In the south we found Laos were a happy but shy people, weary of us and the bike unlike the Cambodian people.

Sunset on the Mekon River, New Year Eve and the vegs need watering.

The local textile industry in southern Laos

 

Riverside activities

Busy markets

Small villages surrounded by impressive lime stone peaks.

 

On the raod again

 

 

 

 

A bum break and the bike draws the crowd!

The children cagily greet us as we pass by

Laung Prebang is an important religious centre.

Streets of Laung Prebang

 

Jack stood proudly aboard our boat.

Laos

31/12/06
A quick ride around town in the morning then a short ferry ride across the San river and onto the Laos border crossing at Voen Khan. No hassles with immigration, just a $1.00 pp 'extra' charge on the Cambodian side and again on the Laos side. This time apparently because it was Sunday. A really rough and challenging 6km further on was the Laos Customs post. Haydn again used the Carnet and they seemed to recognise it and stamped it where Haydn indicated. All very laid back.
A good tar road after the Customs post and onto Pakse. Small villages on the way and road signs indicating larger villages just a few kays off the highway. We felt like a break so turned off to Banhuay Hai, a small village on the banks of the Mekong alongside the '4000 Islands'. We got a glimpse of the river and some islands and had a cooling drink at a small shop where the lady owner also made silk skirts for customers. Unfortunately there is not enough time for her to make me one, but I definitely want to get some silk and make one for myself when I get back to Oz.
We were both hot, dusty and bothered when we reached Pakse, our destination for the night and we struggled a bit to find accommodation. New Years Eve is quite a big event here it seems and several places were fully booked. I was trying to suppress a mild panic and was seriously worried about where we would stay, but all ended well and we found a comfortable place a little out of town.
New Years Eve and I was determined to wave farewell to what has been a challenging year and welcome in a new year and era for us. A short distance from the hotel was an outdoor dining area and we stopped to check it out. A small man came out and welcomed us in with amazing enthusiasm. We had a traditional Laos meal, bit of a challenge, then sat back listening to traditional music and trying to chat to 'our new best friend' as we waited for the stroke of midnight. After the count down we joined the Laos folk on the dance floor, but not for long as we just could not get their beautiful hand movements right.

2/1/07
We gave ourselves New years day off but the following day we were on the road again. Just a local circuit inland to visit some small local villages. As usual we enjoy watching the activities of a day in the life of a Laos villager and then walk to one of the many waterfalls in this area.

A bit of a quiet day really in terms of seeing anything different and we were tempted to head back to town but Champasak, the former capital of Laos was just 30km and a short ferry ride away and it was only 3.00pm.

Jack on the ferry across the Mekong.


Well, sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling and sometimes you just get lucky because Champasak was a great place. It's main claim to fame now is an ancient Wat that draws masses of locals and Tourists for a huge religous festival once a year. We did not have much time at Wat Phu but what we saw was interesting nevertheless. What was for us very special though were the narrow streets and French colonial buildings of Champasak, but even more importantly, the magical sunset we witnessed watching the locals alongside the river. The lighting was perfect and the subject matter inspiring, the mood perfect but...., the **** camera battery was flat. Oh well, at least we have the memories.


3/1/07

'Hit the road Jack', we head north for Tha Khaek today. A fairly uneventful day with a quick detour east through a great road that winds past small road side villages and impressive lime stone peaks to reach a view point over looking a deep valley of massive peaks - worth the effort.

This baby buffulo was born while we were at a shop across the road. The young assistant was very capable and knew exactly what to do. A wanderful travel moment for us!


4/1/07
Onto Vientiane today. A very quiet capital, that has very few sights to attract the tourist but loads of really good restaurants. An evening stroll through the city centre, past the palace and down to the Mekong river for a drink. By now we were feeling a bit peckish but Laos food has left us a little disappointed, but joy of joys, there before us a sign for an Indian restaurant on the river front. I know we should be more persistant with the local cuisine but the prospect of tasty Indian tucker was too much to resist and we enjoyed a wonderful tasty meal.

5/1/07

A morning to take in the golden sacred stupa, Pha That Luang, the Pataxai, a replica of the Arc de Triomphe and a ride around avenues of run down colonial mansions and traditional wood houses. This was enough for us to feel we had been there, done that. So after a late breakfast at the Indian restaurant again, it was 'on the road Jack' on a good road with light traffic heading for Vang Vieng on the Nam Song River riding through stunning limestone peaks. We had been looking forward to heading into the mountains but had not expected them to be so impressive. It was a great ride for us after some uninspiring scenery in Southern Laos.
We got into Vang Vieng about 3.00pm found a cheap guesthouse for $6.00 and went for a walk. Vang Vieng is overrun with guest houses and they via for business. This place is famous for adventure activities such as hiking, tubing and Kayaking. We were keen to do a bit of kayaking and found a place that took us up the river a way and we gently paddled downstream. Our timing was perfect and the evening sun on the river and mountains made this even more special.


6/1/07
It was cold (9 degrees) at 7.00am when we left Vang Vieng. Not wanting to miss anything we'd decided to head east to take in the Plain of Jars. Two reasons really, firstly to enjoy the winding mountain roads but also to see these amazing stone Jars. They are hollowed out of solid rock and some are 3 metres high and about 2000 years old.

Well, the road was as good as we expected, scenery spectacular although it didn't warm up too much on these high, windy plains. The Jars were impressive but what impressed us the most were the local girls dressed to kill in local costumes playing some sort of game. It seems today was the first full moon of the year, a special occasion and the game the girls were playing was a form of courtship. Three or four girls would stand in a row and several boys would stand opposite about a metre apart. The girls and boys would then toss a tennis ball back and forth to the one they fancied and have a bit of a chat. I'm not sure what was said but there was fair bit of giggling going on. Just amazing to watch these beautifully dressed young ladies come out of the poorest hut along the road.

We pulled into a hotel in Phonsavan, Nam Ngum Guesthouse, attracted by a large sign outside promoting Chinese food, well there was very little else here and we were hungry with all that cold fresh air! We usually rate our hotel/guesthouse rooms either by the hardness of the bed or how difficult the toilet paper is to access. Laos rooms had been getting a pretty high score on both accounts but tonight our bed was so soft we fell into the down doona and both went fast asleep. After a couple of hours there was a knock on the door, now these remote communities do not speak a word of English or Laos but we gathered food was up. Who needs a menu when you can choose the vegetables and meat in the kitchen. We managed to avoid sellecting a live chicken and sealing its fate by checking out the freezer. It wasn't long before a very tasty beef and veg stir fry appeared that Granddad had cooked with his special herbs and spices. Such a great evening.

7/1/06
Another cold and early start today and we head back about 200km on the same road before turning right at the junction point to head for Laung Prabang. This really is a magical road with hardly a straight section, good surface and very little traffic and should be on every motorcyclists itinerary. On the road to Laung Prebang we stopped for lunch in one of the many villages. I indicated that we wanted scrambled eggs and noodles and Even helped cook. While there, 4 riders on Honda 250cc dirt bikes went by. Further up the road we met the riders, all long time good friends and ridding buddies and they had hired the bikes in Vientiane and were on their 3rd trip to Laos and Laung Prebang before flying to Chiang Mai for the Horizons Unlimited meeting on the 12th. These guys (Thomas, Thor, Jerry and Lyn) are all middle aged and have ridden extensively around the world and were great fun to be with. I hope we are able to enjoy a lasting friendship with them.
Again the road leading to Laung Prebang is a motorcycling delight but with somewhat heavier traffic and we passed through numerous small villages along the way where all the local would wave frantically. Quite a buzz really.

Found a cheap/clean room for the night ($12.00) close to the centre and night markets and after a scrub up we strolled into town. Laung Prepang is world Heritage listed and should be on most travelers list. The night markets alone are worth the visit.


8/1/07
We spent the whole day walking around Laung Prebang, a special town with everything a traveler could want, an old quarter and modern conveniences. It is surrounded by jungle clad mountains and it is bounded by the Mekong and Nam Khon River. Plenty of old Wats and monks to dazzle the eyes not to mention great markets and a whole lot of colonial charm. We were told that too many tourists can spoil this place for the traveler but the streets are not too busy and it lives up to it's World Heritage status. At night the main street is closed to traffic for the night market that is full to the brim with tempting local textiles and much more.


9/1/07
Early start and a 30 min. bumpy ride in a small van to visit the Tiger Trail elephant camp today. The elephant trek was yet another unique experience that took us through the forest and onto the river shore. A chance to do a bit of hiking before a short boat ride took us to a waterfall area for lunch.

We got back into town about 3.00pm and made our way to the boat landing to see if we can get Jack into one of the Long Boats and up the Mekong to Houei Xay and the Thai border. The boat ride up the Mekong had always been a possibility in our plans but a rider we met on the way to Vientiene who knows this part of Laos well warned us against riding. Although most of the road to Houei Xay is paved, there is a short section of perhaps 200km that is diabolical. Rough, potholed, terrible dust and lots of trucks. Did I leave anything out? Anyway, that was enough of an incentive to take the boat and instead enjoy a leisurely 2 days on the Mekong.

The normal passenger boat just wasn't wide enough to accommodate Jack but we soon located someone who offered us a ride at a good price. Seems he needed to pick up a group of tourists in Houei Xay and was prepared to take us and Jack for 'cost price'.


10/1/07
We met our 'Agent' at the boat landing and he and TTJL (Thomas, Thor Jerry and Lyn) quickly loaded Jack aboard and tied him down for the two day voyage. The boat was comfortable and apart from a few local people we were the only passengers. Seems a little extravagant but it is probably the best option.
You would think that two days on a slow boat up the Mekong river could be a little boring, but for us it was exciting and captivating, with ever changing scenery and activities on the shoreline.

Arrived at Pak Beng for a over nighter and we're really glad we'd chosen our boat for Jack. All of the public transport boats either go only to Pak Beng and back or from Pak Beng to Houei Xay, meaning Jack would have had to change boats. That would have been challenging enough but at Pak Beng, there is an almost verticle 100m climb through thick sand to reach the road. It would simply have been impossible to have gotten Jack through that. It was almost impossible for me to get up there and I reluctantly accepted a little help from two boys. I thought they were helping me out of the goodness of their hearts but when we got to the top they expected (demanded) money. Obviously the poisonous influence of tourists on an otherwise caring helpful people.


11/1/07
On the boat again heading for Houei Xay and the boarder with Thailand. Again it is a magical trip but a cold wind blows off the water. Several 'fast boats' pass us and we can't understand why anyone would want to take one. They are small speed boats and carry about 6 passengers and are powered by high performance 2 litre Toyota engines, according to my source, and the exhaust is un muffled. The Laos government had recently banned their use because of accidents and fatalities. As they roar past the poor passengers, wearing helmets, seem most uncomfortable and are certainly not enjoying the trip as much as we are.
As we approached Houei Xay Haydn became anxious about unloading Jack, but our concerns were unfounded and the crew and a few locals quickly and easily hoisted Jack onto the landing and we road away to immigration to see it we could possibly cross into Thailand this evening and therefore have an early start to get to Chiang Mai for the Horizons meeting tomorrow.
Immigration was open but we were told we couldn't get Jack across the river to the Thai side until 8.00am tomorrow morning. Bugger, but so be it and we'll just enjoy another night in Laos.


12/1/07
Big day today. We need to be in Chiang Mai as early as possible to prepare for a presentation to the Horizons travelers on our trip to South America and it's apparently a 5 hour ride from Houei Xay. We were first at the Immigration border checkout, and all went smoothly, then had to ride 1 km up the river to the ferry crossing and the Customs post. Customs didn't know what to do with the Carnet so Haydn explained and tore out the centre sheet for them and declined an invitation to pay 100 Baht, then down ramp to catch the ferry. But... despite our rushing to get here early, the ferry doesn't leave until 10.00am. It really is frustrating that border officials don't seem to know what is going on and can't give travelers any information. Oh well, nothing for it but to wait and enjoy the activities going on.
Well we waited and waited and at 11.30 decided we could wait no more. There is no guarantee that the ferry will come over and if we want to make Chiang Mai then we'll have to throw caution to the wind, discard everything we know about risk management and put Jack into or rather onto one of these small canoe type boats get him to Thailand. Arranging that was easy and with about 6 locals, Jack was hoisted into this tiny boat. Haydn was concerned about unloading and who would be available at the other side to unload Jack. We struck a deal with the locals and offered them a boat ride to Thailand and back.
If you've ever been in a canoe then you know how they tend to roll from side to side, especially when there are waves from other boats and especially when there are about 9 people and a large motorcycle aboard. Haydn sat on Jack, supposedly to steady things but in hindsight the extra weight up high probably made things worse. The crossing only took about 20 minutes but it was the longest 20 minutes of my life as I expected all of us to capsize into the mighty Mekong at any instant.
I felt the bump as the small boat grounded on the Thai side of the Mekong and opened my eyes to find all was well. Haydn was still aboard Jack, although looking somewhat pale and anxious. Phew, we had indeed made it and to make things worse, as we arrived the ferry was leaving! Oh well, you can't look back. With a few grunts and groans our 'crew' unloaded Jack, we paid them for their trouble and made our way to the Thai Immigration and Customs.


Laos has been a fascinating country and we've enjoyed our time here. We probably wouldn't visit the southern area again but north of Vientiane, the riding and scenery is superb with good roads and little traffic. The price of food and accommodation is cheap and the people are enthusiastiic and eager to please. We think perhaps it is the promise of adventure here that is so appealing. There are actually comparatively few roads to travel and these are either extremely good or a huge challenge. Travel is made easy and comfortable due to the many spotless new Guest houses not mentioned in the guide books yet. They must be expecting a boom in the tourist industry but it will be a pity when the Laos people loose their innocence to the almighty dollar and tourist trade.

In summary

Petrol = $0.80/litre

Room = $10.00

Food = Anything up to $18.00/day (for 2) depending on how local you eat. Food is also laced with MSG and we found most of the food rather uninteresting. We were bad and went for Indian food if we could!!!

Local kids playing on the banks of the Mekon.

Loading Jack 1MB movie

Jack on a canoe 1MB movie

Of course it is the people you meet along the way that make the Journey, thanks Lynn, Thomas, Jerry and Thor.

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