Laos ADV Pt III, Xam Neua/Phonsovan

Apr 18, 2007
Day 4 Xam Neua to Phonsovan


We breakfasted at the market again.

There was quite a lot of choice: river eels live or dead, fried bugs or fresh frogs!




We again went for the BBQ’s Moo – delicious, washed down with a couple energy boosting bottles of M150s.


Loading up the bikes it was looking like it was going to be a clear day.
The cyclone had blown through leaving us with a good window to get moving south-west.
We headed up the hill, along Route 6, passing the bus station above the town.
It was after 8am and we had left it a little late and would have to overtake the busses along the way.

The trucks proved to be the worst though, as they hogged the centre “lane” oblivious to all coming behind.
Thongkhoun would ride alongside and signal if the road ahead was clear then both of us would accelerate past.

I would wave to Dad to follow, if it was still clear.
The road, though not wide was on the whole good all the way to Nam Neun.
The mountainous sections were only tricky when meeting oncoming vehicles driving on our side of the road,
especially as we were now riding on the right with nowhere to go but the steep drop-off.
At one small village was a family who were amused to see us.

Stopping for a break beside emerald green paddy fields a cow came up to investigate who I was.

Further on was this stunning waterfall.
I had missed it my way through, as it had been raining hard and the waterfall is only barely visible obliquely from the road.
We took time out to ride up to it.

I then climbed as far as I could with motorcross boots on!

Then off again.
The ride and the weather were making it the most pleasurable riding day so far.

Further on back in the mountains the cloud had cleared.
An old woman was selling her jungle catch – Bamboo Rat.

She had one of these critters tied up in a harness.
Its two long front teeth had been knocked out and it was looking distinctly pissed off.
She allowed me to hold it, asking for $3.
I put it on the ground still holding it as it scurried sideways like a crab trying to escape.
Before I knew it, it had escaped off down the mountain.
With a screetch, the granny was after it screaming, what I could only believe were not very nice words.
“Dad what should I do.”
“I think you have to give her $3 now”

After a few moments she came back triumphantly, holding a now very disgruntled Rat
who was evidently going to be BBQ’d before sunset.
We reached Nam Neun for an early lunch of more grilled Moo.

We had been warned to look out for an eccentric biker by Jimoi.

An XR was parked up and the intrepid Digby was finishing up before continuing a recce up to Vieng Xai.
He had a group clients coming over to ride Laos and parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Thongkhoun was going to accompany his group to help out.
A Laos army truck rumbled into town, loading up on supplies.

I have heard of an army marching on its stomach – but M150!
These guys must get really buzzed.
Filled up again – my XR was clearly using 30percent more fuel than Thongkhoun & Dad’s Bajas.
Dad had ridden my very bike only a couple of months before and had complete carb failure.
We had been promised that it had been fixed – evidently not.
The road out of Nam Neung deteriorated as we headed south.
Large dips in the road would slingshot you out which fun, unless going into a corner.
We had passed the morning busses, so it was a clear road but hot ride.
Nearing Muang Kham the road was being fixed up – wider and resurfaced.

Just short of Muang Kham we reached a turning and headed off down a dirt road for about 6 kms, to the museum and monument to those who died in the bombing of the Tham Phiu cave in 1968, where 437 people were killed in an airstrike.

The museum had a few sad personal artifacts on show and pictures of the tragedy.

We took a momentary break after viewing the exhibition
A statue outside poignantly showing a father carrying the body of his dead child stood as a sad memorial.

We headed into Muang Kham a town that appeared to only exist as a crossroads, where Route 6 & 7 meet.
We stopped for a quick bite to eat and a cold drink.
Not a place to hang around more than necessary.
Route 7 from hereon was good, allowing for a fast 50 km run into Phonsovan.

We found our hotel the Auberge on a hill overlooking Phonsovan.

The rooms were very comfortable, each with their own fireplace.

Outside was a huge bombcrater beside what was evidently once an anti-aircraft gun position.
We were conscious of recent history – even the room keys were made from old shellcasings.

Stickers on the hotel door showed a distinct group of visitors.

Sadly we had run out of GT-R Stickers!
A party of Italian tourists looked upon the arrival of our dishevelled party with pity, if not actual disgust.
That night we ate in the hotel and chilled out by a roaring wood fire.

KMs today 40, 56, Nam Neun 95, Muang Kham 26, 25 +10 Phonsovan 252

Lessons Learned
Ensure that I have the power & space to complete the overtake
Don't play with Bamboo Rats
Watch out for big dips in the road
Apr 18, 2007
Day 5 Phonsovan

We had breakfast at the Auberge on the veranda overlooking the town.

Leaving a mountain of grubby & greasy laundry behind, we headed out of town to the munitions recycling factory.
Here I got to play at being Nicholas Cage – albeit a very rust-ridden ‘Lord of War’.

Piles of shells grenades bombs and mines littered the landscape.

A big warehouse behind us was where they processed the old ordnance.
We were warned from going in there, in case the ‘Big Noodle’ as he was known, found us.

After picking up a few rusty souvenirs we headed out to the Plain of Jars proper.

I hadn’t realised that the PDJ, as it was known during war, was the original main headquarters for the communist resistance and the main battle front of the war.
Which would account for the amazing amount of ordnance still visible 32 years later.
Every year battle would be fought over its possession that would ebb & flow with the seasons.
But when the Rolling Thunder airstrikes began it was no longer tenable for the Pathet Lao
to hold on to it and they withdrew their headquarters to the safety of the Vieng Xai caves.
Also, I had not realised the roll of Vietnam in Laos’ communist liberation.
All over the Phonsovan and the PDJ were Vietnamese flags.
The Laos communist party grew out of the movement begun by Ho Chi Minh, but now the Vietnamese presence –many have settled in Laos- is becoming a thorny issue.
Also, China is a very big presence in Laos today, which causes further tension with Vietnam & the Vietnamese.

But back to ancient history…
We went out to Site 1 of the Plain of Jars.

Some of these are 3 metres tall.

No one really knows whether they were carved out of stone as funeral urns, or, as popular legend has it
that they are two thousand year old moonshine stills making lao-lao.

Nearby was an old trench line from more recent times.

Beyond was Phonsovan Airport, also according to our guidebook the HQ of
the Laos Air Force with its line of silvery MiGs.

MAG - the Mine Awareness Group - had cleared this site

I had the misfortune of being assigned a college geography project.
I had to survey Phonsovan checking out its amenities, population demographics, schools etc. For dangers & pollution - I had to put describe the dangers of UXOs - a little more unusual problem to those faced by people living in Woking, Surrey.

We went back to the hotel for a quick shower & change of clothes.
This dull & tedious exercise was lightened by our ability to ride around town on the bikes!

Afterward we all went for a massage at the Red Cross trained massage centre.
Great place - highly recommended


After one hour I had had enough and headed back to the hotel.
But the bike had other ideas.
Coming to a dying stop almost outside a mechanic’s shop.

Before I could stop them they had wheeled the bike in and after a cursory
attempt at restarting it they began to strip it down.
Excuse Me!

The subframe was off and much more besides, when Dad & Thongkhoun turned up.
Explaining that it was probably the same carb problem that Dad had experience before with this bike.
They soon found that this was indeed the problem.
Thongkhoun was very surprised.
“I wonder why Fuark doesn’t just get it fixed”
“Let’s call him & ask" Dad said, similarly perplexed, but amused.
“Oh, cannot call him - it’s his day off.”

Renting vehicles in South East Asia is a little different to Europe or the US.

Dad & I rode off to check emails, leaving Thongkhoun to join us half-an-hour later at Craters Restaurant.
This has the best grub in town and is MAG's unofficial canteen.
Nearby is their museum of their explosive finds on the PDJ.
Check out the great work MAG is doing at their Laos page:


Many of these pieces have been collected by guesthouses and displayed at Reception.

Where you will find cabinets of claymores & cluster-bomblets – presumably deactivated?

On the wall of Craters were biz cards of those working in, or,
just passing through Phonsovan, including a fellow GT Rider!

We finished our hamburger and tried a shot from the large bottle lao-lao full of snakes & centipedes,
which was quite disgusting! And then headed back for an early night.

KMs Today 67

Lessons Learnt
Do my homework before coming to Thailand & Laos!
Be wary of mechanics taking my bike apart
Sep 19, 2006
Top Report Richard, I will attempt to retrace your Tour myself one day soon. Loved the Bamboo Rat i would have brought it and let it go as well but probably won't last to long with His Front Teeth Knocked out??? Fantastic Photo's as well See you next Trip.