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Published: February 16th 2008
A sad day. Goodbye Black Kiwi, goodbye White Kiwi
Mat: It was a day of both sadness and relief when we sold our Minsks in Luang Prabang. We had intended to keep them for another week or so, but a German guy who seemed to think Minsks were the best motorbikes in the world, offered us US$650 for them (we had bought them for US$850 for both). This was after a good hammering during our 2 ½ month trip, a couple of indicators smashed off etc, and mine needing new clutch plates in a country without Minsk parts. Sad to see them go, but Trace and I had definitely got our hundred bucks worth from them!
To both mourn and celebrate our loss of the Minsks I hired a Baja, and Jeremy and I planned for a good honest ride the next day. We had been in contact with the guy who surveyed and researched our map (David U from www.gt-rider.com), and he suggested a road that was not on his map but rumoured to be do-able for 4x4s.
So we left the next morning at 6am and rode the 190km to Oudomxai arriving just on 9am to have breakfast. From there we headed south on a road
the Chinese built in the 60s during the second Indochina war as an excuse to have a presence in Laos and ensure Thailand could be fought off at a greater distance from the Chinese border if necessary. We only spent a short time on this road before turning south east onto a dirt road.
After getting to “Nga” there was no relevant markings on our map so we followed our nose and had some great riding. There was one big river crossing where we had the Baja’s exhaust pipes flirting with the water. It had a bridge of sorts but it was locked. Not sure what the story was with this.
Then all of a sudden the road deteriorated and became far more fun. The road would be OK for a 4x4 but a bit tricky in places. On a Baja it was great, up and down, twisty, could get a bit of speed in places, a rollercoaster of a dirt road.
After about 40km on the poor road we hit the village Ban Lathane on the Mekong and carried on east on the north side of the river expecting the road we had been following to
Mmmmm, where did the road go?
This is when we realised that it would take a boat trip to get to a road that would link to Luang Prabang
head towards Pak Ou, which we knew hooked up with Luang Prabang. But no. It turned into a footpath that we could not ride. So we headed back to ask if there was a road in the area to Pak Ou. Responses to this included shaken heads, and fingers pointed at the river as they repeated “Pak Ou”.
So we negotiated for a boat to Pak Ou for $16 and loaded up. Just after we did this the backpacker boat from Houeyxai arrived and stopped. It was nice to have our boat to ourselves rather than being crammed into the backpacker boat. After having to ride up the village rubbish dump to get up the riverbank at Pak Ou, we were back on the tarmac and on our way back to Luang Prabang. A great days ride, 370km, left at 6am arrived back 5.30pm.
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage site. Due to the poverty of the country the French buildings of the town remained dominant from when the French left in the fifties until it was given world heritage status in recent times. There are very strict building regulations for any new construction in the area,
and the old building owners have access UN funds for restoration using the original material types. As a result it is beautiful town nestled on the Mekong, with no buildings taller than two or three stories. Its popularity has turned it into “Farang City” however (as our Luang Prabang-born guide in Phongsali described it). Definitely more westerners than Lao. Still, it’s a great place to chill out, US$3 massages, and good food.
From Luang Prabang we headed south to Vang Vieng on - shudder - a bus. After the freedom of owning motorbikes for 2 ½ months it did feel like being on a cattle truck. A cattle truck with loud Lao pop music. Ah well.
In Vang Vieng we did the obligatory tubing down the nearby river, a compulsory trip for backpackers for many a year. The day consisted of periods of super relaxation as we drifted down the river (even slower than a Minsk) interspersed with periods of high adrenaline as we tried the various rope-swings along the way (used to attract the many floating farang to the swing owner’s beerlao). And I’m not talking about your average rope-swing, even by Kiwi standards a couple of
Trace on a massive rope swing as we did the obligatory tubing down the river at Vang Vieng
them were monsters. Trace was most concerned about getting water up her nose, rather than letting go at the wrong time and breaking her neck, and so made sure that she was tightly holding her nose as she fell into the water. The problem with this was that like everyone else she hit the water pretty hard and her thumbnail was rammed into her upper nose causing a small gash that I can still see four weeks later…
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