Holidays in Laos + Lima 85

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by rhiekel, Jan 8, 2006.

  1. Rainy season has now finished, so off to Laos for the holidays. Roads that were impassible a couple of months ago should be ok now........ I was on my KTM 950, and my friend Joe was on his Africa Twin. Goal was to make it up to Lima Site 85 in the northeast corner of Laos. An interesting bit of history from the secret CIA war in Laos.
    Left Chiang Mai in the morning, then a fast and easy ride to the border town of Chiang Kong which is right on the Mekong River. A great Mexican dinner, a good nights rest at a pleasant hotel overlookng the Mekong, and then up early to be at the customs office at 8:00. Cleared there after some delays, then over to Huay Xay on the Laos side. Seems like the customs officials there were trying out some new scam of having a tourist office do all the clearing for a motor vehicle for a 2000 baht fee. I started laughing and said that was the job of customs, and it was time for them to get to work. They looked a bit sheepish and then quickly filled out the forms for a 200 baht fee.
    Ok, now typical border crossing bullshit is finished, time to ride !!! Finally got rolling about 12:30. First section is from Huay Xay over the mountains to Louang Nam Ta. Used to be a very pretty and somewhat challenging stretch of road. Now it is sort of a very long construction zone.

    Time to chill out a bit and wait.

    Notice the upside down truck in the background with the crane getting ready to lift it up.

    Easy stream crossing for Joe. Much trickier ones later on.

    Continued riding brought us to a lot of vehicles stopped in the road. Woven mats were laid out in the middle of the road, and people were cooking lunch over small fires. Thought to myself , this cannot be good. Slowly worked our way towards the front of the line of vehicles. Here is Joe trying to get around one of the stuck trucks in the REALLY soft mud along the side of the road. Had slow motion lay down of the bike. Of course, good riding buddy that I am, had to get a shot of it first before helping..........

    Here is the center of the problem. This truck was stuck to the axles in mud, and the vehicles were backed up from either direction. We barely got around it. There were going to be a lot of people doing an unexpected campout on the mountain. Everyone was in great spirits with a smile on their faces and offering me rice whiskey as I passed by. As whiskey and mud are a bad combination , I had to politely decline.

    Just to show that contrary to popular opinion I am not afraid to get some mud on my shiny black bike....

    Next day over to Luang Prabang. While rolling into town I met up with Ken. a friend of mine from Thailand on his GS. I have known him for 4 years. He knew I was going to be there at this time so it was sort of planned meeting.
    His bike is sort of rolling art with endless modifications. If you look carefully you can see pig horns at the top of the bike, and fangs with red tips just underneath the front fender. Needless to say the bike gets a lot of attention where ever he goes. A lot of head shaking and smiles !!

    Cool early morning departure from Luang Prabang to Sam Nua. Notice the stocking cap, not a standard Asian item.
  2. Standard water buffalo crossing the road. They are all over the place, so it pays to keep your speed down coming out of blind corners. Quite docile despite the fearsome looking horns. Have learned to go around them at the ass end as they do not really back up. If you cut in front of them the exhaust noise may spook them and they will bolt into you.

    North from Luang Prabang, and then cut over on a small road toward Viang Thong which is on highway one. Great ride along the ridges with only a couple of steep sections.

    So there we were riding along minding our own business ,when two local guys came out with guns to stop and then rob us.... Just kidding, nicest guys in the world. They were out hunting birds and something else I could not quite figure out with my limited spoken Laos. The true meaning of hunter gatherer really comes to mind here. The men hunt, and you always see a lot of women of all ages carrying different food items back to the villages.

    They were packing honest to god home made flint lock guns.

    Red mystery drum gas going into the KTM. I had installed a toggle switch for the low octane ignition setting for the KTM. Just flipped it over to low, and away I went. Bike seemed to run perfectly with no power loss I could feel. Still did wheelies at the end of villages, always good for some shouts of amazement.

    Finally arrived in Sam Nua. It was COLD coming in at almost dark, the end of a long day. There are limited hotels there as there is not much tourism. As we drove in the town seemed to be full of people. Turned out there was some sort of government meeting of officials, so the first four hotels we went to were full. Finally found a sort of run down guest house and took the rooms without even looking at them. Rock hard bed, no room heat, and a tepid shower....Arrived there feeling cold and never really warmed up. Was probably about 6 celsius at night time. Not really cold by western standards but I did not really have any warm gear to walk around in and my blood is thinned out. Here trying to stay warm in the guest house lobby with a small charcoal fire the cute hotel girls bring in at night and then sit around it. Looked very funny to me to see Asian girls all bundled up in coats and fur hats. Not a standard sight in Thailand.

    It really was cold. At least to me. Think my blood has thinned out, I used to work in Alaska.....

    Of course no trip is complete without some major bike work in front of the hotel. The bike kept cutting out when we arrived at Sam Nua. Turns out some wiring I had done a couple of months before in the harness next to the steering head had failed. So tear it all apart and fix where the wire had broken just above a solderless connector. In the future will stick with only soldering.

    Now on the road from Sam Nua to Houayma which is near to Phu Pha Thi.
    This is the mountain top on which the CIA installed a radar site to direct bombing runs over Vietnam. It was basically in the middle of enemy territory so they picked a mountain which was a sort of natural fortress on on side. They then had troops to defend the other side. Eventually the Vietcong found out about it, and then attacked it overwhelming the defenses. 11 of the 19 people manning it were killed including the CIA radar operators.
    Very few people have ever been to the top, so I thought it would be fun to see if I could get there. Here is a link if you want more information.

    The road was very good, with a few tricky deep water crossings.

    Nice irony. Bomb casing from a 500 pound cluster bomb now being used to feed pigs. American tax dollars still hard at work......

    Here the road is doing double duty as a stream for a short section.

    Small village along the way nestled in a valley. These villages were like stepping back in time.

    Yeah baby here it is !! The mountain in the back ground is Phu Pha Thi. Here it is about 4 kilometers away. Very few people ever come up this way. Villagers seemed to stare at us in open mouthed awe. In the areas of Laos with some amount of tourism people always wave and say hello. Here we were like aliens wandering around. They did not quite know what to do. As this area was the site of a lot of former military activity, there seemed to be a lot of guys in green uniforms wondering along the road with a AK-47 gun over their shoulder. Never had a problem, and some of them even waved back if I waved first.

    We made it all the way up to Houyma. The people there seemed very unfriendly and not very happy to see us. So just sort of a quick look around, and then headed back down.

    Hmmmmm. Trouble on the way back. During our trip up someone decided to do some road work. They had the middle all torn up and were making everyone wait. After about 10 minutes the guy seemed to feel guilty, so he uses the scoop to create a tiny trail along the left side of the road to bypass him. All really soft dirt, and a 15 foot drop down to the streambed below. Oh well. Time to grow some balls....Walk it first, kick the big rocks out of the way, have Joe hang on walking behind the bike to stop it from falling to the left, and then just motor on through. All in a day's ride.

    Now a brisk morning ride back to Phonsavan, site of the Plain of Jars.
    Here is what $ 25 gets you, a room with a view. Cheap by western standards but a bit pricey for local accommodations. The room we stayed in at Sam Nua was $ 5.

    View out the balcony towards the Plain of Jars sites.

    Can you find the KTM?? We were doing some recon work thinking about heading out to the secret CIA airport at Long Tien. We knew we would be turned back but just wanted to see how it went. This is a bit south of Phonsavan where there is a turn off to Long Tien. As soon as we stopped to ask directions some local policemen showed up to see what was going on. When we told them where we wanted to go they kept saying "bad road". We patted our gas tanks and said our bikes loved bad roads. Finally they got tired of us not getting the hint, and said we could not go, period. Rumor is that it is still being used as a CIA base, and no one is allowed in a large area around it. On maps it is listed as a forbidden area with no access. Smiles all around , and then head back.

    Quick stop over at the Plain of Jars site # 3.

    MAG, which stand for Mine Action Group, is a NGO doing a lot of demining in the area. They put in markers where they have worked to clear the area. The marker means it is clear to the left of the marker and ok to walk. To the upper right that area has not been cleared and may have mines.

    Ticket collector and co worker for site # 3.

    Now heading south from Phonsavan on a pretty good dirt road to the town of Pakxan. As the distance seemed to exceed the range of my KTM, I stopped in a very small town along the way and asked at a small store if there was gas in town. A big smile, turns out I was already at the gas station !!!! Out comes a four liter bottle of mystery gas, carefully poured into a liter bottle and then into the bike one by one. She got a big kick out of the two gas fill caps.
  3. About halfway down towards Pakxan we wanted to cut over west along the bottom of the restricted zone where I think you can cross. However the bridge over to the road is looking a bit dodgey........After seeing two guys almost sink a lightweight step through bike we decided to pass on trying to cross this bridge and ended up continuing heading south.

    No ! Don't try to be a hero.....

    Joe doing recon work.

    KTM range extension device full of mystery gas.

    Getting about halfway down to Pakxan we were stopped at a tough military check point. Their first order was to point to a small trail heading off into the bushes and tell us to head off there with them escorting us. I looked for about one second and said no way. They kept demanding to see our import papers which were all in order. So there was a bit of a stalemate. Many times they kept ordering us to go off into the small trail, and we just kept refusing. They were all wearing sidearms and seemed a bit amazed we were not doing what they wanted. My opinion was that once you are off the bike sitting in an office , with the official holding your passport, you are in for a long day with an unknown amount of money paid to be on your way again. Finally the stalemate was broken by an officer showing up. He was reluctant to let us go as well. Finally I sort of grab my paperwork out of his hand, start the bike up, and kept asking in Thai if we were finished. He really had no choice but to let us go or shoot us. Soooo off we went.

    Logging camp along the way. As soon as the guy saw the KTM he gave me a big thumbs up. Clearly a man who knows bikes.

    On into Vientiane that same day. A couple days of relaxing there, and then back home to Chiang Mai which is a long one day from Vientiane. Overall a great trip. Always enjoy the easy going pace of traveling anywhere in Laos, and look forward to returning.
  4. From my report:
    Good Report Robert, BUT did you get up the mountain or not? Our info,as you know, was that you couldn't go up due to the military taking it over since last year. What was the situation once getting into Houayma?

    Dave Early

    Ever notice that "What the Heck!" is usually the right answer?
  5. Robert, you just gave me a big smile on my face. I'm glad somebody else tried to get to that area. I'm trying real hard to get on top of that mountain. I too want to know if you climbed it or not. are you still in the area? would you be willing to try to get on top? I'm canadian; dirt road and rivers I know pretty good too;)

    if there's a way; i'll find it!
  6. Robert, may i ask if you remember the name of the road or the nearest village you were able to get to (closest to phou bia)?

    if there's a way; i'll find it!
  7. lol drinking wine eh? lol

    if there's a way; i'll find it!
  8. silverhawkUSA, gotta question for you:in your report saying that you aborted going to Houyma. how long ago was that?

    if there's a way; i'll find it!
  9. Hi Robert,

    Good trip report. Where did you stay while in Houayma - assuming you had to spend the night there? And what was the road like up to Lima 85? Our understanding was the military has this road blocked off for this past year and zero tourist allowed.

    Any pictures from the top of L85 or any pics of the immediate area? I sent your smugmug web site to a friend of mine that spent more then his share of time in and out of L85 and none of your pics look familiar; albeit time has past, but the view from top should more or less be the same as eons ago.

    David and Mai
  10. Rudecam,

    We were there the first part of December 2005. We didn't "abort" because of the road being too bad (although the locals said we couldn't make it because of heavy rain days before). Locals were able to point out the way, we just were out of time if we were to complete the rest of our trip, and they said that once at Houayma the Army wouldn't allow us to go on the mountain anyway.

    Dave Early

    Ever notice that "What the Heck!" is usually the right answer?
  11. all right fair enough! I'll go with that:) thank you!

    if there's a way; i'll find it!
  12. Robert
    What was the name of the nice hotel you stayed at in Phonsavan?
    I did not think that there was anything as good as that around.

    Keep The Power On
  13. Looks like the Vansana overlooking the town on the way in.

  14. Correct!! It was the Vansana. When we checked in we were the only guests until later in the evening.
  15. As the former Commander of Lima Site 85 I would be interested in how you fared in getting up there.As far as I know no Americans or other nationalities other than Vietnamese and Laotians have ever been allowed up there except for the recovery people who just were there.If you are interested I can set you straight on your information about what happened. Your info is all wrong. Thanks jayree
  16. I would be extremely interested in hearing from you if you are
    Lt. Col. Gerald H. Clayton. Feel free to email me at
    [email [email protected]][email protected][/email] Regards Robert
  17. Hey rhiekel. If "jayree" is indeed Lt. Col. Gerald H. Clayton, so much the better. He will do you right about now ancient history. But if "jayree" is not Lt. Col. Gerald H. Clayton...

    FYI, another story to read about the fall of Lima Site 85 is the story from Major General Richard Secord. See it on

  18. Hey folks. I am no longer Lt Col Gerald Clayton. I was promoted to Col. 26 Dec 1967.!!! I will answer any questions I can with no BS. Jerry
  20. Get on in here, Colonel. Maybe you can help get someone other than DPMO guys back up onto the top of Phou Pha Thi.

    Highest regards,
  21. You just mentioned my worst enemies. The case officeer for LS 85 is stupid and concietedplus a little bit of a liar Strike little bit. He is a flat out liar. Will help you guys any way I can. You can mail me direct if you wish. If you decide to go do not expect to get anywhere near the top. Watch out for the Lao in the village. They have been selling bones for years and are true communists. Had it not been for NBC news I never would have gotten up there as DPMO was against it/ They just didnt have the nerve to tanglr with them. I have asked NBC about another trip. No reply. Warmest Regards to all of you. Jerry
  22. I am getting so many letters it is keeping me pretty busy.. Is there an address for your club that I can use to reply to you all at one time and refer to the questioner....Thanks Jerry
  23. Dick Secord was a Major at the embassy in Vientienne. He did a wonderful job helping us. I once heard him talk to a Brigadeer like he was a little boy. A great Airman and true friend. Jerry
  24. Coming soon..... Robert's next LS85 attempt. You could never say he was a desk rider & didn't try. Go Roberto go, but pls don't dump it coming out of Phonsavan again.
  25. You are all wrong on your facts about LS 85.Be happy to discuss them with you. Isnt this post a couple of years old. Jerry Clayton Commander LS 85.

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