July 27, 2013 - The last day in Thailand saw me stop in Chiang Rai, a mostly drab town north of Chiang Mai with none of its flair or infrastructure. It's about as boring as a Thai town gets it seems. My only purpose for being there is that it's on the way to northern Laos and that it has a white Wat which is truly spectacular.
Unfortunately, Wat Rong Khun is fully "touristed", with mandatory tour guide included in the admission price. It was quite busy so I opted to take a shot from the outside only.
The ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was very pleasant, with lots of curves and great riding. The next day, I checked out of Thailand and lined up for the crossing at the Mekong.
From the border I headed towards Luang Namtha. The road is brand new and a virtual racetrack with nothing but curves and vistas. It's certainly up there in terms of riding roads to make a mental note of. Here the rice paddies were much more prevalent than in Thailand it seems.
Laos is desperately poor compared to Thailand, a fact easily seen in the kids that always seem to pop out of nowhere when you stop for pictures. I've since been told that healthy Asian kids get born with lots of thick black hair and that the telling sign of malnutrition is thinner brownish hair, sadly all too common here.
My trip to Luang Prabang from Luang Namthat didn't go totally as planned.
I’ve proven that it’s actually quite possible to run an old BMW on diesel. For quite a distance too, 53 kilometers all told. I filled up (or rather, someone did it for me) with “regular” and a few miles further, the engine power decreased, I had horrible pre-detonation at anything above 3,000 rpm under load and the bike acted sluggish. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I kept going, thinking I had some bad gas. The bike ran fine, it sounded like nothing was amiss, as long as I didn’t open the throttle too much. The next gas station came in sight, and I stopped for a closer look.
As soon as I stopped, I smelled something was not right. Not having much experience with diesel in a motorcycle, a station attendant smelled and tested the gas from the float bowl and pointed with a broad smile and thumbs up to the diesel pump, thinking I wanted to fill up. Since my Laotian is non-existent and no one spoke French (quite common in the cities here), it took some doing and disbelief on their part that I wanted to dump a full tank of diesel and replace it with something else. Initially, they were worried I could not take the diesel with me in the open bucket, till they realized I was quite happy to leave it behind. Seeing that draining from the carbs was going to take ages, a hose and a few larger buckets appeared on the scene out of nowhere.
In no time flat the tank was empty and I filled up with “regular” again, this time it was the right thing. The bike sputtered to life and minutes later we were racing along again, as if nothing had happened.
Luang Prabang has changed considerably since I was here in 2000. Despite all that, it has managed to keep the quiet feel it had back then.
A stroll along the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers always delivers in terms of photographic opportunities.
Carrying the heavy 70-200 mm zoom around sometimes pays off.
The same two monks, shot minutes apart.
When no one is looking, the little screen dominates.
I'm planning on being here for about ten days or so, focusing on photography. Christina will join me here and we'll travel around Laos for a few weeks before heading off to Indonesia and Nepal. The bike will stay in Thailand for a few months while we are gone.