Overtaking Thailand on Two Wheels


Nov 17, 2004
I am looking for comments on an article I am submitting to the BKK Post. I have a 19 article series ready for them but am hesitant, I know fellow GT Riders will provide brutally honest comments and I would like to hear from you. I'd rather ride than write about it but for some reason am, most likley something to do waiting out rainy season.

Maps go with the article so if you are unfamiliar with Lao/Vietnam, this trip starts in Hue(central VN) over the border on Hwy 9 to Sepon and Moung Phin, south to Saravan on road 23.


My sometimes riding partner and I had wanted to ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Moung Phin to Saravan in Laos for quite some time so when he called me up saying he’d have time in about two weeks, we were going. I had just returned from riding northern Laos and my Minsk was being rebuilt in Hanoi from the beating of the last trip so I was up for it. It was the middle of rainy season, some people don’t like riding in the rain, as for me it could be worse – snow.

I like to think I am a descent rider and can read the signs, good and bad. Bad sign number one was five days of torrential rain in Hue waiting for Nik but on departure day the weather broke giving us a false sense the ride wouldn’t be a mud fest. My bike for this trip was a Minsk, old but a trusted bike. Nik was on his Yamaha DT 175 and we crossed over into Laos easily. The tough day was to follow and we stayed overnight in Sepon, enjoying a huge meal and several Beer Lao. Over dinner we talked about bad sign number two, the raging river on the way up to the border but after talk of delaying the trip and just running to Savanakhet and Mukdahan for some fun, opted for mud and a hard ride.

Morning found us cruising early on the newly paved highway to Muong Phin. Our liquid breakfast there was sad, Nik’s coffee was terrible and the little kids from the store drank most of my soda. The challenge of the day was more on our minds and we had the early start we wanted, mud awaited, No Fear.

Thirty kilometers of good dirt road running along lush green forest put us in the off road riding mind set we were after. Crossing the river at Tat Hai, the bombed bridge should have served as a warning sign to stop, the river was more than half a kilometer across and deep. The dugout boats could only hold one bike on its side and as we pushed off, I bailed water out seeping thru the bottom of the boat while keeping my balance. The waterline was close to the sides of the boat and threatened to swamp the dugout all the way across. Adventure travel, you see it on TV but live, adrenaline overtakes fear and it tastes like fun, my kind of fun.

Bad sign number three showed up at the top of the embankment when I realized my water bottles were cruising back across the river in the boat that brought us here. So here we were starting the tough part of a trip with no water. We kept going hoping a village or something would be along the way, wishful thinking as that day we saw only one deserted house after the river crossing.

The track was fast becoming a buffalo highway and we’d ridden different surfaces on the path but were cruising. I lost track of how many streams and creeks we crossed but they started to get deeper and muddier. Suddenly the path changed from dirt/mud to smooth, flat rock leading to another creek and the rock bottom was covered in slime. Nik walked across with no problem but as I did, missed my footing and went into a deep hole up to my thighs down went the Minsk. The clutch lever clamp was cracked badly. I duct taped it up as much as possible to get a little action out of the clutch and proceeded up the bank a few meters smelling burnt clutch plates. Here the Minsk had it and would go no further. “No problem” was what the mechanic said about the clutch in Hanoi, yeah right.

The Minsk is well known for being unreliable and I’d ridden this one for over 30,000 kilometers with only minor problems until today. I opened the clutch and gear box to swap the clutch plates around hoping that 4th had a little more grab than 1st but after two hours of different combinations, placed my lucky Buddha on the headlamp and pronounced it dead. We salvaged gas for the DT and I put 90% of my gear in my bag and tucked it on the side of the path for later retrieval. I’m sure someone is wearing my clothes, using my tools and feeling good about such a find.

Riding two up on the DT was painful for us, Nik had his crotch pinned against the gas tank and I was teetering on the rear edge of the seat hanging on as we bashed our way forward. We were too heavy for the DT to carry both of us up the embankments as well as a bit too dangerous for both of us to ride across the creeks so I walked them all. The flat bits of road were few and far between and on day one I must have walked over five kilometers and slogged across a dozen plus rivers.

We rested at the bottom of another creek, me lying on my back in the water and Nik on the bank when out of nowhere two men appeared with AK 47’s slung across their backs. They were as surprised as us and looked at us with skepticism. What were two white boys doing on a dirt bike out here? We had only a few smokes but they got some of them and with no common language between us, I told them they as best I could they were welcome to use my Minsk for target practice, hell, they probably fixed it and rode home. They left us in the mud and walked on, we decided to put a little distance between us and mounted up again.

The mud kept getting thicker in areas of the path covered by dense vegetation and around dusk we got into one of the most horrific fifty meter stretches of mud/buffalo dung I’d ever seen. Nik’s DT stood upright buried deep in the muck, sunk to the engine and we still had forty plus meters to get across. We were already out of energy and one of those ‘oh shit’ moments you have in life hit us.

We were shattered from the workout of the ride and as the DT stood in the muck, we laid down as the night fell. Nik and I joked for a while that his wife must think we were in some place drinking far too much beer, only if it were true. We’d both worked in five star hotels and had a list of complaints about our accommodations and agreed we’d never stay here again. Flights streaked across the sky, full of beverage carts of drinks and ice, little help but it reassured us somehow.

Sunrise the next morning we began to free the DT and it took over an hour to get about forty meters, draining us right away. I’d started drinking river water and this morning’s breakfast was slightly tinted but dehydration was a real fear, we had a long way to go. Fortunately I only had to walk and push the DT up slopes about twenty times before we spotted tire tracks, a sign we were getting closer to something. A small village came up and a group of men sitting around were amused by me drinking water and puking it just as fast as it went down. I hadn’t seen Nik drink for the past twenty four hours and wondered how long he’d last at this pace. I managed to keep a bit of fluid down and the men told us were had about another two hours until Saravan. The path opened up a bit wider from here and the terror of the mud and creeks previously gave way to wooden bridges and a bit more life along the way.

Roughly two hours later we came across a small store but no water, only a sugar laden soft drinks that sat uncomfortably in my stomach while we rode on. We started cramping up and had to stop several times to stretch out the pain, town was close but our bodies were starting to shut down. The road was good but we were pretty used up and went just as slow as riding in the mud.

We found a place to stay in Saravan but the hotel would not let me enter unless I took an outdoor shower. I was filthy from the trip and a hose shower in the parking lot of the hotel felt wonderful. It took another three days of showers to get all the dirt off me and two washes to get my clothes back to normal but as I sat on the balcony in the sunshine while all my clothes dripped dry, I had that ‘Damn that was actually a lot of fun’ smile on my face for a long while.

Ride Smart, Ride Safe.
Nov 14, 2004
Jimbo, great read, you grabed attention with showing that there sill is an adverture to be had but it comes with some hard yards at times.
So if your not faint hearted get to S/E Asia for some adventure riding,befor its to late.....Scott