Saturday, 28 September 2013

Singapore to China on a Honda CBR250.

I'm sitting in Vang Vieng, Laos trying to reconcile what I've done over the last three months. The month of September 2013 in particular has been one of the fullest of my life. Ive biked through three countries from the southern tip of Eurasia (Singapore) to the Chinese border with Laos. Since I left Bangkok in early July I've covered almost 10,000km on my trusty Honda CBR 250cc. The equivalent of Newcastle to Katmandhu. What a bike. Its handled the smooth highways of Malaysia as well as the off road mud baths of Northern Laos – what a great all rounder. However, I don’t think the poor fellow was cut out for the Laos off roading (along with the rider).

I'm sat drinking a Lao coffee, deriving inspiration from the surrounding karst mountains as I compose this drivel. The problem is: far too much has happened. I have had to omit a wealth of information to prevent this entry becoming too novel-like.

The last time I was in Laos was May 2007. Back then there was one ATM in the whole country. Now every town seems to boast a functioning ATM.

However, progress remains slow in one of the few remaining bastions of communism. Life in the remote villages is as it has always been: living off the land with no modern conveniences. A truly remarkable journey through remote Northern Laos has been challenging, exhausting but rewarding.

During my last four and a half years in Thailand I always considered it a developed nation. True it has some way to go in some areas but riding through Thailand you could be mistaken for thinking you were in Europe. In many ways Thailand exceeds Europe in the provision of services. However, Laos is a different kettle of fish. In remote Laos you really feel that you are in the so-called third world. There are few restaurants and when you do find one you'll find the basic dishes double the price of neighbouring Thailand.

You can't help but feel for the hill tribe folk still living in bamboo shacks up high in the mountains. No hospitals, electricity or such like for these people. I had only been in Laos a few hours when I saw a lad with two rat-esque animals hanging off each end of a pole. Obviously, he'd just returned from a hunting trip. Anyway, on with the story:



Langkawi, Malaysia. I love seeing these storks standing on a buffalo's back. 
Langkawi's main beach Pentai Cenang. 
A beautiful backdrop to the yacht club. 
At the foot of a chair lift taking lazy people to the top of the mountain. 
The first time I have ever seen people using segways was here in Langkawi! 
What a stunning golf course. 
The spectacular 30m Temurun Waterfall. 
This is another shot to give an idea of size. It is massive. You can see a man in the middle of the shot about a third of the way up. 
I had to go in. Wearing only boxers I piled into the refreshing pool at the bottom while an Egyptian lady snapped a few pics.
Swimming into the eye of the storm. Magical. 
This was as close as I got to the crocs. 
This lass is from Satun in Thailand and we had a nice conversation as I drank the coconut juice.
Then a 900m ascent of Gunung Raya Mountain (Langkawi's highest point) for nice views to the west.
The east. 
and north to Thailand's Koh Tarutao through the clouds.
I had a nice time with Trish from Middlesbrough. She's contemplating teaching English out here and I was full of encouragement. Canny lass. She gave me a map for my ride around the island.
Fresh coconut at the beach. Life doesn't get much better. 
Then a storm came out of nowhere. Langkawi is very wet in September. 
Another random beach. 
More rain. Very sad. 
But Sabina from Germany cheered us up after a rain-lashed swim. 
This was called Office Time. Sabina and Estonian Ene on their laptops in the Langkawi Cottage Hostel. These two were a great laugh.
Swimming as the impending storm approaches. 
Raining as I pack to leave Langkawi. 
Almost ready to go.
And we're off! 
A final wave to Sabina and Ene and it's off to the ferry for a trip back to the mainland. 
This was the lad who let me skipper the ferry on the way over. 
A Honda CBR 250 and a Kawasaki Ninja 250. Normally arch-enemies but friends on the ferry.
Could this be the best named town in Malaysia? Where do you live? Shit Bucket. Sounds like a nice place. I got some petrol here before crossing back to Thailand and the nuance of the name was lost on the locals.
The magnificent Perlis National Park just before crossing to Thailand. Canny.
Malay side of the border. 
Thai side of this rarely used border. It was set deep in the jungle and offers a hassle-free crossing.
I then rode to Trang, Thailand in the teeming rain. Next day I left early and rode 700km to Cha Am. I stayed in this excellent GH for 200bt.  
Right on the sea too. I went for a dip as I have no idea when I'll see the sea again.
One night in Cha Am was followed by two nights in Bangkok. First I went to my old school to see the six yr10 students who got an A* one year early. I'm very proud of the guys.

I then spent two nights on the lash with my good friend Matt. Very happy times sampling Bangkok's notorious nightlife. I finally got to stay in the Sea Of Love Hotel!
After Bangkok I went to Korat in Isaan to see my exgf who works at a bakery just outside Ratchapat University. I stayed in a hotel on the campus and enjoyed the views of young female undergraduates - they dress very sexily! We exchanged pleasantries and I was off to Petchabun to be the first ever foreign customer these guys have ever had.
There were thousands of birds shrieking outside my room in the center of Petchabun Town. This little Gecko lizard was my sleeping companion for the night.
Onto Tak where I had an oil change and a haircut before finding a room in Mae Sot for the night after a sound drenching.
At Mae La refugee camp I got stopped by this soldier (who has a machine gun behind his back). It was the same guy who'd sheltered with me during the rain yesterday. We drank coffee, interrogated Burmese traffickers and generally had a laugh.
Half way between Mae Sot and Mae Sariang I sheltered in Mr Somjit's house/shack/shop. He tried to sell me maggots to eat and betel nuts to chew. He was a great laugh. He is on the 14min video I made (bottom video on the video tab at the top of the page).
He lives here with his Karen/Burmese wife.
Errr, nah, ya areet marra.
About 20km south of Mae Hong Son. What a view. 
A little coffee shop nearby. 
In between Mae Hong Son and Pai. Simply stunning. 
This bloke simply couldn't believe I don't have a Thai wife! He was dubious about my claim of riding from Singapore too. Funny dude. Didn't believe a thing I said!
My favourite bridge over the River Pai in Pai. Gone. I was first in Pai in October 2006 and quite a bit has changed since then. 
I stayed with the same family I stayed with last time. They had a man come and get the coconuts down. Can you see him near the top? No fear. 
The Bridge over the River Pai. It looks very similar to the Bridge over the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi because the Japanese built this one too.
Cappuccino with luscious backdrop near the bridge.
Pai to Chiang Mai. Cows all over the road. Twas never a problem in Bangkok. In Laos it's far worse. Cows, pigs, geese, kids......anything. 
This little coffee shack was called Cafe Love........but no one loves me.
My next bike: Honda CBR 500. Sooooo tempted at a massive Chiang Mai garage.

I generally drank far too much beer and smoked far too many tabs in the company of far from savoury women in Chiang Mai.
Huaysaiman view point. The Mekong River below on the way to Chiang Khong. I bet there aren't many foreigners who've been here. In fact I bet there aren't many people at all who've been here. 
Taking the bike to Malaysia was easy. Taking it to Laos was not. A bureaucratic nightmare. It's easy enough to do yourself but if you can't speak Thai there's a lass who'll do it for 2400bt! This is just one of the many rip-offs here. I managed to do it myself but it involves a trip to Thai Immigration to get this form for 200bt, then a trip to Thai customs to get another form (100bt). A ludicrous 500bt to cross the Mekong on a ferry and then a further $35 for a Laos visa followed by 100bt for a Laos customs form. Phew. It takes ages. And you have to know where all the offices are - they're not next to each other.
Chiang Khong Immigration Office. 
Laos visa fees. Apparently Japanese folk can enter for free. Nice. UK/US $35 but Canadians $43.....what have they done? 
I was only going over there. 500bt? Langkawi was 450bt but it was 30km away. I could swim to Laos. The whole Chiang Khong / Houy Xai crossing was very annoying. It's a feeding frenzy and your cash is the food.
Aaaaah, now I get it. It might be 500bt but look at the quality you get. No concrete slipway. Nowt. Just a perilously muddy bank. 
And there I am sandwiched precariously between three huge tankers. Well worth 500bt. 
They started washing their trucks with river water during the 5 minute crossing. 
I rode into Loas. I had to ride 1km to find the visa place. Then 1km back to the customs place here. I arrived at midday just as they shut for lunch until 1300. I had to stare at this office for an hour while they played French Boules around the corner. My anger had gone and I was simply laughing at this point.

In true communist fashion the Laos staff were awful. 
At 1330 I was finally off. I'd been messing around with paper since 8am. Finally I was free. It felt good to be leaving Houy Xai passing the fourth bridge to be built over the Mekong between Thailand and Laos. I've been to all four now! Maybe I'll put that on my CV.
In Luang Namtha I had three American pieces of paper worth $300. I swapped those for this massive pile of Laos paper worth $2,200,000 Laos Kip. Beautiful.
I'm standing in Boten, Laos looking at YunnanChina. This may be the prettiest border crossing I've ever seen. 
A Chinese minivan full of people continuously smoking and spitting. Watching and listening to them reminded me of my 3 months in China in 2006. I don't like hearing them hawk up their phlegm. Barbarians!
There you go. Singapore to China in around three weeks. I jumped on the bike and headed south.
A shanty town had grown up near the border. What a wonderful world. 
Into Oudomxai province. 
Superb riding from Houy Xai to Boten to Oudom Xai on the new roads. 
Stopping for a drink of water at a bamboo mud hut with pigs, kids and Gran. 
After Oudomxai things got bad. This digger in the middle of the road was the first sign of things to come. Things had been blissful so far. Little did I know I was in for 80km and four hours of hell.
I didn't see concrete for the entire 80km between Oudomxai and Pak Mong.
The views were still brilliant though. I had to stop here for an alfresco dump as there are no toilets anywhere in the Laos sticks. When in Rome.......I used leaves.
This is quite a good stretch that didn't last long. 
Kids having fun. 
A typical hill tribe bamboo village with superb scenery. 
Two kids staring at the alien with a weird hand-held device. Is he aiming laser beams at us? 
Selling vegetables at a roadside stall. The one good thing about here was the lack of traffic. 
I had a slash against the post of the sign that says 'Welcome to Luang Prabang Province'. It'd be more welcoming if you repaired the crappy roads. 
I was exhausted by now. It was 5pm, I'd been going 3hrs and only covered 53km.
I still had 28km to go until the next village that had a Hostel. I didn't want to be on these roads in the dark. I had to clean the shit off these signs to read them. Locals have no idea how far away anything is. I reset my odometer and watched the km rack up slowly as darkness approached.
Another nice view making up for the terrible road. 
This family was wondering what I was doing taking photos of roadside markers. They had two massive fat pigs in their 'garden'.
I almost came off here as I was sliding along. Reminded me of dancing on ice. Imagine riding on this for 80km? I never want to do it again. 
I was just waiting for the smash. The Beer Lao lorry was sliding towards the red one but luckily stopped in time. 
I was absolutely filthy so I stopped at a village shower for a wash. Around dusk you can see many sarong-clad beauties washing under these pipes. One of the rewards of biking through remote Laos.
After a tortuous 80km I finally arrived in Pak Mong. I was expecting Las Vegas after my hardship so I was a little disappointed when this sight welcomed me. I rapidly renamed the place Pak Ming.
I found a room in the town's only hotel, showered, changed and headed for food. I would have loved a baguette - the famous French legacy. However, this is remote Laos so forget any romantic notions you may have. I had a choice between spicy Lizard's foot salad, 
fried huge black insect, 
desiccated bird,
some kind of insect larvae 
or a whole rack of squirming maggots about to become flies. I thank Thor that I found a woman with some rice who could make vegetable fried rice. What a day!
I couldn't wait to leave Pak Ming. Luckily the road onwards is reasonable by Laos standards (shite for anywhere else but it's surprising what you get used to). I maintain that Thailand's worst provincial roads are better than Laos' best main road.
I arrived in Luang Prabang happy to be in one piece. I stopped and had some noodles with some German tourists. The first real English I'd spoken in ages. I just babbled on like a lunatic. They were amazed where I'd been. They graciously took this shot.
Je n'ai aucune idée pourquoi les signes sont en français?


Between the famous Luang Prabang and the not so famous Phou Khoun. Got talking to some Thai truckers from Chonburi heading towards Boten. I warned them to leave plenty time for the dreaded 80km between Pak Ming and Oudomxai.
I love the school uniform. 
More fantastic scenery south of Luang Prabang. 
Getting closer to Vientiene and W day. 
Aye. 
Canny. 
Closer still. 
The famous Phou Khoun intersection. One of the biggest in Laos. Makes Birmingham's Spaghetti Junction look insignificant. The no.7 road to Phonsavan splits off from the no.13 here. No.13? Unlucky. I looked at rooms here but decided I'd press on to Vang Vieng (a further 100km) and have a day off tomorrow.
Lovely. 
Made it to Vientiene Province. Now I just have to get to Vientiene. 
Lush. 
Mysteriously cloudy. 
Limestone karst mountains. Reminds me of Krabi. 
Good hair. 
I liked her although she was trying to give me crabs....... 
from this cage. I asked as a joke if they were sea crabs and she said yeah. You lying bitch! 
Spiky. 
Blunt. 
I love this shot. 
I left Pak Ming at 8am and made it to Vang Vieng at 6pm. After 340km and 10hrs on the road this lovely lass made me a French baguette. Happy days.
An evening stroll brought my attention to this advert. For 1,200,000kip you can fly from Huay Xai to Vientiene in 1hr. I don't think it would be as much fun as biking it over three days though!

Well what a journey. Tomorrow I will ride the final 150km to Vientiene to start my new life here in Laos.

Kobjai = Thank you.

2 comments:

  1. Awesome. Makes me feel like I'm stuck you know where. But me wonder - how long will it last?
    But boy oh boy - - - , this is better then any suspense flicks out there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Amazing journey.
    (here because you were linked by Victor Pride)

    ReplyDelete

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