Day 1 - Fly to Ubon after putting the bike on the train in Bangkok earlier in the afternoon.
Day 2 - Pick up the bike at Ubon station after flying in the night before from Bangkok - Air Asia.. The train is 2 hours late as expected.
The accommodation below is only a 250 metre walk to the train station in Ubon.. So you can sleep in, get the bike and pack up at the hotel.
The road upgrade to Chong Mek on the Thai side is really progressing well.. Then you get to the Lao side.. They have expanded another dirt lane about 12 km may be less either side of the main road from the border to Pakse.. If I can use the following analogy.. The Thai side looks like a fire hose, the Lao side upgrade looks like a garden hose feeding in to a straw.... Not sure, but looks like the Lao side will be bottlenecked in no time when comparing the two upgrades.
At the border AIG has reopened in the little office under the red sign.. Common sense has prevailed.. No longer necessary to go to Pakse for insurance. Viet Lao insurance back towards some other buildings where the hill goes up to immigration on the right hand side. I was not sure if AIG was there so asked for Viet Lao initially.. But the AIG guy was standing there and I asked him.. AIG... 'Yes'..
Arrive Pakse 2.5 hours later to meet the guys and go for a coffee and lunch. Best time yet to do the Ubon - Pakse run, considering the border was busy. A lot of Laos returning home for New Year.
The locals already gearing up for the new year celebrations in Pakse
As Hauke had not ridden for a long time we went for a ride up the Bolaven plateau. Started to rain so we headed back at around 900 metres. Nice afternoon warm up on the bikes and great to get out of the heat of Pakse.
Made contact with Lanna and invited her for dinner and drinks.. Lanna (friend living in Pakse) was a great help. She booked the bikes for us and arranged to pay the deposit holding the bikes until we arrived (Thanks Lanna and Dirk).. We had an XR and another 233 cc bike.
Great evening of beer starting on the roof top of the Pakse hotel.. Fantastic sunset views... More beer and we decide to eat.. The first place was not really interested in serving us so we moved on after one beer.. Then had some great fish and other food further on by the river sitting on the footpath and half in the road..
The result of far too many Beer Lao that evening
We did the wibbly wobbly walk back to the hotel. All a little hung over in the morning. Fun evening and great start to a biking trip.
We have an unexpected late start that couldn't be helped.. Make our way to Champasak town arrive around 10:50am and have an early lunch..
At mid day we begin our ride along the Mekong all the way down to the ferry crossing just above Khong island.. Really lovely to see the small villages celebrating the new year.. Stopping here and there for a drink of water etc.. Always amazes me how in the small villages there is nearly always someone that can speak great English and wants to engage with you. We had a nice 15 minute break and a chat in one of the villages.
We then wait for the ferry and watch a bit of Lao road rage.. Seems the Beer Lao truck got impatient and decided to take off around another smaller truck in a big hurry.. Crashing sound of beer crates.. Beer Lao crates and bottles flying., Beer Lao pouring out of the truck like a small flood and broken bottles on the road. We couldn't find a straw quick enough to help soak up the Beer Lao.
We ride on the car ferry.. Happy to do those little canoes when you have too.. But when the river is this wide and you have a better option.. Take it I say..
We are running out of day light and hammer it up route 13 to the turn off at route 18. Have a look around and find an OK place 2 km up the road from route 18 turn off.. We had initially planned to get here a couple of hours earlier and ride some of the trails this side of the Mekong and see the Angkor period ruins.
There are many places to stay around Route 18 entrance now.. Some very basic and some OK..
Rooms were 50,000 kip a night. Good enough. The restaurant was in party mode.. New Year Eve.. Band and lots of drunken people. When the Lao get drunk.. They want to chat.. so we had a few chit chats with the locals and politely declined to get up and dance to the pop music..
We are ready for an early start to route 18 as planned... My third time to do this route and it is fantastic.
(Nice contrasts all the way from beginning to end.. flat and dusty, less and less people and villages, the rivers start then you begin to get really remote with villages becoming fewer and far between.. Before you arrive at the last big river crossing around 2/3 of the way to Attapue.. Then it is a very easy ride after that)
Up early for a 7 am start and decent breakfast at the Eco lodge on route 18. Only problem was that the lodge was closed for New Year.. (Tim managed to run over a dog on the way through the town - dog was not there when we came back)
Now we are on the look out for alternate food before the route gets too remote.. Found a little place selling boiled / steamed eggs and we bought a bunch of red bananas. Breakfast done..
Good to leave early in case you have any technical or other issues along the route. Just before the first river crossing Hauke dropped the bike and snapped the clutch lever.. 1.5 hrs later Tim had rigged a new clutch out of something that didn't fit from a small shop at the first river crossing and we were off again. Imagine if this was later and you are more remote.. Not a nice thought to be spending a night in the bush here.. (anyone contemplating this ride.. Start early and give yourself time to get out of trouble. You will enjoy it more too with time to stop and take pictures)
Bridge Under Construction
This was funny.. I am walking through the river finding the best line to get across.. The local you see in the pic with the Honda Wave.. Rides towards us from the other side.. Blows the horn a couple of times.. Big smile and rides right through twice with a big grin on his face and then stops and watches us cross.. LOL
We stopped here for 10 mins and had a swim in the river and watched the village life.. Nice spot they have here.
The rivers were very low and no real difficulty crossing them. The one deep river where the locals wanted to rip off Rex and me last January was still a little deep. Tim and I rode it no problems. We had the locals carry Hauke's bike over as the exhaust was too low... Look at that Route 18 smile on Hauke's face..
After making the crossing and feeling good with ourselves and a little chat and rest.. A pick-up turns up and begins to fight his way through.. They were Thai's heading to Attapue for New Year.. All getting drunk in the back and having a great time.. They were very excited to see us and had a good chat.. We wish them well and they us and we all went on our way.
Look at that laugh.. He is having a ball in the back of the pick-up.. Why wouldn't you on Route 18.. So much fun and such diverse scenery.
Notice the black gunk coming out of the pick-up.. Guess he was getting the water and what ever else out after the crossing. The AA will not come out here....
Further on, closer to the last river crossing it does get very rocky and a bit more technical. We are going along following the best line and I see a tourist on a Honda Wave also following the same line.. Both of us on the wrong side of the road.. but neither of us really speeding.. I correct and pull to the right.. He keeps to the left.. (guessing he is British or Australian).. So I had to move very quickly further to the right.. I could see the whites of his eyes.. Never seen someones eyes so big before.. as I passed him, he applied too much front brake and nearly lost it.. but was OK.. Hauke riding behind saw the entire thing and first thing he commented on was the size of this guys eyes as we just missed each other... If either of us had been going too fast.. it could have been nasty.
The last BIG river was very low.. Easy to ride across.. I walked it and you could pretty much ride it in any place and not be more than knee deep or a little over.. The guys wanted a pic on the raft with the kids pushing them over... So I rode across first and took some pics.. (Moto-Rex.. It wasn't like in January, where we really had to stick to the dog leg line or sink the bike in a big hole after hitting a rock). You can see a lot of rocks sticking up in the middle of the river.. This was not the case in January.
We crossed the river and decided it was time for a beer Lao break.. " Well done Tim and Hauke.. You have done the hard stuff now".
As we are drinking our third beer Lao a woman comes rushing in all excited.. and we looked at her and realised it was the lady from the Thai pickup.. We are not sure if she was excited to see us or excited that because she saw us she knew they made it out alive In all fairness.. Well done to them, not sure I would want to be pushing that old 2 wheel drive pick-up through route 18 with 7 or 8 people in the back.. We said our goodbyes again after a picture.
While we are having our first beer a couple of Korean girls arrive on Honda Waves and asking us about the route with map in hand.. We were a bit concerned for them as it is now 2pm and they want to attempt the hard part of Route 18. Advised them not to attempt it at this time as it is too late and from Attapue to here is very easy.. You have some tough tracks and river crossings.. You will end up riding in the dark and if you break down or hurt yourself you may not have any one pass you later on to assist.. They discussed it and decided to go on as they had to meet friends the next day on Khong island.. We are on our third Beer Lao and they returned.. Looking very exhausted. They said they went 10km and turned back as they didn't want to sleep in the bush.. We suggested they get a start at 7am from here and take their time and they have all day in case they have a problem with the bikes..
Then we had an easy ride all the way to Attapue. Couple more beer stops in the small villages watching the locals enjoy new year..
We caught up to the Korean girls taking shelter from the storm on the way back to Attapue.
Attapue check in late afternoon and dinner, picked up some serious food poisoning...
There were a couple of power outages.. So out came the candles which enabled us to continue to see what we were drinking.
A single motorbike headlight on the road.. It really is dark there when the power goes out.
At 6 am I thought the day was ruined.. But the antibiotics I had taken at 3.30am started to kick in and by 8am I was able to get up and started feeling better., by 10am we were on the bikes and improving by the hour.. Just drank water the rest of the day..
Food tasted great.. but boy was I sick as a dog. Have not crapped the bed since I was a kid. Lets just say I wont be staying in that hotel again.. planned my exist to be as quick as possible once the room key was handed in. Gear already on the bike, key in the ignition and outta there.
We head to Paam and check out the SAM missile site. Then head up the old Ho Chi Minh trail to Sekong.. Really enjoying the ride.. Lovely mountains and dirt roads.. So scenic.
The pictures really don't do the view justice or show how windy and steep the roads through the mountains are with drops off the edge to the bottom of the mountain.
We pass Chaleun Xai and 11km later have a break down in the mountains.. Serious., this can't be fixed on the trail. Lots of back and forth on the phone with Pakse.. They said to go back to the nearest village and get a pickup.. That would be great.. but it is new year and they are all drunk and really don't care about anything.. so Pakse is talking to the village guy, he is saying yes, hangs up, drinks his beer and keeps smoking.. this went on for over an hour.. Until I told Pakse.. Listen.. This is not working.. we will hide the bike in the bush and you need to send out someone with a pick up in the morning.. They wanted someone to sleep with the bike.. Yeah.. really.. so it got a little heated.. but we are now running out of day light.. So we just ignore Pakse's calls and get Hauke and his gear back after hiding the bike in the bush..
Took this picture of the road where we hid the bike.. Just in case there was any problem with the GPS.. Like this is different from any other view
So now we have a nice evening in the village with no electricity and no food.. We get them to cook up some eggs and have omlette for dinner and breakfast and drink a load of warm beer Lao, bath in the river.. They were very kind and allowed us to sleep in the town hall (makes it sound glamorous, but not sure what else you would call it). The three of us sleeping on a mat on the hard floor and it got cold at night.. We all woke up and put as many layers on as we could to keep warm. I had my bike pants on over my jeans, 4 shirts on and two pairs of socks and still had cold feet and hands.
The Eagles Nest.
Where we slept
No power in the village.. They all live by torches and are in bed by 7:30
Morning coffee with boiled river water
Wake up early and take Huake back to the spot where the bike is (the locals go to bed early and wake up early, we were reasonably confident no one will stumble across the bike between 6pm and 6am) and Hauke waits there.. while I wait for the pick up from Pakse and Tim guards the gear..
While Tim is taking Hauke back to the bike. The head guy comes over in his uniform and with his adjutant. They are very pleasant and make a record in their book about us and why we stayed there.. Yet again, another person in the village was called that spoke OK English and with my OK Thai we worked it out and all smiles..
Pick-up arrives at 9:30 / 10:00 am..We realised they have never been in the mountains before.. They had no idea what we are dealing with.. Anyway.. he picks up the bike and takes Hauke back to Pakse.. On the way back he stops the car at the same spot we stopped to take pictures and gets out and started to take his own pictures.. Then said to Hauke.. " If it wasn't for you.. I would not be seeing this" .. After this his mood changed to happier..
(On a side note:- Sern from Lankham hotel was fantastic and when the repairs came in for the bike, it was very reasonable.. No horror story or rip off, pleased to say. Problem caused by the clutch burning something out.. Our fault. When we returned the bikes on the last day all was good and I will use their services again.. Saves paying to get bikes sent from Vientiane and he did come out and get the bike the next day in the middle of no where.. Thank you Sern).
As Hauke will be in Pakse and we are riding in a team.. Tim and I decided to ditch Sekong and ride back to Attapue and up the Bolaven plateau dirt road making it easier for Hauke to join us again.. Lots and lots of road works here sadly.. Glad I did this years ago before it began changing for the worse..
We stayed at Tad Fan.. A welcome mattress and blanket after the night before and also easy for Hauke to get a bike and join us in the morning.. Not to mention good clean food again.
View from the breakfast table
This was a very welcome breakfast...
All still a bit shell shocked and suffering a few upset stomachs.. we decide to head to Tad Lo.. Through the middle of the plateau from Paksong and then taking all the small roads to Tad Lo with out touching the main road that loops around.. really nice and would recommend it.
Paksong for a real coffee.. Dirk was in Vietnam so we couldn't meet up this trip.
Petrol station cash register
The main dirt road through the middle, then all the small side roads linking up all the way to Tad Lo
This usually quiet sleepy town was going nuts with new year celebrations.. So we decided to move on the next day.
Then up to the coffee plantation.. which was lovely.. We decided to have a rest day and recover from stomach problems and take it easy.. preparing for work the day.. The Chalet was lovely.. Can't believe we had this all to ourselves and so cheap.. We bargained them down from 50 USD to 40 USD each. The staff were friendly and attentive.. even gave us some free fried spring rolls the last day while we killed a couple of hours before leaving for Pakse.
More detailed accommodation report below:-
Local kids up the road where I went to top up my Lao SIM..
Relax at the resort in the morning. Head to Pakse, lunch with Lanna and head back to Thailand..
There was no one at the border.. Taking my time in the Lao side.. sitting on 80, taking my time on the Thai side.. sitting on 90 or 100 and dodged a couple of storms.. 2hrs 10 mins.. best time ever and not speeding or going crazy.. 5 mins each side at the border.
The three of us had a great time. Good reason why you ride the more remote parts with a mate or a group.. breakdowns.
You would be stuffed by yourself.. Especially at New Year as the Lao will not do anything even if you offer money...