A new country to enter – LAOS, exploring the northern part

When we arrived early morning at the ferry to go over to Laos the paperwork was done in 5 minutes and the customs officer told us the boat will leave at 9am. So we went to get the ticket… and we got told: The ferry boat will not go unless there are coming at least two more cars or we could take one of the longboats! Hmmm, as we were early we decided to wait for a while and hoping of cars trucks or whatever to join us instead trying to get the heavy bike backwards on the little wooden longboat. Lucky us! Suddenly a group of motorbikes arrived (an organized group going for off-road tracks to Laos with their support jeep). Now they were willing to go over with the big ferry, hurray!
Arriving in Laos we got the insurance for the bike for one month but unfortunately at the customs they wanted to see a paper from the Thai officials which the Thais kept of course when we left the country. After a longer discussion we decided to pay 100 THB and using the Carnet and not spending the whole day discussing a paper we would never get back from the Thai officials… The visa was done in a minute, paying an extra fee of one Dollar pp because it was Sunday and finally we were allowed to enter Laos!
First direction is north and the first impressions: an unexpected big “highway” was going direction Luang Nam Tha. When we passed the villages you could not see street kitchens or supermarkets anymore like in Thailand. Further we went the villages became more and more simple with rarely shops to get something to drink. When we had a stop next to a village the people came slowly to watch us, standing next to us with their kids – we and as well them did not know really what to do or what to say; they accepted us to have a break and we accepted not getting to close. In Luang Nam Tha we stayed two days practicing our first words in Lao, we had small trips around to Muang Sing next to the Chinese border and were visiting waterfalls and having chats around with the Lao people. The evenings we spend on the night market getting into the food over here – you do not get the same range of food like in Thailand, simpler but never the less good.
Our next destination was Phongsali; the highest city in Laos (1430 m) and we decided to take the small roads over the mountains. With the early morning mist in the hills we started a lovely curvy asphalt road going up the hills. When the sun came out it was time for us to leave the road direction north on a gravel road for the next 190 km. The beginning was a bit rough; clay road with big stones in it but very soon it went better and we enjoyed the ride through the mountains with small villages growing Tabaco and vegetables and all the kids along shouting “sabaidee!!!” and waving towards us. We had several rivers to cross and after a while the unsealed road became very wide: they started to build a big street here. On the next kilometers we had to stop and to wait several times because they were just working on the “street” with their bulldozers and it was not always easy for us to go through the fresh earth with big stones but therefor we had nice chats with the guys around. Unfortunately again one of our panel holders broke because of all the vibrations and we fixed it on the go with stripes. When we reached Boun Tai we stopped in a place which was looking like a garage. It took a while until it was clear what we need but then everybody was helping to fix it as fast as possible and everybody was excited to see such a BIG motorbike and started to observe it from every angle. (Honestly, it looks quite funny sometimes when the guys are standing next to the bike and measuring themselves – not even tall as the bike ;)
The panel holder was welded and off we went again hoping the road is becoming better now as it is supposed the main connection to Phongsali… but of course not! Good test for the job the guys just did at the bike and really tiring for us… After another 30 km we finally reached Bon Yo and an asphalt road! Happy and rewarded with a beautiful small road full of turns and incredible views we were heading to Phongsali into the sunset.
In Phongsali we met a group of people from all over the world and spending the evening eating and drinking LaoLao (Locally distilled RiceWine) together. Due to the geographical situation you have beautiful views up here, you can feel the influence of China in many ways and not that many tourists are around. From here our direction will be south.
We spend one night in Oudom Xai, a city which is more or less in Chinese hands. Unfortunately I was facing problems with the stomach for the first time and only happy to have a proper room to relax. Next day we went to a small lovely village at the Nam Ou River within rocky mountains: Nong Khiew. The best place for having a longer break and to recover from travelling, taff roads and grumbling stomachs. We found a fantastic little guesthouse a bit further from the riverside run by a lovely family who “adopted” us immediately. For the next three days our home was a nice clean little bamboo in a quite yard of Mr. Lin`s Family who does speak French, they have the best Guest House at this place. His son Tin and his wife Mone do speak well English. We went fishing in little river together with Tin. The technique for fishing is to walk up the river throwing a net with a chain out and towing it out again. For dinner we had of course grilled fish and fish soup. When we went to take gasoline we met two bikers on their trip around the world; Roland from Switzerland and Ingo from Germany. We convinced them easily to stay a night in this nice village and had a nice evening together with them. Hopefully we will see them again in south Thailand – they are doing the loop Lao-Cambodia the other way around.
The last evening we were invited to a ceremony to say good bye to Gaeto from Switzerland who spend a lot of time with the family. It was a very special experience and very touching as we got praised the same time with food and many ropes on our arms to be protected in the future. Of course Mama Ling did not forget out Motorbike to praise with ropes and food as well! It was hard to leave but nevertheless we had to continue slowly.
We took the road 1c via Vieng Thong to Phonsavan which was really breathtaking and a dream of a road for the motorbike – windy, up and down the mountains, passing little villages we were driving most of the time on a level of 1000m up to 1680m.

Chiang Mai and beyond along the Burma border; (Me-)Khong river with a view to Laos

Do we get lazy a bit writing and posting? Yes… we do ;-) Sorry for that but 1. It is getting dark here much earlier than in NZ (still we work on getting used to it) 2. Up from 1pm until sunset it gets incredible hot even though we need every blanket we can get at night, because it turns quite cold here in the mountains when then sun is gone 3. Days are just too short!

The first part of the ride from Sukhotai to Mae Sot was quite boring but after that we really enjoyed the road along the Burma border going with loops to Mae Sariang. We passed the refugee camps in the hills which were climbing up the hills along the street. The room we could get in Mae Sariang was really basic and a bit muggy but as the most of the guest houses were reserved for police and army because of a visit of a royal family member we did not had a choice… Actually we slept well after this long day riding! And we got wake up by the sound of the parade going through the village so we had an early morning with Pad Thai for breakfast at the market watching the parade.

Next destination was Chiang Mai to have one or two days checking out some bike roads, crossing border information and enjoying the Flower Festival… We met Harry who is on the road with his “Vegi Bike”, an Enfield 500 Bullet modified run on vegi-oil what really impressed us.  (Harry please correct if we are wrong here and GOOD LUCK to you!).

Now it was time for the famous “Chiang Mai Loop” and we chose some smaller roads partially over the mountains going to Mae Hong Son which were containing lovely turns up and down the hills again and again. Arriving with the sunset in Mae Hong Song we followed the hint of a motorbike driver we met on the road and were looking for a hut place which he recommended. Searching and asking for the place we finally entered the place. Out of the dark, a German, Peter, was asking who we are and if we are looking for a room. As the place was looking even posh without lights we said “Yes, but we think this place does not look quite fits our budget” he was grumbling a bit and telling us we will find a solution and we should first come in. So we did and in the end we paid a fair price to sleep in his private guest room instead in one of the huts… nevertheless using the pool and the lovely garden… in the end we stayed 2 days ;-)  Peter is working and living here in the refugee camps (actually all over the world) for many years and had good information about the whole area and the history. We did a boat trip to the long neck village, meeting the elephants, enjoying the temple in the sunset as well the dinner in Peters place with his other guests.

Following the loop we started the part with more than 1800 turns from Mea Hong Son direction Pai. We did some additional tracks to the Burma border again, having a taste of their mountain Jasmine teas dried fruits and in the end we reached the Tham Lot cave and stayed there for the night in a bamboo hut next to the river. We explored the great cave on a bamboo raft.  We had to hire a local guide and his gas lamp to guide us through the cave and at sunset time we saw the 100.000 birds and bats goind inside the cave after hunting. It was a lovely experience! There was nobody else around except us and thousands of swifts and bats flying into the cave for the night with the sunset!!! An amazing big cave in 3 parts which we could walk through and enjoy with real breathtaking moments – incredible big! Huge! Labyrinths with stalagmites and tides everywhere…

Getting more north direction Golden Triangle we chose the real small roads in the mountains and finally a narrow windy road following directly the border line of Burma. This was one of the most wonderful rides we had so far in Thailand – with beautiful views and passing little mountain villages and a military border station with a breath taking view where we could not overcome the temptation trying on the helmets and walking down the dugouts. Passing Mae Sai and the Golden Triangle we reached Chiang Saen and the (Me)Khong River which attracted us immediately!  In a Guesthouse at the riverside the owner presented us very proud his leather motorbike jacket – he does not have a bike yet, he is saving money for getting it one day, but he has already the jacked he told us with a big smile!

The Khong River(Mekong)! It is a real impressive stream with a very own spirit! Even though boats are passing and people are always around the shore washing, fishing, bathing… it exudes calmness in a very majestic way. Nothing is really loud or aggressive; everything is absorbed by this beautiful river. We were driving along the Khong until Chiang Khong where we moved in a room with balcony directly at the river. Here we will cross the border to Laos, but as we have to fix some small things at the bike and the border police supervisor at the port told us it is no problem anymore to do so at the weekend we decided to stay two nights. The city goes to sleep really early here. When we went out again at 7:30pm we could hardly see anybody on the streets or find any shops open. Finally we found a little kitchen open where we got some food. We do not miss anything having our balcony and to be honest, I could sit here on the balcony for ages ;-) watching thinking relaxing… does not matter what time of the day. It is just beauty with a little breeze, sounds of wind chimes, small boats, working people and the smell of incense and all the different cultures around here.

Tomorrow early morning we will cross the Khong and entering Laos. Now it is noon, we had a coffee on or balcony early morning, thai breakfast on the street, we found the missing tools we needed, did some maintenance at the bike and now we will go for a relaxed tour along the river direction south before we leave the country… but we will come back soon…

First rides and impressions outside of Bangkok; central and west Thailand

First rides and impressions outside of Bangkok; central and west Thailand

On the way out of Bangkok our first stop was a big Honda shop which we saw on the side of the street and reminded us of our broken speedometer cable. Immediately 3 guys were surrounding us, observing and discussing while Sascha tried to explain what we need. In the meantime another boy came to me and gave me a big bottle of cool water with a big smile – what a nice service. After it was clear what we need one of the guys left on his scooter and came back after 10 min with a cable… unfortunately too long. So he left again. The second one was fitting, hurray! The cost was 150 THB (not even 4 €). Happy we continued getting out of the city.

In Kanchanaburi next to the Kwai River we spend our first night in a raft (room on the river) watching the moonlight and the jumping fish after a nice curry from the street. Restless and excited to see more we left the next morning to Sanklaburi, a dead end street because of the border to Burma (Myanmar) with plenty of villages and their kitchen streets along the road. Up in the mountains we found a place to stay with a view over the lake and had some nice small tours on the bike around the area. Of cause we had a look at the border (which was more or less unspectacular as we did not tried to cross it ;-)) We met a group of Thai-Biker who went out for a weekend trip and had some nice chats with them as one of them studied in Germany – we were meeting them again and again on the road.

When we left we decided to go through the National Park as we saw there could be a ferry to cross the lake. We followed a nice small road which turned dirt road after a while climbing up the hills and going through the jungle in the end. A bit scary as we did not now what animals they have there around. We heard later on that they have Leopards and some other things… We had some stops there and every sound in  the bush let us …. ;) When we arrived at the ferry stop cars were already cuing up for the ferry in the middle of nowhere! Lucky we just could fit the bike in a small corner. We hopped on the ferry and crossed the lake. Following a great curvy mountain road finally we arrived again in Kanchanaburi. But back to the road through the mountains for a second. There was fire everywhere in that forest, anyway there is fire around us most of the time, either they burn the sugar fields down after harvesting or the forest is just burning somewhere. It doesn’t bother the Thais so why it should bother us at the moment – except for the smell of fire surrounding us.

For the next segment we decided to go for a longer distance direction north, to Sukhotai which is about 450 km north. The sky was grey when we started and we were quite happy about it as it not that hot. Nevertheless our bumps were hurting after a short time already and we had to make some more small stops before we reached a small nice guesthouse in Sukhotai. Time to relax and recap a bit and we negotiated a good price for a very big, nice and clean fan room for the next two days. We like the spirit here around, street markets, night markets, and street kitchens and not to forget the old Sukhotai, 12km away which we could enter and explore with our motorbike. We drove around the ruins and reconstructed temples of this town which is considered as the first independent Thai kingdom.

Today Sascha did some maintenance work at the bike: screws just getting loose because of the vibrations all the time. Our Voltmeter showed that the battery was charged with only 12.1V instead of 14.4… Yeah right the vibrations … Actually he didn’t screw the battery screws tied enough when we got the bike out of the airport in Bangkok… So he had to do it again properly… “I said Vibrations!” “Yeahhh right!”

Tomorrow we will go west once more following the border line of Burma on the way direction Chiang Mai… It is supposed to be a narrow winding road with not much traffic or people around and we are already excited!