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May 5, 2007

4

The Loop – Day 1

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Bright Blue Pond

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Bright Blue Pond

 

A quick note on my final day in Luang Prabang.  The waterfall was everything I’d hoped for a huge nearly 100 meter tall fall over several levels.  I walked up to the top, but the most impressive view was from the bottom.  It was Lao Labor Day so there were lots of Lao families there picnicking and drinking Beerlao along with all the tourists there.  I flew to Vientiane that night which was a great decision.  A 33 minute flight versus a 9 hour bus ride.  I talked to a couple later on that took the bus and they said 4 people were sick on the bus because of the windy road.  Also, I met a girl that works at the French embassy in Vientiane on the plane and she offered me a place to stay so I saved on the taxi into town and a nights stay.

The next morning I got up early and took a bus down to Tha Kaek.  I couldn’t believe when the bus actually left on time when it was only half full.  Normally you just wait until its full and then leave.  I quickly figured out why as we spent the next hour and a half stopping along the way picking up anyone heading south.  I still made it to Tha Kaek at midday.  I’d read in my guide book about how some travelers are renting motor bikes there and doing a three to four day ride out into the country in a loop, stopping along the way to see some waterfalls, caves, and villages.  All together the loop is about 250 miles and over half of that is on dirt roads that can get very rough.  The guesthouse I was staying at has a book where people who have done the loop before right down there experiences, advice, and draw maps of what to see.  I spent a couple hours looking through that and went into town to rent a bike.

Many of the stories in the book talk about how the bikes are in horrible shape

On the Dusty RoadOn the Dusty Road

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On the Dusty Road

 

 because of the beating they take doing the loop and many have 3 or 4 blown intertubes, a tire that needs to be replaced, and even a couple of people who’s bike died completely.  The motorbikes are just little 100cc road bikes and there aren’t any dirt bikes available.  I eventually found a transportation travel place and walked in seeing a hummer, jeep, and other off road vehicles, but no bikes.  I asked the guy and he said they didn’t have any, but his older sister did.  We got on his bike and 1 minute later were at her house where I was able to rent the bike ($10US/day) she normally uses for herself.  That was good in that it hadn’t been beat up on the road so much, but I was really hoping that I didn’t do any permanent damage to it.  I treated myself to a spaghetti and garlic bread dinner that night planning on spending the next four days without seeing anything like that available.

Day 1
I woke up early planning on spending a full day on the road.  I’d gotten a map a the visitor’s center in town that talked about different spots to see along the way and how many kilometers they were down the road.  Neither the odometer or speedometer worked on the bike, but all the roads here have kilometer markers every kilometer so I figured it would be no problem.  Well this was a dirt road and under construction every few minutes so there weren’t any markers they whole way.  It was a cloudy morning which was nice keeping the temperature down, but I really didn’t want it to start raining and be trying to drive in the mud all the way.  The road was in fairly good shape and I could cruise along in 4th gear.  It did get dusty whenever you passed any other traffic so I had a bandanna tied around my nose and mouth.  The

My Bike and the Dirt Road

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My Bike and the Dirt Road

 

helmet I had also had a face shield which helped reduce that too.  Really after reading the book at the lodge the dust wasn’t near as bad as I was expecting and far worse in northeast Cambodia where I had spent 5 days.

I hit the first landmark, a shell gas station, after an hour and a half where I filled up a followed the main road starting north.  Here traffic got busier as there is a big hydroelectric dam project going on which also meant big trucks going by.  Luckily I was the one passing them instead of the other way so I got to make sure there was plenty of space and time to do so.  The dam looks like it is a huge project as I spent about 2-3 hours seeing signs for different turnoffs for it and their pickup trucks driving along the road.  That did mean that they were fixing up the road and had it nice in some parts, but hadn’t gotten everywhere.  Again there were no signs except for an occasional town sign, but the towns where so small they didn’t appear on any maps.  It was fun to stop on the road in some of them to stretch my legs or get a drink.  They obviously don’t see many travelers and I would be the center of attention until I left.

At this point about 4 hours in, the gas gage had stopped working, I’d lost on rubber foot rest, and the basket in front was starting to come off from when I’d had my bag in there and it couldn’t handle the weight.  I think the basket was already starting to come apart, but don’t know for sure.  I tied my bag down behind me and just left my water bottles in the basket.  An hour later I hit a big bump, my water bottles flew up and the basket fell off bouncing along the road.  I went back and got my bottles, one had a hole so I drank what I could and brought the other one with me.  I felt like I was making good time and all of a sudden realized I couldn’t remember seeing another vehicle in about an hour.  Hmmm, am I really on the right road.  I had tried sticking to what looked like the most used road, but there had been some turnoffs here and there.  I knew I was more or less heading north and in the right direction so I stuck with it.

Rain on Day 1Rain on Day 1

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Rain on Day 1

 

At some point my gas gage started working again, but was showing full after I’d been on the road a while.  I came into a larger town and saw a station and decided better safe than sorry so I went to fill up.  It only took about 2 liters and was still close to full.  I eventually figured out that if they fill it too much the gage gets air locked and doesn’t register until it comes down a liter or two.  I also saw a bank in town and figured out I’d made it farther (Lak Sao) than I planned which was a nice surprise.  I decided to get a room here and a new basket.  Both were easily taken care (and the foot rest).  It was about 2:30 when I made it into town and at 4 was eating when the skies opened up and it poured down for 40 minutes.  Boy, was I glad I was off the road and past the worst part of the dirt road when that happened.  The town I pulled into had a paved road and I was going to be using it for the next 60 kilometers.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 5 2010

    Ah! Luang Prabang! I loved it. I spent a week there in about seven years ago and travelled the countryside around the town quite a bit by motorbike — so I know the area well. Thanks for jogging my memory thoroughly with this comprehensive post. Am thirsty again for Beer Lao — a great antidote to a dusty day out on the dirt roads!

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  2. Apr 22 2010

    Great story. I’m hoping to do something similar while in Laos, Vietnam, and where ever else. I love the idea of “off the beaten track” traveling by motorbike. Sounds like a lot of fun.

    Reply
  3. Apr 22 2010

    Thanks both of you. Laos is wonderful. Friendly people, gorgeous scenery, and easy to get away from the hustle and bustle of surrounding countries. I could spend a lot of time in Laos and be perfectly happy.

    Reply
  4. Aug 11 2010

    I must say that this looks like quite a fantastic adventure. Thank you for the inspiring motorcycle travel blog!

    Reply

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