Vieng Thong to Phonsovan
- 6 hours riding time
The day started early and we were out packing up the bikes by 7am. As usual Shaun was trying to redesign how best to tie his bags on to the bike so while I was waiting I went for a ride up the street and managed to find a 19mm spanner (the one we’d needed the day before for the flat tyre) to add to our kit. Getting back to the hotel and I had to get a photo of Shaun’s packing effort. Now I know I’m laying into Engineers a little bit but just look at the comparison below and you might understand why (and remember these photos for later in the day).
My pack with two straps neatly and tightly over and back:
Anyway enough of that for now. Once we were all loaded up we wandered down the street to the restaurant we’d visited last night to get some breakfast. Getting into the local traditions we each downed a bowl of beef noodle soup and an omelette. While eating I could see into the little wood fired kitchen our food was coming from and had to go get some photos. Such an old-fashioned kitchen for a restaurant but it was producing great food.
We hit the road about 8am and better prepared for it this morning, I’d put a singlet and a couple of t-shirts on under my jacket so I wasn’t feeling the cold as much. The road was bitumen and wound through the jungle. 10km out of town I found myself in a ditch on the edge of the road. One of the many Hiluxs that filled the roads of Laos had taken the racing line around a corner and travelling way too fast had swung right across the road and given me nowhere to go except for the ditch. Travelling at around 50km/h when I left the road it was only luck and probably the depth of the ditch that kept me upright. The truck continued on its way without even a tap of the brakes to check on my welfare. After gathering myself I thankfully walked away with little more than a jarred wrist and a few frayed nerves.
Back on the road and taking the corners a little slower than when I started the day, we continued along the narrow roads up through the mountains. As we got higher up we would often find ourselves in or above the clouds. At times when going through the clouds visibility would be reduced to less than 10m which is very unnerving considering the speed most of the utes were travelling along these roads. This was the one time we resorted to using the headlights as it really was a safety thing. Although standard for bikes to ride with their lights on in Australia and something we’d done all through Vietnam, we had been warned it was illegal here and the police were always on the lookout for tourists doing it.
We powered through most of the morning without too many breaks. After about an hour or so of riding I found myself briefly behind Shaun and noticed one of his straps had come lose. After pulling him over to fix it we continued on for another 20 minutes before coming to one of the many little thatch hut villages we had ridden through during our time in the mountains. Seeing a photo opportunity at the entrance to one of the town I stopped the guys mid way through and turned around to go back and get some shots. With the clouds in the background it made for some real moody photos.
While taking my gear off and getting the camera out Shaun came flying back through the town and went straight on past me. I continued taking photos and didn’t think to much of it until Jarrod started walking back along the edge of the road. Turns out Shaun had stopped and mid conversation with Jarrod had realised his backpack was missing from the back of the bike. Despite all those straps and all that time getting them right in the morning he’d still lost his bag and not even noticed it.
Since we now had a bit of time to kill while we waited for him to go looking for it I made the most of the locals who had again come out to see what all the fuss was about.
Lucky for Shaun he found his bag on the side on the road about a kilometre back. We made sure we gave him a fair ribbing (not for the last time that day) before waving goodbye to the locals and continuing on our way. We pulled into the town of Muang Kham for a lunch of mixed meats with vegetables and rice. It was here that I noticed a significant amount of oil that was collecting on my right knee and traced it back to the brake booster unit that clearly had a failed seal. I gave Jim a call and he requested that if possible we nurse the bike the rest of the way to Phonsavan where he had a good mechanic available to look at it. It was only another 50km away so we took it very easy as I no longer had front brakes. Despite the slow speed we did manage to lose Shaun behind us at one stage and Jarrod and I pulled over to wait for him. He turned up a couple of minutes later and announced he’d hit a cow (I’m still laughing as I write this). Only Shaun could manage to hit a cow on what by this stage of the day were wide open roads. Thankfully he didn’t come off but did have a decent bruise on his leg to show for it (oh and the cow apparently gave him little more than a grunt and continued on its way).
We made one quick stop along the way as despite limping the bike I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a few photos of the scenery we were enjoying.
We pulled into Phonsovan about 2pm and found the mechanic Jim had given us directions to. After passing the phone to the guy and getting a few things translated we were told he would get to us as soon as he was finished with the scooter he was working on for someone else. We left the bikes out the front of the shop and wandered over to the Crater Bar on the other side of the street for a snack and a couple of beers while we waited.
After about 20 minutes or so we saw our mechanic walk out of his shop to the bikes and take a look at them and shake his head. The poor guy was barely as tall as our handlebars and didn’t stand a chance of getting my bike into the workshop. Jarrod dashed across the street to give him a hand riding it into the shop and with the assistance of a small stool he got to work on my brakes. He was a thorough guy and it took him a couple of hours to disassemble it, clean it, replace the seals and put it back on the bike only to find out it was completely stuffed. After a few more phone calls between him and Jim they settled on replacing it with a whole new unit.
By about 4:30pm we settled up and decided to make a quick stop via a hotel to drop the bags and then head off to watch the sunset at the Plain of Jars. This was one of the only attractions in Laos that I had arrived really wanting to see. Unfortunately it was already getting close to sundown and we still had to find them. It turned out that was a little harder than we thought. We set off in a hurry with the sun already close to setting and no accurate map to find our way. We took a few wrong turns and I lost the boys in the traffic. Without time to wait I continued on and rode into the entrance just as the sun was going down. I quickly paid the entry fee and ran up the path towards the site. I got there just as the sun was setting and it didn’t disappoint.
I got off a quick 30 or 40 photos from just the small patch of jars at the top of the hill before it got too dark and then made my way back to the car park. Unfortunately Jarrod was there waiting on his bike. He’d lost Shaun along the way and also left his bags, phone and wallet at the hotel so was unable to get it.
We made our way back into town and opted for a quick (and cold) shower at the Hillside Residence before heading out for dinner. It had been quite an eventful day with me being run off the road, Shaun losing is bag and hitting a cow and the mad dash to the Jars so we did have plenty to chat about over a few Beer Laos that night.