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Motorbike Adventures in Laos…
with Siam Bike Travel

Part 2: Paperwork

Chiang Kong is a sleepy little place where we meet up with our agent. He does all the paperwork that comes with taking eight bikes and one car into Laos. They have to be officially imported, a bond has to be put up, and then they have to be re-exported again! Thankfully we have nothing to do with it and instead did some last minute shopping. We spend the evening in a Thai sing-a-song place. Our agent drives us there in his Toyota pickup truck. We just pile into the open back of the truck, ten guys sitting on the sides. Nothing unusual about that in Thailand! Quite often you can see twenty workers on the back of a pickup or whole families with three kids on a motorcycle - the kids fast asleep…

The sing-a-song place is great. While we try various Thai dishes, most of them hotter and spicier than anything we've ever eaten before, the twenty or so pretty "singers" hit the stage in various costumes and take turns at the microphone, enthusiastically strangling the cat. Thai is a tonal language, and unless you are a real good singer you're always off-key. But the Thais don't mind and after a few beers, even our agent has a go at Duan Pen, a "full-moon" Thai classic that brings more tears to the eyes of the Thai audience than all the chilies in the food. In the morning we line up at the Thai immigration. "Amazing Thailand" is the current Thai tourism promotion campaign. We are still amazed from last night, especially how the hot food cleaned us out....

The ferry that will take us across the Mekong is also quite amazing. It is actually two boats, one is a floating platform which holds the payload and the other is a rusty hull to push it with an engine that looks like it caused the industrial revolution. A single hinge covered with old and new welding seams tried to hold the whole contraption together. We inspected the hinge with some skepticism, but assured each other that if this things can push a six-pack of 18-ton trucks across the Mekong it should hold up for a couple of bikes!

Arrival in Laos

To the screams and shouts of a whole gang of Laotian kids playing in the water - "Farang! Farang!" which means "Westerners! Westerners!" - we arrive in Hua Xai, the even sleepier counterpart of Chiang Kong where we just left. We drive to the hotel, on the right side of the road for a change. Strange feeling, apart from the different Laotian writing it's the only indication we're not in Thailand anymore. All the products we see in the shops are from Thailand, the language is quite similar, and you can pay in Thai baht at practically any place.

Late afternoon we drive around and did a bit of exploring around town. The lack of funds is obvious. Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world with a yearly per-capita income of just a few hundred dollars. Government offices are set up in wooden houses, most people ride bicycles, and there are not many cars on the road. But everybody is very open and friendly, and we get a glimpse of how Thailand must have been thirty years ago. We change some money for the dinner kitty and came back with bags of money: 30 dollars buy you a one-inch stack of Laotian banknotes!

Laos’s beer, as we find out later on our trip, can be even consumed warm. This is a definite sign of quality, and we hear stories about the German brewmaster who heads the "Beerlao" brewery. But tonight, in Hua Xai, the Lao beer is ice cold and excellent.

Where are they off to next? Hang in there for Part 3!

Many thanks to:
Text and photographs © 1996-2000 by Siam Bike Travel Co., Ltd.

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