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Published: August 6th 2007
Nice elephant too
Once out of the trees, it was back on the bikes to head towards Luang Prabang.
Rather than heading down to LP by travelling the whole way by boat down the Mekong (as most people do - there are no roads in that direction) we decided to make more of a trip of it and head to Pak Khop three hours or so down the Mekong from Houeyxai.
For some reason they would not take us to Pak Khop, but assured us that Kone Tuen was very close to Pak Khop, I think the words were: "Pak Khop, Kone Tuen, same same, one or two kilo meet". God I wish I spoke Lao. Once dropped off at Kone Tuen it took us 2 hours of dodgy dirt and a couple of good stream crossings to get to Pak Khop, which was where were had intended to start from.
On the way we must have passed through or very close to Khop. Good fun, but it meant that we ended up in the dark riding on rock/dirt/sand, hoping that some form of guesthouse would be in Xiengkhone (after all it was in bold on our map - whatever that
Sure enough we arrived in Xiengkhone and walked straight into a new mint guesthouse with a very friendly host.
The next day was on towards Hongsa. More packed dirt/rock/sand. We passed a sign in Lao that must have said "detour" because 5km down the road we were turned back by a road crew churning up the road with diggers.
Despite the brushy burnt off vegetation, and no really impressive scenery, I enjoyed the ride. We got stopped by the army at one point, but a very quick look at our passports and we were off. I'm not sure what the point was because they did not record anything or check anything other than our front page. Even though I knew there would be elephants near Hongsa, I was pretty cool to see a couple 5 or 10 km out from Hongsa.
We had a day off in Hongsa, the watermelon capital of Laos, then headed east towards LP. We had heard the road directly east (following the line of the Mekong) was very steep in places and not the most polished of roads, so we gave the Minsks an extra dash of oil and headed
The roads were not too much of a problem for Jeremy's XR, but it pushed the Minsks to their meagre limits.
Trace developed a habit of not being able to carry enough revs up the steep hills due to the ruts and rocks and sand, then not being able to hold the bike up on the hill when it refused to go any further. She also had the odd wobbly off in the sand at slow speed. Due to this we affectionately named her "The Sand Badger", which for us was quite hilarious (I am not sure if it was the heat or the dust or the hills). I can not believe I found a wife who is into this kind of stuff. Imagine when she actually rides a real bike.
What was even more hilarious than mocking Trace's affection for sand, was when my clutch started giving out right in the middle of the hills. There were no mini-tractor units, no motorbikes, and those very steep hills. Jeremy towed me up the inclines with a piece of rope he bought from a woman in a village that was using it to tie up her
mosquito net. Somehow it held as he towed me up the inclines for the rest of the trip (it only broke once). The road was tricky as it was with a loaded Minsk, but being towed was hectic.
Arriving on the other side of the Mekong from Luang Prabang was fantastic, it had been a testing, hot, but fun day. We organised a small boat each to get us across to LP, where the cold beer was one of the best I have ever had.
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