The Lao Expedition-2004 was off to a start on Sept. 26. Davidfl (Africa Twin 750), Robert H (BMW 1150) and I on my TDM850 headed off from Chiang Mai for a Laos mapping trip. David had a specific schedule he had to adhere to as he was actually getting paid by the Laos Ministry of Tourism for doing this mapping. The rest of us were a little more free as we were just tagging along for the adventure. David had stickers made up ‘Laos Expedition-2004” with our bike photos and the GT-Rider logo which became quite popular on the road, stuck in some pretty out of the way places and ferry boats. We had a shaky start as we had to push start the BMW three times before even reaching Chiang Rai. At the Charin Resort, after our usual pie stop, a decision had to be made by Robert, back to Chiang Mai for parts and repair or continue on and take a chance on repairs on the way. As we debated Robert pressed the starter button and it came to life with little hesitation. Onward to Chiang Khong. A night in Chiang Khong and we ferried to Huay Xai, Laos. Robert field stripped and lubed the starter motor while we made arrangements for a boat to Pak Beng as the road out of Huay Xai is still considered to be pretty much impassable on our bikes. 6,000baht for our own chartered boat through a previous connection of David’s. On arrival the “additional passengers” that had been allowed on by the Captain were ordered off. We were wise to this trick from Tom Forde’s earlier experience. There were plenty of bodies around to help load the bikes and everything went off without incident. Later however, Robert discovered about a dozen Lao stowaways in the engine room. As they weren’t bothering us, if they wanted to ride the 6 hours downriver there, more power to them (I suggested inviting them inside but was quickly out voted). After a very pleasant cruise of reading, chess games and a little napping we arrived in Pak Beng and again found many hands available to offload. We were dropped off in the mud and clay next to the paved loading area but we rode through with only a little bit of tire spinning and foot dabbing. This was nothing compared to what we later experienced. Leaving the sleepy town of Pak Beng (Donevilasah Guesthouse) the road is dirt for maybe 30-40k but it was doable with little difficulty. Somehow we judged this just right as the rains had stopped and roads were dry with little dust yet accumulated. We made slow progress North (Hwy 2) to Oudamxai (my odometer showed we averaged 26 kph) as we made so many photo and village stops. Every time we entered a village it was as if the Circus had come to town. Kids came running in droves if we stopped, and adults soon followed. We were actually getting tired of waving every time we passed someone on the side of the road. The locals would shout greetings and drop what they were doing to rush to the side of the road. We stopped a couple times and bought sweets for the kids in the village. We counted about 45 pieces of “kanom” given to the kids but the shop keeper kept tallying up 100 pieces. In a second village after again having fun with the kids, we were invited inside the shop keeper’s kitchen and had home made noodles while sitting in the smoky, dirt floored living quarters. Again, when it was time to leave they made some very clumsy attempts at overcharging us. (The old woman said she needed new teeth). Our patience and generosity were seriously tested by these greedy shopkeepers. Fortunately, the friendliness of the majority of people made up for this. We saw so many fascinating things along the way; I would have to write a full length magazine article to describe them. At one point we stopped to photograph a young man skinning, over a fire, a Python that was at least 2 meters long and still wriggling around after being decapitated. In another stop we were exposed to a true ‘National Geographic’ type experience. We just stopped for a short break by chance. On a steep hill overlooking the roadside huts where we had stopped, we saw a group of men and could hear a drum and music coming from the nearby thatched homes. David climbed the dirt path and soon called for us to climb up. A young child had died and a funeral/burial ceremony was in progress. We were invited inside the hut where we observed a young child wrapped in a blanket and in traditional Hmong dress on the floor. In the corner a man lay smoking an Opium pipe while other males played a drum and a very large strangely shaped bamboo wind instrument. As we watched they constructed a shelf on the wall where the baby, a bowl containing a dead chicken, a small bow and arrow and other items were placed. The family came to the child to mourn as the music was to be played for 24 continuous hours. The child would then be buried in the hills. The people actually encouraged our photo taking and did not seem to consider this an invasion of their privacy at all. Actually most of their spirits seemed high and they actually enjoyed looking at our digital shots. They gave us a very friendly send off as we decided to continue on our way, and we made a donation to them to pay for the wake which would carry on through the night. Incredible stuff! We finally made Oudamxai and still had time to do a side trip (Hwy 4) to a nearby mountain village which had a rather amazing little riverside restaurant/bar facility. The next day on to Luang Phrabang (Hwy 13). The road was fine and had more beautiful mountain scenery than one could take in and ride at the same time. A couple nights in the touristy town of LPB, some dinners on the river and we are off again. This leg of our trip could be handled by anyone with average motorcycling skills and any type of motorcycle. Negotiating for a boat takes a little bit of local knowledge and not knowing the language could present a few problems, but nothing that cannot be overcome. Photos at: http://daveearly.smugmug.com Dave Early edit: add new photo link 30 Jul 2008 Ever notice that "What the Heck!" is usually the right answer?