ALL our money (baht, US dollars, kip), we had US$100. We figured that we needed $60 petrol to get back to VTE so that left us with $20 each for four days of food, accommodation, emergencies etc. To our dismay we realized that our nightly Beerlao sessions would have to go. So we settled for a 70 cent bottle of Black Horse whiskey and a large bowl of fried rice to console ourselves… We were meeting Mat’s fiancé in Thailand in 5 days (and we had no money), so we headed back to VTE on the same route that we came up. Between Vieng Xai and Xam Nua Jeremy put his bike down as it was drizzling, but the road was so devoid of grip that he slid for a bit on the smooth tar, and only injured his ego. That singlet still has the black mark as a momento of his slide. Also note the white Baja road marking. In Phonsavan we visited one of the 3 sites of the Plain of Jars (Site 1). I found the place more impressive than I thought I would. Definitely worth a look. Note the ever-present craters in the background. We stayed in Phonsavan for the night and headed for Vang Vieng the next morning. Just south of the intersection of Rte7 and 13. After getting to Vang Vieng and staying there the night, we left for the last leg of our 6 day trip. Mat of course had one more puncture near the concrete factory, just to teach him a lesson, then it was back on the road to VTE. Awesome 6 days. Wish we had more time. But heading back later this year to spend some more time exploring Laos. Can't wait.