After 4500kms around Laos on Minsks and the occasionally hired Baja, we have finished. I will post a bit of a report about the northern tarmac part of the trip later, but for now have a look at our non-biker blog with photos for friends and family: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Laos/blog-139252.html
What may be of more interest are the following trips we did subsequent to the tarmac pottering we did for the first month or so. I have added a few 3D maps to these posts that show GPS tracks of interesting sections of the rides we did.
1) Houeyxai down the Mekong to Kone Tuen (west of Pak Khop), Xiengkhone, Hongsa, and then directly east to Luang Prabang (not via Xayaboury). Two Minsks and a Baja. See below.
2) An anticlockwise day loop from LP up to Oudomxai, down to Nga, and on south to a village called Ban Lathane, from where hired a boat for 40mins to Pak Ou, and then back to LP. Two Baja. https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/27586-Luang-Prabang-Udomxai-Nga-Lathane-Pak-Ou-LPQ
3) A 7-day 2000km loop from Vang Vieng - VTE - Pakxan - Na Hin - Kong Lor - Lak Xao - Nakai - Mahaxay - Xaybuathong - Sopxe - Xepon - Dong - Nong - La Beng - La Hap - Ta Oi - Salavan - Tadlo waterfall - Toumlan - Phin - Tha Khaek - Tin Mines - VTE. Two Baja. https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/27587-A-2000km-Loop-Through-Southern-Laos
I'll post these separately. This post will just cover the Houeyxai to LP trip.
In case you are wondering Jeremy and I both like to take the odd photo, especially considering Jeremy just bought a new Nikon D200 before the trip, and I got a new Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens for my trusty D70. So excuse us if there are too many pics, its part of the fun for us!
Houeyxai - Kone Tuen - Xiengkhone - Hongsa - Luang Prabang
We had headed to Houeyxai for a visa run to Thailand, and to head on the "Gibbon Experience" http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Laos/Bok ... 48452.html Which, by the way, is both an effective conservation effort for Bokeo, and bloody brilliant to spend time at. If you do not want to hang out with backpackers, there is a treehouse for 2 people.
Rather than heading down to LP by hopping off the Mekong near Hongsa at Thaxoang we decided to make more of a trip of it and head to Pak Khop three hours or so down the Mekong from Houeyxai. It cost us US$5 a bike and US$5 a person to use the backpacker boat.
For some reason they would not take us to Pak Khop, but assured us that Kone Tuen was very close to Pak Khop, I think the words were: "Pak Khop, Kone Tuen, same same, one or two kilo meet". God I wish I spoke Lao. Once dropped off at Kone Tuen (N 19 49.784 E 100 34.606) it took us 2 hours of dodgy dirt and a couple of good stream crossings to get to Pak Khop, which was where were had intended to start from.
Looking on Google Earth I can see why we needed to do the loop:
Near Pak Khop after our 2 hour loop from Kone Tuen
On the way we must have passed through or very close to Khop. Good fun, but it meant that we ended up in the dark riding on rock/dirt/sand, hoping that some form of guesthouse would be in Xiengkhone (after all it is in bold on David's map...).
Sure enough we arrived in Xiengkhone and walked straight into a new mint guesthouse with a very friendly host (Houm Pheng GH, on your right as you approach from the west). The are three good stream crossings that might be tricky after rain.
The next day was on towards Hongsa. More packed dirt/rock/sand. Not so good in the wet I would guess. We passed a sign in Lao that must have said "detour" because 5km down the road we were turned back by a road crew churning up the road with diggers. In a year or two this road might be much better?
This section of road had been worked on so was in good nick, we thought it might be a quick trip to Hongsa until we were turned around after this sign.
Despite the brushy burnt off vegetation, and no really impressive scenery, I enjoyed the ride. We got stopped by the army at one point, but a very quick look at our passports and we were off. The road improved after Muang Ngeun, all season dirt road. Even though I knew there would be elephants near Hongsa, I was pretty cool to see a couple 5 or 10 km out from Hongsa.
We had a day off in Hongsa, the watermelon capital of Laos, then headed east towards LP. We had heard the road directly east (following the line of the Mekong) was very steep in places and not the most polished of roads, so we gave the Minsks an extra dash of oil and headed off early. The turn off is 8.5km east of Hongsa (N 19 41.376 E 101 24.024).
At the turn off
From the turn off to the other side of the Mekong from LP is 116km. It was pretty steep in places, maybe 20% inclines, and rutted and rocky and sandy. Not so much of a problem for Jeremy's XR, but it pushed the Minsks to their meagre limits.
Trace developed a habit of not being able to carry enough revs up the steep hills due to the ruts and rocks and sand, then not being able to hold the bike up on the hill when it refused to go any further. She also had the odd wobbly off in the sand at slow speed. Due to this we affectionately named her "The Sand Badger", which for us was strangely hilarious. I can not believe I found a wife who is into this kind of stuff. Imagine when she actually rides a real bike.
What was even more hilarious than mocking Trace's affection for sand, was when my clutch started giving out right in the middle of the hills. There were no tractor units, no motorbikes, and those very steep hills. Jeremy towed me up the inclines with a piece of rope he bought from a woman in a village that was using it to tie up her mosquito net. Somehow it held as he towed me up the inclines for the rest of the trip (it only broke once). The road was tricky as it was with a loaded Minsk, but being towed was hectic. If you do this road give me and the slipping-clutch-Minsk a thought as you go up one of those hills.
Can you make out that thin rope?
This hill before this flat bit was a killer, I had to run and push the Minsk up a 20%+ incline as Jeremy towed.
Finally there: crossing the Mekong to Luang Prabang
Fun road on a Baja
Bit of work on a Minsk
Challenging with a Minsk with no clutch
The 20km - 60km stretch (from Hongsa) is the steepest, the last 60km are pretty good, pick ups do it.
There were 8-10 stream crossings which were not too deep, but who knows after some rain?
The Minsk exhaust tightening tool was needed on this trip
My pack came loose and I dragged it for a while.