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Motorbike Adventures in Laos…
with Siam Bike Travel

Part 3: Let's Go

Next morning we suit up and sweet-talk our itchy right hands to be patient for just a few more kilometers. 90 kms of finest dirt road to Viang Pukha are waiting for us. In single file, we parade down Hua Xai main street and say good-bye to electricity, cold beer, hot showers and the Thai transponder which linked us to the rest of the world through Walter's mobile phone. Now he's carrying just a pretty assembly of plastic, silicon, lithium and a couple of ions. There are still limits to all this great technology.

Once out of town, we moved along, with the wide dirt road and good visibility allowing speeds between 50 and 90 kph. We are well aware that a single accident will be quite a slowdown for the whole group. The backup car has to collect the poor guy, drive him back to Hua Xai, which means that we're without one of the guides, and, what's worse, without the backup car which carries our luggage - no fresh clothes. Don't race, fellows. This is the wrong place. Walter has made it quite clear that everybody has to ride well within his personal safety limits and, above all, within visibility. "Always expect a water buffalo around the next corner!"

Siam Bike Travel has been in this business for years. They checked us out on the first day riding in the hills around Chiang Mai and they know how to coach inexperienced riders within the first few days to get them up to speed and keep an eye on them. But this group is quite experienced and we do 15 to 20-minute bursts of extremely fine riding. Basically it's from village to village. You have to slow down anyway to go through a sleepy village. Once the first rider has entered the village, all the kids come around screaming, laughing and shouting. The village elders will come to see what's going on and then the rest of the village follows. We've never experienced anything like this. You are a total alien to these people. Decked out in full off-road gear, sitting on bikes as tall as they've ever seen before, we are just out of this world for them. But a few smiles, gestures and friendly words get conversations going. They all hunt and proudly present their muzzle loaders, which are usually 6 or 7 foot tall, looking funny when they belong to hunters measuring barely 5 feet. The whole village gathers around our group, inviting us to stay or at least to have a few rice whiskeys with them. Walter tells us that sometimes a group had to take them up on their offers for bed and breakfast, when a bike needed repairs after a river crossing or when the weather was extremely bad. They admire our off-road gear, checking out the elbow and knee protectors, but absolutely love the plastic chest protectors. One guy points at his ancient muzzleloader, then knocks at my chest protector and says something in Lao. "He wants to know if it's bullet proof, too", Walter translates. I'm tempted to say "Yes", but then the little hunter might just try it out. Most villagers have never seen a "Farang", a westerner, before. One of our guys has a bit of a beard, and the women come and take a look at this strange man with hair on his face. Like most Asians, Lao hill tribe men don't have facial hair. Accompanied by giggles and laughter from the other women, one little old lady even touches it to tell them how it feels!

Every few kilometers we have to cross a small river. Sometimes the water is clear and you can look out for boulders lurking beneath the surface, but sometimes you just have to take your chances. After every couple of river crossings we stopped to wait for our backup car to catch up.

One by one we have to cross a river over a hanging bridge, which starts swaying by the time you're in the middle. Sitting on a motorbike on a swaying bridge is definitely a weird feeling, and everybody has to stop in the middle to wait until the bridge goes quiet before he can continue. Walter doesn't supply a "snack sack" like they have on commercial airlines for people turning green, but then there's the whole river to bless with the remains of your breakfast...

Sometimes the bridges are just a few tree trunks, and most of us get stuck at least once when the front or rear wheel simply disappears in a gap all the way to the axle. Even with our lightweight bikes it usually takes two or three of us to get them out. There's not much space to stand on, and the tree trunks are muddy and very slippery. There are plenty of mud holes, and we stop at a very deep one to help a group of men who are trying to drive an ancient truck full of timber through it. These mud holes can be real traps. Usually a trickle of water is constantly filling them up, and they have a lot of soft deep mud beneath the surface. Once Walter crosses one on the wrong side and gets so stuck that the bike stands up by itself! While we waited for our 4WD backup car to help the truck, we had fun with the mud hole, driving through it again and again.

Part 4: More fun coming right up!

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

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