So now we are four!! Pete and Paul are back from Bangkok and the ride continues.
All the bikes are serviced, tyres sorted, boys hair cut, parcels posted, and housework done! We’ve repacked our luggage to make it work better on the road – this kind of trip involves a different kind of “pack” to our around Oz adventures – one bag to come off the bike for accommodation is much better than fiddling around finding everything at the end of the day! And we’ve developed a pattern of checking in, washing clothes, doing our computer/planning work each night – before the first beer! So what do you do when all the men are away and you’ve got four days to kill on your own? A Thai Cooking Class for a full day was definitely an unforgettable experience!
We began with a tour of the local markets and then their own herb farm. I had chosen the class by menu selection and over the day made Pad Thai, Spring Rolls, Red Chicken Curry (making the paste from scratch), Tom Saeb (sour soup), Stir-fry with Noodles, Papaya Salad and finished it all off with a variation on Fried Bananas! It was all superb – so fresh with lots of subtle flavours.
We were all very much ready to leave the city and get “on” the road again. We made an early start and once we cleared the city and were on rural roads the fun began! It was just like being on one of our rides out of Brisbane with Paul leading us onto awesome country roads – except today Mark was setting the pace. The locals in a tiny village were super friendly and interested in us and saying hello.
The landscape is intensive farming with occasional rubber tree plantations – not a skerrick of palm oil anywhere! We basically did the “Nan loop” which is a famous motorcycle road in this part of the woods – amazing twisties going up and down and quite steep in parts with great views of the countryside. We have all definitely broken in our new tyres! This is our first day with four riders and it’s working out well – it’s Hot as Hayley’s again – up to 40 degrees but the haze is not quite as thick. The people are slightly more Chinese-looking near the Laos border. We stay in a funny little “resort” and Mark’s accommodation costs are halved now with Pete on board. A walk up round town and we discover a great local restaurant where 3 mains and four large beers are $24AUD! There was live music and it was just a lovely atmosphere. We discovered the local abattoir on the way home where one cow was being carved up in front of the cow that was waiting next in line!! Most city dwellers who think meat comes on a tray with glad wrap would be having kittens by now! Left early to catch the best riding time of the day. Awesome roads again, good surface, not much traffic. Just after Chiang Rai we headed up a back road which took us very high with very steep gradients to a great village.
The pollution is so thick in places now – such a shame! Its hard to see how it will ever change – they have signs talking about stopping the burning for clean air but how they would police that – who would know! We could see Laos from the top and then coming down we think we crossed the border several times. Came down right into Mae Sai where the bridge to Myanmar is – very busy and congested. Stuck close to the Ruak River and stopped at the Golden Triangle for lunch and a photo moment.
Lots of great sweepers following the Mekong River further down to the Friendship Bridge where we crossed to Laos from Chiang Khong. The immigration buildings were grandiose and quite deserted at 3.30p.m. We had the usual rigmarole of giving in copies of passport, licence and registration. It was 200BHT to release the bikes and 100BHT to stamp our passports. Then we paid 500BHT to have an escort across the bridge (for gods sake!) and 200BHT to lift the barrier which they then asked us to drive around!! The approach to the bridge swings you over to the right side of the ride and then that’s it – you are driving on the right! And we will be until we return to Oz unless we go to England. Rode on beside the river to find a guesthouse – quite different surroundings already – barren and harsher – dusty. Very evident we are third world now. More fires on the side of the road and it seems the smoke is thicker!! Guesthouse is lovely, right beside the Mekong. Had a great dinner a few doors along – not quite as cheap as Thailand. Slept really well with nice linen, pillow and air!
Day off the bikes – nice! Walked along our street on the edge of the river – discovering a Socialist/Communist economy – same signs – same restaurants – same guesthouses! Not much enterprise! Very dusty, signs of dilapidation typical of this economy. BikesnBeers discovered the local brew and it’s a winner…
Left fairly early next day and quickly went on to a dirt road which became quite jagged with large sharp rocks which followed a river. We went through some interesting villages and stopped at one for breakfast. A lovely couple cooked us breakfast in their house and the whole family enjoyed my instant print camera – always a winner! As we were leaving town I set off on the left side of the road and collided with a scooter with two young boys on it – they kept going so I did! Stopped up the road where Paul was and discovered my indicator was hanging by the wire! After a gaffer tape repair we all headed off and as the road started to seriously climb it became more and more of an off-road surface – lots of deep ruts, loose powder and incredible gradients up and down. At the top of each humongous hill was a village – very basic structures with bamboo woven walls. It was Saturday so the kids were playing everywhere and each village we would get whole groups waving at us and shouting hello – I always got extra special looks and waves because I am a woman on a large bike!! I could have stopped at every village to take photos of just the kids – they are always such a drawcard. The villagers don’t seem to have much in the way of gardens up there – it was in fact quite barren so we couldn’t decide what they ate. Lots of chickens, roosters, pigs, goats, dogs and people on the roadsides.
In between the villagers there were glimpses of the terrain which was very steep and hard to determine what they actually grew. Lots and lots of ground fires producing huge amounts of smoke to add to the already choked atmosphere – the haze in Laos is now a real problem. This is very remote country. We finally started a big descent (would have hated to have been coming up that way!!) which had lots of loose powder and heaps of ruts. Considering Paul and I are on the SMT’s they handled well considering the conditions. I was quite proud of myself all round as it was serious off-roading for me.
Got stuck in one of the ruts on an uphill gradient and got myself out of it! Coming down was quite treacherous and first gear all the way but we made it! Had lunch at the next town and headed along the Mekong to the car ferry at Pak Beng. The road from there to Hongsa was quite amazing – all sealed this time and a beautiful bike road – amazing sweepers and huge ascents and descents – all the while in a very dense haze. Arrived at quite a new Chinese Hotel and while parking the bikes I clipped Pete’s panniers with mine and immediately came off – making a nice slice on my arm on a sharp concrete drain! What a day…! The ride to Luang Prubang was mountain after mountain, corners and villages and so many sights – and we were very tired bunnies crawling into town.
After a day off the bikes for repairs, maintenance and a look around town (including the famous Night Market) we headed north for the Chinese border. The road started well and deteriorated to the worst road ever – roadworks that just went on and on and conditions that were quite unbelievable. We negotiated our way around earthmoving vehicles, men making rock and concrete gutters and trucks coming at us for more than 150kms. Finally, we arrived in a northern city and then the road turned into heaven – the best road in Laos with great twisties, perfect surface – you just had to be wary of all the Chinese trucks coming at us! The Chinese are up to something here…getting power and minerals we reckon. We arrived in Boten – the border town and even though we’d been warned – it was an eerie feeling. They used to run a casino here and the Chinese could come and go as they pleased but apparently they were holding people hostage who hadn’t paid their debts and eventually in 2011 the casino was closed down and basically it’s a really big ghost town! To say we are excited to enter China is an understatement! It’s been a long haul to get this far and we will cross in the morning and meet our guide. The story continues…
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE!
It was a very steep descent to the ferry on a concrete road covered in loose powder (like the whole of Laos) and then it was a bumpy, deep sand run on to the ferry – I decided to not look down – just look straight at the last spot on the boat which was mine, let the bike do the work – and head for it! It’s probably my most trying moment ever but I kept my eye on the prize and went. Some boatmen had stepped forward to help and they quickly scarpered when they realised I wasn’t stopping for anyone! I think my heart was still pounding when we reached the other side!!