Hello everyone I did this article for my local bike club so its aimed for UK but thought might be of interest. I am having a bit of dificulty putting photos in right place.So might have to post later Safe riding Paul Return to the Land of Smiles – Paul Owen Having successfully completed my first bike tour of Northern Thailand last year the Mae Hong Son loop. I decided to be a bit more adventurous this year and do a longer tour and go into Laos also. Having spent a lot of time looking at the Golden Triangle web site www.GT-Rider.com (the leading site for anyone planning trips in this area) I had a general plan, which hit its first hitch when I got invited to a stag weekend in Pattaya first! It would be rude not to go, so that put the bike trip off a week, whilst I explored the delights of Thailand’s night life. With a very sore head and empty wallet I caught the plane from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to meet David Unkovich. That night in the Kafe we chatted over my plans and he informed me that Mr Mechanic the hire shop had a brand new Kawasaki 650 Vesey in. To be honest I had never heard of it, but the brand new bit seemed a great idea. The next morning I was at the shop, the bike looked great it had been blessed by the Buddhist monks see photo so into negotiation with Phung, which in my typical English manner consisted of her saying a price and me agreeing (I must really try harder with this bartering). It was £30 a day which was more that I intended to pay and good bikes were available for half the price, but I am a sucker for a brand-new bike. Unfortunately the bike was not yet registered, and had no number plate so I wouldn’t be able to take it into Laos. She asked me if I wanted to test ride it, and as I was dressed in shorts and a vest and it was rush hour, I initially said ‘no thank you it will be fine’ which translated into her pushing the bike out, putting fuel in it, and then giving me the keys! Again, being too polite to say no, off I went with no helmet and dressed for sunbathing, . The bike was great, but I kept thinking of the coroners report and press article reporting the stupid Englishman with no helmet, killed by his own polite stupidity, however there was a happy ending and I made it back to the shop unscathed. The next day I left armed with a route from John who runs the ‘Jonadda’ Guest House, and GT Riders maps. Having rode out of Chiang Mai before, I was fairly confident I could find the route to Nan, unfortunately I followed the main route which was not the best one, on busy main roads and not so scenic. I then encountered the inevitable three oncoming trucks all overtaking each other on my side of the road, letting me firmly press the ‘thinner’ button, and just squeezed through. On arrival at Nan the hotel Dhevaraj was signed in Thai script, which presented me with a fun packed hour of trying to find it, having stopped at various banks, supermarkets and garages, but eventually I did find it. The hotel was excellent, so I decided to use it as a base for a couple of days. I worked out I had done 300 km that day on only £10 of petrol. The next day I did the Doi Phukka Loop, which were 140 km of some of the best roads I have ever ridden, passing through a National Park. One of the most amazing things I saw were old ladies carrying large piles of wood on their heads, which would have challenged even the strongest man. Half way through the loop the road abruptly came to an end, and disappeared into a huge mass of diggers, as they were still building the roadway! I tried to unsuccessfully to communicate with the workers, walked to have a look and found it was totally impassable, and after a while one of the larger diggers decided to bash a hole through the earth and appeared to be inviting me to ride through. I could see the hole consisted of huge ruts and was on a 1:4 decline, but I decided to go for it, trying to remember if the little off-roading I had done said to keep the throttle on and the bike would sort it out, or go down with engine-braking, went for the first option, and just about got through, with the bike now looking distinctly second-hand. I stopped at the very scenic Doi Phu Kha National Park which was the highest point around, and came across a large number of Thai tourists there from Bangkok, who decided that I was the high-point of their trip, and insisted on having their photo’s taken with me, touching me for luck, and much laughter. I think it must have been my yellow safety jacket that did it? A BBQ was underway which seemed to consist of mainly lungs and intestines from some unknown animal (see photo). Bit chewy, but not too bad! On the way back to the hotel I decided to see what the top speed of the bike was, as it was now run in, and made 190 km per hr, then back to the hotel for a shower, and a few Singha beers to end the day. The next morning I got up at 5am to take part in giving Alms to the Monks as they make their daily rounds see above – they chant a blessing in thanks for donations, which was really interesting. I had decided to ride to the Laos border at Ban Huay Kon, leave the bike there and get a taxi to the nearest town, Hongsa. The tarmac road finished about 20kms from the border, which meant yet more off-roading, but the bike was excellent so on arrival at the border I negotiated with a local shop owner that they would look after the bike until I returned, when I would pay them for their service. I was really hoping at this point that this had not been interpreted as ‘have the bike I am a mad foreigner and won’t be coming back’! The journey from the shop to the Laos border (a mile of no-mans land) involved an interesting sidecar ride at speed (see PHOTO). The locals were extremely helpful at the Thai side, but at the Laos side the man I needed was at lunch, and no-one had the slightest idea when he would be back. Two hours later he returned and after much sighing, face pulling and stamping, I got my visa. The next hurdle was the lack of any transport to get from the border to Hongsa, and eventually I went back to the wooded immigration shack and they phoned someone who an hour later arrived in a beat up truck. I explained to him very carefully that I wanted to go to the nearest town, Hongsa, 35 kms away, he agreed and off we went. 5 mins later he stopped at a guest house in the middle of nowhere and wanted me to get out. I tried to explain this was not what I wanted he said the roads were too bad to drive on. After some more negotiation I gave him loads of money and off we went! (Must try harder with this bartering). The journey continued, and we soon got to a new level of bad tracks, foot-deep ruts were common, dust and rocks everywhere. If I could have taken the new hire-bike into Laos my deposit would have disappeared straight away, as even If I had stayed upright, some damage would been inevitable I am sure. After a mile or so, the taxi broke down, locked brakes and nobody would stop to help, highlighting a big difference between Laos and Thailand, where usually people were very helpful, if a little bemused at times. Two hours later, after the use of a Swiss Army knife and a jack, the vehicle got going again, and we eventually made it to Hongsa town. The town’s main centre was a market with all variety of things for sale many still breathing! An interesting butchers bit (see photo) and dead bats for sale (see photo). My pre dinner drink served with bugs (some still alive) , was actually quite nice after a few Laos beers! I was eating them like peanuts, only remembering when I ate a particularly frisky one that didn’t want to be eaten it was live (see photo above). Early start the next day, got back to the bike which was still there luckily! I asked the helpful man who had looked after it to lubricate the chain, and can say with some confidence that the oil he used must have been transmission oil from the oldest gearbox in the world, because for the rest of the trip it was splattered all over my beige timberland boots, clothing, hands and bike, and was quite impossible to remove. Having concluded my eventful trip into Laos, I headed up to Chiang Khong and went on the 1148 which must be one of the best motorbike roads in the world. Smooth surface, high visibility to plan bends and bends after bends all perfectly placed with, if you have time to look, views to die for (no pun intended) about 70 miles of this. I can say it’s the best motorbike road I have ever ridden, a lot better than the Route De Napoleon or the Alps just no traffic or police and clean air, mind blowing. On arrival I found a fantastic hotel on the Mekong river, watched the fishermen and generally chilled out. Headed to Mae Sai the next day, stopped at the Golden Triangle Photo Point, where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet, (see photo) and then continued to the hotel, left my luggage, and did a fantastic loop on the 1149 which is surrounded by Burmese and Thai army checkpoints, as it is exactly on the border between the two countries. I got stopped and searched a few times, see photo, but the road was so good, like the new Silverstone Moto GP circuit with hills, I did it twice. The only time in my life I have actually managed to scuff my tyres on the roads, as if I was doing a track day in England. I stopped in the end as I realised this was going to end in tears, no doubt mine, as faster and lower seemed the order of the day. To round off the whole trip, and bringing home the realisation that the dangers should not be underestimated in countries such as these, when I left Mae Sai the next day, again in the rush hour, a number of motorcycle taxis came past me at speed, one with a mother and baby as pillion, and another with a woman pillion, which cut in between traffic, until they hit a car which pulled out unexpectedly right in front of the bike. I stopped to help, as the rider was unconscious with broken legs, and tried to give first aid and assist where possible, but I quickly became the centre of attention, instead of the casualties, so once I had done what I could, I continued on my way – a sobering moment though. Back to Chiang Mai, as I returned to the shop a car pulled out immediately in front of me, reinforcing what I already knew, that the ABS that the Kawasaki came with was a really really good idea. Would I do it again? A big YES !! I might get a more off-road orientated bike and explore further, but what a country!