Day 2 Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai on the map it looked an easy 180kms on the map, but along with atrocious weather and narrow switchback roads this proved to be a tough going day. Woken up a few minutes before 6am by tannoy from the local gendarmerie broadcasting the news to all & sundry. Further sleep was not possible, but I rolled over and dozed stuffing a pillow over my head. Outside a steady rain was falling. Dad finally got me up at 0730 – later than planned. Thongkhoun had got our bikes out and oiled our chains – what a great guy! We returned to the fly-blown restaurant again – but grilled frogs or insects didn’t appeal. Dad & I had sticky rice, cookies – coffee for Dad – and M-150 for me! Bought a waterproof blue poncho that was designed for riding scooters as you could put it over the headlight. Dad demanded they find another as he wasn’t going to wear baby pink, muttering something about mythical GT Rider, Tropical Johno. They found a purple one – Dad still muttering something about gear styled by Tropical Johno! 0845 set off after filling up – my bike using two litres of fuel more than Dad’s over the last few kilometres. Rain falling steadily but unlike my fellow bikers, I thought it would soon lift and left without putting the poncho on. Within 5 minutes I was soaked and I had to admit to Dad that he was right. GRRRR! We cut the ponchos down to a midi waist-size. Road to join the Route 6 was better but with the incessant rain and the shale covered tarmac made riding very tricky. Corners and descent had to be in low gear as the rain grew the bike would step out on corners where the shale was thick. Helmet misting up and as the cloud closed in making visibility a real issues – down to 20metres at times. I soon found that following the back wheel of our guide was the answer, mirroring his actions. The rain runoff was foaming white down the side drainage ditches. Those clouds we had seen yesterday afternoon, were the beginnings of a cyclone blowing through northern Laos from Vietnam. We were fortunate as we rode around the periphery of its fury. Elsewhere villages were flooded. We had acquired another rider from Vieng Thong who was going to Xam Neua to sell his bike, where he would get a better price. Riding in a sodden jacket, with a plastic bucket of a helmet and flip-flop sandals he made us feel horribly over-dressed. His tyres were bald and yet he was keeping up with us in the twisties. Dad was keeping up today having cast aside his Bavarian Bus riding style and was having to work the Baja’s revvy little gearbox. When we reached Rout 6 we turned south for respite in the coffee houses of Nam Neun. Thongkhoun ordered turtle soup we had freshly grilled Moo and boiled eggs – DELICIOUS! And another M-150. On the wall was a 3D menu board with bugs and turtles stuck to it. Not very appetising for farangs. Meanwhile the rain had returned. It was just after twelve, when we topped up with fuel and rolled out North. The rain had eased off again; but we soon regained the cloud base when we reached the mountain ridge crest. At the 75km post to Xam Neua the twisties began again, hairpin switchbacks with 200 metre drop-offs with no hard shoulder for a safety margin. This required concentration – Dad was quite short with me when I asked if I he minded my using my iPOD to keep alert. I Want My iPOD! The road though relatively quiet still had pick-ups, trucks and busses not to mention a smattering of scooters. Butterfly strikes were an explosion of powdered colour, leaving their imprint on my visor like a paintball splat. The rain had dampened our enthusiasm for visiting the standing stones, which were off the main road some 6kms down a rocky muddy road. By now my boots had gained a deep end of water and my toes were doing fin-kicks to stay afloat. We rolled into Xam Neua at 2.45pm, a large town nestling in the green hills. The Hammer & Sickle upside down - a sign of distress? In town, set back on the wide boulevards were hideous examples of soviet architecture a visual scar on a fast growing town. Once in Xam Neua I discovered an awesome bridge that could be used as a small ramp for “small jumps”. I got some AIR! A quick coffee[Another M-150 for me] break before we rode the last 30kms to Vieng Xai, The weather had changed for the better and so had the scenery. Having crossed the mountain range we had descended to a beautiful landscape of intense fluorescent green paddyfields punctuated with dramatic rocky karsks. In this stunningly beautiful setting the Pathet Lao had held out against persistent B52 airstrikes hidden in their bunkers dug deep into the large karsk rocky outcrops around. Now the town is a haven of tranquility, that has become a museum to the Laoation communists' struggle against the US backed kingdom. Outside the main graffiti covered auditorium is a gold painted statue extolling the courageous victories of the soldiers, farmers & peasants stamping on a bomb marked USA. We rode out to the Thavisay Hotel nestling at the foot of one of the most striking mountain karsks beside a beautiful lake. This was one of the last places the Lao King & Queen were seen alive in 1975. A seminar was taking place and the reception staff, were only able to offer us two rooms. I went to look at them with Dad, and it was clear that the hotel was running purely on the business from its owners – the Laos Government. The beds looked barely made, the plumbing was run through open holes in the floor, windows were boarded up and doors partially repaired with plywood. Dad muttered something about being worse than a Marseilles flop-house – whatever that might mean? It was not a very enticing option for what we originally had planned as a two night stay. We ended up at the Naxay GH Resort a newly built operation of individual cabins opposite the caves' Visitor Centre. Something about interior décor by TJ – who is this guy? Dinner at a Chinese owned restaurant the Xailomyen GH by one of the many man-made lakes, which also has a flourishing fish farm. Great location, but not a culinary experience that I could recommend. Afterwards Dad I watched the end of Die Hard 4 and then bed. KMs today Vieng Thong 67, Nam Neun 62, 45, Xam Neua 22 Vieng Xai - Total 196 Lessons Learned Ride within visibility & weather conditions Wear appropriate gear Don’t ride through water-filled potholes – they are deeper than you think!