Getting dirty in Laos

Feb 23, 2003
So there I was, sitting in Chiang Mai, cooling my heels, when through the bamboo telegraph I became aware that my good friend Jim in was secretly planning a dirt bike trip in Laos. The idea was to do some of the dirt trails that formed part of the Ho Chi Minh trail. This was to be a sort of a preliminary tour with some friends to see how it went . Somehow he forgot to invite me along, so I quickly fixed that with an email. :lol: . Additionally, we paid him no money since this tour was a bit of an experiment, so this severely limited our ability to complain when things got tough. Jim is a great all around guy, and currently has a tour company in Laos called Remote Asia. If you any interest in touring Laos be sure to contact his company here.

This is the area we were traveling in, which was the general path of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Just remember that almost the entirety of the Ho Chi Minh trail was in fact in Laos in order to avoid American bombers.

There were a total of four of us that went . My friend Joe, his friend Ted , Jim , and myself. More on Ted, or as I called him, The Ringer, later...We all rendezvoused in Vientiane, and then rented some Honda XR 250s from a local shop. The three bikes were in excellent condition, and caused no trouble whatsoever during the trip. Joe rode his mighty Yamaha Serow all the way up from Phnom Penh. More on this bike later....A modest amount of beers that night, and then off the next morning. Followed highway 13 east for a bit, south for a bit, and then turned off to head due east towards Vietnam. Here is a bit of the road that head towards the Vietnam border. This is my first youtube video, so don't laugh too much. It just gives a general idea of what two lane black top roads are like in Laos. Also think the XR 250 vibrates a bit too much for my camera, causing a lot of blur....... Keep a sharp eye out for the dog I almost hit at 1:10

Here is a dam along the way. There are quite a few hydroelectric dams in Laos. Makes sense as they have no other domestic energy sources other than a bit of coal. We waved at the dam guard, he then comes over, unlocks the gate, and then proceeds to give us a dam tour. Fun for us, and probably the highlight of his day.

A dam problem......logs and branches swirling around the intake. Notice the tracks along the side of the dam heading down to the water.

The high tech western solution that came with the dam....A complex machine that is suppose to travel down the tracks and pick the logs up automatically. According to the dam guy it never really worked.

The low tech Laos solution that worked perfectly......

Hydraulic powered gates that would lift to lower the lake water level.

A stop at a small scenic bridge along the way.

Did you ever lay awake at night and wonder what happened to the external fuel tanks
that were carried by American bombers on long range missions over Vietnam ?? When these
tanks were emptied, they were simply dropped over Laos. So someone figured out they would make great boats !!! A very indirect form of aid.......

A close up view. You can see some of the original aircraft riveting. They are amazingly enough, called bomb boats.....

Here is a sign admonishing truckers to use condoms.

We spotted this near the town of Lak Sao where we stayed. This is a truck full of Thai dogs
headed to Vietnam and someone's dinner plate. I am well aware of the differences in cultures, but
this sight still made me feel sort of sad.

Putting a face to them.....

Jim, are you sure we are on the right road ??? A bit of exploring on a road running north from Lak Sao.
Will check with Jim, but think this was a part of the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Locals show us how to cross rocky rivers.

So maybe you are thinking that Rhiekel is looking pretty tough on the open road in strange countries, but maybe he is wimpy when it comes to single track ?? To tell the truth think I am simply too tall for radical dirt riding, as I cannot stand on the pegs without being bent over too far. No problem, I just stay in the saddle and gut my way through with the help of long legs !! Here is some raw footage of the road heading back from the water crossing above. A bit boring, as I am too lazy to figure out the video editing software, and how to put in a hot soundtrack. However if you like single track, have time to kill, and do not mind the droning sound of a Honda 250 engine, this could be interesting to you.......

The next day was ccccooooollllldddd. I had left all my warm gear in Vientiane, thinking we were heading down into warmer climes. Instead we caught the edge of the cold front that was turning China into a ice box. We turned south from Lak Sao, but it was wet, cold , and muddy all day. At one point we stopped for lunch, and in the restaurnat we were huddled over clay pots with burning charcoal in them to keep us warm. Felt we had entered the twilight zone, as normally the biggest problem is to be sure you have enough water at all times from the heat. No picture, as I was too cold to walk back out to the bike for the camera.

Aftermath of some muddy sections of road.

A coffee stop where I work over one of the locals. The funniest thing about this shot was the fact this kid was driving the bike, pulling up with two friends on the back as well. One of the many reasons to drive carefully through the villages....

Uhhh Jim, why is there a river in the middle of the road ?? Are you sure this is the right way? :rofl

Joe crossing with style, showing an amazing feature of his Serow, the ability to cross deep water with no effect on the bike at all.

We stopped in a small town where the Lam Son Battle took place between American and North Vietnamese troops. This was on Laos soil by the way........Here is a bit of information on the results.

North Vietnamese Victory
Republic of Vietnam
United States Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Hoang Xuan Lam Le Trong Tan (military)
Le Quang Dao (political)
ARVN: 20,000 troops
U.S.: 10,000 troops in support ~25,000 - ~35,000 troops
ARVN: 8,483 killed
12,420 wounded
691 missing
U.S.: 211 killed
1,942 wounded
42 missing[1] PAVN: ~13,000 - 16,000 killed or wounded
69 captured[2]

Here is Joe commanding one of the wrecked tanks.

It was powered by an air cooled aircraft engine which did not make a bit of sense to me. Had a feeling
it was meant to be used a colder climate.

Some ordinance. Think the center one is a cluster bomb casing.

And of course some local kids manning the anti aircraft gun.

Now rolling along further south and east heading to Paxse. This bridge was bombed by the Americans
during the war as well. You can see the remains of one of the vertical supports on the right side of the picture. Not really sure why it was bombed , as it is quite a bit inland from the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Too deep to ride across, so time for the little boat to take us across at 5 dollars a head.

Local kids gather to see if the strange foreigners will fall in the water.

Ok, I will go first. Think little boat, and think tippy boat....Just about went overboard before the boat started moving. Once it had forward movement it was better.

Am thinking hey, this is not so bad. Then I hear the captain screaming in Laos at his stalwart crew member. Huhh ?? The crew member then starts frantically bailing out the boat. I then notice that the headlight on the bike is digging into the water, diverting it into the boat. No real cure mid channel , so he just keeps bailing away until we reached the other bank.

Giving a sigh of relief I did not meet my maker in the river, now time to unload the bike. They are heavier then they look, and the riverbank was steep and muddy. Made for a tricky unloading.

Get the bike off the boat trying not to fall down, then start the bike in gear while standing next to it, and sort of push and power your way up to flatter ground.

Longer shot of Jim coming into shore. Also a good look at the three inches of free board.

Better view of the slope you had to fight your way up. Ted is in the blue shirt. This little episode was made
all the more amusing for him as he is in the marine cargo business !!!

Locals on the other side as well to see if we sink.

Here Jim to talking to some local guys. He had abandoned an old Minsk bike that died there last year.
When he first spoke to them one guy seemed to indicate he was now the owner of the bike. Then maybe he thought Jim wanted the bike back, so then things became very vague....Jim was just happy someone had found it and fixed it up.

We stopped in a small village for a break . Very few tourists would go through this area.
Here is a close up picture of Ted, the Ringer, in battle gear. Before he came over Joe said he thought
Ted was a pretty good rider.....That was the understatement of the year. I would be riding along at what I thought was a normal pace. He would then blast past me like my bike had reverse. An amazing and humbling sight.

Yours truly, sort of dwarfing my Honda 250.

The expedition leader, Jim. He is pretty fluent in Laos, and had no trouble speaking to the locals.

And Joe of course.

The next day more water crossings of course. Here is Ted navigating one of them. He did seem to slow down a bit for the water.....

This had to be one of the funnier sights I have seen in Asia. One of the reasons I never underestimate the ability of local people to get difficult things done. We had just finished this pretty deep crossing, with the Hondas barely making it. Then once on the other side we meet this jolly fellow , who needed to go across the way we had just came. First thought was no way in the world a step though bike would make it across this deep water. Suddenly all the kids who had seemed to playing next to the stream go right to work. They unloaded all his cargo and carried it over bag by bag. They then put a stick through the front tire, lifted it way up, and then rolled it easily across the stream.

A closer look. A simple and effective solution. Total cost was about 1 dollar. Will have to remember this trick.

Take the boat across ??? No freaking way, that's for wimps. We rode this one too, although I admit to having second thoughts halfway across. The Hondas would tend to stall out in deep water,
but they always easily restarted. Of course the Serow plowed across like it was part boat.

The trick on these crossings is to always walk them first to find the right path and avoid the deep
holes. Wet boots never killed anyone.

Ok, enough of those damn water crossings. Time for military hardware !! Here is a Russian SAM missile located in a small town. . Looked pretty primitive to me . Here is Joe in the classic Slim Pickens pose from the movie Dr. Strangelove. Hard to resist !!!

Here is some additional information on SAMs used in Vietnam....
The bomber crews and mission planners responsible for attacks on North Vietnam were, simultaneously, learning the weaknesses of North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The SA-2 was big—often compared to a flying telephone pole—and relatively unmaneuverable. Like the Sparrow and Sidewinder, it had been designed to destroy big, sluggish bombers at high altitude. American pilots adjusted their tactics to exploit these weaknesses, flying low on their runs to and from the target, and “popping up” at the last moment to release their bombs. Mission planners also made adjustments to deal with the SAM threat. Attack aircraft carried radar-jamming equipment along with bombs, and specialized radar-jamming aircraft accompanied raids. Specially equipped aircraft dubbed “Wild Weasels” led the raids, attacking enemy missiles sites with bombs, gunfire, and new types of radiation-seeking missiles that homed in on SAM sites’ targeting radar. A typical late-war mission, flown on May 10, 1972, consisted of thirty-two bombers escorted by twenty-eight fighters to defend against MiGs and twenty-seven escorts ( jammers and Wild Weasels) to defend against SAMs.
Russian writing on the side of it to prove its origins.

Now time to head for Savannakhet. A lovely waterfall along the way.

Here is a tourist going for a swim to give a bit of scale.

Got in late, but was able to make to a local shop to fix Joe's bike. Maybe due to all the water
crossings, but the bike started missing at high revs. Turned out the high tension coil wire was shorting out to the gas tank through a pinhole in the wire. Wrapped it in rubber, and good to go . Great guy at the shop, terrific and very fast work. Also after the work was done we helped him get rid of some extra Laos beers he had laying around......

Don is a good friend of mine. He is also, I think, one of the most radical off road riders in Asia. His idea of a good time is to bring a hammock and water purifier, then head up to the villages for a week riding single track. A couple of months ago Don had sent me this map, titled Don't miss this ride.

This is Don in action from last year. Would you want to follow one of his tracks ??? From a guy who carries a saw to cut fallen tree limbs ??

If I had more common sense I would have avoided any suggested routes by Don. However in a moment of weakness I suggested to Jim to try Don's route. And in another moment of poor judgment Jim agreed. We all started from Ban Vanthong and headed east. Here we make it to where the map is marked tree down. All the bikes had to be dragged under the right side of the tree.

There are dirt roads, single track roads, and no track roads. Here is a bit of the later. This is a sort of 100 meter detour through the jungle because of all the trees blocking the original path. A bit dicey as the general rule of thumb is to not go off the main roads due to possible bombs.....Big fun to have all the vines grabbing your handlebars and trying hold you back.

Let's see....I wonder where the trail is.....

Finally we reach as far as we could go. It was in the mid afternoon by this point, and we felt that there simply was not enough time to fight four bikes over this bad portion of the road. Even if we could get past this section, maybe there was something impassable ahead. Then there would not be enough time to get back, meaning camp out time in the jungle feeding the mosquitoes.

Nope, not that way.....

The steel rails of the original bridge, with a 7 foot drop down to the water below. I guess if you were a trials rider with a death wish you might have given the rails a try. We all passed.......

So we turned around and headed back. Sort of fun to pick up the pace coming back, as you more or less knew where the bad spots in the road were. Last group shot coming out of the entrance to this trail of hell.

An uneventful ride back to Vientiane, and the end of the trip. A great time overall , and a lot of laughs with some good friends. What more could a person want ???

(Edit note: Reduced photo size to keep them "sensible".)
May 29, 2006
Great trip, great post!
Pretty cool to see video, sometimes photos don't quite capture the road. Youtube compresses videos horrendously, if anyone is interested allows you to upload even HD quality video without compression. The only restriction is a cap of 500MB a week. That means you can upload videos 5 times larger than youtube, uncompressed, and of unlimited length. Its free of course.
I slipped and dropped my bike on the slippery rocks around where Jim mounts his bike in the video, breaking my clutch lever again. Good to see others having fun on those crossings. Also we foolishly crossed that river with the bikes upright on the canoes, very nerve-wracking.
The stick through the front end is a bloody good trick if there was a few of you.


Dec 6, 2005
As usual Rob, you make the rest of us look like pussies...

Great report.

Oct 12, 2005
Unlike you I am never cramped or hunched over on a dirtbike with my strapping 165 CM. Sadly the cost of my laid out ergonimics is the inability to dab through the water crossings with my dinky chicken legs and all to often end up under the bike. I'll swap genetic traits with you anyday :lol: .

Fantastic stuff RH. As always your trip reports are top notch. Glad to see you enjoying the dirtier side of things in Laos.

The dirt video, pics of the "bomb boats", and picture of the local young girls watching your entourage are fantastic.

Good stuff.


Nov 17, 2004
Robert's report is excellent and from a "guide" stand point it was a great thing for me. Robert is an excellent rider but had little off road experience, Joe held his own very well on the mighty Serow and Ted is more than a competent off road rider to say the least. I learned a great deal on this trip and am happy to report that I've decided to run some tours and will list them on my site at

For those that want to do something like this in a more solo effort style, I also will be offering mapped out trips with gps so you don't get lost.

One highlight of this trip for me was pulling into a very remote village and seeing someone wearing one of my shirts from about 2 + years ago when I had to ditch a bike on the Ho Chi Minh Trail along with a selection of tools and clothing. The jungle recycles well.

I have 2 more exploration trips coming up and will post them on the Laos board. There will be no charge from me on this as they are only exploration trips and I'm hoping to break a saying of Dr. G, "It's all been done". There is one track that has not been ridden and involves tiny boats and a serious amount of luck and I am 70 % sure I ride it. Should be fun at least.

Thanks to Robert, Joe and Ted for a great bunch of days and I look forward to the next ride.

If you pass thru VTE, drop me a line.



Oct 6, 2006
Another stellar Rhiekel trip with videos too!

What happened with the first video? It stopped at the Hwy-8 overlook of the limestone forest, which is shortly before Ralph and Mon's Mi Thuna G/H (good food there)...and was blank for the remaining half? I put on my ear plugs when watching/listening to the second made the droning Honda's engine more realistic for me ;-)

Stick in the front wheel river crossing...ingenius!
I was saddened by the caged dogs, but that's a protein reality in some areas.

In all a superb write-up which gives me more to aspire to...
Sep 19, 2006
For Some of us who have been living in Thailand with Bloody Dogs Roaming the Neighbourhood, Barking, Howling, Fighting Blah Blah Keeping us awake all Night it is a Great Sight. I would Pay them to Come Here and Take away all the Local Dogs :twisted: As you will never be able to Educate these Lovely People in Controlling Pets including Dogs this is probably the only Population Control we can get!!! Carry On :D
I used to have Dogs at Home but after Living Here, NEVER AGAIN!!! Put me right off. A Cat will do me Fine.