The long way Laos… Part 1, Vang vieng to Luang Probang.
Despite having far too many days tubing behind us and everyone feeling like they’ve had a good beating we had grand plans… Grand plans of motorcycle adventures. When Georgie and I had rented a moped on our first day we couldn’t help but notice they also had a pair of rather serious looking dirt bikes and that set us thinking – Toby will be here, he loves dirt bikes, I want to learn how to ride one and we should go to Luang probang… See the logic?
I was first up at about 8 am and despite the pain (Toby could hardly move and Georgie was hung over) I woke up the others, it was a beautiful morning in Vang vieng and we all knew that it had to be done. We checked out of our room and found a single room that would look after our bags for a couple of days and then limped along to the man with the motorbikes. I have to be honest and say that I was more than a little nervous because up until then the biggest bike I’d ever rode was a little moped – and never had I tackled a bike with a clutch!
I don’t think they get rented out too often because it took us a good hour to get the hogs started but Toby knows his bikes so I let him do his thing… Then I was up, Georgie gave me a pat on the back and off I went up the road – I bluffed it enough to inspire enough confidence in the renter but I still wasn’t 100% sure about it so we decided to put Georgie on with Toby for a while until I got used to things.
The bikes were Honda Baja XR 250’s, mean looking dirt bikes with big twin headlights and one a hell of a kick. Once started and warmed up they ran like a dream so before we left town we got ourselves a map and some breakfast, it was a scorching day and just sitting around was almost unbearable so as soon as our baguettes were gone we threw a leg over and hit the road.
We took it steady while we went out of town and I was getting the hang of things pretty quick, I did however miss a gear and make my bike screech spitting hot oil all up my leg. Toby and Georgie followed behind me and after about 15km we pulled over to take in the scenery, Toby had spotted a pretty intense track he wanted to blaze up and I wanted to inspect my bike for the oil leak. Turns out my bikes gasket was in a bad way and the bloke who owns them had just smeared some gasket seal around it which teamed with a smoking hot day and me revving the bolocks off it had forced it to spit… We probably should have been more concerned about it but all we could think about was getting back on the road to cool off. Toby emerged from the track grinning like a fool and we set off once again.
We passed through rice fields and small villages, along winding roads and alongside rivers – all very idyllic and beautiful. We were now making our way over the hills that surround Vang vieng and back down the other side, the road was smooth enough but any serious pot holes were scoffed up by our trusty steeds with ease. We found a small cafe down by the river as it travels between the last of the tall hills and pulled over for coffee and a refreshing dip, it was stunning – the scenery around Koh Phi Phi in Thailand is similar except here there is no sea only the river but somehow it knocked spots off it, completely rural and silent. The swim had only served to highlight just how shagged we all were and it wasn’t looking good that we had barely left Vang vieng and were all feeling it already but when has that ever stopped us. Back on the Baja’s and back on the road. We stopped again at a marker which said “Luang Probang 215 km” this was a slight blow as I had thought it was mere 135 km (Don’t ever listen to the Lonely Planet guidebooks they are full of shit!). With this new information we thought it best I stop and check my oil and buy a bottle for the road, while we were smashing down language barriers with the local motorbike repair man another chap appeared on a push bike who said he was doing the very same journey – sweating like a river he instantly vindicated our big old bikes.
With every mile the scenery became more and more stunning, we were on the up once again and the straight roads were well and truly behind us. Hills soared all around us and the houses turned from brick buildings to small wooden huts, the local children all came out of their huts as we passed to shout and wave and the road was littered with cows and chickens.
We managed to put 90 km between us and Vang vieng in no more than a couple of hours, all winding roads and sweeping bends, working our way slowly above the cloud base and with about a 40 km/h average speed, we pulled over at a hilltop rest stop for some lunch and to take in the stunning and infinite views back down where we had just come from and across to where we were headed. We had made the right choice, despite it becoming clear that we still had a long long way to go and it was going to be a very long days riding we were all loving it!
Two hours later it was a completely different story… Georgie was starting to get seriously uncomfortable and Toby’s back was killing him, we’d stopped at a few villages along the way for a snack or two but the miles left to go were hanging heavy over us. The fact all the people in the villages would come out and see us and wave like mad would spur us on for another few miles but the sun was starting to set and we still had 50 km to go… We stopped one last time to take a few snaps of the stunning scenery as the sun started it’s decent and turned everything vivid colours, then we sucked it up and made one last knackered push for Luang Probang.
We came over the brow of the hill and started to drop down towards our destination, we could see the mighty Mekong winding through the valley and the sky was turning from vivid flame orange to beautiful warm pink – there was even a rainbow stretching from the hill we had just came from, it seemed like every time we started to flag something came along to remind us how lucky we are to be able to do it, how amazing our journey actually is and the sunset was just one of them.
We managed to get through the winding roads and down the hill just as it got dark and with the darkness came literally millions of bugs, visors down we ploughed on to Luang Probang and by 8:30 pm we finally arrived, tired, dirty and aching we rolled into town on our super duper bikes, found a restaurant, ate in silence and then crashed out at a guest house… It had been an amazing day, one of the best days I’ve ever had!