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Old 10-16-2010, 11:20 PM   #16
Doug in the Dirt OP
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Location: Sydney, Australia
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The Big Bang

We made our way north along highway 13, cruising along, enjoying the view in the opposite direction, until about 40km north of Vang Vieng Kate heard and felt a loud explosion beneath the tank.

The Blue Bomber had blown the spark plug out of the top end of the engine, completely stripping the thread. It was not going anywhere. We rolled to the bottom of the hill to the nearest small village. With no mechanic, no accommodation, night approaching, and no one who could speak any english, we decided to leave the bike with some locals, and pillion Kate and the twins to the next town of Kasi.

Kasi is one of those unfortunate highway towns that seems to exist to sell fuel and road food. None of the shops, guesthouses or restaurants rely on any repeat business, and they are all generally pretty awful, unfriendly and over priced. We tried to talk to a local mechanic, but with our complete absence of Laos language, and his absence of english, and the bike with the problem not even being present, we didn't get very far.

After sleeping on the problem, i decided to make an early morning start back to Vang Vieng, where we had met a very friendly young local guy with excellent english by the name of Tialee who was working as a travel agent.

This was now my third ride down this stretch of road, and the potholes were really starting to take their toll on my rear suspension, it was shot. By the time i reached Vang Vieng i was aching all over from the rough ride.

Tialee was a bit suprised to see me again, but when i explained my problem to him, he told me he had a mate who had a Minsk, and would probably help out. We went to see Mr Sau, who owns the excellent River Sunset Restaurant. He agreed to help out by picking up the Blue Bomber in his truck and taking it to his mechanic. Things were looking up.

By lunchtime, both bikes were at the mechanic, and Kate and I were sitting back in the shade.

Rethreading the head on the Blue Bomber

New rear shocks on the Red Rattler

With the bikes back in action, we spent a very pleasant evening with Tialee and Mr Sau at the River Sunset Restaurant.

The next morning we made an early start, and with the bikes running beautifully and the weather clear we had a fantastic ride up the mountains to Pho Khoum.

Mountains near Pho Koum

By the afternoon, the heat of the day was really getting to us, and we started taking breaks more frequently as the road just kept going.

Kate and the twins - roadside recovery

While the traffic was generally pretty good along this stretch of road, there were still some reminders to keep alert for oncoming traffic on the corners. The driver of this truck was OK, but still in shock. This happened just minutes ahead of us.

Nasty accident in the mountains

By late afternoon we had made it back to Luang Prabang, exhaused and sore, but feeling pretty good to have the bikes running so well. It was time to settle down with a beer and plan the next stage of the trip.

Today's Buddha

Doug in the Dirt screwed with this post 10-27-2010 at 04:14 PM Reason: fixing the pix
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Old 10-18-2010, 12:25 AM   #17
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Keep it coming guys.

How about some more shots of the food Doug, you're making me hungry.
"(I could start another bandwidth wasting thread on getting there, but I think I have started enough pointless threads for the year already)"

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Old 10-18-2010, 02:15 AM   #18
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Amazing journey!

I am reading it with joyand enjoying it so much. We made the same route one year ago (365days ago I was in Dien Bien Phu, just looking from the top of the war monument towards the mountains where Tay Trang sits)

I have pics on that same stream crossing! But it was the grandfather who was charging us 2000kips

Then the hanging bridge at Muang May. First we couldnt see any bridge, so nearly tried to cross the river with the Minsks . We nearly stopped on the guest house, but finally made it in the same day to Muang Khua. Ah! and we crossed with the barge (bloody expensive as it was the last crossing of the day).

Like you, we had rain on our route from the border untill Muang Khua, then beautyful sun down the Nam Ou to Louang Prabang. I can tell you at the time I thought it would have been really tough to exit the boat at Nong Khiew.
Then, the nice road to Vang Vieng

The road from Tay Trang to Muang Khua remains as one of my favourites stretches of the whole trip. Nowhere and never in my life have I seen so many kids running and smilling as we crossed the small villages on the mountains with the not walled schools. I will never forgive it.

We experienced the same feeling you had in Kasi. Bad service and too many mosquitos. But man, what a views before and after!

As for the north route from Sa Pa to Dien Bien Phu: yes, it was that bad. Huge roadworks to build a dam that will flood some unique and amazing valleys and many villages. Too many near death encounters with taxis and trucks on that roadworks. Everybody too nervous to make it home fast.

vander screwed with this post 10-18-2010 at 09:07 AM
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Old 10-18-2010, 05:25 AM   #19
ocho ocho ochoooo!!!!
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Originally Posted by Doug in the Dirt
The medical advice we chose to follow was of the line that: The second trimester is the the safest and best time for travel. That South East Asia is a pretty safe place for a pregnant woman if you take sensible precautions about things like drinking water, food, and mosquito borne diseases. We had made sure we had enough cash to bail us out and get home at any time if needed. Furthermore, Kate is a highly experienced professional nurse, and we thought that we were able to make our own risk assessment along the way. Friends, family and nosy strangers were not necessarily of the same opinion.
More to come...
The same thing happened to us when we were leaving for a 1month trip to South Africa, Botswana and Namibia in 2007, my girlfriend discovered she was pregnant two days before leaving, with the bike already waiting for us in Johannesburg. She was at the first month and there were a lot of issues: malaria medecines, bushcamping, eating, the fact that we were nowhere in the desert. We decided to follow our fate and everything went ok! Now we have an amazing son, I don't know if it was the toule ondulee or the Africa continent in general, but he is an absolute wild an rowdy son!
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Old 10-18-2010, 06:14 AM   #20
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Great report and pics!

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Old 10-19-2010, 10:47 PM   #21
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On the Mekong

In Luang Prabang we had outlined a bit of a plan to put the bikes on the slow boat up the Mekong, as far as Pak Beng, and enjoy a lazy 10 hour trip watching the jungle slide past.

Bikes aboard the slow boat on the Mekong

Captain's view

With the strong flow in the river from recent rains, the trip took longer than expected and we ended up arriving at Pak Beng after sunset, and unloading the bikes in the dark.

Unloading at Pack Beng

One day off the bikes was always enough to get us excited about the next ride. We took off to the North East following the Nam Beng up highway 2W. This road was just a real pleasure of smooth single lane bitumen and very light traffic, allowing us to take our mind off the road and just enjoy the trip as we made our way through rice fields and small villages.

We spent the night in Udom Xai, which is the last big town on the highway north to China.

Next morning we continued up highway 13, with the heavy road transport and tourist buses making their way into Yunnan province. The road deteriorated into unsealed corrugations and the dust became suffocating. The scenery was spectacular, but through the dust, the bone shaking potholes and the traffic we didn't really get much chance to enjoy it. Kate and the twins were really starting to feel the rough road as well, and it was becoming apparent that we couldn't keep riding for too much longer.

The final leg of trip in Laos was from Luang Namtha to the Thai border on the Mekong at Houei Xai. This road commenced like a sports bike riders dream. Perfectly cambered, brand new dual carriageway, with one corner rolling into the next for kilometer after kilometer. It felt like being on the track at Phillip Island and i'd have swapped my left nut for a GSXR 1000. Even on the little Russian 125 i could tip right into the apex of the corners and i reckon i might have got up to 80 km/hr at one point. But without a speedo or GPS, i'll never reallly know.



Unfortunately, about half way to Houei Xai the sports bike dream came to an abrupt end, and it was back to standard advrider fare of potholes, unsealed road, dust and more dust. Thoroughly rattled, we made it into town by late afternoon, found a guest house, and sat back with a Beer Lao on the Mekong for our last evening in Laos.

More to come...

Doug in the Dirt screwed with this post 10-27-2010 at 04:18 PM Reason: fixing the pix
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Old 10-19-2010, 11:25 PM   #22
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Awesome adventure, thanks for the great pics.
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Old 10-19-2010, 11:54 PM   #23
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Fantastic adventure!
Robert in Northern NJ __ '09 R12GS, '03 R1150RT, '01 F650GS

-->> James Bay & North Road Solo Blitz -->> Patagonia / Tierra del Fuego Cappuccino Tour
-->> Trans-Labrador Highway Solo Blitz --->> South African Cappuccino Tour
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Old 10-26-2010, 06:18 AM   #24
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Fantastic story and pics, giving me very itchy feet indeed
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Old 10-27-2010, 02:56 PM   #25
Doug in the Dirt OP
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The Last Leg

It's been a while since I updated this little tale, and Kate and I are now safely back in Sydney with a very different adventure underway. This one involves scheduling ante natal classes, looking at double prams on ebay, and selling one of the bikes to finance the purchase of a sensible station wagon. It is far more frightening than trying to ride in Hanoi traffic.

from where I left off...

We planned to get down to customs and immigration on the waterfront at Houei Xai nice and early to give ourselves plenty of time. It was a pretty relaxed affair. Our passports were stamped at a little booth on the boat ramp, and customs told us to go away when I tried to show them the paperwork for the bikes. We then organised passage for ourselves and the bikes across the Mekong on another little long boat, and we were on our way to Thailand.

Crossing the Mekong into Thailand

Heavy river traffic

We unloaded the bikes onto a small ramp next to the customs office in Chiang Khong and got started on the paper work. This took the best part of two hours, made much more complicated by the fact they we didn't even have a Thai phrase book, and neither us, nor the Thai officials could read a word on the Vietnamese papers for the bikes. In the end it worked out fine, and did not cost a single baht. The bikes were now legit in Thailand, and we were on our way.

Successful paperwork

The route we planned to take followed the Mekong downstream and into the mountains of Phu Chi Fa. Leaving Chiang Khong on Hwy 1020 was a pretty hairy experience. Not only were we on the left side of the road for the first time in the whole trip, but in Thailand there are a lot of big, fast powerful vehicles that can easily sit on 120 km/hr. This was more than double the speed of the traffic we were used to, and the little Minsks had no choice but to hug the shoulder and take the buffeting from passing trucks.

We were very relieved to reach Wiang Kaen, where the traffic eased off, and the smooth new road started to wind along the river, then climb up steep hair pins into the mountains.

These roads were really steep, and the Blue Bomber was struggling with a slipping clutch. It was apparent that there was not much life left in the clutch plates, and on the really steep ascents we had to adjust the cable all the way out, crunch it into first gear and then re-adjust the cable when things levelled out to be able to change gears again. Still, it was an absolutely spectacular ride.

That evening we stayed in the mountain resort of Phu Chi Fa that caters to Thai families and is a bit strange for western tourists. The bungalow we stayed in was painted pink, and had one enormous bed that could easily sleep a Thai family of 6 or 7 people.

In the morning I thought I’d have a look at the clutch plates on the Blue Bomber and do an oil change while I was at it.

Opening up the Blue Bomber

Changing the plates looked like it was going to need some specific tools that we didn't have, but the oil change couldn't have hurt looking at the filthy stuff that came out.

Our morning ride was a beautiful cruise through the mist shrouded mountains, dense jungle, waterfalls and fields of cabbages and corn clinging to the steep slopes. By the heat of the early afternoon we were back on the flats and playing cat and mouse with the high speed traffic into Chiang Rai.

Our plan for Chiang Rai was to take it easy for the weekend, find a bar with cable television, and watch the Malaysian Moto GP. Kate was getting bigger by the day, and the twins were really starting to kick and squirm. The traffic was making us both nervous and we reckoned we had done about enough riding and would end our trip with a ride into Chiang Mai once the race was over.

Pedrosa in Sepang

While in Chiang Rai I took the chance to do a bit of side trip up into the Golden Triangle while Kate took it easy for a day. I made my way north as far as Mae Fah Luang, and then followed some of the minor roads that climb up and down the valleys on the Burmese border. I stopped for a chat at a Thai military check point with some soldiers who were interested in the Red Rattler and the trip from Vietnam, and showed me the little dirt track that led down the hill to Burma, which was completely off limits to tourists with the current elections underway.

Checkpoint on the Burmese border

Parking station in Chiang Rai

The morning after Stoner bombed out in the first lap and Lorenzo had ridden his way to 2010 world champion, I woke up in a bad state. I was alternating between sweating buckets to freezing cold shivers. It was all I could do to drag my sorry arse out of bed. I had some sort of fever, and it was no fun at all. Kate and I decided we would get out of Chiang Rai, and head a few hours south to the city of Chiang Mai, where there was a good hospital, and an international airport. To be honest I don't remember much of the ride, apart from some lovely corners through the mountains, but we were both relieved to get into Chiang Mai, find a hotel and park the bikes. It was not the most enjoyable ending to our ride, but we were very happy to have made it.

We made it

After a hot shower and changing out of our filthy riding gear, we got a tuk tuk to the hospital, where it turned out I had dengue fever. There is not much you can do for dengue except take paracetamol to keep your temperature down and just wait it out. I had the best part of a week in bed feeling like shit. Fortunately Kate and the twins were fine.

We made a half arsed effort to sell the bikes, but there is not much of a market for Russian two strokes in Thailand, and we ended up giving the bikes away to some guys my brother had worked with. Binota, a Bangladeshi fella and his Burmese mate who work on an indigenous aid program in Chiang Mai, were stoked to be the proud new owners of the Red Rattler and the Blue Bomber.

You look after our Russian babies

So that was about it, our trip was over, it was absolutely awesome. We got on a plane home to Sydney to start a whole new adventure with two little ones that probably won't be able to sleep without the buzz of a two stroke engine. Bring it on.

Doug in the Dirt screwed with this post 10-28-2010 at 12:11 AM
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Old 10-27-2010, 07:02 PM   #26
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What would you say the daily costs for this was? My friend and I are planning to do this VERY shortly, and we are trying to find this out. I've been to Asia before (2006) and spent maybe 25 a day, I'm down with the cheap guesthouses and street food for the most part. This time I plan on making it from Vietnam to Thailand by bike like you did, 3 months total trip time. We are two dirty mid 20's kids who don't care what type of room we have, the type who will pack 9 in a motel on a road trip, so we don't need the Hilton.

I've read a lot of these but yours is one of the few where someone made it all the way to Thailand on the Minsk. Great decision on going through with it, you don't want to spend the next 18 years with 2 kids causing hell wishing you took one last adventure. Great report!
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Old 10-27-2010, 08:43 PM   #27
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Very cool to see one of the less usual countries here, and especially on a Minsk! It was my 2nd bike ever, back when i lived in Ukraine, not a really full-fledged Minsk, but it had a heart of a Minsk! along with other random bits and pieces...

I too ended up gifting it to a friend when i left the country... and i also had a problem with a spark plug hole once! other than that it was a very good machine and never left me stranded

Thank you for the wonderful story and for waking the memories of my "Makaka" (a more or less common name for a heavily modified Minsk, usually with a moped frame) is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-27-2010, 08:51 PM   #28
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Wow. Great.
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Old 10-27-2010, 09:28 PM   #29
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Location: HCMC (Saigon) Vietnam
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Loved the Report!

Living and riding in Vietnam, I very much identified with a lot of your complaints about the roads, the dust, the creative driving skills of the locals and the general fun of dealing with anything 'official'. Had me laughing more than once.

I'm slowly visiting all of this country by motorbike, and thoroughly enjoying it. It is an amazing experience to ride your bike to places that seldom see a white face, and as I drive a bike that is not at all common here, I often roll into town as a complete rock star! It is a blast and I am jealous that you had a chance to discover it pre-kids as my post-kids life keeps me from doing these multi-weeker trips.

That being said, I am planning to start heading further afield in the future and was wondering what the border crossings (with dodgy Vietnamese papers) was going to go like. Happy to hear it seems pretty straightforward (by SE Asia standards).

Thanks for sharing and watch for an upcoming ride report from me. Myself and two less-than-savory American friends are riding about 1,500 km's from Dalat to Hue along as much of the off-Hwy Central Vietnamese Highlands as we can find. I'm more than a little chuffed and counting the hours till we can get under way.
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Old 10-29-2010, 04:18 AM   #30
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you guys are dead set legends!

bet the ADV course came in handy in those little creek crossings ay

and congratulations to you both! and twins no less good stuff. give them a few years and they'll be hounding you both for a pee wee 50
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