Saturday, 29 November 2014



Total Trip Distance: 4408 km
Duration: 6 weeks

Thailand (Chiang Mai, Khaem Son, Khao Yai, Aranyaprathet)
Cambodia (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kratie)
Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City -by bus)
Laos (Pakse, Thakhek, Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang)
Thailand (Thung Chiang, Chiang Mai)
Back at home in Chiang Mai
 When first planning this trip we were both going to be on Mark’s CBR 250.  Luckily he upgraded to the CBX 500 in January which meant Jenny started riding the CBR.  She enjoyed riding a bigger bike enough that we decided to take 2 bikes on the trip.  We can’t imagine what the rougher bits of the roads would have been like with both of us on the CBR!
We changed the route slightly as we went, and were glad to discover the Laos/Thai border crossing that saved a day and turned out to be a great alternative.  The biggest change was deciding not to try to drive to China.  There were several factors:  difficulty getting across the border, that motorbikes are not allowed in Kunming or on the Hwy to Dali, much colder weather and finally, that we are only permitted to have the bikes outside of Thailand for 30 days and we were already 16 days into our second permit.  We are going to fly Chiang Mai – Kunming the week we get home to finish the interviews for Mark’s research.

Day 46-47: Luang Prabang, Laos – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Fri, Nov 28:  Luang Prabang, Laos – Thung Chiang, Thailand

We had been thinking of putting the bikes on a slow boat to Houay Xai to avoid the dirt and gravel roads on the way to Luang Namtha that many have warned us about taking, but we decided to drive to a new land border crossing at Muang Ngeun/Huai Kon which would take us into Nan province in Thailand.  I can’t believe that we hadn’t heard of this before – it was great and only 2 days from LP-CM! (Hwy#13-4-4a in Laos)
4a was a narrow twisty mountain road with frequent patches of gravel construction that kept the speed down but the scenery was beautiful.  The last 30km was on a wide, smooth, paved road from a new coal power plant in Hongsa right to the Thai border (Thailand gets 80% of the power generated). The border was simple and small – took less than 1 hour!  Driving in Nan Province was exceptional.  Hwy#101 is a great new road with stunning scenery of rolling hills and lots of panorama views while winding along the crest of mountains.  We passed many big trucks carrying huge loads of lumber out of Laos.  We were told that it is exported by Chinese companies who then stockpile it just across the border until it is legal to take to Bangkok and then by boat to China.  Companies always find a way to evade environmental protection policy at the expense of poorer countries…so sad to see.
Stayed at Siam Garden Bungalows with hosts Dao & Marco in Thung Chiang – great place!

Laos:  4 hrs - 228 km ;  Thailand:  1 hr - 50 km 
Total:  5hrs - 278km
Landslide road collapse in Laos

Sat, Nov 28: Thung Chiang – Chiang Mai

On the final home stretch today we started on twisty mountain roads in Nan Province, stopped for lunch by the lake in Phayao and finished coming in on Hwy #118 where we could finally get back up to cruising speed.  Nice to be home on our quiet little soi where everything seems to be in order.
Driving time: 6 hrs
Distance: 348 km
Rolling hills in Nan Province, Thailand

Day 43-45: Luang Prabang

Nov 25-27, 2014

Drove to Luang Prabang through beautiful mountain scenery.  Started and ended back on #13 where there were many big potholes - both of us went right through a deep one, glad to come out the other side without tire punctures, but most of the way was on a new road. 
Hwy#4: Vang Vieng - Luang Prabang
passing the water buffalo
Luang Prabang is a beautiful Unesco World Heritage site with temples and monks everywhere, the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers to the north and west, colonial buildings, cafes and restaurants that feel like you're in Europe and a big walking market every night.  Went out to the stunning Tad Kuang Si waterfall with its pools of brilliant blue water and had a swim to cool off.
One of Laos' many beautiful butterflies
Wat Suwannaphumaham
Creative lighting using old bomb casing
Mosaic tree of life at Wat Xieng Thong
Monks crossing the bamboo bridge
Monks crossing the bamboo bridge
Bamboo bridge over Mae Nam Kham
Mae Nam Kham
Tad Kuang Si
Tad Kuang Si

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Day 41-42: Vang Vieng - Mountains, Mohitos & Marihuana

Nov 23-24, 2014

Drove to Vang Vieng today on reasonable roads, paved but lots of random potholes, getting some mountain twists and turns.  Hard to get going very fast as at any moment you may come around a bend right into a tire swallowing crater155km - 3 hours.
Careful - those cows never signal when turning
Loose gravel and potholes

We rented bicycles and rode 7km out for a swim at the Blue Lagoon through beautiful karst mountains.  Vang Vieng has lots to offer with rock climbing, tubing and kayaking all the rage as well as being a backpacker party spot.  And yes, "Friends" is still playing at several riverfront lounge bars where patrons can buy joints, opium, mushroom tea and more.  This has been toned down and is more subtle compared to 10 years ago when we were last here and various stimulants were advertised on sidewalk signs.  The current tourist tank-top that many of the 20 somethings are wearing is: "Drink triple, See double, Act single"....kinda sums it up.

Funky tractor

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Day 35-40: Vientiane, COPE, weaving & dying

Mon, Nov 17 – Sat, Nov 22

Pleased to find Vientiane a more warm and welcoming place than when we were here last, 10 years ago, with a long pedestrian walkway and park along the riverfront and many appealing cafes and restaurants.  (This blog is mostly Jenny’s exploration while Mark was busy reading and preparing for interviews.)

Visited the Morning Market, which is mostly an indoor mall with a small outdoor market where I was appalled to see rhinoceros horns (adult & baby) for sale alongside traditional medicine herbs and various bark and dried plants.  Where are they sourcing them and who is buying them?!? Makes me angry enough to start throwing things so I joined ‘Sabai Disc’ for an Ultimate Frisbee pick-up game – always a good time.

Next, I went to the ‘COPE Visitors Centre’, alongside a Rehabilitation Centre for ambulatory needs and prosthetic limbs, that has a very well put together exhibit of how Laos people have suffered due to UXO from the US Secret War.  “From 1964-73, the US dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions – equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hrs/day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. The bombings against the Pathet Lao and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians. Up to a third of the bombs dropped didn’t explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the bombing ceased in 1975.  Each year there continue to be over 100 new casualties in Laos. Close to 60% of the accidents result in death, and 40% of the victims are children.  The U.S. spent as much in three days bombing Laos ($51M, in 2010 dollars) than it spent for clean up over 16 years ($51M).”
Wow, appalling statistics of suffering that need to be talked about.
Metal sculpture of family running from bombs
Prosthetic legs
Legs falling like bombs
Danger UXO!
Went to Phou Khao Khouay National Park for 2 days of trekking and a homestay in Ban Na village where they specialize in bamboo basket weaving.  Amazing the work that goes into every step of these intricate baskets that they sell for $1.25.  Trekked with a guide for 2 days in the park seeing many iridescent scarab beetles and butterflies.
Bamboo sticky rice baskets
Lao woman weaving baskets
weaving a bamboo basket
Iridescent scarab beetle
 Went out to Houey Hong Vocational Centre for Women for 2 days of learning traditional weaving and dying. They use only natural materials for dying such as indigo, jackfruit & mahogany bark, Thai ebony, onion skin and stick lac resin (left from insects).  I tie-dyed a silk scarf using indigo and wove 2 silk scarves.  Many women were there – some with small children – in a warm, friendly environment.  At lunch one day one of the guys was roasting a rat over the fire – presumably to eat.

Indigo dyed silk thread hanging to dry
Marigolds, seeds and bark used for dying
Silk scarf that I tie-dyed and indigo thread
Silk scarf that I wove on the loom
Rat roasted over open fire


Monday, 17 November 2014

Day 31-34: Thakhek- karst mountains, rock climbing; drive to Vientiane

Sunset over Thailand across the Mekong
Monks along the Mekong
Thurs, Nov 13 – Sun, Nov 16

Thakhek is a chill little town on the Mekong with lots of undulating limestone karst hills, caves, grottoes and rivers between it and the Vietnam border, only 150km away.  We decided to stay here and explore for a few days as Mark has to wait until later next week for an interview in Vientiane.  While Mark was catching up on some work I drove out through the spectacular hills, went swimming in a blue lagoon, and did a whole day of fabulous rock climbing at ‘Green Climbers Home’.
Blue lagoon for a swim
Green Climbers Home
Rock climbing

Yoga on the small ledge
 On Sunday we drove to Vientiane on great roads through the countryside.  We saw some women submerged in a pond up to their chests who were fishing with traditional Laos dip nets on bamboo poles.  Arrived in Vientiane and had a short walk along the Mekong and through town to get our bearings – lots of places to go back to later this week.
Total driving time: 5:30 hrs
 Total distance: 340km
Women fishing with dip nets


Goat crossing

Goose crossing

Cow crossing