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Motorbike Adventures in Laos…
with Siam Bike Travel

Part 5: River of No Return

In Chiang Kok we have another river bath - this time in the mighty Mekong. The water is surprisingly warm, and I tried to swim upriver, but get dragged down the stream at alarming speed. I swam back to the shore. On the other side is Burma and I definitely don't want to get washed up there with nothing but my speedos! Exploring the village is a matter of five minutes and we're back to the "guest house", which also serves as the village convenience store. They don't even have a generator here so it’s back to warm Lao beer! A little girl comes with her mother with a couple of catfish for sale. One of them has a leathery look about it. She must have been carrying it around for a few days. But the others look good and the neighbor’s wife buys them for dinner. Bad luck we ordered our dinner already - chicken, rice and eggs…what else!

Early next morning we loaded our bikes into one of the boats. We have to heave them in sideways, making sure that we don't break any gear levers or other important things. We have only two complete sets of spares! The mirrors of all bikes except Walter's are already travelling in the backup car. The boat gets under way. To have any kind of steering, the boat has to go quicker than the river, which is flowing quite fast already. Let's hope the engine doesn't pack it up! Two mechanics constantly check the oversized diesel in the bilge, topping up oil when necessary. The noise and heat are incredible. We move to the bow and stern of the boat and enjoyed the eerie scenery. Our captain, a Burmese, swings the boat expertly around the vicious-looking rocks. He's been navigating this section of the Mekong for six years. The river is already higher than in cool season and some rocks that were visible a month ago are now hidden beneath the surface. After ten minutes it starts raining steadily. As long as we're in the boat, we don't mind. But we worry about the 130-km back to Hua Xai. The road may be impassable in some places. Jimmy, Walter's partner, did a tour in January and 40 kilometers of road were simply missing, having been washed into the Mekong River. It took them three days to get to Hua Xai, two days just to make the 40 kilometers of missing road.

As we speed downriver we discussed what to do and everybody wants to ride. Walter has to make the final decision, and after another 30 minutes we drop anchor at a tiny village. After nearly one hour we've unloaded the bikes and our gear. Hard work! Two of our guys got some rice bags and cut holes in them to make rain jackets. We got going after Walter tells the boat captain to wait for a few hours just in case. We may have to come back! It takes us 90 minutes for the first 17 kilometers. The fine dust on the roads has turned into extremely slippery mud, and the slightest lack of concentration means you go over the side. After these 17 kilometers we're exhausted, covered in mud, with not a single dry thread on us.

Should we go back and take the boat? No way. One look at the other guys and I know: We'll keep going, no matter what. And we got lucky for after another half an hour it starts raining heavily. Small streams form on the roads and wash the slimy mud away. The driving gets easier by the minute, I love this rain! We can drive faster again, and if the conditions don't get any worse we'll enjoy a hot shower and cold beer tonight in Hua Xai. If we don't make it, we'll just have to stay in a village overnight and continue tomorrow. But things are going well. After a few hours it even stops raining, the sun comes out and we're making good time. The countryside is just beautiful, lush and green in the sunlight after the downpour. Even three flat tires can't slow us down. The backup car meets us 30 km before Hua Xai, sporting a new exhaust mounting fashion. We arrive in Hua Xai as it gets dark. What a feeling! We were bone-tired, but felt incredibly good and alive. After a long hot shower we met for dinner and took turns of Walter’s cellular phone to tell our folks on the other side of the globe that we made it!

Back to Thailand

The next day we got on the ferry and crossed the Mekong again, back to Chiang Kong, Thailand. We all needed a bit of rest and we drove the bikes to a garage where they got cleaned up. While Cassius puts the mirrors back on and services each bike, we had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong and enjoyed the Thai food. We continued to Mae Sai on the Thai-Burmese border, taking it easy. Our bungalows for tonight are right on the small river that marks the border between Thailand and Burma and we watched the Burmese on the other side. After a luxurious dinner we had a couple of beers in a pub where a Thai singer from Bangkok does an amazing job of sounding exactly like Elvis. Just don't look at him....

In the morning we walked across the border into Burma. Tachilek is a typical border town, and most of the products sold to the Thai tourists are actually made in Thailand. I bought a packet of Burmese cigars and walk around town for half an hour. Then we checked out of the bungalows and headed for Chiang Rai, where we are going to stay for two nights. We needed a laundry service to take care of our clothes and around Chiang Rai there is some splendid enduro riding to do.

But that’s another story!

The End

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

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