View Part 1 here: here otherwise continue below for Part 2.
As we didn’t have much at all in the way of run up the rear wheels span most of the way up the hill until we reached the peak and the best view we’d seen so far. One of the bikes went down coming up and we spent a while looking for the bolt that was gifted to the grass via a broken split pin. The bolt looked exactly like a 3cm piece of burnt bamboo, which was handy, because the whole mountain was covered in burnt bamboo from the slash and burn farming techniques Laos farmers employ.
Once we’d found the bolt and rigged something to hold it in place we went and found a mechanic. Two wheel specialist mechanics are everywhere, as nearly everybody in Laos rides a scooter. As it seemed most people were during New Year, the mechanic and his friends were trolleyed, but extremely helpful nonetheless. We fixed the wonky bits and you couldn’t even tell we’d bent hardened steel. Thanks legends.
480km from Pak Lay we rode into Laung Prabang at night and immediately wanted to get out of there. We were stuck in traffic, one-way streets and road rules. No bueno. We saw other foreigners for the first time on the trip; we ate and slept, ready to get out of town first thing. In the morning we put our bikes onto the water taxi and crossed the river back to the dust and mud we now felt so familiar with.
At this point we were completely caked head to toe in mud by about midday. If the roads were quite, we were hitting every puddle throttle back, most of which covered the road for ten metres or so. If we were lucky we could wash ourselves a little if we made a big enough splash crossing a river, it was an insane amount of fun, challenging, testing and rewarding. River crossings, mud sliding, wall rides, shortcuts, hill climbs, winding descents, jungle bound single tracks, Laos has it all.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to travel like this and see the country the way that we did. We were so fortunate to meet and eat with people in the more remote areas we got to. All of who were extremely welcoming. When we were able to converse over lunch most people said that they very rarely have tourists come through their villages at all; even fewer who stopped to eat and chat.
A bike accident that nearly cut our trip short meant we had to stay another night in Luang Prabang. Such is the way in Laos though, that even though we had four of maybe fifty full size new Honda dirt bikes in Laos, we had clutch and gear parts sourced and fitted within 24 hours. A morning trip to the airport post office, a pit stop to the mechanic and we back on the road, heading North to Nong Khiaw.
We based ourselves in Muang Ngoy, an hour north of Nong Khiaw along a river track, for the next few days. We decided a rest day wouldn’t hurt as the 7-9 hours days on the bike were catching up. We still did day rides exploring the loops on the crescent that ran the top of the hills behind our room on the river. No time for a complete rest day. Sand tracking along the riverbanks and skirting over the bedrocks kept us entertained. All the while shadowed by huge rolling mountains around us. Muang Ngoy is a little slice of paradise and probably the only relatively touristy place we enjoyed. All the guesthouses overlook the Nam Ou River and there are a handful of restaurants, a chemist and a Buddhist Temple. That’s about it.
Rejuvenated, we said goodbye to Mamma Alec, the greatest restaurateur in Laos and headed south for Kasi and the mountains in the sky we’d been told about.
The ride into Kasi was another long bitumen day and we raced the sun to a dustbowl town where we slept the night. I woke to the words of a communist leader giving a speech delivered via street post megaphone speakers. We ate and left, heading back on the old highway 13 winding through Vieng Kham towards Pho Khan through rolling green lush mountains.
The landscape in these hills was vastly different to the tropical jungle mud we’d been sliding around. It reminded me of the Scottish Highlands for a minute as we descended into the plateau with the sun setting on our backs. The road up and down the mountain was full of switchbacks and up to ~18% inclines. Trucks that had buried themselves into the cliff to our left were a sober reminder of the road toll in parts of Laos that is amongst the highest in the world.
There is a local motorbike enthusiast ‘Chips’ that has a café in Kasi Province named Kasi Café & Strawberry Garden. You can camp on his property with tents and gear that he provides. He knows where the trails are and will come riding with you if you’d like a pal. The morning ride up the mountain floating through the clouds and into the air above is definitely worth it. We passed more fellow motorbikes on this road than the rest of the trip combined. Most of these riders were on new BMW 1200’s with support cars and guides. Shout outs to the older lord we passed zigzagging his way up on a pushbike, even if he did look like he was three quarters of the way through a heart attack. On top of the plateau you can eat pho and laap at a little restaurant shack and watch the clouds roll past shrouding the winding road
We passed through a military checkpoint as we were leaving the plateau that day, the military officers who were searching cars and scanning the hills with binoculars almost completely ignored us. Even when I nearly rolled over a young man in fatigues snoozing in the grass roadside. Everywhere we went the military were very friendly. They were most likely looking for opium smugglers or road bandits who apparently rob the trucks on the old highway.
The last leg of our trip was from Kasi to Vang Vieng, and we rolled into the town famous for all the bars playing dubbed Friends re-runs and infamous for the high number of drunken tourists dying in the Nam Song River that gurgles through it’s heart. Most of the toxic party scene has died down now and although the town itself is much like any other, it’s the perfect base for exploring the paradise surrounding it.
We really splashed out in Vang Vieng paying $15AUD a night for the best rooms we’d slept in all trip. Kes had pre-booked these two nights knowing we would be ruined and ready for a real bed at this point, thanks Papa Kes. We had our own bungalow at Champa Lao and views into the karst limestone mountains where the sun fell at dusk. We spent more money on damn fine black espresso coffee here than we could of spent on food in a day in the far north, but it was totally worth it.
Out of Vang Vieng Kes had picked a spot for our last day trip and after crossing the Nam Song on tiny one at a time bamboo bridges we found ourselves at the foot of a steep hill climb made up of sharp flat and slippery limestone. Perfecto. Bouncing up the trail in first gear I saw water running off the cliffside to my left, it wasn’t running strong but there were tiny little streams gently falling down the limestone cliff faces. Just before I got to the summit I heard a thudding whack in my helmet and pieces of debris fell into my lap and bounced off again. A chunk of limestone had slid off the cliff somewhere above me and hit me square on the head. No major damage just a chip out of Moto III. Thanks for protecting my head Bell.
We snaked down the other side of the mountain and found ourselves in a grassy valley that looked like a set from Jurassic Park. After an hour braaping around rear wheel exploring, we parked our bikes out of sight and trekked into the jungle for a swim. Hundreds of butterflies followed us along the trail keeping the vibes high. This was our last day out in the jungles and our last day of proper off road riding. We floated around in the water appreciating all the amazing trails we’d ridden, the beautiful people we’d met and guessing the total weight of all the sticky rice we’d eaten.
At some point a group of bushwalkers popped out from the other of the stream we’d set up in for the day. It was quite a strange experience as we had so rarely seen other foreigners in spots like these. The abrupt tone in the first words they spoke, “have you seen our guide?” was startling and made me laugh. I felt so f***ing lucky at that moment that we had been able to do what we had just done for the last 15 days. I was lucky that Kes and I met at my old Melbourne house and twenty minutes into lunch conceived the idea of a moto trip through Laos. I’m lucky Andy & Jason Kes & I spent just about every minute of those sixteen days in each other’s pockets and we barely disagreed on anything.
I’ll find it hard to travel in that environment again without a motorbike, and I don’t think I ever will. Thanks to everyone who made it such a memorable and unique trip.
Suus Road Denim: https://suus.com.au/collections/road-denim
Bell Moto 3: https://suus.com.au/collections/helmets-1
100% goggles: https://suus.com.au/collections/goggles
Words by Max Ray Fin