PART ONE Here’s a trip report of a Fun time that my good wife Mai and I just completed in Laos. Riding 2Up Off Road from Northern Laos to Southern Laos. This trip has to go down as one of our most Fun ones, for it was a compilation and a linking together of our previous rides in Laos, but this time 2Up on a Suzuki 400DRZ. You can see theses pics, plus a zillion others from previous trips at our picture web site www.2up.smugmug.com Our objective was to take a ferry across the Mekong to Houei Xai in Northern Laos which is just across the river from us here at home in Chiang Khong and then ride all the way down to the Southern end of Laos to the small town of Attapeu, riding Off-Road as much as possible. We’ve previously covered a good deal of this area over the past 5 years, accumulating 120,000+Km, going back and forth across Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and always riding 2Up. But we had never connected it all together and at one go. Plus we never really had the appropriate bike, in that our 1150GS and 650 GS are just too big, heavy and hard to handle on the tracks that we wanted to ride. After riding the 650 last season that we had heavily modified for off road work, we decided it was time to buy a smaller bike. As luck would have it, Barry BQ was moving back to the USA and his Suzuki 400DRZ was for sale. Mai’s and my combined weight and Barry’s weight are about the same, so we thought it would be a good fit for us. We snapped it up right away and then road it off road here in Northern Thailand and a trip across the river into Northern Laos to insure we had it set up the way we wanted. We had planned on riding the first portion of this trip by ourselves and then meet up with a couple of friends later and ride with them for the mid part of the trip. Lynn from Idaho could only ride the mid portion of the trip and Thomas from Germany was able to ride the mid and final sections of the trip. Thomas rode with us under similar conditions last year and was Great to have along. Previously we had most always ridden by ourselves, so it was a real treat to have an excellent rider with us in case we ran into trouble. Fortunately on this trip, that never eventuated. We also wanted to ride as much of the Ho Chi Minh trail as possible, riding sections that we’ve ridden before and different sections that we had previously bypassed, because it was either too difficult 2Up on the 650 or some of the boats to ferry us across some of the rivers were too small to handle the 650. Much of the trail is rapidly disappearing which is a shame, because it really is an engineering marvel. Plus the new road construction on much of the trail, allows easier access to the interior and is rapidly changing the way of life for the hill tribes. Plus the new roads will take all the fun out of riding this area. So if you want to ride this area – gotta to it soooooon, before it has all severely changed. How did we choose our routing? We chose the routing outlined below, after talking with Auke and Jim Oi and having taken a look at what Matt Ward did a couple of years ago. Auke and Jim recommended some routes for going off road from North to South and then we overlaid them onto Google Earth and tried to create various alternatives. If we could see villages and land clearing with Google Earth, we figured we could go there. While we wanted to maintain a little common sense about our routing, we had no desire just too simply follow someone else’s idea that had been travel by others. So we altered Auke and Jim’s suggestions, or picked new ones altogether. Nothing like having a bit of uncertainly as to what you will find along the way to make it a little more of an adventure. And we do thank Auke and Jim for their encouragement. We took great advantage of the Gecko map. It has Latitude and Longitude lines, so in combination with our GPS, we could always reference where we were. Even though we may not have known how to get to where we were wanting to go, at least we knew our relationship to where we were attempting to get to. One thing to watch out for when using the Gecko map, is that many of the village names are the “historic” name and not the common/current name. But otherwise, the Gecko map’s Lat/Long position of tracks, walking tracks and villages, is spot on. We did Not use the GPS for following others tracks – in fact we did not even download anyone’s tracks into the GPS. Once we had some basic routes and ideas in mind, we then set about taking each day as it came. It took us 20 days, top to bottom with the 13th day being the rest/laundry, eat and sleep day. We traveled very very light and only took one change plus a couple bits of extra cloths and did laundry in the wash basin every chance we had when eve we found ourselves arriving some place by mid afternoon and the sun was still strong enough for a little laundry drying. We also carried spare tubes, both front and back, tier repair kit and other tools, but fortunately, never had to put them to use. Mai also speaks very good Laotian and has refined it over the past five years with our travels in Laos. This made it less stressful when being lost, plus we could stop in villages when ever the notion would strike and spend time chatting with the locals getting to better understand their life. Houei Xai, Pak Tha, Pak Beng, Xayaboury, Pak Lay, Vientiane. We left the house and crossed the Mekong by ferry into Laos. Hung a right and headed off road. Houei Xai then down south along the Mekong to Pak Tha, Pak Beng, Xayaboury, Pak Lay and along the Mekong into Vientiane. The dirt track into VT is only just a Km or so from the airport and since it was almost time for Thomas’s flight to arrive from Bangkok, we stopped in to see him arrive. We were a bit covered with dirt and a bit sweaty, but the airport air conditioning was such a real treat, plus the cold drinks. Needles to say, Thomas was a bit surprised to see us waiting for him, for we weren’t supposed to meet up with him until the next day. The trip down from Houei Xai, while it is off road, it’s a bit pedestrian and would have been a lot more fun if we had taken the time to explore well to the West of our track. Next time. The ride though along the Mekong for the ½ day run into VT was interesting, in that you could get a close hand look at how Low the river was and a better appreciation just how un-navigatable this section of the river is. Most of the water flows along this section on the Laos side, with a large deal of dry river bottom between it and the Thai side. When riding on the Laos side you are afforded a much better view of the water’s course then what you would see if you were riding on the Thai side, which we had previously done. We then met up with Thomas and Lynn in VT, good laughs, good beers and good food and a catch up with each other since we had not seen one another since about the same time the previous year. Vientiane, Tabok, Xaysomboune area, Nam Gnome, Gold/Copper mine. Early morning departure off to the East on RT13 to Thabok, then turned off road and headed North up towards Xaysomboune. Our objective here was to head to east from Hom, but first we wanted to get closer to Xaysomboune and possibly even up to Longcheng. The Communist Party was having a conference in Xaysomboune, so Xaysomboune was closed to outsiders for ten days. We switched gears and went up to the Gold/Copper mine for a Guest House. Excellent accommodations with a fantastic view from the balcony along with cold beers. The next morning we headed off to the North and Longcheng. Managed to get within 4Km of it before finally being stopped, by a very friendly solder with his AK47 and his boss in civilian cloths. There were 6-7 check points prior to this one, but we caught the soldiers, just starting their day and not expecting a couple of bikes to be going by – so by the time they realized who we were, we were gone. They would look up from their meal, laundry or pillow and frantically wave and holler to their mates – but too late – we were gone. Glad they didn’t have radios. When we finally did come upon a guard wide awake and alert, and he got to us before we could slip on past down the track around the corner and across the bridge, we found he and his boss to be super friendly. They took the time to verify where we were and that yes, just over two more ridges and 4km and we would have been to the old airstrip. But it was not to be. Now we got to ride back past all those check points and Mai is sure that there were more then just a few of the soldiers with smirks on their face that said, “didn’t make it did you”… Nam Gnome Gold/Copper mine, Hom, Muang Huang So back South we headed to Hom and on East to Muang Huang. This was kind of a double dose of the dumb ass; trying to cover all this distance and so many deep river crossing, all in one day. We arrived into Muang Huang at 1830, tired, happy, wet, hungry and very thirsty. Ok guest house here. Off the next morning North to Hatdiat and then Southeast down to Thasi, Vieng Thong and onto Lax Xao. Thasi, Vieng Thong, Lak Xao Thasi to Vieng Thong and onwards to Lak Xao, proved a bit interesting. This routing was Not recommended to us, but neither was the route taken the previous day. In fact the previous day’s route and been explained to me by someone very much in the know – “it can’t be done…no road”. Google Earth indicated we could do it and while sitting in the comfort of our home the previous month, Google Earth indicated that we could ride from Thasi, Vieng Thong, to Lak Xao, so off we went. Ah, the comfort of sitting behind the PC and deciding what you can do out there… This area had been explained as having a couple of obstacles along with the terrain: Military and Gates being closed across the road. Never saw any military other then the few odd ones here and there. But the GATES. While my wife Mai’s Laotian is pretty good, the locals when asked about what lay ahead down the track, were pretty vague in their replies, as are most folks when asked what’s around the corner from their neighborhood. So loaded with interesting and conflicting info, off we went and clarified it along the way. Gates – due to new road construction, they have placed “gates” across the road at both ends of the current construction – and they Close these gates from 0800 to 1700 and some of them were guarded. As luck would have it and luck does periodically and unexpectedly smile upon us all, we were riding on a smallish track from village to village, knowing that road construction was up ahead somewhere, and stopped to confirm our location when entering a small village, with an even smaller gas station with gasoline for sale in an array of one to two liter bottles. And being we only had a 7 liter tank on the 400, we always stop for bottles filled with the go juice. A well dressed mid 20’s lady spoke good Thai, so she and Mai hit it off right away. The owner of the shop living just down the road from the new road construction was well informed and very accurate. She explained the “gate” system to us. She also advised how we could avoid them by simply going off track into the jungle and then come back into the middle of the construction – how were they to kick us out once we were amongst it all… And to just go off into the jungle to circumvent the gates was, while easy to explain the how; the execution was a bit more interesting. Her directions for us, were to go through the fence right beside us, through the stacking of logs and head off up in the mountains and follow the wood cutters track. She further explained that it would be 8Km before intersecting the main road and the construction. 8km took us well over an hour…first we go up the steep stuff and gain about 600-700 meters in elevation, then get lost along the ridges and then head back down the steep stuff, coming out into the construction area with a smug and greatly relieved look or two on our faces. The first construction we hit was were they were carving out the side of the mountain with big giant back diggers working way up on the top shelf and dropping tons of dirt down onto the narrow track below. The narrow track being less then a half to three quarters of a meter wide and on a slope of about 45 degree. After about 5 minutes or so the machines high up on the slop saw us and stopped work to allow us through. Looking at the steepness of the slope and the fact that the track was only 30-70 centimeters wide and that it was almost straight down 200-300 meters to the valley below, we still thought what the heck. Turning around and going back was not an option, we liked. Thomas being the excellent rider went first and his words of advice were, if you are going to fall, fall into the hill side. That rather made some sense. When we encountered the second such construction area, Mai and I went first with Mai walking out in front of the bike and shoving the larger stones off towards nether land below. The pictures for these two areas are fun to look at – now that it’s behind us. Be sure to go to www.2up.smugmug.com for our picture web site, or send me a PM and I’ll email the 8 part report with pics included. Mai helps out in the kitchen Mai helps to clear some of the larger rocks out of the The area North of Lak Xao deserves more exploring. Naki area The lake is filling up, now that the dam is completed. Mai and I had been through this area three times in the past when the dam was still under construction and had seen the villages being evacuated. Now with the dam complete, there’s a lake and a rather large one at that. If the money from the sale of the electricity to China and Thailand from dams such as this, managed to filter down to the local level, I’d maybe not complain. But so little of the money filters down; the pockets of those at the top being so big as to be able to accommodate most of the money that’s paid to start the project(s) as well as the ongoing revenue from the sale of electricity that is the finished product. SAD!