It's been a while since an update but for various reasons but today I have time so here it is, I arrived back in Thailand around the 25th Nov a bit earlier than I expected but an old friend had arrived earlier than expected and was keen to get things moving. I jumped on a plane and flew up to Chaing Mai to check out a Hotel my friend is looking at buying, I'm not a Hotelier all I know about Hotels is that people pay to stay there and generally moan about something after, but as it's going to be on a biking theme he thought I might have some input which would help.
After a few days in CM it was time for me to get back to Laos, unfortunately the paper work I required took longer than expected, I should have known better as everything in Thailand takes longer so the best thing to do is add a day and then double it and then start planning from there, I got my papers on the 1st Dec and planned my escape leaving first light on the 3rd my destination was Ban Laboy Ford the most bombed piece of real estate in the world to date.
It had taken me 2 years to get there last year 2 attempts were abandoned airing on the side of caution so this time I would ensure it all went to plan, I rode 1500k's in 6 days over the hardest terrain I had ever encountered dawn till dusk most days lots of blisters and lots of pain but I made it......
Monday 3rd December 2012 and this is how my day looked out of my back door.
I had gotten the bike ready the evening before, I'm travelling really light this time the bare minimum, that means no razor and 1 change of clothes, survival kit and spares for the bike which I had serviced prior to leaving, no route was planned just get down there with a little tarmac as possible.
I headed up Nong Khai border crossing which is about 160k's from my House arriving there about 10am, it was very busy. This would turn out to be a real pain in the backside, 4 hrs I took me due to paper work and other issues which would raise their heads on the Laos side of the border. I was taken aside and asked what my plans where and who was travelling in the group, what group? I'm on my own. Soon it became clear to them that they had the wrong end of the stick and gave me a big apology for wasting my time, when I asked them why they stopped I was stunned....more about that later!.
So I'm over the fence and into Laos but my day is ruined so the best thing I can do is get the bike pinned and try to make up time on the Tarmac, I made it down to Pakxan and found a hotel for the night got some food and relaxed so I could be ready for the morning, lots of Vietnamese in this town.
Tuesday 4th Dec.
Up bright a early and I'm heading south toward route 12, then I will turn of the highway on to the dirt, which started like this, fast gravel...
Then it turned into the hard packed mud with big pot holes and surface to rattle your fillings. So I was glad to stop and talk with the MAG guys.
One of the ladies was pregnant but still working hard. Guess that's the next generation of De-miners.
Time to press on, this road was hell with no rest from the pot holes,dust and bone shaking holes which seemed never ending, the dust from the oncoming traffic was like fog and I often found myself stopping, so when I saw this little place I thought it would be nice place for lunch.
I had the normal lunch which consisted of tinned fish and sweet things washed down with water. The guys in the truck stopped and watched me for a while, I suppose they think who's the loony!
After a while a little girl appeared from out of the bushes and came over, "Hello Mr", she spoke good English and asked me the usual round of questions, I asked her if I could have a picture and she hopped up onto the bike immediately.
She then insisted on taking me picture before wishing me good luck, what a lovely young lady I wish her well too.
Back to the trails.
My Aim was to get to Villabouri for the night as this would get me very close to the Target, although it was a hard trail the views keep you going.
The Lifan was taking a real pounding and so was I, so rest stops became more frequent.
This little shop was another good stop, friendly people. The little lady was impressed with my camel pack which made her laugh heartily. Mum was enjoying having her picture taken and I was happy to cool down and watch the children play.
Time to hit the road again as I get closer the trails start becoming remote all the trails here are part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail net work and I start to recognize things from last year.
This bridge has improved a lot from last year.
I'm starting to loose the light so no more pictures, but soon I come out on a trail I was on last year I will never forget mud up to the axles, rivers and nasty rocks, the light Lifan made easy work of them and soon I was on a new graded section, it's true the trail is being covered over and electricity is coming to town, last year this section took me hrs this year I'm blasting along at 60k's hr arriving at the same hotel I stayed in last year, even got the same chalet...4.a good omen?, or a bad one, guess tomorrow will tell, so its food early to bed and bags ready for the of , I will stay here 2 night so the trip to the ford is done with as little gear as possible, survival and spares only.
Wed 5th December.
I'm up at 6am I cant tell you how excited I am, 2 years of planning have got me here, I have completely immersed myself in Laos history and the Secret war, much has been written and one of my favorite pieces comes form this web site, Ed the author of the site Talkingproud.us has written some great stuff about Ban Laboy Ford and I have used it in my research, along with some great books my favorite being "The Ravens" and another "Shooting at the Moon".Check Ed's site out if you wish to learn more.
Ban Laboy Ford back in the day
Picture with kind permission from Edward Marek Talkingproud.us
So we are off heading back on the same trails as last year, this year the rainy season was not to wet so the trails are dry, last year it was a bog. Back through the same villages it all recognizable to me, this time I have the drift camera on and manged to catch the whole ride on Video which I will post once I have sussed out to edit video. This is how my day is looking beautiful trails not to hot...
I'm thinking this is to easy and I will cover the 50k's in no time. Time for a little rest.
After about 40k's the trail started to get harder and it appeared the easy day was over.
The rocky slope got steeper and steeper as the rocks got bigger, traction was hard to find and if I stopped it was really hard to get going again. I had a couple of off's and the camera didn't get much use. Four Vietnamese guys on Honda waves came the other way and gave me the finger, they all had video or cameras mounting on the bikes, not very friendly. The Last section of the rock pile nearly killed me the video captures my pain really well, when I got to the top the view where incredible and the pain etched on my face, it was the hardest ride I had ever done and I still had 4 k's to go.
The top insight, with some guy watching me, he disappeared when I got there.
It took me about 20 minutes to calm my breathing down but what a great spot, then it a flattened out a bit and the views change also.
Then I found this...I stayed away from it looked intact.
I pressed on and the trail got a easier mostly down hill but lots of big holes and ruts and then like magic the famous Ford of Ban Laboy was right in front of me.
What a beautiful spot although I don't think the North Vietnamese picked it for that reason it's remoteness was the reason. It must have been so hard back then to get up and down to the ford especially with B 52 bombers pounding it, the rainy season would surely close it. I had made it.
I had my lunch here and just sat and pondered what had happened here, took a couple of souvenir rocks and a million photos. Upstream..
It was time to head back and there were a few things I wanted to check out on the way back, one was Target Charlie and alpha and a Choke point.
The first was a choke point, this would be a point on the Trail where traffic merged on it's way up and down the trails the land around the Village is pop marked with craters, the vegetation has grown some what but you can see the landscape is not normal.
That's the first Choke done so I now head for Target Alpah & Charlie which looked like this back in the day.
It was about 20ks and time to make some new friends.
The boys were cutting down trees, very happy indeed guess the new trailer came from the wood they cut, nice wheels dude....Then I passes through another village, last time there were bombs every where but these 2 in the same place and the others cleared up.
Spot the bomb in this picture? it's under the beer crates.
Then it's onto the next Village
I stopped here last year to take some photos.
So I'm riding through the village and I spot the little girl, well I did not think I would ever see here again so I must pay her for the photo as I used it on my site. So I stop in and ask someone for a bit of help, I tell them I was here last year and took photos of the little girl and would like to pay her some royalties. Then I spot the old lady and try explain to her, they are getting some it but not the whole picture by this time quiet a crowd has formed.
They understand I want to give them money for a picture but I think that was about it, so Mum comes over and I give here some money, then she legs it, then the little girl appears and discovers we are talking about her she legs it to guess she thinks the Farang wants to buy her. I tell the Mum to give some money to the student (young girl) and she says OK, that's her in the green top holding onto the money.
An old chap comes over and thanks for the money and tells me take pictures if you want you are welcome, I decide that I should come back with the photos and a better interpretation of events. So I say my good bye and leave without a new photo of the Girl, next time. Hope they buy her something but I get the feeling that Beer Laos will be purchased.
Back to the trail and I arrive at Target Alpha which look like this now. Charlie was the same.
No sign that anything happening here, just lush vegetation. it's time to head back to the hotel and drink a beer or two, this house was not here last year it was a scrap yard.
I had done what I set out to do 2 years ago, I was chuffed. I relaxed in my Hotel room that evening and got ready to head up to the Nape pass first thing in the Morning, I did not cross the ford!!.
More Tomorrow from the Nape pass!.