i want to thank david for the his great website and map, and stan in vientiane for his assistance in securing a great bike from the nice people at pvo and his riding suggestions. i did a fantastic clockwise loop. the grand finale was in the "restricted" town of xaysomboune, which lies in the spectacular central highland plateau that is dominated by lao's biggest mountains. they were towering, rugged, and simply majestic. i approached from the eastern jungle via tha viang, which is situated at the base of a diabolical steep climb up. the journey found me greeted by a scattering of smiling men with ak-47s and remote villagers alike. upon reaching town, i instantly made local friends (some were gov't officials) who informed me they had not seen a farang in that area for months!! we danced and drank at the tech, i sang with the band (after demonstrating the chords to satisfaction), i played football on a dung filled village pitch with 40 children who joyfully laughed every time i fell down, and the trailbiking was amazing. not least of all, and upon encouragement from my friends, i even managed to find a genuine lao romance!! i literally was on top of the lao world!! after 3 absolutely thrilling days, i reluctantly returned to vientiane to conclude my trip, a month early!! why?? because after 2 near crashes, 2 safe drops, and roadkilling a huge black snake among the many other hazards, a year-end return with a partner was a wiser choice. an accident in lao is not a matter of "if", but when and how bad. a note about tha viang. i was joined at the table by a young, smiling policeman. at my invitation, we shared a beer and exchanged more smiles. after confirming my direction with the shopkeeper, the policeman concluded his "inquiry" without saying a word and smiled again.