Vientiane to Pak Lay
- 6.5 hours including stops.
Day 1 of the bike ride was to follow the Mekong River (which acts as the border with Thailand) heading west to Xanamkham before turning north to Pak Lay for the evening.
Since Jim had been nice enough to drop the bikes to the hotel the night before we were up at a reasonable hour and packing the bikes. The boys had both brought reliable Occy straps with them and I borrowed a few from Jim to tie down the backpacks. The 250 Bajas had a much smaller rack than we were used to with the YBR 125’s we had done Vietnam on but a 40L pack still fit reasonably well. As would be the case most mornings, watching Shauno strap down his bags was a laugh. Where both Jarrod and I had two straps neatly over and back, Shaun was using 3 or 4 running in all sorts of directions making tying down the bags a huge task and usually taking a good 15 minutes to complete. Who are we to question him though, the kid’s an Engineer.
We packed up and were on the road by 8:30am having left our cases at the hotel for the week. First stop was the petrol station as we’d been warned the bikes were running on reserve and would need to be filled up first thing. As you can see, despite being only 50m up the road from the hotel the boys were a little excited to be underway.
About 10km out of town the road turns to dirt. Jim had warned us to take it really easy that morning as much of the road had been built with dirt and clay dug out of the river. When dry the worst you have to deal with is a lot of dust but with just a drop of water the clay may as well be ice. Given the road is often shaded by the trees it is very difficult to tell whether it’s a shadow or a wet patch.
After an hour or so on the road we pulled in for our first drinks break of the day with a view of the Mekong in the background.
These little tractor and cart arrangements are everywhere. With a top speed of around 10km/h they can are easy to pass in themselves but can cause a bit of chaos when they’re going through towns and there are cars and trucks trying to pass them. The biggest hassle on these roads seemed to be the local animals. I came close to running over a snake that morning (I would hit one later in the week) and Jarrod had a couple of near misses with some chickens.
An impressive view for the first day. The first 140kms of the ride heading to Xanamkhan was all along the edge of the Mekong. In a few places you could see some rather impressive temples on the hilltops of the Thailand side.
We rode into Xanamkhan about 1pm and pulled up out the front of the first place that looked like it did food. As we were discussing whether it looked alright a young couple came running out to wave us in. Keen for a cold drink and a decent feed we parked the bikes and sat down. Seeing that we were covered in dust one of the ladies immediately brought out a tub of water for us to wash our face and hands in which was appreciated. It also became quickly evident that this place didn’t have menus and that there was going to be a language issue. After a few minutes of gesturing we managed to get across that we wanted food but not much more. We helped ourselves to the drinks fridge and realised there was a second fridge full of seafood that all looked a bit suspect. I went for the freezer instead (mind you nothing in the freezer was actually frozen) and managed to find something that looked like chicken and after pointing to a few vegetables in the kitchen we managed to get a dish underway.
These guys got to cooking up a storm in the tiny little kitchen and I wandered over to get a few photos. As soon as they saw the camera they wanted to get involved. We posed for a few photos and then let them get back to the cooking. We ended up with a chicken stir fry and a mango and chilli salad that both tasted pretty good and better yet no one got sick from it.
We did have quite a laugh about this photo later on as Shaun pointed out it had got a little awkward when the guys hand wandered a little high on Shaun’s inner thigh.
Heading north from Xanamkhan we finally got some paved road and started to head up into a few hills still overlooking the river. The video below will give you a bit of an idea of the view we had most of the afternoon.
By mid afternoon the road begin to take us down a little closer to the river until we eventually realised we were going to have to cross it.
As we hit the river we came to our first ferry crossing of the trip. Jim had repeatedly warned us the day before. Take the big ferry….what ever you do take the big ferry…THE BIG FERRY. Heading this warning we drove straight onto the big ferry just as it was about to depart. They do offer a smaller ferry for bikes but Jim had said it was notorious for losing bikes over the edge.
The photo above is one of my favourite of the trip. The trucks and busses getting off the ferry had stirred up a lot of dust and with the rays of sunlight coming through the trees hitting this dust it made for a great shot if I could get my camera out quick enough.
About 5km after the river crossing we hit Pak Lay and did a quick lap of the main street before settling on A Nou Sone Guest House for the night. The rooms were simple with double beds and large wet bathrooms but for 80,000 kip per room ($12) we couldn’t go wrong. By that stage everyone was well and truly covered in dust and looking forward to a shower and a feed.
Our quick review of the day showed that the technology we had brought along had only been relatively successful. The Bluetooth headsets were temperamental and would work between two riders reasonably well but once you involved a third they started to play up. Jarrod’s new GoPro had also corrupted its memory card about half way through the day so we’d lost most of the video recorded so far.
After a quick shower I headed out to the main street to investigate what had appeared to be the beginnings of some sort of festival we had spotted on the way in. Jim had mentioned about the That Luang festival that was finishing that night and bringing a lot of people to Vientiane so we assumed it was the same thing up here. All up and down the main street were little stalls selling ornate wreaths with candles in the middle that were to be lit and sent down the river later in the evening.
After watching the sunset down by the river I went back up and met the boys who had found one of the few restaurants in town that actually had refrigerated beers and we sat down for dinner and a few drinks overlooking the Mekong river.
As it got darker we could see people and candle lights appearing at the edge of the river down near the boat ramp and went to investigate (the boat ramp here was actually a joint project between the Australian and Laos Governments). The streets were now full and there was a party atmosphere so on the way down we stopped and grabbed a couple of wreaths and the biggest firework we could find and went down to the water to join in.
The kids were all having a great time down there and watching hundreds of these candles floating down the river was quite impressive. The only annoyance was some of the deafening crackers that a few of the boys kept letting off in close proximity to everyone.
After I got a heap of photos and copped plenty of flack from the boys for wandering knee deep into the river with my tripod to get another angle we headed back to the hotel. The restaurants had all closed by this point so Jarrod and I took to the hotel balcony with a few cans of coke and some duty free whisky to finish the evening off.