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Laos: The Golden Triangle Adventure

By oldnut - Posted on 22 February 2011

I will readily admit that I was initially reluctant to commit, after all it was a sizable cash outlay, for me, and I could acquire a fine new dual sport bike with every farkel Tim Bernard could possibly concieve for the amount we were talking about. 

I think it was March, 2010 when ol' steelhead, I and about a dozen other IAMC members showed up at the venue in east Boise hoping to catch a vicarious ride to some exotic location in Idaho or perhaps one of Ernie's South American sorte´s or an iron butt excursion north of Fairbanks a la Ken.  Instead we watched and listened to Lynn Brown's presentation of Motoquest's 2010 adventure, Laos: The Golden Triangle and we were captivated by the exotic location and fascinated with the idea that we might actually be able to pull off the Ride of a Lifetime!

Well, my arm only needed slight twisting and after the plane ticket and the hotel room was on the Visa card there was no turning back.  Lynn was a great help to us home bodies and talked us through the process switching his helmet for travel agent's cap to ease our travel anxiety. I have never been off the continent so this was way out of my comfort zone.  Indeed the plane ride was the most difficult and uncomfortable part of the trip for me so I'll leave that part off, you know what that's like.

Bankok:  With only 12 hours before departure to Vientiane, Laos, we determined to let the adventure begin and struck out dumbly.  As luck would have it we met a local teacher who befriended us when he discovered we had been fellow educators.  He gave us great directions in perfect english and even hailed a tuk-tuk.


(L) The giant Buddha was 80 feet tall! (R) Visitors rub inch square gold leaf offerings onto many of the Buddha images. <Here's the link to the video I shot in a tuk-tuk


(L) A Thai long-boat, a 40'x5' wooden boat powered by a gimbel mounted V-8, powered us through a canal along the Chao Phraya River for an hours excursion.(R) No pit bull needed here!  Just keep a couple monitor lizards on your porch.


(L) Street scene outside our hotel entrance and (R) one of the local Thai TSA dudes saw us off at the airport, glad to be rid of us.

With 3 days to explore Vientiane, the capitol city of Laos, we surveyed the main city area, about 10 square blocks on the banks of the Mekong.  We soon learned the 3 phrases that would ease our passage through Lao culture.  "Sah-bah-dee" is the universal greeting and means both "hello" and "goodbye".  "Thank you" in Lao is "khob-chai" and "thank you so very much" is "khob-chai-lai-lai".  When searching for the toilet you should ask "hong-nam?".  Scooters outnumber autos at least 30:1 and the noisey ballet is a riot to watch.  The Koloa brand scoots are the most numerous and cost about $600.00 or 4,800,000 Lao Kip.


(top) Dragon fountain on the banks of the Mekong and (bottom) giant bronze of ancient emperor gestures westward toward Thailand.


We were shown the city tourist highlights by a local guide, Kham.


(L) (look familiar?) It's the Victory Gate of Vientiane built in 1962 and (R) Buddha image protected by 7 dragons and 3 cats.


(top) The Golden Stupa (Pha That Luang) combines the national symbol for sovereignty and religion and (bottom) at dinner we watched the sun set over the Mekong.


(L) Jim, whose XR 250s we were riding arranged to have both bikes & riders "blessed" by a very nice monk and then we were off to Vang Vieng, the outdoor adventure center of Laos. (R) Bougainvillea in full brilliance.


(L) Rice cultivation continues in some areas through the dry season and (R) farming fish, tilapia (?), on the Nam Lik (Nam is Lao for river).  We had very fresh fish for lunch.


(top Sunset on the Nam Xong with gravel pickers in the foreground and (bottom) the view of rugged karsts from the bungalo at Van Vieng was awesome.

Next morning, after a stop to enjoy the views at Phou Khoun Viewpoint, we made the long ride to Phonsavan, then visited the Plain of Jars and Muang Khoune the following day.



(top) Picturesque mountainous terrain from Phou Khoun Viewpoint, (L) butt rest & a laugh in Phou Khoun and (R) the Fearless Leader stops to aid a tiny (cute) broom maker.


(L) Motoquest Riders pose with ancient Lao jar at The Plain of Jars Site #1.(R) First-time motorbike rider and Canadian firefighter (on left - long hair) rode from Hanoi on his newly purchased, aged Minsk, good luck!


(L) "Lucky" Buddha at Muang Khoune survived bombing and rocket fire, wounded but intact and (R) Motoquest donated to MAG for unexploded ordnance removal.  Maybe we helped save a child's life.

After a cold ride through mist covered limestone karsts we coasted into Xam Neua, just 30 km. from the Viet Namese border.  Next day we visited Vieng Xai, birthplace of the Pathet Lao movement.


(L) We pose for the traditional group photo after lunch near Vieng Xai, yes, we are as cold as we look, (right to left) Lynn Brown, our guide; ol' steelhead; me, oldnut and Wild Bill from Houston, TX. The Honda Baja XR 250s have distinct headlights and are easily identifiable.  (R) Challenge site # the other side of the planet! in Xam Neua, this is a communist country.

Finally above the clouds we motored our way through tiger country toward lower elevations and warmer climes arriving in Nong Khiaw on the Nam Ou.


No tigers here, I hope.


(L)The kids must have thought we were really funny lookin' as they almost always cracked up when they saw me, "sah-bah-dee!" (R) Sleepy Nong Khiaw on the Nam Ou, our waterway to the north.

Next day Lynn and crew muscled the XRs down the steps and wedged them into a long-boat for the trip to Muang Khua.  < video of Nam Ou boat ride.


(L) Spectacular view from our perch at lunch in roadless Muang Ngoi. (R) Locals congregate on river bank.  < Video of technical water on the Nam Ou


(L) The Nam Ou near Muang Khua and (R) the crew unloads the XRs on the gravel bar at Muang Khua.

Early clutch-out at Muang Khua for the longest day ride of the trip would get us to Luang Prabang after sunset.


(top) Indigenous mountain tribe women selling bamboo shoots roadside and (bottom) busy Oudom Xai, the provincial capitol at lunch time.

Luang Prabang, the former French colonial capital, is the Paris of Laos and has a very cosmopolitan feel.  There were lots of "falangs", or white foreigners, and the standard breakfast was omelette and baguette.

(L) Ol' steelhead rose early to feed the monks sticky rice and bananas and (R) the long-boat would take us to Pak Ou on the Mekong.

(above) The Mekong traffic is brisk but vistas are breathtaking.

(L)  Our Lao guide Tui explains the nuances of Buddism at the village temple at Xang Hai. (R) Image of the Buddha on the temple story wall.


(L) Lynn poses with the earth goddess statue and (R) a youthful textile weaver adjusts the tension on her loom.

Xang Hai village is also know as "the lao lao village" because it's where the falangs can watch "white lightning" being made from rice and taste test it. < Video of village musical instrument maker.


(L) Pak Ou cave can only be approached from the river and (L) the green Nam Ou mixes with the brown Mekong here.


(L) The cave interior has images of the Buddha in every possible nook, (R) some are ancient and weathered.


(L) How much bad kharma results from knocking an image of the Buddha from its perch? Ol' steelhead may soon find out!  (R) I score a Challenge 2010 site on the Mekong!


(top) We watched a local fisherman repairing his skiff on the beach at Pak Ou and (above) I watch as a boat similar to our own threads "the eye of the needle", a narrow Mekong channel through jagged rocks near Pak Ou.


(L) Our company relaxes for the ride back to Luang Prabang and (R) the cliffs and karsts above the Nam Ou dissappear behind us.


(L) Up early again the next morning I get another shot at the "monk parade" and (R) we were off to Elephant Village Sanctuary & Resort.  Only females are ridden here because of their gentle nature and they seemed quite contented. < Video of Lynn and Bill descending to the river on their mount.


(L) Bill and Lynn's mount deposits fish food into the Nam Ming, perhaps a reaction to her riders and (R) I score another Challenge 2010 site. < Video of Lynn trying to coax our ride, Boon, to spray us.  She was a good girl and made some nice rumblings and a trumpet.


(L) Pinch me!!! (R) We made a short boat ride up the Nam Ming.  I believe 8 adults exceeded the maximum capacity of this vessel.


(top) Back in Luang Prabang I took in our final evening there.  Definitely a highlight for me, it's picturesque and the pace relaxed.  I'd like to return there some day.  The temple in this shot was across the street from our hotel. (bottom) The night market exists all day but greatly expands in the evening as the temperature cools. 


 (L) Just up the hill from our hotel I climbed the 350 or so steps to the top of 100 meter high Phu Si to enjoy the sunset (R) on the Mekong, this view looking north.


(L) View of the Mekong looking west. (R) We enjoyed a delicious evening meal and outstanding entertainment.

We stopped at the Phou Khoune Viewpoint for lunch again on our return to Van Vieng.


This mechanical buffalo and cart was loaded with a farmer's family and traveling on the major north-south highway.

Mountainous terrain near Van Vieng


Morning in Van Vieng was overcast and misty but children pedaled to school over the Nam Xong bridge.

Our ride to Vientiane was uneventful, the weather stayed grey and damp and the traffic is not something to take lightly, it's a free-for-all.  But it felt like we were going home, the familiar surroundings, a good lunch, a Beerlao and a flop in a familiar hotel room and we were ready to end the party.  We got an excellent massage at the White Lotus as part of the package.


(L) Vientiane banana vendor near our hotel and (R) the endless variety of fresh fruit. 


It was Chinese New Year the day we left Laos so many residents were celebrating or helping others celebrate.  We said our farewells over dinner and left Laos that night.  

Thank you Motoquest!  What a great ride!  The curvaceous highways of Laos are incredibly fun on a nimble amply powered bike and the riding pace was fast but fun.  Lynn's knowledge of Laos and its people is amazing and his charm and wit made the trip really fun and he's an excellent rider too! The accomodations and cuisine were first rate considering Laos is a 3rd world country and the bikes ran flawlessly, thanks Jim.  And our local guide, interpreter, chase van driver and new friend Tui Phoumy is an outstanding individual and I wish him all the best.  A special thanks to Tui's brother Lok who catered to our whims.  We learned a lot about the history, geography, folklore, religion, customs, politics, food, climate and animals but mostly about the character, humor and perseverance of the kind people of Laos.  And to my good friend ol' steelhead thanks for twisting my arm, It was indeed the "Ride of A Lifetime"




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