December 08, 2004 GMT
Snakes and Other Animals

The sealed roads in Laos (both of them) are very good; yesterday five of us blared 500 miles from Pakse, via Savannakhet, to Vientiane and had a lovely ride.

The rest of the roads are mainly dirt tracks, but very well maintained so it's possible to do 50-ish between villages (providing there's no-one in front - too much dust).

Laos is a lovely country. Very unspoiled. Tan said it's like Thailand was 20 years ago. It produces the best coffee in the world, and as you ride through the countryside you smell wafts of roasting beans from time to time.

BMW Club of Thailand foregather for the Laos trip

I had a great few days riding with the Thailand BMW Club chaps. We met near the border at Chong Mek, crossed over, then rode down south to see some spectacular rapids on the Mekong. This involved a lot of dirt road and a ferry. Said ferry was one of those flat affairs, with very dodgy wooden planking. We had to ride up a plank to get on it, and getting off was horrible - a baulk of timber to bridge between the deck and the soft sandy beach, then a soft sandy slope up for a couple of hundred yards until the dirt road started in the village. Great fun on a fully-loaded bike. I managed to stay upright (just) albeit rather inelegantly.

The company was 14, mostly on BMWs and multinational: mysef (British); an American, a Frenchman and two Serbs (all Bangkok residents); three Singaporeans (who'd ridden up to join us and for Chiang Mai Bike Week); and the rest Thai. Of the BMWs, 4 x 1200GS, 1 x 80G/S (mine), 1 x 100GSPD (American chap), 1 x F650GS (Bangkok BMW dealer) and the rest 1100/1150GSs.

Yesterday most of the chaps dropped back into Thailand at Savannakhet, and the Frenchman, American, two of the Singaporeans and myself made it up to Vientiane. We arrived late (8:30) and Bertrand hadd arranged with his friend Olivier to meet us at a great French restaurant near the Arc du Triomphe; we were taken straight in and treated to a superb meal with plenty of Merlot (Olivier wouldn't let us pay). It then transpired that we were to stay at Olivier's house last night so we didn't have to find hotels or anything. This morning Bertrand and the others set off back to Thailand over the Friendship Bridge, and Olivier gave me a house key and told me I'm welcome to stay as long as I want. The hospitality here is unbelievable.

So, this morning I was able to do some bike maintenance (and wash some of the bright orange dust off it). The indicator brackets I ordered have already arrived with Bruce in Bangkok (thank you Moto-Bins), which is just as well because they're now both broken and the stalks secured to the brushguards with cable ties and gaffer tape. Although the bike is still smoking due to the stuck crankcase breather it's not using too much oil, and it appears to have no objection to 85 octane fuel. After the first dirt road day the nut/bolt fixing the front left bottom pannier frame had disappeared, but I replaced them and since then nothing else seems to have chaken loose. The BMW agent from Bangkok was with us and we've done a deal whereby when I get back there I can use their workshop to service and repair the bike in return for showing them how to service an airhead.

Oh yes, the snake. That was at Pirom's House in Surin. I saw the cat apparently having a bit of a go at another - I coiuld see what looked like a paw swiping from behind the chessboard leaning against the house. The paw turned out to be a snake, and as no-one could identify whether it was venomous or not we had to kill it (harder than it sounds) with a garden hoe.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at December 08, 2004 05:40 PM GMT

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