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Old 11-11-2007, 11:46 PM   #1
Joined: Oct 2007
Oddometer: 6
Golden Triangle & riding to "Secret" Laos

Learning to ride a motorcycle up in the northern Golden Triangle region of Thailand
was something my Dad set up for me in the Easter holidays.

The aim was for me to get trained up for us to tour Laos in August on Honda XRs, all the way to the Vietnam border
and on to the secret headquarters of the Pathet Lao.
I had been to Laos & Cambodia before, riding pillion on the back of Dad's GS last year.
But this time I would be riding my own bike!

But back to training, I had Thai Enduro ace Khun Nop training me on his training course outside Chiang Mai.

I stared out on his ratscoot but it wasn't long before I graduated to the Honda XR which was going to be my ride
for the rest of my time in South East Asia. though it wasn't until the second day that I finally got some "air"!

On the third day we went up the dirt track to Doi Suthep Mountain above the city of Chiang Mai.

This was great hair-raising fun, especially the very steep sections -
I didn’t think I would make it up to the top as the deep ruts
sometimes didn’t give you much of an option, barely inches from the edge.
Terrifying but incredibly exhilarating at the same time.

But Nop had taken all the indicators and headlight off the XR making it cheaper to crash.
Apparently, I still bent the handlebars and broke both brake & clutch levers – 500bht – cheers Dad!

April is the hottest month in Thailand and understandably the time the Thais celebrate Songkhran the water festival
celebrating the lunar new year.
In Chiang Mai they stretch a one-day holiday into seven days of water splashing mayhem.

No one is immune no matter how cute

We had to adjust our riding accordingly - it is safer to pull up and be drenched
than trying to continue through a wall of water.
Some of it had blocks of ice!

After three days riding mostly way out of town on dirt tracks I knew I had been bitten by the biking bug
and was only too keen to come back.

As they say in Amazing Thailand anything is possible.
But protection is necessary and Dad insisted in ATGATT.

So when I returned in August the emphasis this time was on road work
as our time in Laos would be primrilly riding on tarmac but on narrow roads.
So Dad had arranged another 3 days of XR riding with Khun Nop.

On the first Day we headed out towards the stadium, where Nop put me through slow control exercises.

Riding fast on the roads, on the whole, presented little problem;
but controlling the throttle in conjunction with the clutch, I was finding,
determines your ability to ride slow & steady - whilst hopefully keeping the bike under control.

Nop, as you can see, demonstrated his one-sided riding technique.
Very Cooool!

After a morning of skills, we headed out to Houai Kao Lake,
where we had lunch at the lakeside with fried chicken & rice.

Meanwhile a brief shower came down. Biking in Thailand, especially during the rainy seasons,
can be a soggy affair. But it never gets cold so it is not a real problem,
providing you take account of the sometimes slick surfaces.

Back on up the hill, hanging a right, along a scenic side road,
which I was told would be similar to the roads I would be riding in Laos.

Eventually we reached the top where we took a dirt road through the Hmong hill-tribe villages.
We had to be careful of oncoming traffic as the road was barely a car’s width wide.

The next two Days Nop and I went out together.

We rode the Samoeng Loop in its entirety and did a lot of traffic work in Chiang Mai,
culminating in ten circuits of the moat.

In the evening we would meet the other GT Riders including David Unkovich who set it up,
and Beamer Boy back from his epic China trip.
All of them helped my dad in putting my trip together.

By now I had clocked up some 700 kms of riding in the north and Nop declared me ready
for the next part of my adventure.

Next stop Laos!

RGun screwed with this post 11-12-2007 at 01:59 AM
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Old 11-12-2007, 01:42 AM   #2
Joined: Oct 2007
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Laos Adventure - Part I

We flew from Chiang Mai into the old royal Laos capital of Luang Prabang.

A roller-coaster ride with the old ATR turbo-prop being flung around in some very big black clouds.

As we descended we could see the terrain we would be riding across, crossing the grain of the country
across cloud covered mountainous terrain, heading east to the Vietnamese border
before heading south to the capital Vientiane.

The twisty roads below, promised a fun time let’s hope the weather will hold off.
Our plan was to ride east towards Vietnam and the Pathet Lao caves in Vieng Xai.
Then head to the plain of Jars and on to Vang Vieng before heading back to the capital, Vientiane.

In town we checked into the Ancient Luang Prabang hotel, a little upscale
at the beginning of the main drag, with WiFi throughout the hotel.

Waiting for us outside our hotel were three Hondas – one XR for myself
with Dad and Thongkhoun, our guide from Green Discovery, on Bajas.

It was quite late so we walked down the main road for a pizza,
just in time to catch the sun setting behind the royal family's temple

before going to bed early – the next day was to be the first of our Laos adventure and a preparation & work-up day.

Breakfast was disappointing, so we went down the road to Jomos, a coffee shop that puts Starbucks to shame.
But the sun was out glinting on the golden stupa above - magical!

And the silver hydra-headed serpent steps were beautiful but strange!

Then we fired the bikes up and headed north out of town up the main road to Pak Ou,

where we found a Hmong village on the banks of the Mekong, entirely devoted to serving tourists.
Here boats from Luang Prabang made an obligatory before going across the Mekong to the Buddha cave.

Where we parked up a stall holder selling lao-lao rice wine had small shot glasses line up.
Thongkhoun passed me a glass – yukkkh!
He finished mine and his quickly.

Crossing by long-tail we walked up the steps to the Buddha cave.
Inside hundreds of Buddhas of all sizes and some said to be many years old were terraced far back and high in the cave.

It is supposed to bring you merit to bring a little statue and then to visit it on auspicious days every year.
It is also said that the really old ones have become valuable and some have been stolen by collectors.

A beautiful place nonetheless, and despite the gaggle of tourists jostling up and down the steps.

I had thought that riding the bike on the right would be a problem having learnt in Thailand,
but dad was right and I didn’t notice the difference after a short time.

After the mele of riding the Chiang Mai moat at rush hour,
Luang Prabang and Laos were proving to be a pleasure and far less stressful.

Dad had hired Thongkhoun who is probably the best motorcycle guide in Laos
and an awesome off-road rider, as our guide and who would always be riding up ahead of me.

Dad was the tail-gunner.

Tomorrow the ride starts for real!

RGun screwed with this post 11-12-2007 at 01:52 AM
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Old 11-12-2007, 04:13 AM   #3
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Old 11-12-2007, 08:50 AM   #4
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It sure is beautiful on that part of the world!! And it looks like D-S paradise..

Thanks for the appetizer let's have the main course
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Old 11-12-2007, 07:31 PM   #5
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Fantastic ride report, keep it up!

I have ridden in Thailand and Cambodia, but have yet to hit Laos and Vietnam.

Can't wait to see more!

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Old 11-12-2007, 07:38 PM   #6
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Awesome...can't wait for more.

2007 Suzuki V-Strom DL650
2000 Excelsior-Henderson Super X

"There are two types of people in this world, people who ride motorcycles and people who wish they could ride motorcycles."
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Old 11-14-2007, 11:00 AM   #7
MotorPsycho Miko
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Laugh Stunning

This is what I like about ADVrider- giving me a chance to see places that I will probably never get to ride.
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Old 11-15-2007, 10:57 AM   #8
Joined: Oct 2007
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Day 2 Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai

Day 2 Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai

Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai on the map it looked like an easy 180 kilometre ride on the map, but along with connecting with cyclone as it blew through, the narrow switchback roads with the deluge making the surface treacherous.

It proved to be a tough going day.

Woken up a few minutes before 6am by tannoy from the local gendarmerie broadcasting the news to all & sundry.
Further sleep was not possible, but I rolled over and dozed stuffing a pillow over my head.
Outside a steady rain was falling.

Dad finally got me up at 0730 – later than planned.
Thongkhoun had got our bikes out and oiled our chains – what a great guy!

We returned to the fly-blown restaurant again – but neither grilled frogs nor fried insects appealed.

Dad & I had sticky rice, cookies – coffee for Dad – and M-150 [the local Red Bull] for me!
Thongkhoun tucked into the local delicacies with gusto!

With rain now falling steadily we bought chinese waterproof ponchos designed for riding scooters, as you could cover the front headlight and a passenger – all for $3.

0845 set off after filling up – my bike was using two litres of fuel more than Dad’s over the last section.

Unlike my fellow bikers, I thought the rain would soon lift and left without putting the poncho on.
Within 5 minutes I was soaked and I had to admit to Dad that he was right. GRRRR!
We cut the ponchos down to a midi waist-size.

Route 1C was originally built by the Chinese for the Pathet Lao in 1973 when the B-52 strikes stopped. This allowed cmmunist forces unimpeded access to reinforce their forces who were slowly gaining a strangle-hold around Luang Prabang.
It has been rebuilt may times sinces as the monsoon takes its toll on the surface.
The torrents of rain had created a shale slush which made the riding very tricky.
Corners and descent had to be in low gear as the rain grew the bike would step out on corners where the shale was thick.

Helmets misted up and, as the cloud closed in, the visibility dropped to barely 20metres at times.
I soon found that following the back wheel of our guide was the answer, mirroring his actions.
The rain runoff was foaming white, down the side drainage ditches.
Those clouds we had seen yesterday afternoon, were the beginnings of a cyclone blowing through northern Laos from Vietnam.
We were fortunate, as we rode around the periphery of its fury.
Elsewhere, villages were flooded.

We had acquired another rider from Vieng Thong who was going to Xam Neua to sell his bike, where he would get a better price.
Riding in a sodden jacket, with a plastic bucket of a helmet and flip-flop sandals he made us feel horribly over-dressed.
His tyres were bald and yet he was keeping up with us in the twisties.
Dad was keeping up today having cast aside his Bavarian Bus [GS] riding-style and was having to work the Baja’s revvy little gearbox.
When we reached Rout 6, we turned south for respite in the coffee houses of Nam Neuan.

Thongkhoun ordered turtle soup we had freshly grilled Moo and boiled eggs – DELICIOUS! And another M-150.
On the wall was a 3D menu board with bugs and turtles stuck to it.

Not very appetising for us farangs.
Meanwhile the rain had returned.

It was just after twelve, when we topped up with fuel and rolled out North on Route 6.
The rain had eased off again; but we soon regained the cloud base, when we reached the mountain ridge crest.

At the 75km post to Xam Neua the twisties began again, hairpin switchbacks
with 200 metre drop-offs with no hard shoulder for a safety margin.
This required concentration – Dad was quite short with me
when I asked if I he minded my using my iPOD to keep alert.

I Want My iPOD!
The road though relatively quiet still had pick-ups, trucks and busses not to mention a smattering of scooters.
Butterfly strikes were an explosion of powdered colour,
leaving their imprint on my visor like a paintball splat.

The rain had dampened our enthusiasm for visiting the standing stones,
which were off the main road some 6kms down a rocky muddy road.
By now my boots had gained a deep end of water and my toes were doing fin-kicks to stay afloat.

We rolled into Xam Neua at 2.45pm, a large town nestling in the green hills.

The Hammer & Sickle upside down - a sign of distress?
In town, set back on the wide boulevards were hideous examples of soviet town planning with their crumbling architecture, a visual scar on a fast growing town.

Once in Xam Neua I discovered an awesome bridge that could be used as a small ramp for “small jumps”.
I got some AIR!

A quick coffee[Another M-150 for me] break before we rode the last 30kms to Vieng Xai,

The weather had changed for the better and so had the scenery.
Having crossed the mountain range we had descended to a beautiful landscape of intense fluorescent green paddyfields punctuated with dramatic rocky karsks.

Secret Laos - Vieng Xai, Pathet Lao Headquarters
In this stunningly beautiful setting the Pathet Lao had held out against persistent B52 airstrikes
hidden in their bunkers dug deep into the large karsk rocky outcrops around.
Now the town is a haven of tranquility, that has become a museum to the Laoation communists' struggle against the US backed kingdom.
Outside the main graffiti covered auditorium is a gold painted statue extolling the courageous victories of the soldiers, farmers & peasants stamping on a bomb marked USA.

We rode out to the Thavisay Hotel nestling at the foot of one of the most striking mountain karsks beside a beautiful lake.
This was one of the last places the Lao King & Queen were seen alive in 1975.

A seminar was taking place and the reception staff, were only able to offer us two rooms.
I went to look at them with Dad, and it was clear that the hotel was running purely on the business from
its owners – the Laos Government.

The beds looked barely made, the plumbing was run through open holes in the floor, windows were boarded up
and doors partially repaired with plywood.
Dad muttered something about being worse than a Marseilles flop-house – whatever that might mean?
It was not a very enticing option for what we originally had planned as a two night stay.
We ended up at the Naxay GH, a newlybuilt operaton established by the head of Caves' Visitor Centre. A real case of the CP Member indulging in a bit of capitalist enterprise!

Dinner at a Chinese owned restaurant the Xailomyen GH by one of the many man-made lakes whose still waters hid a ghastly secret.

Great location, but not a culinary experience that I could recommend.
Afterwards Dad I watched the end of Die Hard 4 and then bed.

RGun screwed with this post 11-15-2007 at 11:10 AM
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Old 11-15-2007, 12:05 PM   #9
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WOW!! That sounds amazing!!
"We are adventure riders. The needs are pretty simple. Bring what you need, share what you've got." -cRAsH

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NomadRip screwed with this post 11-16-2007 at 01:35 PM
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Old 11-15-2007, 01:22 PM   #10
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Truly Amazing

Get on down little brother! You are about the luckiest guy on earth to have such an incredible adventure so young. Speaking for the rest of readers out here, we can hardly wait to see what you come up with in ten years. We are all proud to know you. Persevere.
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Old 11-15-2007, 01:41 PM   #11
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what an amazing adventure for you and your dad to share..
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Old 11-15-2007, 01:44 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by RGun
I'd like to see a hi-res version of this if you have it.

Great adventure, and great XRs. I'm jealous!
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Old 11-15-2007, 08:49 PM   #13
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Location: Chiang Mai , Thailand
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Great job Richard !! A fascinating area to travel in, and I really like seeing it again through young fresh eyes. Here in Chiang Mai we are not really sure if your Dad should be "Dad of the year" for enabling you to go on these terrific trips, or should be arrested for child endangerment.......
I am very impressed you can go from no dirt riding experience , to blasting around the wilds of Laos in one week. Think you have a long adventurous life ahead of you. Look forward to seeing you next year.
If you can't pick it up by yourself, it is not an adventure bike.

beemer boy screwed with this post 11-16-2007 at 04:23 AM
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Old 11-15-2007, 11:58 PM   #14
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Old 11-17-2007, 02:25 PM   #15
earthbound misfit, I
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Originally Posted by MotorPsycho Miko
This is what I like about ADVrider- giving me a chance to see places that I will probably never get to ride.
+1, hanging on every word.
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