Xam Neua – Ban Dan Check Point – Muang Et – Xam Neua.

Moto-Rex

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Xam Neua – Ban Dan Check Point – Muang Et – Xam Neua.

GPS Track. https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-m...ea-–-Muang-Et-–-Dan-Ban-check-point.

A two day trip riding north out of Xam Neua to the Vietnamese border crossing at Ban Dan check point, staying overnight in Muang Et.
Two main towns on the way to Muang Et are Sopbao, which has plenty of guesthouses, and even an ATM, and Xiegkor, which has a couple of guesthouses. You can also ride to the Vietnamese border crossing at Pahang from Sopbao, as shown on the GT-Rider Laos map. I gave this detour a miss, but I’d say this would be a pretty interesting ride.

I did this ride in late June, and I think it the most enjoyable area I’ve ridden in Laos. Being June, the entire ride was full with people working the fields, in anticipation of the wet season which was fast approaching. The whole area was alive with activity, with real people, doing real work.

As good as it was riding through this area was, I reckon that riding here in the dry season would be boring and dusty. So it’s best to go riding there when it’s raining, with a new set of tyres, and an umbrella.

The pink line showing the way, with Laos/Vietnam border in yellow.
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It was a wet start to the day, and first stop was a small road side market just out of town. They had plenty of stock, but not much variety.
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I didn’t know what the green vegetable was, but I was given a simple to try, which created a problem. I didn’t want something that someone had planted, grown, harvested, and brought to market for free. But would it be insulting to the seller to try and pay for a gift? I chose it make fun of the situation at some time paying for the product. She was happy, and so was I happy.
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Cool damp day with no dust. Just perfect.
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The start of the 6A,..the road that’s heads north from HWY6.
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A waterfall in the lush jungle.
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It was just beautiful through here. A little slippery, but what a view.
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One of the many small villages along the way.
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There were plenty of these bridges that head east from the road across the river towards Vietnam.
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There are currently three new hospitals being built with the help of the USA between Sopbao and Muang Et.
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The road in parts is under full scale construction. With one stretch of road resembling a dirt super highway.
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I wonder if the occupants of this house were consulted about the new road works.
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The Nam Ma river at Muang Et. The Veitnamisse border is around 12kms beyond the river.

The big ferry wasn’t going anywhere, so it was all aboard the sports model.
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No worries.
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The road heading north to the border is in very good condition.
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There’s a real Wild West feel up here.
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Ban Dan check point, the last stop before Vietnam.
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The superbly appointed KLX, with Vietnam as a back drop.
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Back at the river the big ferry was back ruling the waves. Too bad I missed it
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.
It didn’t matter, old trusty was waiting.
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Just across the river in Muang Et I found a good little guesthouse for 40,000 kip.
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The door was decorated with posters of lovely non smoking ladies posing with packets of cigerettes. Light me up.
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After a shower and change of clothes it was off to the local market. This was to be one of those great travel experiences you get now then. I began walking through the market and sensed that they probably don’t see too many foreigners up this way. There were about 200 people staring at me so I began to chat and smile which broke the ice. These people where so friendly, and inquisitive, all laughing and giggling. What a photo opportunity I thought. So I pulled out the camera, and all hell broke loose. Three quarters of the people turned and ran, so I immediately put the camera a way.

I looked at an old lady and she shook her head as if to say no photos thanks. So no snaps of one of the best travel moments I’ve ever had.
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After the market it was off to find some food. There were about 5 small restaurants next to each other, and none of them Id take the chance of eating in. But one of them had a few local ladies that had the appreciation of beer lao as I do, so liquid dinner it was to be.
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Next morning it was time to head back to Xam Neua, so after quick top up I headed south.
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A few kilometres down the road, the local butcher was open for business.
Vegetarians…….They don’t know what there missing.
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I ventured on.
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Nice through here.
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Mama noodles, savour of the laos motorcycle rider.
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Local kids play ground.
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Everyone does there fair share of the work. Although the girl on the rights not doing much.
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Beats working.
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Back in Xam Neua.
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Looking down upon the thriving town of Xam Neua.
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This is a great part of Laos. But you need to get a little wet to see it at its best.

Moto-Rex
 

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DavidFL

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You little beauty Rex. It certainly looks like you lucked out with the weather & ride there. Ive not seen many, if any, trip report from up there before, so that's a bit of a pioneer ride from you yet again. Well done.

Your experience in the market with everyone running away must have been a bit of a surreal national geographic feeling? It feels good eh - did you have any goose bumps?

And yeah I agree Mama noodles are often the only safe food saviour on the road in Laos (& sometimes in Thailand).

Those bridges & roads heading across the river towards Vietnam look inviting for another ride too I'd say...
 
Jul 15, 2012
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really good report thanks....hopefully i will make similar trips soon....i assume they dont speak thai in lao. Was language a issue getting food or do you know some of the language
 

Rod Page

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Fantastic report mate - you have a rare ability through your photos & commentary to take the reader along the journey with you. I drifted off at times almost feeling I was there with you; a reflection, no doubt, of the fact that I would love to have been there.

Interesting to see the locals in Loas wearing the conical hats of the Vietnamese; & what a great hat they are!

Is there any wonder so many are moving to KLX's or equivalent!

Well done mate. Keep them flowing.
 
Jul 11, 2007
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Thanks Rex,
Beautiful report as usual and very useful. I had already planned a ride there and wondered if yhere was any accomodation for the night in the area to avoid the day ride from Xam Neua.
Cheers, Lung.
 

Moto-Rex

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Davidfl;281600 wrote: Your experience in the market with everyone running away must have been a bit of a surreal national geographic feeling? It feels good eh - did you have any goose bumps?
Those bridges & roads heading across the river towards Vietnam look inviting for another ride too I'd say...
Yeh, the market was a great experience. It’s all the little things the happen during the day that make traveling in Laos so good.

Those tracks east of the river would nice to explore. Maybe next time.

yankee99;281609 wrote: really good report thanks....hopefully i will make similar trips soon....i assume they dont speak thai in lao. Was language a issue getting food or do you know some of the language
I can only speak very limited Thai, and I have no trouble getting by, Thai and Lao are very similar I think. The old “smile and point” also works wonders.
 
May 29, 2006
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"It didn’t matter, old trusty was waiting." ha ha
Enjoyed the read and the pics as usual with your posts. Cheers.
I think it was there up East of Xam Nua that they had the Royals held after the war?
Mat
 

Rod Page

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Like you Mat I'm a great fan of Neil's posts.
Its intrigues me that Moto-Rex has written at times that he is drawn to adventure into Vietnam on the basis of certain reports he has read & I can assure you my reading his reports draws me back to Laos.
I trust Moto-Rex will not mind my remarking here but the one report that stands out in my mind & always has is yours covering your rides into northern Vietnam; they were certainly what drew me to the country. Hung (Flamingo) still raves about it. I trust you'll be drawn back to SE Asia & to reporting once more on the basis of Neil's brilliant contributions.
 
Jul 25, 2010
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Stunning as always Rex. I really have to get over to Laos and follow your tracks.
Keep em coming if you don't mind.
 

Jurgen

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Great write-up Rex, for a region that I appreciate particularly … even so I did not ramble on your bumpy tracks. At least I can take solace watching your lovely pictures!

After a European Summer switch off, I am catching up and will reference your report in the “paved road Laos planer”, as it also covers Xam Neua … and people might be interested to push a little further north.
 

DavidFL

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It is certainly an interesting trail through this area...

A little bit of history...

From 1975 - 1986 Houa Phan had the harshest rehabilitation camps from after the war.
There were 7 camps total in Houa Phan province at Sop Hao, Muang Et & Xam Tai.
The most notorious camp was one of the Sop Hao camps, where the most important people & officials from the previous Royal Lao government were detained (& never to be seen again). The subject is still strictly taboo in Laos.
The camp in Xam Tai was also for hard line detainees.
Other camps allowed families to live together, so as not to encourage escapes.
One of the camps near Muang Et had earlier on in 1969 been a Pathet Lao prisoner camp.
At some of the camps detainees were able to work building roads, bridges & clearing timber.

So you can see this has been & probably still is a very sensitive area; if you're riding through these areas, tread carefully & don't ask the wrong questions.

A related book worth reading is The Bamboo Palace.

Enjoy but again please tread carefully on your remote Lao travels.

Part of the the GTR Lao Map for Houa Phan

300000=19483-GTR-HouaPhan.jpg
 
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DavidFL

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And another related book probably well worth reading for those interested in the history of the area

An Enormous Crime

The dramatic history of living American soldiers left in Vietnam, and the first full account of the circumstances that left them there…

An Enormous Crime is nothing less than shocking. Based on thousands of pages of public and previously classified documents, it makes an utterly convincing case that when the American government withdrew its forces from Vietnam, it knowingly abandoned hundreds of POWs to their fate. The product of twenty-five years of research by former Congressman Bill Hendon and attorney Elizabeth A. Stewart, An Enormous Crime brilliantly exposes the reasons why these American soldiers and airmen were held back by the North Vietnamese at Operation Homecoming in 1973 and what these men have endured since.

Despite hundreds of postwar sightings and intelligence reports telling of Americans being held captive throughout Vietnam and Laos, Washington did nothing. And despite numerous secret military signals and codes sent from the desperate POWs themselves, the Pentagon did not act. Even in 1988, a U.S. spy satellite passing over Sam Neua Province, Laos, spotted the twelve-foot-tall letters “USA” and immediately beneath them a huge, highly classified Vietnam War-era USAF/USN Escape & Evasion code in a rice paddy in a narrow mountain valley. The letters “USA” appeared to have been dug out of the ground, while the code appeared to have been fashioned from rice straw.

Tragically, the brave men who constructed these codes have not yet come home. Nor have any of the other American POWs who the postwar intelligence shows have laid down similar codes, secret messages, and secret authenticators in rice paddies and fields and garden plots and along trails in both Laos and Vietnam.

An Enormous Crime is based on open-source documents and reports, and thousands of declassified intelligence reports and satellite imagery, as well as author interviews and personal experience. It is a singular work, telling a story unlike any other in our modern history: ugly, harrowing, and true.

From the Bay of Pigs, where John and Robert Kennedy struck a deal with Fidel Castro that led to freedom for the Bay of Pigs prisoners, to the Paris Peace Accords, in which the authors argue Kissinger and Nixon sold American soldiers down the river for political gain, to a continued reluctance to revisit the possibility of reclaiming any men who might still survive, we have a story untold for decades. And with An Enormous Crime we have for the first time a comprehensive history of America’s leaders in their worst hour; of life-and-death decision making based on politics, not intelligence; and of men lost to their families and the country they serve, betrayed by their own leaders.
 
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Mar 30, 2010
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I am certainly not a conspiracy theory nut.. But this satellite images does perk the interest.

Actually spent 30 minutes googling this expecting to see doubt about the authenticity.
(Which is a long way from saying this really is a POW crying for help)

Walking%20K.jpg


It was in Sam Neua province that the above photograph was taken in 1988 (fifteen years after the US had ended its involvement in the war) by a US spy satellite. Etched into a rice paddy, this enormous sign contained the words ‘USA’ as well as a highly classified code, a ‘Walking K’ which would have only been known to US servicemen. It was built to be seen from the air, the ‘USA’ figures measuring 37.5 feet wide and 12.5 feet long.

It was only identified a year after the photograph was taken, and in the Report of the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs, issued in 1993, it was suggested it might have been the result of a child fooling around in a rice paddy and copying lettering he had seen on a stamp sent from his relatives in the USA, which is what a farmer and his son allegedly said when a team visited the site in 1992 and talked to locals.


More from the article below.

http://www.modernforces.com/peter_lloyd_MIA_1.htm
 
Jul 25, 2010
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I have recently been doing a bit of reading of the location of this thread and frankly, I am amazed that anyone managed to go through that area at all without being questioned, detained, told to head back the way you came or even worse. Given the sensitivity of LS20A (a very different issue but none the less) I cant quite see why the same kind of nervousness does not exist of the area that you rode MotoRex.
Davidsfl's post 'Houa Phan' hints at the most extraordinary events that took place in that area, not so very long ago.
When I first read this thread, I was for the most part ignorant of the relevance of roads that you traveled in relation to the recent history of Laos, but after a bit of research - hats off to venture there at all, especially by yourself.
 

Moto-Rex

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There's a lot of interesting reading to be had on this area, and most of the time its difficult to know what's fact or fiction, or if somebody's simply pushing there political ideologue/faith as fact.
I admit, that I rarely read up on the areas that I ride until I've been there, basically because I never know were I'm going to end up & perhaps it's a case of ignorance is bliss on my part. But I've turned around more than a few times due to nothing more than gut feeling. One of those times was in this area, on a track that headed west from Muang Et. Something just didn't feel right, so I turned around. Sure, if I was with someone else I probably would have keep going, but on your own its a different ball game sometimes.
Personally I feel far safer roaming the back blocks of Laos on a motorcycle, than walking the streets of Sydney or Melbourne.
 
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