Sunday, June 15, 2014

Laos Part 2. Northern Laos

March 20. Vientiane to Vang Vieng. 173 km.
We had a pretty easy day riding from Vientiane up to Vang Vieng. We rode through the hills and didn't take a single picture. Its easy to get complacent on a day like that until you come around the corner to a buss passing a truck in your lane. Luckily I wasn't leaning her over or pushing hard and there was a “shoulder”. Many places if you are pushed from your lane, you won't find solid ground for 20 or 30 meters below. I didn't even honk the horn. I think I just yelled F**K! and braked hard to put the bike upright so I could get over to avoid a head on. We met a couple from Bulgaria who were renting 250 Hondas. They said they had about a week and had a nice route planned. Later I received an email that one of the bikes broke 1 days later and they finished the trip 2 up. Not quite my idea of fun... 2 up on a 250. Better then 2 up on a win 110 I guess. It was early when we got to Vang Vieng. We walked around the town looking for post office. Normally they have post cards but this place didn't. They even said they were out of stamps and we could come back in the morning to get some. We walked around the whole town looking for postcards. Just when we were about to give up, we found a place with some. They were about 3x more expensive they we were used to but we still bought a few. Of course every store, guesthouse and cafe had them on display after that. And they were all priced cheaper.

March 21. Vang Vieng to Phonsavan. 267 km.
About 20 km East of Vang Vieng there is the Nam Ngum 2 reservoir. This was flooded a few years ago taking out a few roads and villages in the valley. We knew there was a ferry that crossed the lake about 20 km to the east side to connect with the existing roads. The road to get to the ferry would have not been any fun in a car but on the bike it was ok. At the ferry, they said it would be 3 or 4 hours. It was noon already. 3 or 4 hours +1 hour on the boat would put us at the other side with about 1.5 hours of light to do 90 km to the next town with a hotel. Of coarse we knew nothing of the road on the other side so we decided to back track to Vang Vieng and ride the twisty main roads north. Number 13 was a main road that twisted its way up a valley with tall mountains on either side. In the late afternoon we turned onto number 7 to head east toward Phonsavan. 7 follows the ridge line and is just brilliant to ride. Once the sun started to set, the weather actually got cold. I was ok but she got really cold. We made sure the hotel had a nice hot shower that night.

Sweet 6x6 dude!

Our peddling friend

It gets cold after the sun goes down.

March 22. Phonsavan to Xamneua (Sam Neua) 237 km.
Leaving north from Phonsavan we carved our way through the small hills and valleys until we reached the town of Muang Kham where we left 7 and started on 1C. As soon as we got onto 1C we started to climb and our pace dropped. The rest of the day would be spent on 2nd, 3rd and 4th gear twisties. It was rare we had the bike up to 100 km/h. And if we did, the next corner required hard braking and 3 downshifts so you don't fly off into space. We had noodle soup for lunch and met 2 guys riding Chinese 150s. One was from Canada and one was from Laos. After looking at the map, they said they were headed north to Xamneua and they recommend the ride. When you have a vague plan, its easy to change direction so we headed north the same way as these 2 guys. We would pass them easily then stop for waterfall, coffee or pee break and they would pass us again. This lasted for about 50 km until I decided to open her up some. It was getting late and we needed to get to that town before dark. That night the only thing we could find was noodle soup. She was starting to get sick of the noodle soup. I normally don't care to much about eating the same thing for days on end. That being said, when there is a chance to get something else I jump on it. In this town though.. there was only noodle soup.

Small ridge top towns

March 23. Xamneua and VeingXay caves. 64 km

It was raining when we woke up and a colder morning than we had experienced for a long time. From Xamneua to VeingXay is about 30 km and even with the wet pavement, it went fast. We got to the office of the caves around noon and they told us the next tour would start at 1:00. So we found a small Indian restaurant to have some food. It was great food but it took forever to make. Normally I don't mind this but we didn't want to miss the tour.

VeingXay is a small town in northern Laos. For 9 years between 1964 and 1973, the Pathet Lao used caves for shelter from US bombs. They had offices, schools, hospitals, barracks, homes and even a theater. More bombs per capita were dropped on Laos than any other people in history. The Pathet Lao was apposed to the US/French backed Royal Government in Vientiane. The people in this area farmed at night to avoid the bombing raids and as many as 20,000 of them lived in the caves in this area. This was also part of the supply line for the Ho Chi Minh Trail, one of the reasons for the heavy bombing. The Pathet Lao learned many things from the Vietcong including how to spot the difference between bombers, fighters, scout planes and transport planes. In the 50s The CIA set up an “airline” in Laos called Air America. For many years this was called a “civilian corporation” but it was under direct command of the CIA. The operations in Laos were the largest paramilitary operations the CIA had ever conducted.
Then there was the bombing. In the 9 years the US bombed Laos, more bombs were dropped then in WW2 by the US. About 2.5 million tons of munitions. Laos is still the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita. Many of them were cluster bombs. It is believed as much as 30% of the bombs dropped failed to explode on impact. Unexploded Ordnance (UXOs) continue to kill 100 people a year in Loas. There are believed to be somewhere around 80 million unexploded bombies in Laos. There is a good video about bombies here: According to the Geneva Agreement from 1962, Laos was supposed to be a neutral country. Vietnam also signed this agreement and was using Laos as a supply line to the south. Still, the amount of money the US has sent for aid in cleaning up the Bombies does not compare to the amount of money spent to drop bombs in Laos. Since 1997, the US has spent about 47 million to help clean UXOs in Laos. This is compared to around 17 million per day bombing Laos (adjusted for today dollars). Long story short, Loas was proper fooked and will be for a long time until the the bombs are cleaned up. Cluster bombs and land mines should not be used by any country. But they still are being used in places like Syria and Sudan. In 1998 the Convention on Cluster Munitions made an international treaty to ban the production, sale, stockpile or use of cluster bombs. As of 2013, 108 countries had signed the treaty. The US did not sign this treaty along with China, Russia, India, Israel, Pakistan and Brazil. It has been 40 year since bombing stopped in Laos and at current rate, the country will not be clean for at least another 40 years. Its really tough to think that places like Syria will be basically fooked for the next 40 to 100 years. Not just from the current conflict. If the lack of infrastructure, economy, and basic human needs is not enough to keep this country from rebuilding, they will also have to deal with UXOs and landmines. More info here

We went back to Xamneua and found another hotel. We walked around looking for food and all we could find was noodle soup. Of course I didn't mind but she was not happy about it. It was cold again that night and we slept good.

An airtight room for chemical attacks

Air pump and filter for clean air

Blast wall at entrance of a cave. 

March 24. Xamneua to Nong Khiaw. 313 km.
We had nice low clouds hanging on the mountains as we rode south. We had to backtrack about 90 km to the junction where we would turn to Nong Khiaw. The whole day was spend going up and down hills, riding on ridge lines or in valleys. We were definitely using the sides of the tires more than the middle. Toward the evening we stopped for a quick break and found some interesting plants. If you touched them, they would close their leaves. Later someone told us they are “touch me not”. Well for about 30 minutes we were crouched on the side of the road playing with these plants like little kids. That evening we stayed the night in a hotel over looking the Nam Ou river. The place we stayed had the most amazing fried rice I have had in a long time. Yellow curry chicken fried rice. I would order it 3 more times.

Unexploded bombs make great decorations. Around the corner we saw bombs being used as a flagpole stand. 

Unfortunately we never saw any. 




March 25. Rest day in Nong Khiaw.
The next day when 11:00 rolled around and we had not moved any, we decided to stay another day. After all, the view was good, the room was cheap, and we could get decent food that wasn't noodle soup. In the afternoon I met a couple who were traveling in an old Mercedes van. She was from Spain and he was from Italy. The linkage from the throttle to the injector pump broke. When I was looking in my parts for something to fix it, I found a spare front spoke. The thread on the spoke was the same thread as the rod end that connects to the ball on the injector pump. We were able to fabricate a decent linkage on the side of the road. That night we all met up for food, drinks and stories. They had driven across India and Myanmar so it was interesting to hear what they had to say. There awesome mulit-language blog here

Crap picture, but you can see the linkage we made.  

March 26. Nong Khiaw to Oudomxay 119 km.
One of the worst roads that we had ridden in Laos... Even when we were not on a road. In the afternoon I heard something funny and she said the passenger peg feels funny. The peg mounts on the luggage rack which connects to the cast aluminum foot peg mount below. We found the cast aluminum had broken from the stress. This did not break from 1 bump. For 98,000 km this part has been supporting the weight of the luggage rack and now a second rider. No matter how strong you make an ADV bike, you will always break parts. Build, ride, break, upgrade, repeat. We stayed the night in Oudomxay. The town has a large Chinese population so we were loving the food.

:( No one wants to see this. 

Sometimes shtuff breaks. 
March 27. Fixing the bike in Oudomxay.
I had to figure some sort of fix for the mount of the luggage rack before we could continue. I had a small piece of steal about 10 cm long, 2 cm wide and 5 mm thick. It fit nicely between the rack and the foot peg mount. If I could not replace the mount for a while, at least the luggage rack could rest on this steel piece. It would get rid of any side loading from the weight of the bags. The other bolt would stop any other movement. I found a scooter shop with a drill press and they put a hole where I had marked. By early afternoon the bike was good to go again.

March 28. Oudomxay to Luang Namtha.119 km.
Not a long day. The first 50 km or so were very smooth curvy. Great fun. The last 70 were straighter. Again it was super hot so we didn't mind ending the riding day at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Luang Namtha is a touristy town. Its really easy to find the places where the buses stop. The streets are filled with “jungle trekking” “motorbike rent” “ethnic village home stay” and “visa run” signs. You will be able to find a good coffee, but it will cost you 3 dollars instead of 50 cents. There were 3 or 4 Chinese bike dealers in this town. For about $1000 you could get a Lifan 150. Same bike in Mongolia would cost you about $700. I'm not sure why the price difference.

Sweet truck dude!

March 29. Riding near Luang Namtha. 123 km.
We rode toward the “Silver Triangle”. This is where China, Laos and Myanmar meet. We rode to a small town and looked for a place to eat. It none of the cafes seemed to be open but luckily we were able to find some ice cream. We went back to our hotel without seeing the Myanmar or China border. Oh well. That evening we met a guy from Oz who was had ridden an Ensfield 500 from India and he was on his way back to Oz. He was working on his bike an told us he had accidentally had a head on collision with a guy on a scooter. The scooter was totaled but the Ensfield just had a few dings. The exhaust and foot peg were a bit bent. He said he had to buy a new scooter for the guy he ran into because the accident was in fact his fault. I suppose if you crash into someone and total their bike, $900 isn't very much. Good thing the guy wasn't on a Harley or BMW.

March 30. Luang Namtha to Vieng Phouka. 88 km
We took a short ride down to Vieng Phouka. There were 2 caves near the town we thought we would go check out. We found a $5 bungalow overlooking the river. Its great when you ask about wifi and they laugh. I don't think phone lines had been brought to this town yet. Sometimes it surprises you who actually has wifi though. We rode to one of the caves and there was no one selling tickets so we walked back to the cave. There was a door on the cave but no lock so we walked in. We didn't have headlamps or flashlights so about 20 meters was all we dared to venture in. We agreed it was enough caves for us for a while. That evening we walked to the market and found different fried sausages, dumplings, and meats.. all on sticks. Not the most healthy thing we had eaten and definitely not the best either.

Forgot to put a rock in front of the tire? 

Not sure what this was. A mine or something?
March 31. Vieng Phouka to Houayxay (near northern Thai/Laos friendship bridge) 121 km
The town of Houayxay is about 10 km north of the northern “friendship bridge” between Laos and Thailand. Before the bridge was built ferries were used. Now ferries are basically only used for people. It was easy to find a good meal and a good hotel in this town. We had been in Laos for almost a month. It was time to move on in the morning.


Double woops. Notice the truck in the background. 

1 comment:

  1. I really like this blog better than the forum. It's a quicker way to catch up where you've been, photos, and the misadventures. I gots me a 690 too, its awesome. I want more details on the food though.