The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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We got up early this morning and packed our gear before hiking it down the three flights of steps to the bikes. After we had everything strapped and locked to the bikes, we had breakfast at the hotel before tromping upstairs to get our Dariens and helmets. Having no idea how long it would take to cross the border, especially since this crossing included a boat ride, we wanted to be on the road by 8:00 am. So at 8:00 am we hopped on the bikes, only to be stopped by one group and then another of nice people who wanted to find out more about our journey. Consequently, we pulled out of the parking lot at 8:30 am for the 60 or so mile ride to Chiang Khong.
It was an easy ride, and we covered the distance in about two hours. It wasn't particularly scenic though, mostly passing through farmland and small towns.
We arrived in Chiang Khong around 10:30 am and attempted to find the Immigration office in town. From my research, it appeared that we would need to pick up a couple of forms in town, get them stamped, and then carry them with us for when we return to Thailand. We did not see an Immigration office in town, so we followed the signs marked “Immigration Office” to the ferry dock. Just before we turned down the ramp towards the dock, we spied three large BMW GSs, loaded for travel. We soon spotted their riders, who insisted we stop so they could take our photo. We couldn't really compare too many notes, since they only spoke Chinese but indicated they were traveling back through Laos to China.
This was a first for me – I have seen a lot of different plates on a lot of different bikes, but these were the first Chinese license plates I have ever seen on a BMW (let alone, three of them). We waved goodbye, and Re and I rode down toward Immigration and Customs. We got stamped out at Immigration easily enough, and at Customs, they simply took our TIP forms and stamped the piece of paper inside our passports. Since we still didn't have the TM-2 and TM-4 forms that my research said we should, we asked at Customs if we needed anything else, and they assured us we did not. Hmmm. Since it was now 10:50 am, and the ferry leaves every hour on the hour, I didn't feel like screwing around anymore, so instead we paid the extortionate price of 500 Baht (17 USD) per bike for the privilege of crossing the Mekong.
While we waited in line to board the ferry (which only held three trucks and four motorcycles for our trip), we met Hubert, a German rider who has already done 18 months on his Tourateched 1100 GS, and Herbert, an Austrian tourist who was doing a couple of weeks of riding on a rented Honda AX-1. We chatted for a couple of minutes, and then it was time to board the ferry.
They loaded two of the trucks first, then Hubert, then the third truck, then Re and I followed Herbert down the wet, concrete ramp that turned to dirt before it reached the water's edge. The deck of the boat did not actually reach the shore and required us to ride through about a 3-foot stretch of water about 18-inches deep to the edge of the boat. A little unsure as to how riding off the mud, through the water, and onto the wet, steel deck was going to turn out, I did what all the best motorcycle riders do, and gassed it and hoped for the best. (When I was racing, we had a saying - When in doubt, gas it! You may not save it but it will end the suspense... ) I picked my feet up off the pegs as I hit the water and powered the mighty Symba onto the deck. I pulled in next to Herbert and turned in time to see Re do the same.
We both made it without issue and were glad to be safely on board. The Mekong might be a half mile wide here, and it does have a substantial current, so once the ferry pulled free from the shore, we soon found ourselves heading downriver. Then the boat captain floored it, and we took about a four mile long, half mile journey. Maybe ten minutes later, we reached the other shore, and the crew held me, Re, and Herbert, while the trucks drove off the ferry and up the steep riverbank. When it was my turn to ride off the ferry, I was surprised to see that the ramp was not actually on land, but there was a several inch gap between the steel of the boat and the dirt. The captain was fighting the current, but the boat was slowly inching its way downstream. I heard the captain throttle up and decided to do the same. As the edge of the boat pushed into the shore, I scampered across to terra firma. Re followed quickly, and we rode up the bank to the top of the hill to Customs.
The nice lady from AGL Insurance explained which buildings we needed to go in and in what sequence. The funny thing about Laos is that it is not a Carnet country, and you're supposed to need to do a temporary import permit (TIP), but I had read reports that a couple of other travelers had used their Carnets in lieu of a TIP. I wanted to try this, since the TIP in Laos apparently only gives you 14 days, while your visa is good for 30 days and a Carnet admission is good for the duration of your visa. While we waited in line, I mentioned this to Hubert, who was also traveling with Carnet, and since he was ahead of us in line, he tried it first. The officer stamped his Carnet, tore out the souche, and told Hubert he didn't need to get a TIP. Oh, and it didn't cost a dime. Awesome! I handed our Carnets through and got the same results. We stopped at the final office, where we needed to be entered into the computer. Here, they asked for our TM-2 and our TM-4, which we did not have. The officer here did not speak enough English to explain the situation, so he flagged down some guy, who explained it to us. Since we didn't have our paperwork, we had to pay a mysterious 100 Baht (3.33 USD) fee per bike. Apparently, Re and I must have looked skeptical, because the guy assured us that it would, “go to the Lao Government.” Perhaps, it will, if the Laos Government owns the company that makes Beer Lao... Oh well. Having heard bad stories about riding in Laos without insurance, we did stop at the AGL office to become legal. While I dealt with the other paperwork, Re spoke with the insurance agent, and we were able to get 30 days of minimum coverage for 10 USD per bike.
Fifteen minutes later, we were back on the bikes and riding to passenger ferry dock to go through the Immigration formalities. Re and I rode with Hubert and Herbert, and we all worked on our visa on arrival applications together. No hanky panky at this office, since the fees are clearly posted on the wall- 35 USD got us a one month Laos visa. Unfortunately, here is where Herbert ran into problems. It seems he neglected to go through Immigration when he left Thailand. The Laos Immigration officer insisted that he return to Thailand to get his passport stamped before he could go through the process here. Since it was now only 1:30, Re and I decided to head for Muang Sing, about 100 miles northeast of the border crossing at Huay Xai. Hubert, Re, and I rode to the ATM we'd spotted on the way in, where Re and I became instant millionaires when we withdrew 1.7 million Laos Kip, which sounds good, but is really only about 210 USD. We waved goodbye to Hubert and hit the road.
One of my big worries about riding in Laos is the riding conditions. I haven't been able to find out much information about the quality of the roads and availability of fuel. As it turns out, today, we didn't need to worry about either. The road leaving Huay Xai was a silky ribbon of black, brand new asphalt. It turns out that the Chinese and Thai governments are in the process of building a bridge across the Mekong at Huay Xai in order to facilitate commerce between the countries. Consequently, the Chinese have built a beautiful road between Huay Xai and the border crossing with China at Bo Ten. The bridge was supposed to be completed in 2010 and is now slated for completion in 2014, but today we are the happy recipients of their largesse. And what a road it is! Brand new, with well cambered corners, and smooth as a baby's butt, excellent lane markings, guard rails, and it snakes through the mountains, hugging the hillsides and occasionally dipping into the valleys. It is truly a thing of beauty. Our one difficulty on the trip today was that my GPS did not have the cut off road to Muang Sing in its map, so instead, we watched for the signs, which we never saw. Our new destination for the night became Luang Nam Tha. We covered the hundred miles or so in about 3.5 hours and rolled into Luang Nam Tha at about 5:00 pm. We missed the driveway for our first choice in guesthouses, so we stopped at our second choice first and found a great place at a great price. Not seeing any reason to look any further, we checked in and unloaded our bikes.
After getting cleaned up, we walked out to the night market for dinner. There were many stands making papaya salad, while others were cooking all sorts of meats. The whole roast chickens and ducks initially caught our eyes, but then we saw the slabs of pork (remember: it's the meat of kings). We settled on enough pork for three people, sticky rice, a not spicy papaya salad, and one, ice cold, dripping with condensation, oh I have missed you baby, big Beer Lao. Beer Lao, in my opinion, is the best in southeast Asia, and we were about to remind ourselves why. We sat at one of the tables and enjoyed our feast. While we were walking around, Re had spied a woman making crepes with all sorts of things. While I used the last of the sticky rice to sop up the dressing from the papaya salad, Re went in search of a crepe. A few minutes later, she returned with a crepe and Julien and Annie, the Canadian couple we met in Chiang Rai. Not only were they in Luang Nam Tha, but as we talked, we realized we were all staying at the same guesthouse. Funny. We sat and chatted with them as they ate and were joined by four other people the Canadians had met along the way. At one point, Julien disappeared and returned with a single rose for Annie and wished her a happy Valentine's Day. Guess what I forgot? Re and I split another Beer Lao and had a good time listening to other people talk about their travels. We had to excuse ourselves to return to the room and figure out where we were going tomorrow before calling it a night.
195 miles in about 6 hours of riding. Border costs: 33 USD for the ferry, 6.50 USD for “government fee,” 20 USD for insurance, and 70 USD for visas. The border crossing was easy and relatively quick. I hope not having the TM-2 and TM-4 won't bite us in the ass when we return to Thailand.
Last night, we decided that our next stop would be Nong Kiaew, a town east of Luang Nam Tha. The ride wasn't particularly far, so we took our time getting going this morning. Julien and Annie were heading out for a three day jungle trek, so we had some coffee with them and said goodbye for now. While I was loading up the bikes, I ended up telling Frederick, a French photographer, about our trip. He was actually most interested, not in the travel, but in the logistics of fitting everything on a small vehicle. An homme after my own coeur.
We finally rolled through the front gate at about 9:00 am, and dutifully followed the GPS directions, not back the road we came in, but down a dirt road instead. The dirt road, apparently, would take us back to the highway in one less mile than the paved road. This would have been fine if the dirt road hadn't led us to a river. Oh, there was a bridge across the river, but not a bridge I was going to ride across.
Imagine, if you will, a bridge, approximately 3 feet wide, whose surface was made of lengths of bamboo, with no guardrails, and the bridge supports appeared to be large, woven, bamboo baskets. While we stopped to ponder the wisdom of this bridge, another underbone rider came whizzing past, and we watched, a little nervously, as he zipped the 150 yards or so to the other side. Maybe it was because I skipped my bowl of Wheaties this morning, but I tucked my tail firmly between my legs, turned the bike around, and slunk back into town. Of course, the real reason we turned around had nothing to do with the color yellow, but really, we had to go back into town to hit the ATM and get some more fuel. Yeah, that's the ticket! Back in town, we did indeed hit the ATM and pick up seven liters of the cherry chough syrup red liquid that passes for gasoline in these parts.
From here, we took a paved road to the highway, and once again, found ourselves on the same, beautiful, new pavement as yesterday. We were enjoying the lovely, twisty road, but in fact, the road was so twisty that it was cutting into our average speed. Many of the corners were tight enough that we had to slow to 20 mph before rolling through them. But honestly, we didn't care, because the ride was so beautiful. The mountains in Laos are steeper and craggier than those in Thailand, and there were many flowering trees along the way. The other beautiful part of the ride was all the very small towns that we rode through. Though they do not seem to have much, the people here all seem happy, and the children in particular, smile a lot, and many of them waved when they saw us pass. In many ways the people here remind us of the very happy people we saw in Malawi. Also during the morning, we rode past the Chinese-plated BMWs and their riders, who were stopped for a photo op.
Sometime after noon, we rode through the town of Udomxai and became very sad. Udomxai is where the Chinese pavement stopped, and the road condition became terrible. The next fifty or so miles did not contain a single mile of good road.
I'm not sure what happened to this section of road, but for some reason, random sections of road have had the asphalt removed, revealing the dirt and rock below. It appears to be intentional, since where the road transitions between pavement and dirt, the breaks are straight lines. The dirt sections forced us to slow to between 10 and 20 mph, and these sections varied in length between about 50 feet and over 300 feet. Sometimes there would be one in a mile, and sometimes as many as six dirt sections in a mile. Between 1:30 and 2:30 pm, we were only able to cover 15 miles. When we could look around, it was still a beautiful ride, and elevations rose to over 4,000 feet at times.
During the afternoon, we stopped for a pee break at what appeared to be an unofficial dump for unwanted building materials and scenic overlook. While walking around, I spied several discarded Elephant Brand cement bags. Knowing Re's love of elephants, I grabbed my Swiss Army knife and cut one of the logos out for her. Happy belated Valentine's Day! Thankfully, the last ten miles into Nong Kiaew contained none of the dirt sections, but it was still a bouncy ride due to the rippled pavement. We finally made it to Nong Kiaew by 4:30 pm, and liked the first guesthouse we stopped at so much, we chose it for the night.
The town of Nong Kiaew is located along the banks of the Nam Ou and is surrounded by beautiful, blue-green limestone karsts. The two halves of the town are connected by a modern bridge over the river. There's not a lot to do here, other than walk to see some caves and enjoy the peace, quiet, and natural beauty of the place.
Our bungalow had a beautiful little balcony that looked over the river through the well landscaped lawns. Feeling a little hungry, we walked out to find a fruit stand, and Re negotiated for a pineapple, which we took back to the room and cut up for a snack. Later that evening, we walked across the bridge and perused the menus at several restaurants before settling on the local Indian place. After dinner, Re and I again tried to talk about what the future held over and cookies, but we still didn't seem to get anywhere. Oh well. We spent the rest of the evening taking it easy.
160 miles in 7.5 hours. Bikes are running well, but the rough pavement makes me nervous for the bikes.
How can a day that started this idyllically (link may be NSFW) turn so bad, that this ride report almost needed to be renamed, “One Dumbass, One Symba, and No ****in' Sense?” Re and I had a blowout of an argument today and it was nearly the end of our trip, as we know it. What could be the cause of this potentially trip ending fight? Why, the water pressure in the shower... Of course, what this kind of fight starts over usually has nothing to do with the actual cause. For the past several days, I have had a short fuse, and Re has been increasingly sullen, and this has led to some friction between us.
The morning started off pleasantly enough. Re and I woke up to another beautiful morning. The view from our porch was of misty mountains and fog on the river. After being up for a while, our thoughts turned to breakfast, but as usual, we were new in town and didn't know what to have. Our guesthouse had a restaurant, but when Re checked the menu the previous day, it seemed a little bit pricey. She had also seen yogurt at a local store, and we considered the alternative of yogurt and maybe some cereal if they had it. If the yogurt and cereal option worked out, Re would pick up coffee at the guesthouse, and we'd have breakfast in the room. If not, we'd walk out in search of another option. While I sat and finished reading the last few pages of my latest book, Re went out to see what she could see. She returned with coffee and nothing else. Apparently, the yogurt was expensive and they had no cereal. Just getting coffee was not one of the options we discussed, and Re couldn't really explain what she thought we were going to do instead. But, no matter, we'll figure something out. We decided we should get cleaned up and head out. We each have our responsibilities on this trip, and one that Re chose is finding accommodation. Over years of travel, we have developed a list of our basic room requirements. One of them is adequate water pressure and temperature. If we're paying extra for a hot shower, we like to have a hot shower. Our bungalow did come equipped with an on-demand water heater for the shower, so I expected a nice, hot shower this morning. But when I turned on the shower this morning, there was a problem. While the water was plenty hot, it only came out in a trickle. The water pressure was nonexistent, and since it was so low, the on-demand heater cycled between off and scalding. While I tried to rinse the soap out of my eyes, Re went under the bungalow to make sure the water was turned on fully and found that it unfortunately was. But no problem, we can always change guesthouses. Except that Re now told me that she had already paid for another night.
This started an argument that went on for a while. But we tried to recover and spent the rest of the morning reading on our lovely porch. Since we didn't end up having any breakfast, we headed out for lunch at noon. Neither of us could leave well enough alone, so for dessert, we continued our fight. We both decided that now would be the time to bring up all of our perceived slights and shortcomings from the last several months. It seemed like every time one of us would try to defuse the situation, the other would escalate it. Eventually, I left Re standing on the bridge and walked back to the bungalow. While I walked, I mentally divided up all our gear so Re could head back to Bangkok and fly her ass home. A while later, Re returned to the bungalow, and I now understand in retrospect, she tried to de-escalate the situation. I took it the very wrong way and told her she should go home. Over the next couple of hours, Re repacked everything so that I would have the gear I needed to continue the trip, and she would take the rest of it back to Bangkok with her.
After everything was repacked, the reality of what we were planning seemed to set in for both of us. I told Re that I didn't want the trip to end like this, and I didn't want her to go. She was still pretty angry, but I told her it was up to her whether she left or not. I said we should ride as far as Vientiane together, since that's where our paths would split, and she agreed that was a good idea. Re said she would think about continuing the trip, but she wasn't sure. Since we didn't know what else to do, we headed out together for dinner. We had a nice dinner and talked some more about our feelings and why we thought today turned out as it did. We spent the rest of the evening talking, but by bedtime, Re still hadn't decided whether she was staying.
One of the reasons we think everything boiled over today was that we finally had the luxury of time to think about how we piss each other off. During our last month in India, and really through Nepal, we were both just trying to either survive another day or get over our sickness and injuries, so we didn't have the time or energy to do anything else. Thailand and Laos have been so nice and easy, that we do have time to notice each other's failings. But they've always been there, so there must be something else going on, too. The other reason we identified was our anxiety over not knowing what we are doing when this trip is over, or even how the trip is going to end. We have been talking about a couple of different post-trip options since before it began, but we lost sight of them in India and Nepal. Since we arrived in southeast Asia, these plans have again become a topic of conversation, but neither of us can commit to one of them. For me, arriving in southeast Asia is also a bit of a letdown. It is wonderful, and I am happy to be here, but it is, sort of, our last destination before we head back to the US. We have plenty of traveling left to do here, but it's the final geographic region we visit before going home. Time and mileage-wise, we're through less than 60 percent of our trip, but in some ways for me, it's starting to feel like the end, and I don't like it.
None of that really matters right now, since I am going to bed not knowing whether this trip will exist tomorrow. But I hope it will.
When the alarm went off this morning, I hit the snooze button as usual, but in doing so, I looked at all our luggage on the floor, and the bad events of yesterday came flooding back. Crap. But then Re curled up behind me and put her arm around me, so maybe things won't be so bad. I hit the snooze a couple more times before we got up. We both looked a little sheepish and tentative this morning. After some apologizing and some hugging and some tears, Re said she did not want to go back home, but instead wanted to continue the ride. We both agreed to talk about things more when they bother us and to give each other the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong. This, however, meant that we had to repack everything again. But this was easier since we didn't have to figure anything out, we just had to put it back where it's been for the last seven months. We drank our coffee on the porch and again enjoyed the misty view and cool, 63 degree morning.
We hit the road by 9:30 am for the relatively short ride to Luang Prabang. The first section of road was bouncy due to the slumped pavement, but then it got better when we reached the main highway.
Today's ride took us in and out of the river's edge as we paralleled the Nam Ou all the way to Luang Prabang. The day slowly warmed up and we unzipped our vents in stages. Highway 13 here is generally in good shape, but it has some weird repaired patches. We also passed through one massive area of landslide, where excavators were working on reopening the road. There was only one lane open, and we had to wait for a few minutes until the earth moving equipment moved to let us pass. Finally, we joined the cars and bicycles and slowly squeezed between the eight ft high walls of dirt on either side of the lane.
Around 1:00 pm, we pulled into Luang Prabang and my GPS led us right to our preferred guesthouse. We stayed at the Somkhounmeoung the last time we were in the city and liked it very much. It's still very nice and has added wifi in the room, but the rate had gone up significantly. Re negotiated about a 20 percent discount, so we stayed. We quickly unloaded the bikes and headed out for lunch. Even though public displays of affection are frowned upon in Laos, we walked hand in hand to our favorite sandwich stand. A popular breakfast and lunch item in Laos is a baguette sandwich with a variety of fillings. There are many stands which sell them near the night market area, and we had a favorite the last time we were here.
Sure enough, two and a half years later, our funny sandwich lady was still in the same spot, still making delicious sandwiches. We opted for the chicken, bacon, and cheese with fruit shakes to wash them down. After walking around a bit, we went back to the room to work on some writing.
Later that evening, we walked about two-thirds of a mile to our favorite dinner place, an Indian restaurant called, Nisha. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the building was partially demolished. Huh? Serendipitously, Re overheard a passing man mention that this is where the Indian restaurant used to be. Re asked him if it had closed, and he told her that it had just moved. He gave us directions to the new location, which basically involved walking back to our guesthouse and another two blocks the other way. When we finally arrived, we were overjoyed to see the familiar sign and, needless to say, had worked up an appetite on our walk. While the new location is not as picturesque, the food is every bit as good as we remembered. The food here was excellent, and in my opinion, better than any of the food we had in India. It doesn't hurt that our accompanying beverage was Beer Lao instead of Kingfisher. I'm happy to report that over dinner, Re and I were laughing and talking like yesterday never happened. But we both know that it did.
95 miles in 3.5 hours. It looks like we'll continue underboning the world.
On our last visit to Luang Prabang two years ago, one of the highlights was our visit to Tat Kuang Si waterfall, located about 20 miles outside of town. Our plan for today was to ride to the waterfall and enjoy some time together off the bikes. But before we headed for the waterfall, we decided to enjoy some time together, off the bikes.
After finally getting out of bed and getting a shower, we headed out for breakfast from our funny sandwich lady. As we walked out the front gate of our guesthouse, I saw and heard a big motorbike go by, but realized too late, that it was Hubert and his 1100GS. I ran out into the street, yelled his name and waved my arms, but he did not see us. Judging from where the sound of his bike started, he must have been staying at the guesthouse across the street and about 100 yards up. Bummer. We continued to our sandwich lady and got two more of her delicious sandwiches. Since coffee at the guesthouse is free, and we have to pay for it at the market, we took our sandwiches back to the guesthouse and ate them on the patio.
We then put on our Dariens over our bathing suits, punched our destination into the GPS, and hopped on our bikes. As I hopped on my bike, I noticed that the Buddhist prayer cloths that I have been riding with since India and Nepal seemed to be disarranged, but I didn't think much about it. We pulled out from the guesthouse and made our way onto the road to the waterfall. Almost immediately, I noticed that one of the bungee cords that holds my jerrycan on the front rack was not in its customary position. Hmmm. I am intimately familiar with the way this can is strapped to my bike since we have been strapping and unstrapping it one to two times per day for the last 150 days or so. The position of the bungees matters, since if they're not on correctly, the fuel can tends to shift around and can cause a slight headshake. We continued our ride to the waterfall, down a pretty, twisty, country road. Along the way, we passed several groups of serious bicyclists on fancy, imported bicycles, wearing their stretchy, colorful pants and matching tops. Have you ever noticed that you never see anyone over the age of 12 smile when they ride a bicycle? Re and I have seen touring bicyclists in almost every country we've visited, and we have yet to see one of them smiling. It's kind of a running joke between us, and sure enough, not a one of these cyclists was smiling either. But we were smiling as we made our way up and down the hills and around the corners.
We pulled into the parking area at the waterfalls, paid the parking attendant, and stripped off our Dariens. We cable-locked our gear to the bikes, and then I investigated the fuel can mystery. When we arrived in Luang Prabang, my ten liter fuel jug only had about two liters remaining in it, but now, there was less than half an inch covering the bottom of the can. The five liter can on Re's bike is our ICE supply (In Case of Emergency) and usually has about four liters in it. A quick look at Re's can (hehehe), I mean, uh, fuel can, revealed that it was missing about three liters, and indeed, the bungee cord was also not attached the way we attach it. Grrr. The good news is, this is only the second time that anything has been taken from our bikes in nearly seven months on the road (the other being the carabiner clips that disappeared in Mumbai). We do remove the fuel cans if we feel that the area warrants it, but we felt safe with the bikes behind the locked gate at our guesthouse last night. The thing that struck me most odd was that the thief did not take all the fuel out of the can, or take the cans themselves. My prime suspect was the young man who took over at the front desk late last night and seemed very interested in our motorbikes. But the world may never know... Also, while we were in the parking lot, one of the groups of bicyclists that we passed appeared. They were a nice bunch of older, German riders who were interested in our trip, and we had a nice chat with them.
Re and I paid our admission fee and made our way past the rescued bears and to the waterfalls.
The water here is, again, a beautiful limestone green and while there are several layers to these falls, it is an easier walk between the layers than at Erawan Falls. Re and I found a seat on one of the raised platforms overlooking a particularly scenic level, bought some fruit shakes, and spent quite a bit of time talking about our post-ride plans. We didn't come to any conclusions, but did discard one of the two plans. Unfortunately, we added a third (the two remaining plans somehow became “Plan 1” and “Plan C”).
We continued our journey up the falls to the top and then made our way back down to the most likely looking pool. We hopped into the water, made it up to our waists, then quickly hopped back out, since the water was very cold. We decided the only way to get in was to jump off the approximately 12 ft high waterfall at the edge of the pool. Did I mention I am afraid of heights? Re and I walked out onto the rather slippery limestone edge, and after just a few seconds, Re leapt in, which left me, standing on the edge, looking down. There were between 30 and 40 people at the pool, and even though I didn't have my glasses on, I knew they were all looking at me. I thought seriously about punking out, but you know how it is - if a girl can do it, then I can do it. So with the logic of a 12-year old making the decision for me, I stepped to the edge and jumped. Once my feet actually left the rock, it was a blast, until I hit the cold, cold water. As I surfaced, the combination of exhilaration and cold water led to me taking a sharp breath and the sudden rediscovery of my broken ribs. My ribs have gotten better, but sneezing is still very painful. Now I can add jumping off a waterfall to the list of this that make my ribs hurt. We swam over to shallower water and sat on the rocks and watched the other visitors swing off a rope in the trees, while others relaxed with their families and friends.
Before we left, Re made one more leap off the waterfall, which I videotaped (but later discovered that since I held the camera at a 90 degree angle, the video also plays at a 90 degree angle. Doh. To watch the video, we had to turn the laptop on its side).
Since it was now the middle of the afternoon, we rode back to the guesthouse and got cleaned up. While Re worked on some blogposts, I took it easy until dinnertime. On our way out to dinner, we took the time to empty our fuel jugs into our tanks and lock the jugs to the bikes with our Kryptocables. I also removed my prayer cloths. Hopefully there will be no more larceny tonight. Around 7:00 pm, we walked out to the market, where we put together a bitsa meal consisting of half a grilled duck, a plate from the vegetarian buffet, some spring rolls, and a lovely Beer Lao. The duck was a little disappointing, but everything else was delicious.
Later, we returned to the guesthouse and as we approached the front gate, I could see a large bike with a European plate on it in the gloom. “Hey,” I said to Re, “that looks like...” and sure enough, Stefano came around the corner and gave us a big hug. Stefano and Annamaria on their KLE500s had finally caught up with us! They had just arrived in town after a long day of riding (that included a failed attempt at crossing the Chinese border) and were looking for a guesthouse. Annamaria showed up shortly with a place for them to stay for the night. They decided on the same place Hubert had stayed last night, right across the way. While they went off to check in, Re and I sat on the patio to enjoy some freshly fried river weed that the ladies at the guesthouse had cooked up for us. When the Mekong River water level is low, people collect a particular river weed, form it into sheets, season it, cover it with thinly sliced garlic and tomatoes, and finally, coat it with sesame seeds, before drying it in the sun. After it's dried, it's cut up into sheets and then deep-fried before eating. It reminded us vaguely of nori, only not as fishy tasting. And of course, it goes well with a nice, cold Beer Lao. Stefano and Annamaria returned and since they were starving, we pointed them in the direction of the night market and recommended the Laos baguette sandwiches. Re and I sat on the patio and talked with the proprietress of our guesthouse about life in Laos and the way it is changing. Stefano and Annamaria returned after they'd finished their dinner, and we sat and chatted with them the rest of the night. Their trip is very different from ours (for instance, they just got married in Kathmandu) and it's fun to see how other people travel. They are keeping a blog of their travels at www.percorrendoindue.com. Unfortunately, it is in Italian, but if you scroll down on the right hand side, there is a translation button. Sometime after 11:00 pm, we said our goodnights and goodbyes, but since we are heading in the same general direction, hopefully we will see them again soon.
Our goal for today was to make it to Vientiane, about 250 miles south of here, but we didn't make it. Since that was a lot of miles to cover, we were on the road by 8:30 am. For breakfast, we had a rather large watermelon and two cups of coffee on the patio before pulling out into a chilly and overcast morning.
The first part of the ride was very pretty, but very twisty. We were not making particularly good time due to the twistiness of the road and the elevation changes.
The ride today varied between 1100 and 4600 feet, and some of the climbs found us in second, and occasionally first gear.
Around noon, we stopped at a scenic overlook for a lunch of leftover river weed and some dates Re found in the bottom of her daypack. By around 1:00 pm, we had covered approximately 130 miles, which put us about halfway to Vientiane. Our butts were starting to hurt a little bit, but at the pace we were going, we were still on schedule to make it to Vientiane by about 5:00 pm.
Then the road turned to shit. The large patches of missing road surface that we experienced in the north reappeared with a vengeance. Once again, we found ourselves slowing to a crawl, several times each mile, and slowly bouncing through the dust and rocks. Just for shits and giggles, I timed one section and we only covered about 13 miles in one hour. So our new goal for the night became legendary party town, home of frat boys and woo hoo girls, Vang Vieng, Laos. We have not visited Vang Vieng before, and due to its reputation, didn't really want to this time either, but since it's the only town of any size in this stretch, it was our option for the night. Vang Vieng's claim to fame is its location on the Nam Ou river and the number of bars from which you can buy alcohol as you float down the river in an innertube. It is also, apparently, famous for the plentiful supply of marijuana and opium. Definitely not our scene.
We pulled into Vang Vieng around 3:00 pm and pulled out the Lonely Planet for a recommendation. The LP identified one guesthouse on the far side of the river that was supposed to be nice and quiet. Luckily, the location was also in my GPS, so we made for the bridge to the other side of the river. Unfortunately, it was a toll bridge, and the fine people manning the gate wanted 10,000 kip each (1.25 USD) for us to be able to cross. Not knowing if the Maylyn GH had any rooms or was even a place we'd want to stay, Re set off on foot and walked the half mile to the guesthouse while I waited with the bikes. She returned with the good news that they did have rooms and it was a nice, quiet place. We paid the troll and rode across their rickety, wooden bridge to a lovely place for the night. The folks who run the Maylyn are extremely nice and friendly and quickly found a good place for us to park the bikes. We unloaded our gear into our very nice clean room and soon met one of our neighbors.
As we entered the room, we startled two very young cats who had apparently taken the open door as an invitation to visit. As we walked in, they shot out, knocking over a basket in the process. One disappeared into the garden, but the second one stopped at the edge of the porch and waited for us to come and meet him. He was a grubby, little, orange and white cat, maybe three to four months old. He seemed a little wary of us but enjoyed a good scratch. Since we had some time before dinner, we took the opportunity to “reaffirm the strength of our relationship.”
Later that evening, we had an excellent dinner from Maylyn's kitchen. We each had the larp, which is a Laos salad made with minced meat, fish sauce, shallots, mint leaves, lime juice, lemongrass, roasted ground rice, and chillies. Re had the chicken version, and I had the pork, and both came with sticky rice. This was accompanied by tam maak hun, or green papaya salad, and a couple of fruit shakes. Yum! Stuffed with goodness, we took some of the meat from our dinner back to the grubby cat we met earlier today. We also fed what must have been his brother and an older cousin (?). It was a really nice evening.
160 miles in 6.5 hours. If the roads tomorrow are as bad as the last 20 miles today, it's gonna be a looong day.
Nervous that the road would be as bad today as it was yesterday, we tried to get an early start. Unfortunately, like every other early start we try to get, it never seems to work out for us. We were up early enough at 6:00 am, but then we decided to have breakfast at the guesthouse. The real reason why we had breakfast, was that as we walked out of our room, the two little kittens from last night were curled up asleep on a chair on our patio.
And they looked kinda hungry. So after breakfast, we brought them back some of the eggs that we had enjoyed. We spent a few minutes feeding and petting these hungry little guys before wishing them a happy life and loading up the bikes.
We rolled out of the front gate at 8:30 am, and followed the GPS directions back to Highway 13. The directions to the highway were interesting this morning, because they took us across what I believe was the old CIA landing strip here. Soon enough, we were back on Highway 13, and we were sad to see that the road conditions were as bad as they were yesterday. We are also out of the mountains now, so the air temperature has gone up. Between the heat, the long stretches of dirt and rocks, and boring landscape, neither of us really enjoyed today's ride. Both of our butts also hurt from the constant pounding, and I am beginning to think that our Christmas re-upholstery job isn't lasting very long.
We eventually made it to Vientiane by 2:30 pm and found a room at the well-recommended Mixay Guesthouse. I'm a little puzzled as to why it is so highly recommended as it seems a bit impersonal and not a great value. But it's only for one night, it's clean, and they have bike parking. Vientiane itself seems like a rather unlovely town. It does border the Mekong, but other than that, there wasn't much else attractive about it.
The one tourist site we did want to see while we were here was Wat Si Saket, which is one of the few Lao Wats not destroyed by the Communist Government.
The other feature the Wat is known for is its thousands of Buddhas big and small, made of a variety of materials, that line the interior walls of the enclosure. After getting situated at the Mixay, we made the short walk to the Wat to see what we could see. After wandering around the atmospheric grounds for an hour or so, we walked back to the guesthouse along the newly constructed promenade along the Mekong. While it was scenic, it was also hot as hell.
We returned to the room to cool off and work on some writing before dinner. Later that evening, we wandered out in search of food, batteries for the GPS, and shaving cream. We found a small outdoor restaurant near the riverfront, where we had another good dinner under the stars. On the way back to the room, we stopped in a couple of small stores, but came up empty in regards to the batteries and shaving cream. We've been looking for these things for the past couple of days, but seem to only be finding non-alkaline batteries and no shaving cream. I recall from our last trip to southeast Asia that shaving cream could be hard to find (few people here seem to have much in the way of facial hair), but if we were in Thailand, we could just walk into the 7Eleven and get both things we need. Instead, we picked up some s and headed back to the room to do some more writing and research our trip south through Laos. I finally tried the dark Beer Lao, and it is pretty damned good, if a little sweet.
105 miles in 6 hours for and average of 17.5 mph. I thought we were finished with this kind of average speed after India.
After a cheap but kind of odd breakfast at the Mixay's sister hotel, we hit the road by 9:15 am. The traffic leaving Vientiane was fairly heavy, by Laos standards, but we soon rejoined the 13 and headed east and south. We were overjoyed to see that the road surface here appeared to be relatively new and was in very good condition. The morning was already warm, but with very little humidity, so it didn't seem as oppressive as yesterday.
After being in the beautiful mountains of Thailand and Laos for so long, maybe I am being a bit unfair to flatland Laos, but it's ugly. The road today was basically straight and flat through scrubby, low vegetation and small towns. And the dust, there is dust everywhere, blowing constantly, coating the bikes and our visors and glasses.
The only break in the tedium was when the road occasionally followed the Mekong for a few short stretches. At least the ride today was fast, the good road conditions allowed us to cruise at 40 mph all the way to the turnoff for Highway 8. Highway 8 was a beautiful ride.
Almost as soon as we turned onto the 8, the twists began and everything turned green.
We made our way up one side and down the other of a ridge of mountains, whose beauty belied their relatively low elevation of 1600 feet.
At the highest point, we stopped at the scenic overlook to admire the view and grab a couple of photos.
We made it into Ban Na Hin at around 2:30 pm, and my GPS guided us to the front gate of the Inthapanya Guesthouse, our home for the next two nights. We unloaded our gear into another very nice room and then enjoyed an iced Lao coffee while chatting with Jimmy, our host. Riding into Ban Na Hin, we were surprised to see how relatively prosperous it looked, since it is just a small town between the Mekong and the Vietnam border. But there are plenty of new pickup trucks and what looked like company housing around the town. Jimmy explained that a new hydroelectric dam and power generation station had recently been built here. Not only do they generate power for this part of Laos, they also sell the surplus to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. We then walked out through town in our continuing search for batteries and shaving cream. No shaving cream, only ridiculously expensive batteries, but at least we found a watermelon. Oh well, we took our watermelon back to the room, where we ate it and hid out in the A/C until dinner. After the sun went down, the temperature also dropped quickly, so we enjoyed another outdoor dinner at the Inthapanya restaurant. After dinner, we picked up some cookies and and hit the bed early.
190 miles in 6 hours. Quite a difference from yesterday.
Our reason for coming to Ban Na Hin was to visit Tham Kong Lo. Kong Lo Cave is a 4.5 mile long tunnel that runs beneath a limestone mountain. There is a river that runs through the cave and boat rides are offered starting from the Phu Hin Bun National Park Area, which is located about 30 miles south of Ban Na Hin. So our plan for the day was to ride down to the cave in the morning, take a boat ride during the hottest part of the day, then ride back to the guesthouse in the afternoon. With this in mind, we woke up and had a breakfast of fried noodles with egg, and the put on our gear and headed south. The first five or six miles consisted of gravel roads with some washboarding and one very rocky river crossing. We then joined the paved road for the remaining 25 miles to the cave. This ride passed mostly through farmland and some very small villages. But further south, we started riding through some interesting vertical rock bluffs, and soon we were at the park, where we paid our 5,000 kip each to park, then rode to the departure point.
We parked the bikes, took off our gear, swapped our boots for our sandals, and then a man motioned us to the “reservation desk.”
We paid our 110,000 kip (14 USD) for the ride, grabbed the required life jackets, and followed our captain up the path and into the mouth of the cave, where our boat was docked. We had been forewarned that this trip would involve getting wet, and the first thing we did was wade through knee-high water to get into the boat.
Our ride for today was an approximately 20 ft long, wooden canoe, with a Honda GX270 industrial engine which had a straight shaft leading to a two blade prop. Re and I each brought our own flashlight, and our captain had a headlamp powered by a belt-mounted battery pack. He fired up the engine, and we were soon streaking into the darkness. The light from the mouth of the cave quickly receded, and we were soon cruising in total darkness, except for the light from the captain's headlamp. A short way inside the cave, our boat pulled up to the shore and we were motioned to hop out. Another boat also pulled up and its passengers followed us. Their captain ran ahead and switched on the lights, revealing a huge garden of stalactites and stalagmites that were “artfully” illuminated.
We walked through the garden, stopping to take a few pictures and then made our way back down a set of steps that must have been designed by MC Escher. At the bottom of the steps was our boat, which we reboarded. The ride continued through the cave, and what a ride it was. By now, our eyes were adjusting to the dark, and it was easier to make out the inside of the cave. I would estimate that the cave varied in width from 150 to 400 ft, and the roof height was between 25 and 150 ft. Since this is the dry season, we had to stop a few times, hop out of the boat, and drag it through the shallows to deeper water. Our captain seemed to know his way very well and opened the throttle a couple of times, so we were flying through the dark.
After about 45 minutes in the cave, we could see light in the distance. We had to stop and get out for one more shallow section, and then we rode out of the cave and back into the sun.
Here, the river was surrounded by dense greenery, and we traveled about another mile upriver to a small landing and “shopping opportunity.” Our captain said it would be about 30 minutes before we headed back, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the refreshments the vendors were selling. Instead, we chatted with a young, American man who is also traveling through southeast Asia.
After a nice chat, we hopped back in the boat and headed back toward the cave. It was interesting to see that there are other boats besides tourist boats plying these waters. There are no roads that service the villages in this area, so the villagers who live here have to ride boats through the cave to get virtually anywhere. The ride back was as enjoyable as the ride in, and 45 minutes or so later, we were back at the boat dock. From here, we walked back to the parking area and put on all our gear for the ride to Ban Na Hin.
The return ride was uneventful, and it turns out, we could have taken paved roads all the way back into town, but Re wanted to ride the gravel section again so she could get her picture taken. We got to our guesthouse sometime after 3:00 pm, and spent another lazy afternoon hiding from the heat. Re did walk into the market to get another delicious watermelon and to scout out some possible dinner options. Later in the evening, we walked back to the market area for dinner at a Thai restaurant that Re spied. I had some yummy pork with ginger and sticky rice, while Re opted for the Panang curry chicken and steamed rice. Yum! We also took the opportunity to try a Namkhong , which is heavily advertised everywhere in Laos, and it was okay. But it was no Beer Lao.
Woke this morning to no cool air blowing from the A/C. Uh oh. A try of the light switch confirmed the bad news- there was no electricity. How can a town that is situated next to a giant hydroelectric station not have power? But, no problem, it's warm enough this morning that we don't need a hot shower. Problem- apparently, the water supply here is not gravity-fed, it's pump-fed, so we had no water at all. We decided to wait until 8:30 am before giving up on a shower, in hopes that the power would come back on. In the meantime, we repacked everything we could and loaded the bikes. Shortly before 8:30, Re went out in search of coffee and didn't come back for half an hour. Apparently, coffee is hard to find in Ban Na Hin. But she did return with coffee and we enjoyed it with our watermelon.
We finally hit the road about 9:30 am, and it was already hot. The ride back down Highway 8 to Highway 13 was again, pretty, twisty, and green, but that all ended when we turned south. We rode the short stretch of Highway 13 between Highway 8 and Tha Khaek in an hour or so, and decided to actually stop for lunch today. Our book said that street vendors sell food down at the waterfront, so there we rode. Once we arrived, we found half a dozen stalls selling skewers of all sorts of meat, sticky rice, and green papaya salad. The nice thing about most of these vendors is that their businesses are set up so you don't even have to leave the comfort of your motorbike seat to order and pay for your food. Drive through, southeast Asia style! We did get off our bikes, ordered some skewers of delicious pork and some sticky rice, which we ate at a table overlooking the Mekong. In addition to the grilled pork, we also had our choice of skewers of frogs, tiny whole fish, chicken feet, and chicken heads. We briefly considered the chicken heads but NO. after finishing our lunch, we paid the lady 16,000 kip (2 USD) and continued our journey south.
This section of the 13 is a boring ride, mostly straight, flat road, scrubby trees, and red dust everywhere. Even crossing over the occasional river provided no relief from the boredom, as the rivers here are muddy and dark. The afternoon got even hotter- we haven't experienced this kind of heat since we left Africa. Between the dust and the heat, it really reminded us of the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. We stopped for a drink of water in the afternoon, and Re pulled her thermometer out of her bag, and in the shade it read 98 degrees. We rolled into Savannakhet around 3:30 pm and found a guesthouse, where they directed us to pull our bikes inside the building. We unloaded our gear into the room, cranked up the A/C, and finally took the shower we missed this morning. Since we were clean...
Later, we strolled down to the Mekong and around the old part of town. Along the way, we stopped into a few stores, where we found some batteries but no shaving cream. I have not shaved for six days now, and my beard is getting itchy. If I can't find some shaving cream soon, I will need to come up with another plan. After the sun went down, we found a likely looking outdoor restaurant and had ourselves a delicious and cheap dinner and some cool fruit shakes. After dinner, we grabbed the laptop and walked around the corner to an internet cafe, where I posted some ride reports and we both caught up on our email. Back to the room for a good night's sleep.
Initially, we did not plan to spend another day in Savannakhet, but over the past couple of days, we've started honing in on some possible future plans. We decided to take today off and work on further researching our options. After a lazy morning in bed, Re walked out to pick up some baguette sandwiches and coffee for breakfast. We decided to see what little there is to see in Savannakhet this morning, so after breakfast we strolled down to Wat Sainyaphum, which is the oldest and largest Wat in southern Laos. It, like much of Savannakhet, is in various stages of decay. The exterior walls are charmingly crumbling, and many areas of the Wat were undergoing restoration when we were there.
Compared to the extravagance of Thai Wats, Lao Wats are simpler and in many ways, much more charming.
We toured the grounds and stopped to watch their golden Buddha workshop. Here, there were cast concrete Buddhas in many stages of finish, from bare and hairless, to perfectly coiffed and shiny gold. After the Wat, we walked down the riverfront to the small but interesting Savannakhet Provincial Museum. Displays in the museum were dedicated to a wide variety of topics including the prehistory of the area, the current mining and metallurgical production in the region, and war relics. While our tour took less than 30 minutes, it was interesting to see.
The day had turned very hot again, and since we had perfectly nice A/C in our room, we went back to escape the heat and work on our future. Since we had a big, late breakfast, we decided to pick up a baguette and a watermelon for lunch, which we ate in the room. We spent the early afternoon thinking and talking about how going back to the US and resuming our previous careers didn't sound like much fun at this time. So we decided that we need to explore some ways to live overseas for a while, at least.
Later in the afternoon, we both worked on some writing and then some reading before heading out for dinner at the same place we ate last night. On the way, we stopped in a small store to buy a new pen, and lo and behold, they had tiny, 2 oz cans of Gillette Foamy shaving cream! Even though it cost over 3 USD(!) I had to buy it. We had different food and fruit shakes, but it was all delicious and inexpensive. Afterwards, we returned to the internet cafe to do some more posting and research. On the way back to the room, we picked up a couple of s and spent the rest of the evening reading.
If you are wondering if you can afford a trip like this, this is what we spent today. Our A/C, hot shower, ensuite room was 12.50 USD. Our food bill for the day, including two big Beer Lao was 13.50 USD, museum admission was 2 USD, shaving cream, a pen, and a Doraemon sticker for Re came to 4 USD, and an hour of internet each was 1 USD, totaling 33 USD for the day's expenses. We did not ride today, so this doesn't include any fuel, which is about 6 USD per gallon (yesterday's fuel bill was 20 USD for 15 liters).
Our goal for today was the Tad Lo waterfall on the Bolaven Plateau. However, this destination and many of the roads in the area are not covered by the maps in my GPS. We also have a not very detailed map of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, which also does not show our destination. So today, we'll be relying on the tiny map in the Lonely Planet and some vague descriptions we found online. As near as we could figure, we would head south on Highway 13 to Koang Sedon, and then turn east on Highway 15, which should eventually intersect with Highway 20, where we would head back west and south a short distance to Tad Lo. Unlike Thailand, the roads in Laos are generally not very well signed, so navigating today could prove to be exciting.
Having no idea how long it would take to reach our destination, we got up early, had watermelon and a baguette sandwich, and hit the road by 8:30 am. It was already warm and somewhat humid when we began riding and it steadily got hotter. Again, the ride down Highway 13 was great, flat, dusty, and boring, just muddy rivers and scrubby trees. A quick check of the thermometer showed that it was already in the high 90s before noon. We decided that looking at the thermometer was only making us feel hotter, so we put it away for good. We spied signs for Kongxedone and decided it was close enough to be Koang Sedon. In Kongxedone, there was a sign pointing west that said “Salavan.” Salavan was at the end of Highway 15, so this must be our road.
Except that when we turned onto it, it was dirt. At first it was hard-packed and smooth, but then it varied between this and being covered with two inches of powdery dirt and potholed dirt.
We were on this road for about 50 miles, and it appeared in some areas that they are planning to pave it sometime, but not today. At many of the river crossings, the bridges were under construction, so we had to detour down to river level and cross the riverbed. Fortunately, it is the dry season, so we only ran into a couple patches of mud. The riding was very challenging on our little bikes, but I was happy to see Re safely making her way through the deep silt, since I know that, after Namibia, these kinds of conditions make her nervous. At one point, we had to take a detour from our dirt road to another, smaller, dirt road that passed through a couple of tiny villages. The road here ran along a small canal, in which there were several groups of naked five- to ten-year olds, frolicking in the water. If we had known at the time that Tad Lo was only another hour away, I would have stopped and jumped in with them. Did I mention, it was hot?
Shortly after the detour, my GPS, which had up until now not shown a single road in the area, suddenly displayed Highway 20 about 6 miles south of the road we were on. A mile or so later, I spied a single-lane dirt road heading south out of a small village. I hoped that it would go all the way through to Highway 20, so we followed it south as it wound its way, eventually, to Highway 20! This single-lane road was an even more challenging road than Highway 15, but I am glad to report that both of us made it through safe and sound. We were overjoyed to see that Highway 20 was paved, and doubly happy to see a sign that said Tad Lo 25 km. We headed east again, and the 35- to 40-mph that we were able to maintain made for much better airflow through our jackets. We followed the signs into Tad Lo and were soon greeted by a very scary bridge and beautiful waterfall. One surprising thing about this town is the number of farang on little underbones. Apparently the guesthouses in Pakse are now promoting a 3- to 4-day DIY riding loop around the Bolaven Plateau. It's kind of cool, but it also made Re and I cringe a little, since most people's protective riding gear consisted of flipflops, silk pants, and dreadlocks.
While there were guesthouses before the bridge, we decided to cross it to be closer to the waterfall, and that's when disaster nearly struck.
Many boards that make up the deck of the bridge have rotted or are missing. As I was trying to avoid an area of particularly bad boards, I swerved and came within millimeters of hitting the side of the bridge. But somehow, I managed to avoid it. Not skill, just dumb, ****in' luck. While Re went to scout out some accommodations, I pulled into the shade of a tree, turned off the bike, and my hands were shaking when I removed them from the handlebars.
Re found us a nice bungalow near the waterfall, so we unpacked our bikes, schlepped our gear up the long, uneven path, stripped off our Dariens, and jumped into the shower to wash off the thick layer of red dust. Since we had no lunch today, we decided to head out for an early dinner. Most of the restaurants were on the other side of the bridge, and when we walked across, we could see what poor shape it was actually in. We found a really cheap place for dinner called Mama Paps, where Re had chicken larp and I had spicy pork and sticky rice. We also each had a fruit shake and split a big Beer Lao, and our total bill was 7.50 USD, and we were stuffed. Mama Paps sign says “Big food for small kips,” and it's true. Now that the sun was truly down, the bridge was even scarier going back in the dark. Fortunately, Re had her headlamp in her daypack. We were both exhausted after today's ride, so we were in bed with lights out at 9:00 pm. Damn, we're getting old!
185 miles in 7.5 hours. Between the dirt roads, dust, and heat, this is what we imagined riding in Africa would be like. For the record, the vast majority of the roads we traveled in Africa were paved.
After an appropriate number of smacks of the snooze button, we finally rolled out of bed, grabbed a shower, and wandered back to Mama Paps. Since neither of us could decide what to have, we ordered a pancake that was actually bigger than the plate and covered in sliced bananas and drizzled with Ovaltine and condensed milk, and two fried eggs, a baguette, and two coffees. We split it all, and it was good. We also refilled our water bottles at another guesthouse along the way. When Re was stowing the bottles in her daypack, she noticed that something oily had leaked all over the bag and one leg of her shorts. We carried the bag back to our bungalow, holding it away from our bodies and clothes. Re removed things from her bag and found the offending article. She had a jar of solid hand lotion from Lush, but in this heat, it was no longer solid. Even though the lid was on tightly, the oily lotion leaked out and all over her bag. After removing all the contents (it's amazing what accumulates in seven months) she threw it in the sink, along with her shorts, and gave them a good scrubbing. While she was at it, she did the rest of our dirty laundry and hung them on a line on our front porch. We spent a couple of hours taking it easy and working on a little writing before walking back to Mama's for fruit shakes.
It was another hot day, so we headed to the waterfalls and jumped in the water to cool off. The water felt great, but the current was surprisingly strong. This coupled with the slippery rocks made for a rather undignified crossing to the falls side of the pool. I essentially ended up scooting on my butt, but Re crossed with much more grace. We sat in the water for several hours, talking and laughing, and only left as the sky grew dark and rain began to fall. When the thunder began, we climbed back down the falls and I scooted my way back across the river to the shore. We were surprised when we got back to the room to see that it was nearly 6:00 pm. Time flies when you're having fun.
We jumped back in the shower to get cleaned up and crossed the bridge to dinner. Tonight, we decided to expand our culinary horizons, so we went to the restaurant across the street from Mama's. The restaurant was very busy tonight, and it took a while to get our food, but it was very good when it arrived, and they had cold Beer Laos to entertain us while we waited.
Just before we reached the bridge on the way back to our bungalow, we came upon two farang watching two local men work on an underbone. The men were working on the chain case of the bike by the light of a cellphone. Since Re had her headlamp with her, we decided to shine a little light on the situation. Apparently, the farang were on a hired bike from Pakse and had been crossing the bridge during the rain. The female of the couple had been riding the bike across the bridge and swerved to avoid the pothole at the end, and they crashed. (We have seen many couples on rented bikes, and a surprising number of them have been piloted by the woman. And most of the women riders have been tall, attractive, and large chested! It's a good thing.) They didn't sustain much in the way of injuries, just a couple scrapes, but the chain was apparently rubbing on the chain case, making an alarming noise. Since they didn't seem to have the first clue about anything mechanical, the nice gentlemen were helping them out. Since Re and I are well-familiar with chain cases and things that go wrong with them, we offered our assistance. Basically, the top half of their chain case was ****ed. I don't know if it happened in the crash, or from a ham-fisted repair attempt, but the threads in the captive nut were buggered. Without a tap, or at least a file, it wasn't getting fixed tonight. The nice gentlemen concurred and simply left the top half of the chain case off the bike. We wished everyone good luck and goodnight, and headed back to the room. We grabbed some s from reception and went back to our bungalow for Re to finish the blogpost she had started earlier, and then to play some Word Warp.
We woke to an overcast and much cooler, but very humid, morning. We showered and started carrying our gear back down to the bikes under dark skies. We geared up, rode back across the bridge and promptly, stopped at Mama's for breakfast. While we waited for breakfast to be served, we chatted with some of the other travelers who were also there for breakfast. I am probably starting to sound like my father, but were young people always this stupid?
Around 10:30 am, we rolled out of Mama's under still dark skies, and began the short ride to Pakse. The cloudy skies lasted for maybe 10 or 15 miles, and then we cheered when the sky was suddenly bright blue. Our cheers were short-lived, since with the return of the sun came the return of the heat. At least we were riding quickly today, and the airflow through our vents helped somewhat. Again, the ride was dusty and boring, but at least it was short. We arrived in Pakse around 12:45 pm and found a nice guesthouse. Like our bungalow in Tad Lo, our room in Pakse was also non-A/C. Since the rest of our trip will probably be in similar temperatures, we decided that we need to get reacclimated to the heat, so we are doing without A/C for a while. We will see how long that lasts.
We used the guesthouse wifi to post some of our writings from the last couple of days and to do some research on onward travel and our overseas livin' plan. Re does enjoy the occasional massage (the legitimate kind), and I had spied an advertisement for a nearby massage parlor that offered a one hour traditional Lao massage for about 4 USD. In the middle of the afternoon, we walked out to the massage parlor, where I left Re in the capable hands of another woman and found a seat by the Mekong, where I spent my time reading through the Lonely Planet. Re and I are trying to decide whether to head into Cambodia, which we loved when we visited before, but has bad roads and crooked border officials, or to head back into Thailand and see some of northeast Thailand, which we missed last time. From my reading, northeast Thailand doesn't seem to offer as much as Cambodia, so I think we will take our chances with Cambodia. When the hour was up, I walked back to the massage parlor to find a happy and relaxed Re. We went back to our room and spent some more time poking around on the interwebs looking for more information on Cambodia and the upcoming border crossing. Later in the evening, we found a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner, where we split three different entrees, two Beer Laos, and came away fat and happy. But not too fat to stop and get some ice cream on the way back to the room. For those of you keeping score, this was our first ice cream in Laos.
Yesterday, when I was reading by the Mekong, I felt something bite my toe. I looked down to see a small ant on top of “this little piggy stayed home,” but didn't think much of it. This morning I woke up before the alarm went off to a painful itching in the same toe. Having been bitten by fire ants in the States, I recognized the feeling. I tried to fall back asleep, but basically just dozed until the alarm went off. For Re's sake, I hit the snooze a few times before getting up and dragging her out of bed. While we drank coffee, we put together a shopping list of things we would need in the next week or so. Before we took a shower, we decided to get a little hot and sweaty...working on the bikes.
Re had mentioned that her chain was making noise on yesterday's ride, so I wanted to remove her chain case and check the sprocket bolts. Once the chain case was removed, I found that all the bolts were still tight, but Re's chain was a little loose. We adjusted her chain and lubed it, then checked mine and lubed it too. The other bike issue that needed some attention today was our batteries. For the past couple of days, I've had to kick start my bike since the battery seems to be dead. Re's is still starting, but not very vigorously. We pulled off the side covers, and sure enough, just like in Goa, our batteries were nearly dry. And again, since we didn't have any distilled water, we refilled them with purified water, which goes against every recommendation, but it worked last time! We may run into a sulfiting problem in the future, but for now, it's the best we've got. When we uncrated our bikes in Bangkok, we saw that Re's rack was cracking again, so after the 50 miles of dirt road on our way to Tad Lo, we decided to check the progress of the cracks. Well, they aren't cracks anymore, they've graduated to breaks. Sigh. We are going to need to get the rack welded again, but I think we'll wait until after we see how rough the roads in Cambodia are.
With the work done and tools put away, we hopped in the shower to get cleaned up. We then walked out to the “shopping center” and looked for the items on our list. We were able to get most things, but we weren't able to find any cotton boxer shorts in our sizes. Both of us have been having problems with what I assume is prickly heat on our butts in this hot weather, and since all of our clothes are quick-dry, man made materials, we thought some cotton pants might help with the problem. We did find some cotton boxers in the market, but the Lao idea of “Large” and America's idea of “Large” are very different sizes. We consoled ourselves with lunch at the market. After lunch, we went to a motorcycle shop I had seen when walking around yesterday and bought some oil to replace the semi-synthetic oil I put in in Bangkok. The other day I was thinking we were probably about due for an oil change and checked my notebook to see when the last one was. I was surprised to see that we've covered over 2,800 miles since Bangkok. I have been trying to change the oil around the 2,000 mile mark (and have missed a couple of times), but I really can't believe that we've ridden 2,800 miles in 28 days. We stopped to buy a watermelon, and then went back to the room to work on some more writing and do more research on possible future plans. After taking a break for some watermelon, Re worked on more writing, while I chatted with many other guests in the common area. Later, we went out for Indian food, but found that the recommended restaurant was no longer in business. So instead, we had dinner at a different Vietnamese place.
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