The Curse of the Hill Tribe Women.........

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by SilverhawkUSA, Feb 8, 2009.

  1. Date: 26 January-4 February 2009
    Rider: Dave Early (Silverhawk)
    Bike: Suzuki DR650se

    I planned to do a solo trip to Northern Laos both for my own satisfaction and to get some new GPS tracks that Auke and David needed. As it turned out a number of other riders rode some of the same routes a week or so before me although I didn’t read their updated reports until after I returned. It seems they had a lot fewer “dramas” than I did and I can only attribute that to the “Curse of the Hill Tribe Woman”. Don’t believe me? Read further…………


    My first destination was to be the border crossing at the very top of Laos and also to find the village of Bosao which was either at or before the border itself depending on which map you read.


    I have been to Phongsali and other areas in the North before and I dreaded the rocky, stony, roads that are prevalent throughout this area. In fact I spent almost 3 days riding exclusively on this type surface. I found the secret to be ride as fast you can so one kind of floats over them, but when you hit some of the obstacles and corners it doesn’t work. If traveling in this area allow more time than you would expect to cover the distances.



    I do enjoy the villages and usually can’t resist taking photos of them. Not long after this village I stopped on the side of the road and removed my gear for a break.

    Walking up the road was a group of hill tribe girls. They did not wear any ethnic dress that I was familiar with and I though I would get a quick photo. As I raised my camera the girls waved their hands in protest and I am sure were saying “No!”. What the hell, press the button anyway, they won’t know the difference. Damn! I thought I had turned the flash off!


    The leader of the pack ran toward me waving her machete and shouting expletives that, although I couldn’t understand, I knew were not good. She slashed at me and the bike, not trying to actually hit me but still in a menacing manner. She moved to the back and slashed at my bags and top box. The others joined her and no matter how much I smiled and tried to look friendly, the insisted that I move on. They hovered around me waving arms and frowning. :twisted: I did my best to put my gear on in slow motion but they were not going to change their demeanor. As I rode away I thought of a number of other trips and these other photos I had taken where the subject did not look too happy….
    NLaos01. NLaos02.
    NLaos03. NLaos04.

    I am told they believe their spirit is taken and put inside the camera.


    I continued my bumpy ride north and as I rode on strange things seemed to happen;


    I stayed at this guest house (where I had stayed in 2005) and found it quite nice. This day I was in a room with no windows except in the bathroom. The entire area suffered a total power failure. I never saw a room so dark. :twisted:


    Villages I passed seemed to be having bad luck. :twisted:


    The repair shops were full and I passed at least four motorcycles along the road that had lost their chains. I was able to stop and help one in an attempt to change my Karma. :twisted:

    I finally reached the Northern Border.


    Well almost…just as I approached, from the top of a hill a bulldozer pushed over the edge a huge pile of rocks and dirt. After riding all this way, this was as close as I was going to get. :twisted:

    Ok, I have seen borders before, no big deal. I asked where was Bosao as my map says it is here. After they all shared a big laugh, they said “Go back, far”.


    I had to backtrack 21km and then climb a steep, twisty dirt road into the mountains but I found Bosao. A push of the button and it was now and updated waypoint. What excitement huh? As I rode back down the mountain, something kept hitting me in the back. A busted luggage rack. :twisted: I stopped and used a tie down strap I carry with me to secure it to the frame.

    I worked my way back to Ou Tai where I found a guy in the village standing next to an Africa Twin. We chatted and he told me he and his friend had been up to the border, no problems. They even went into the Customs office and had there length of stay in Laos extended for the motorcycles. He told me there guest house was pretty good so I went there with them. Of course by now it was full except for one room which did not have a bathroom. Their’s did. :twisted:

    The next day I worked my way over to Muang Sing by finding a new route out of Boun Tay. A separate report will cover that one.

    I went to Luang Nam Tha for the night and planned to head home the next day. But it was as if something was calling me to Muang Sing. There is a post by Pee on the message board about a great mountain road 5km west of Muang Sing that is smooth and runs to the Mekong. I thought I would try that, GPS it and then come back to town and find a guesthouse.


    The road was everything he described, seconded by Happy Feet, but it seemed I kept finding unexpected surprises. :twisted:


    Surely these are not what they appear to be, but are road markers waiting to be put in place.


    Actually this photo is after I got around him. I came to a sudden stop when faced head on and they insisted I had enough room on the edge of the drop off to ride around.


    Ever wonder what is under that dirt road holding you up?



    I passed this village and things were good for a few Km and then went down hill fast. Literally.

    In the trip reports I read after coming home, the guys talk about a Y in the road that takes you to Xieng Kaeng (see quote below) and the Mekong. Obviously someone moved it for me and replaced it with this (where was the Y guys?); :twisted:


    The road ended here;


    At this point there was actually quite a group of Laos and Hilltribe people (some fled when I took out my camera). I asked where is the Mekong? I also had on my map what looked like a small trail going straight south. To backtrack would be 65+plus kms. My GPS showed it was only 25 kms straight south to the Muang Sing/ Xiang Kok Rd. We had quite a time trying to understand each other and they actually got quite heated with each other. Some said go, others said no. Something was calling me to that road. :twisted:


    It started out not to bad. Soon my GPS said 23 kms to go and things got much tougher. Water crossing after water crossing and then slippery mud on the other side as the trail pointed up hill….


    (Not many photos from here as I was just concentrating on getting out).

    The other side of this the road climbed and wound around the mountain what seemed like forever. I never had the 650 on a trail this rugged before and I used every bit of the little skill I have to keep it upright. Of course the fact that I still had all my bags and top box on the back didn’t help. I found as I came around the side of the mountain that was in the sun, it was dusty and rocky. When I came around the side that didn’t receive any sun it was mud and puddles as if it were still rainy season.

    I checked my GPS and it said 23 kms to go. What! I had been round and around the mountain for an hour but made no headway toward the main road. This scenario repeated itself many times. :twisted: I stopped for a break.

    This can’t be good…………


    I sat and pondered what was going on and then it dawned on me. That woman wasn’t waving a machete at me; she was casting a spell for bad luck. :twisted: Oh don’t laugh, I could go on and on but I will try and shorten this up.

    After climbing ever more difficult terrain I knew I couldn’t go back and it was now 4:30pm. The GPS had said 15kms to go for some time. I kept thinking that I could stay in the jungle for the night if I had too. I had two bottles of water, some crackers and a can of tuna. And yes plenty of clothes, I just didn’t want to crash and break either the motorcycle or me.

    I also didn’t want to get stuck between two obstacles that I couldn’t cross in either direction. Then I finally lost it on a muddy, rutted up hill. The back wheel slipped into a rut, caught traction and shot me into the bamboo and down I went. :twisted:

    A quick inventory showed I wasn’t hurt but I was stuck under the motorcycle. It took me sometime but I freed myself, took off my helmet and set it on the ground and decided that after I caught my breath I would get the bike up.

    Now this should be on World’s Funniest Videos. I manhandled the bike up and managed to get both wheels into the same rut, facing uphill at least and I was pretty much able to keep the bike from sliding backwards down the hill in the slippery muck. I couldn’t put the stand down as it was below the level of the rut, but I would be able to get on and get it started hopefully as long as I didn’t let go of the brake. Now where was that helmet again.? :twisted: The contortions I had to go through to get my fingertips on that just out of reach helmet had to be hilarious. Something to remember next time.

    OK, enough. Obviously I made it out. My 25 kms turned out to be an actual 60kms. It took me four hours to complete that distance, including one wrong turn which took some sorting out.

    Happily, I reached the Xiang Kok road just before sunset and found it to be even more full of “bull dust” and bumps than I had remember.


    I gunned it for Muang Sing and…… ran out of fuel! I should still have 60kms left on this tank of fuel. Damn curse! :twisted: I had been riding almost exclusively in 1st and 2nd gear, but I didn’t think it would make that much difference. I found a village that I was able to buy some bottles of gas, and tried again.

    I did reach Muang Sing after a dirty ride and was just happy to have made it……..


    The next day I “exorcised” the air filter and found some of my problem.


    I did a day of r&r in Muang Sing and made a dash for home. I did MS to Luang Nam Ta in about an hour and a half. From LNT I reached Huay Sai in just under 3 hours. That was pretty amazing as before the new road was put in it was an all day ride.

    Happily I hurried to the ferry dock and knew I would have time to get across early afternoon and head home. Yup, got there just in time to wave at the ferry as it left the dock. Two and a half hours later I was able to get on the next boat and arrived Chiang Mai after dark. :twisted:


    I knew everything was recorded.

    The first thing I did was plug in my GPS to the computer to check where I had been. I had two GPS’s with me to make sure I got everything right. The Garmin 76cs recorded every track I needed but had stopped as I began the descent into the cursed jungle. :twisted:

    No problem my Zumo would have the track as I had reviewed it before leaving MS. I plugged it into the computer, got a message “converting tracks’ and then “Error, unable to communicate with device. The track was gone and unrecoverable. Damn curse! :twisted:

    Tomorrow I am taking the bike and the GPS to the temple…..

    Posted in a Muang Sing trekking company office;

    Have a nice trip! :lol:

    From this trip also see-

    Oudomxay By-pass

    Outay-Phongsali-Hatsa-Nam Ou Boat Trip
    • Like Like x 1
  2. Hi Dave

    A very interesting and readable report.

    It is a stark reminder to those of us just venturing into the area for the first time, of the potential for problems and cultural differences which can add to the dangers of the uninitiated. I am not totally certain how I would have reacted to a Machette weilding woman coming at me.

    Also, the additional factor that even someone with your experience in the area could have been forced to overnight on the mountain reinforces the need for safety factors to be introduced before riding alone.


  3. Dave,

    Great report and pics and not as easy/straight forward as you envisaged I guess! Seems like the "jungle ju-ju" was working against you on that trip. Reminds me of my first trip in S.E Asia when our Aprilia Pegasos got topped off with diesel after visiting some "cursed" lost city ruins.

    Maybe all riders should factor in to spend a bit of time at a temple in Houay Xai to build up a stash of good karma before venturing further in N. Laos? ;-)


  4. Great read Dave, thanks for sharing.

    That was no spell, most women wave their arms in the air when not properly attired, its called vanity! :wink:

    Glad you made it through safe to write the report.

  5. Great report, enjoyed reading it a lot!

    As for GPS track recording I have played around a bit with the Garmin since I got it on my phone, but still prefer my path away very very ,much to record tracks and waypoints.

    Dunno if all Garmins ar so cumbersome as the XT mobile version however.
  6. "There is a post by Pee on the message board about a great mountain road 5km west of Muang Sing that is smooth and runs to the Mekong"

    Hi Silverhawk,

    The "curse of the hilltribe women" might not be over as you seem to confuse posts :wink: (if not please book me an appointment with an alzheimer specialist in Chiang Mai as I will ride up next week. Alternatively we could discuss the story with a cup of coffee)
    Anyway I seriously doubt I have used the term "smooth" about the track west of Muang Sing going to the Mekong. Actually without the help and determination of my riding partner at the time, Nico, I wouldn't have gone through.
    Shame on me: I don't remember having posted something about this trip, done in 2005.
    We had no GPS; so no detailed information to share. We just headed west from Muang Sing knowing we will reach the Mekong eventually.

    From Muang Sing the start was quite steep

    Then it gets flat and aerial



    The track might have improved by now because we met hill tribe people working it, making a double lane track from was then a single track
    These guys shared their rice with us even though we didn't asked. Men had a single bigger plastic bag with rice. Women had small bags and they took a handful of rice from their individual bag. They threw it in the bigger "men" plastic bag to share. Nice gesture as they didn't have much.

    Then we got busy having mechanical problems and getting lost; so no pictures till we reached XiangKhéng and the Mekong where a nice reward was waiting

    Nowadays Xiengkhéng or Xiengkheng looks like a small village. I guess about 40 families live there by the number of fresh meat lots. They had killed a pig in the morning and were sharing it

    In a village that size I have never seen a stupa like this:


    Next morning it was a bit tricky to get to the boat landing

    We sailed about 20 minutes going south to the next village. From there we started to ride on a track that the locals call "the old French road". There was no major hurdle as far as I remember and we ended up in Muang Long.

    Back in Vientiane I got in touch with Ecole Française d'Extrême Orient (EFEO to know more about this stupa.

    I was told it 's probably dated second half of the XVI century. It could be an expression of Lanna culture which then extended north just before Burmese imperialism took over.
    It 's also worth noting that Xiengkheng was the capital of the kingdom of Xiengkheng(then moved to Muang Sing).
    This trip and this stupa triggered me to learn more about the concept of "multiple feodality" (small kingdoms acting as buffer states and being vassal of different larger kingdoms at the same time) .
    Anyway for those interested one of the specialists about this Muang-Sing Xiengkheng area is a German historian called Volker Grabowski.
    About this area one can also read: "Le royaume de Jyn Khen- Chronique d'un royaume tay loe du haut Mekong (XV°-XX°s)" from Pierre-Bernard Lafont.
  7. See :twisted: , there is definately something to this curse. At least it got you to post some great photos from your trip.

    The post I was refering to is by "Herph".

    But I look forward to that cup of coffee.
  8. Hum...
    I hadn't read Herph's post before you sent the link. So, the hilltribe people we met working in 2005 have completed the job. The new track looks beautiful.
    I am surprised nobody mentions the stupa in Xiengkheng then. Located near the Mekong it's stunning. Maybe they have removed the stupa after having renovated the track 8).
    Anyway... Deal done about the coffee. I hope to escape Bangkok on Tuesday 10 or Wednesday.11 Then it's 2 or 3 days ride as I don't ride on the main highway with the DRZ.
    See you in Lanna around the end of the week if you are still there.
    Best Regards
  9. It is interesting about the Stupa. It also looks like you may have been one of the last to ride this road in it's earlier form.

    As for the new road, another interesting question that comes to mind is Why? I asked a tour guide this and he said it was to “make it more convenient for the native people to bring their crops and goods to market”. Bullsh*t! I asked him if (as I had heard previously) they were going to build a large rubber plantation? He meekly said “Yes, some.” Supposedly the hill tribes are being driven out as this land is prepped and the road finished. It is obvious they also need the river access which, when the water is high enough, allows for Chinese shipping.
  10. It looks like the thread is moving from "The curse of the hilltribe women" to "The fate of the hill tribe women"....
    Why the new route?
    So, the guide gave you the official, politically correct answer: "to make it more convenient for the native people to bring their crops and goods to market"...
    Towards the Chinese market. As you say it could be to increase the communication network towards China through the Mekong.
    However Xieng Kok got a port and is not that far away.
    A large rubber plantation... Maybe but not that large; because a rather flat area is needed to establish a decent rubber plantation. Not too much slope, less than 30% slope.
    My guess is this road renovation is also the result of a bureaucratic fund allocation under the pressure of US government. At that times US funds were given to Lao under conditions. Poppy eradication was one of the set target to be achieved.
    This area was a poppy cultivation zone. Ideal: close to borders and the Mekong, facing the Shan states, etc.
    When we met the hill tribe people working on the road in 2005 it looked like they were under a kind of administrative program.
    In the end it's a bit all of that: the route is the opportunist combination of Chinese economical dynamic and Western political correctness.
    As you point out, what happens to the hill tribe people caught in this consensus then... Are there new crops growing?
    Someone based in Lao with recent information needs to step in at this point... I have made too much speculation already.
  11. Great report Silverhawk, this has to go down as one of the best.

    I reckon this is the "Y" in the road you were told about.
    This is were happy feet and I turned right to get to Xieng Kheng, but Im sure we rode back on the same tracks as you to get to the Xieng Kok road.
    I remember the pig skin on the sticks.

  12. Thanks, and you are right. I saw that turn as I passed, but as I hadn't heard anything about a turn off previous, I assumed it just went up to a village and I kept on going. :oops:

    When trying to make heads or tails out of the directions I was getting at the end of the road, some were pointing to go back when I asked about the Nam Mekong. I assumed we were not communicating and they meant I had to go back that way to Muang Sing.

    I am planning a return trip soon just to get it right. :evil:
  13. Thanks Mark. Obviously my report was a little "Doctored" for the sake of interest :wink: . The "tough luck" wasn't that much more than one can usually expect on a trip like that.

    I did miss that section to Xieng Keng. I am awaiting steering bearings that have been shipped from Chan, in Singapore, and I am then heading directly back to do it "right"!. I already have a new luggage rack from our favourite fabricator.

    I actually quite enjoyed Muang Sing this trip, and I may have some info on another new road. :p
  14. Silverhawk,
    Hey there, you're supposed to be retired. :wink:
    So what's with all this exploring & dangerous riding alone in the jungles of the Golden Triangle? 8)
    You know it aint safe out there - didn't you get enough adventure working in Detroit? :)
    What would you ex work mates say?
  15. Silverhawk,
    Hey there, you're supposed to be retired. :wink:
    So what's with all this exploring & dangerous riding alone in the jungles of the Golden Triangle? 8)
    You know it aint safe out there - didn't you get enough adventure working in Detroit? :)
    What would you ex work mates say?
    They'd say; "He's still the same, "If it ain't right, do it until it is! If it's broke, fix it!"". :x
  16. Dave, these quotations illustrate the pleasure and the excitement of indulging into your tale.

    ..................A quick inventory showed I wasn’t hurt but I was stuck under the motorcycle..............
    ........where was that helmet again.? The contortions I had to go through to get my fingertips on that just out of reach helmet had to be hilarious ................

    I can just visualize your finger play. You must have stretched every one of your joints beyond its limit while performing Swan Lake on muddy surface. Bill Forsythe is a friend of mine, how about a carrier in one of the best ballet company's in the world? It's never too late!

    And I wonder if you had given up in time on the helmet before the bike crashed down on you a second time.
    Would you ?

    One naive question=

    Any contingency plans for misshapes in such friendly environment?
    Such as waiting for a big or tiny snugly ...... whatever to slurp your blood while stuck for good or worse ?

  17. Ah, Pico my friend.............

    always appreciating the finer things in life :D Alas, if I possessed any from of grace and balance I would not have fallen off in the first place.

    An alternative to retrieving the helmet at that time would have been to ride out of the immediate situation and walk back. Again, I was too lazy and did not really want to repeat the 'slide of mud', even on foot, if I did not have too.

    It does seem that as long as one is not seriously hurt, and has some drinkable water, someone ultimately wanders down the road who can lend assistance. More often than not it is some local, two up, on a Honda stepthrough making me look totally incompetent! :oops:
  18. David,

    Been offline for over a week and selfishly catching up on the GT riders trips.

    Your trip sounds fantastic; new trails, getting lost, animal carcasses, and lovely ladies (even if they wanted to have you drawn and quartered) all add up to ingredients that truly make an interesting trip. Thank you for your report :D . It surely goes a long way to helping those of us unable to get to Laos feel a bit of adventure.

    Pee - A tip of the hat to you for your insight into the area, greatly appreciated.
  19. Thanks for the great report. Looks like my upcoming trip (Feb. 19) will include Xieng Kheng. Except it looks like we will ride to the Mekong from Muang Sing and take a boat with bikes to Xieng Kheng. If you have a chance have a look at my planned trip and tell me what you think. The semi final plan is at the bottom of this thread: ... t6936.html
  20. A year later, your account keeps it spell and appeal. Ambling through Lao threads, I catch the mood of my trip, next week. However, despite the fascinating writing material that they provide, I try to avoid such adventures. Good advises from GTRs will keep me on the safer tracks. Against the Evil Eye (not the one from my Nikon), I will wear a couple of Thai amulets. :angel:
  21. Bump for an awesome older trip report on Pongsali

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