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Old 11-18-2007, 09:10 AM   #31
Joined: Oct 2007
Oddometer: 6
Day 3 Vieng Xai & Xam Neua

Thanks BB- look forward to catching up again in December when I'm
back to do the MHS Loop.
Appreciate all the kind compliments.
Sorry if my style irritates!

back to MY story and the main objective of our trip....

Day 3 Vieng Xai & Xam Neua

We awoke to sunshine – though our boots were still soggy from the day before.

There was no rush today.
A leisurely start, so we rode gently through town

– we were the only vehicles - over to have breakfast at the lakeside restaurant beside the Thavisay Hotel.

Again the location and the view over the lake was stunning.

But it was sobering thought to think that Vieng Xai’s numerous landscaped lakes were dug from the enforced efforts of political prisoners.

We were given a menu, but only omelette was available.
Thongkhoun had fried crickets, or “singers in the ground” as he called them.

“What are they like?”
“Like worms.”
“What are worms like?”
“Like crickets.”

We had found the height of Laos cuisine.

Nearby an army officer and local apparatchiks were quaffing Beer Lao. It was not quite 9am.

Passing by the District Office a Lao UXO demining team were checking the ground beneath the municipal windows.

A drainage pipe needed to be laid and the ground needed to be rechecked.

After breakfast we joined our guide who took us to the caves.
Vieng Xai was the cradle of Laos independence.
Having been forced from the Plain of Jars the Pathet Lao dug in at Vieng Xai and sat out years of bombing nestled in tunnels burrowed into the striking karsk formations

Here was the underground command centre of the Pathet Laos.
Whatever political view you may hold it is hard not to be impressed by the determination and the industry that went into creating such labyrinthine underground fortresses.

Each politburo member had his own cave system with outside residence.

These were for sleeping in during the night and then
underground during the day safely hidden from the B-52 Rolling Thunder strikes.

In 1973 with the ceasefire the Pathet Lao emerged like moles, from their deep dugouts and began turning
their wartime capital into a people’s paradise – even if it was for only the party’s chosen people.
The leaders’ houses were later extensively remodelled after the 1973 moratorium on bombing.

I have just finished studying the Vietnam War at college.
But Laos had hardly featured in the text books.
So it was staggering to read in my western published guidebook, that Laos was hammered by 580,000 B52 sorties – each aircraft capable of discharging one hundred 500lb bombs.

Both Vietnamese and the US signed a 1962 Geneva Accord, prohibiting military activity in Laos.
Both sides broke this agreement: the Vietnamese by building the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos and the US by trying to bomb it out of existence.

More bombs were dropped on Laos, than on Germany & Japan combined during WWII.
It is said anywhere between 300,000-800,000 died.
Some ten to twenty-five percent of the population.
These are not figures from our guide, but those I discovered myself from published sources.

Anyway our guide to the caves, a badge-wearing party member, was pleasant enough and open as he could be, with his limited English.
So after sitting through a Laos video depicting the struggle, using old contemporary newsreels in which the various action scenes were repeated on a loop, whilst Dad gave a running English voice over.
We finally stopped it, as both the film and Dad were getting rather repetitive, and headed out to the caves.

The first one we visited was President Kaysone’s cave.
The entrance was well concealed in a crack in the rock face behind extensive foliage.
You would not have known it was there until a few metres away.

A more modern but now empty, concrete two-story house has been built beside it.
This was built after the 1973 ceasefire.

Inside the cave little remained of what once must have been an austere but busy headquarters.

On the wall a wartime map showing offensives
taking place on a number of battle fronts throughout Laos.

A few pieces of furniture remain, beds, a chair, a bust of Lenin and some books by Lenin, Marx & Ho Chi Minh.

Light Reading for Cavemen!

In his bedroom was a coat-stand with a trench coat and a military blouse
that we were initially told were the president own clothes

After I did, the guide quickly changed his story saying they were now replicas, as if my capitalist hands had made these threads now unworthy of the former leader.
Next to the Prez’s chambers was the emergency room complete with an intervening airlock double steel blast doors.
Inside was a hand-cranked air pump with filter in case of chemical or gas attack.

In a hollowed out chamber nearby a squat toilet took care of emergency needs during bombing raids.

At the entrance to the “Red Prince’s” cave

behind what could have been a country estate with a modern house were beautiful laid out gardens, resplendent with flame coloured foliage and pomelo trees.

Prince Souvanouvong was the son of the Queen of Luang Prabang who had joined the Pathet Lao ……..
His half-brother Prince Souvanaphouma was the Prime Minister and the war was a family affair.
At liberation he became the first president, but now his roll due to his privileged birth has seen his position diminish in favour of Kaysone.

His upbringing showed in the style and layout of his quarters with a bomb crater turned into a swimming pool
and with a special cave garage for his limousine.

A poignant shrine to his assassinated son stands within the gardens killed either by the CIA [our guide], or, by internal Pathet Lao factions [western books].

This conundrum of truth also hides the origin of the beautiful man-made lakes dotted around Vieng Xai.
Our guide was unable to offer an explanation; whilst western sources say they were made from the forced labour
of political prisoners who laboriously dug them out whilst undergoing ten years or more of political re-education.

The last cave we visited was the largest, an auditorium where fraternal Vietminh dancing troupes would entertain party cadres.

Dad asked our guide if “Hanoi Jane” made it this far west.
"Who she?".
Prince Sihanouk is said to have had a house built for him, whilst he was cosying up to the Khmer Rouge.

Outside Thongkhoun & I helped some workers cut a tree.
Dad was bellowing words of encouragement
"Come on now comrades for the Revolution!
For the Party! ....
For a socialist paradise!"
The old boy was in fits of laughter.
He had evidently heard such nonsense before.
This only encouraged Dad further.

After a cold drink back at the Chinese owned Xailomyen GH,
we declined to eat there again after last night’s poor food.

Before leaving Vieng Xai we filled up & headed back in bright hot sunlight to Xam Neua.
Dad not very subtly tried to sneak a shot of the only photogenic person in Vieng Xai!
Though barely 30kms away it is a stunning ride Xam Neua with the karsks and paddies.

As we entered Xam Neua, we passed a large new Vietnamese complex under construction.

This road is an important trade artery for Vietnam.
Nearby a workshop looks as though it is still being run by the Vietnamese military.

Back in town we checked in to the flamingo pink soviet style Lao Hung Hotel.

On the roof the Hammer & Sickle flag was still flying upside down – such a distress call clearly came from the kitchen.
We ate BBQ Moo [pork] fresh from the market.
Just the ticket after a long day!

RGun screwed with this post 11-18-2007 at 09:19 AM
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Old 01-13-2008, 07:20 PM   #32
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Old 01-13-2008, 11:59 PM   #33
team ftb
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Joined: Mar 2006
Location: Lost in the jungles of Thailand
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Lovely report R. Seems like you had an absolute blast on the ride. i'll second the view that you are doing exceedingly terrific both at the helm of the XR and the keyboard, keep at it for there are many enjoying your report. Lets get a ride together when I'm over next.

I was looking forward to riding with you and your father over New years but sadly broke my hand and had to bow out. Next time you Luke and I together for some laughs, ok?

Keep it coming.
Team FTB
Team "Fingering The Bean"

Looking for the woman that takes the wheel when I'm seeing double.
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Old 01-16-2008, 02:06 PM   #34
Kev. Haute Savoie, France
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KTM 950 Super Enduro R - Kejago's Travel Machine!

K: Kejago - That's me!
T: Travel - Go on a journey, go on a voyage, go from one place to another
M: Machine - Man-made device made up of interconnected parts that work together to perform a given task or function
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Old 01-16-2008, 03:11 PM   #35
I was HERE?
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Great report. Fantastic historic information very well presented. I'll be looking for more.
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Old 01-16-2008, 03:25 PM   #36
broke, student, lurker
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I'm loving the history lesson's along the way, a very interesting and beautiful part of the world it seems. I'm looking forward to the rest.
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Old 01-17-2008, 08:58 AM   #37
super mario
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Location: Ole mi,Mo.
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How did I miss this ride report?Excellent Thanks!
xr650r plated

“When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” –Thomas Jefferson

"And in the end it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."-Abraham Lincoln
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Old 01-17-2008, 05:43 PM   #38
Beastly Adventurer
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Great! I'm jealous.
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Old 01-18-2008, 01:10 AM   #39
Joined: Oct 2007
Oddometer: 6
Day 4 Xam Neua to Phonsovan

I thought you guys had got bored!...
Justin hope the wrist is healing, but what does ftb stand for?

Here's the next installment...

Day 4 Xam Neua to Phonsovan

We breakfasted at the market again.

There was quite a lot of choice: river eels live or dead, fried bugs or fresh frogs!

We again went for the BBQ’s Moo – delicious, washed down with a couple energy boosting bottles of M150s.

Loading up the bikes it was looking like it was going to be a clear day.
The cyclone had blown through leaving us with a good window to get moving south-west.
We headed up the hill, along Route 6, passing the bus station above the town.
It was after 8am and we had left it a little late and would have to overtake the busses along the way.

The trucks proved to be the worst though, as they hogged the centre “lane” oblivious to all coming behind.
Thongkhoun would ride alongside and signal if the road ahead was clear then both of us would accelerate past.

I would wave to Dad to follow, if it was still clear.
The road, though not wide was on the whole good all the way to Nam Neun.
The mountainous sections were only tricky when meeting oncoming vehicles driving on our side of the road,
especially as we were now riding on the right with nowhere to go but the steep drop-off.
At one small village was a family who were amused to see us.

Stopping for a break beside emerald green paddy fields a cow came up to investigate who I was.

Further on was this stunning waterfall.
I had missed it my way through, as it had been raining hard and the waterfall is only barely visible obliquely from the road.
We took time out to ride up to it.

I then climbed as far as I could with motorcross boots on!

Then off again.
The ride and the weather were making it the most pleasurable riding day so far.

Further on back in the mountains the cloud had cleared.
An old woman was selling her jungle catch – Bamboo Rat.

She had one of these critters tied up in a harness.
Its two long front teeth had been knocked out and it was looking distinctly pissed off.
She allowed me to hold it, asking for $3.
I put it on the ground still holding it as it scurried sideways like a crab trying to escape.
Before I knew it, it had escaped off down the mountain.
With a screetch, the granny was after it screaming, what I could only believe were not very nice words.
“Dad what should I do.”
“I think you have to give her $3 now”

After a few moments she came back triumphantly, holding a now very disgruntled Rat
who was evidently going to be BBQ’d before sunset.
We reached Nam Neun for an early lunch of more grilled Moo.

We had been warned to look out for an eccentric biker by Jimoi.

An XR was parked up and the intrepid Digby was finishing up before continuing a recce up to Vieng Xai.
He had a group clients coming over to ride Laos and parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Thongkhoun was going to accompany his group to help out.
A Laos army truck rumbled into town, loading up on supplies.

I have heard of an army marching on its stomach – but M150!
These guys must get really buzzed.
Filled up again – my XR was clearly using 30percent more fuel than Thongkhoun & Dad’s Bajas.
Dad had ridden my very bike only a couple of months before and had complete carb failure.
We had been promised that it had been fixed – evidently not.
The road out of Nam Neung deteriorated as we headed south.
Large dips in the road would slingshot you out which fun, unless going into a corner.
We had passed the morning busses, so it was a clear road but hot ride.
Nearing Muang Kham the road was being fixed up – wider and resurfaced.

Just short of Muang Kham we reached a turning and headed off down a dirt road for about 6 kms, to the museum and monument to those who died in the bombing of the Tham Phiu cave in 1968, where 437 people were killed in an airstrike.

The museum had a few sad personal artifacts on show and pictures of the tragedy.

We took a momentary break after viewing the exhibition
A statue outside poignantly showing a father carrying the body of his dead child stood as a sad memorial.

We headed into Muang Kham a town that appeared to only exist as a crossroads, where Route 6 & 7 meet.
We stopped for a quick bite to eat and a cold drink.
Not a place to hang around more than necessary.
Route 7 from hereon was good, allowing for a fast 50 km run into Phonsovan.

We found our hotel the Auberge on a hill overlooking Phonsovan.

The rooms were very comfortable, each with their own fireplace.

Outside was a huge bombcrater beside what was evidently once an anti-aircraft gun position.
We were conscious of recent history – even the room keys were made from old shellcasings.

Stickers on the hotel door showed a distinct group of visitors.

A party of Italian tourists looked upon the arrival of our dishevelled party with pity, if not actual disgust.
That night we ate in the hotel and chilled out by a roaring wood fire.

KMs today 40, 56, Nam Neun 95, Muang Kham 26, 25 +10 Phonsovan 252

Lessons Learned
Ensure that I have the power & space to complete the overtake
Don't play with Bamboo Rats
Watch out for big dips in the road
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