Sunday, January 26, 2014

5. Vientiane - Pakse

697 km

It was not my intention at all to ride a distance of almost 700 km in one day, pretty much equal to crossing Germany from north to south, or in other words, from Hamburg to Zurich, Switzerland.

In fact, I am not terribly in a hurry to get back to the border to Cambodia since my time here in Laos was rather short, compared to the other countries I travelled through.

I only was granted with a “Bike-Visa” (People and motorcycles need a Visa in Thailand and Laos) for 14 days, but I my estimated time in this country will not exceed 12 days.

So when I left Vientiane, the capital of Laos this morning, the good road, Highway 13S,  allowed my mind to wander a bit; together with the light and well-behaved traffic I didn’t need my senses to be on “Code Red” all the time. While I was riding along I was thinking that I haven’t seen a single big motorcycle on the roads here, except for the parked Drag-Star in Luang Prabang.

Well, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, because it was less than hour out of the city that I ran into a group of three Laotian big bike riders on their way to the Bike Festival in Mukdahan, Thailand.

The DUCATI's and some spectators taking pictures.

Patthana is trying out the BMW.

We stopped shortly afterwards at a gas station for an espresso and I had a chance to chat with them a little. There were two brand-new 830 cc/110 hp DUCATI Hyper Motard’s and one Harley-Davidson. 

They told me that they are a group of five motorcycle riders out of Vientiane, but that two of their friends couldn’t come since their new bikes are already down and currently being repaired in Bangkok. For good reason they are utterly disappointed with their purchase, although DUCATI Thailand does the replacement of the malfunctioning fuel injection systems and fuel computers under warranty, without cost. Still, it is quiet an excise to ship the bikes on a truck through two countries, customs and all. Last year they got together as a group and ordered the bikes directly from Italy, and now: Buyer’s remorse! When I heard that DUCATI uses Magneti Marelli electrical and fuel injection equipment on those expensive bikes, my hair were standing up in horror. This alone would be a reason for me, the tested former owner of a 1979 ALFA ROMEO Spider 2000 (yes, the car in “The Graduate”, same color also) to never purchase this motorcycle.

We had fun talking bikes over our coffee. Interestingly also that motorcycles over 250 cc are illegal in Laos, since the police wants the dominance over traffic in their big HONDA’s. Nevertheless, these folks rode them. Later they explained the way it works. In always works somehow, if you know how.

They asked me what my destination for today would be, Savannakhet I told them, and they told me to forget about that town and ride with them to Pakse, some three hours further south. Well, that’s an idea, why not. Off we went on our 11 hour wild, fast ride!

Another gas stop. For them, not for me!
The Ducati's and Harley's just have small gas tanks!

The main road in Laos going south, Highway 13S. Comparable to a French country/departmental road.

It turned out that they were a great group of very well connected young guys, knowing pretty much everybody in this southern Laos city. One is the owner and CEO of a Vientiane contracting firm who studied Civil Engineering in Poland, the other one an owner of an Eco-Tour company with multiple offices across the country, and last but not least the owner of the biggest, and best Vientiane restaurant, where I ate twice, without knowing him.

They had rooms reserved in Pakse and we spend two fabulous days together.

Our food (Breakfast, lunch and dinner) was provided by a great restaurant in Pakse, another Harley rider and former Laotian chef to a French President in Paris who they know, of course, and we spend endless hours discussing all kinds of issues, including politics. I was surprised how openly they discuss and point at the rampant corruption in their country, something they wouldn't have done some years ago, they told me. The evenings were very long, and the night hours of Karaoke singing is also something I need to get more used to, but we had a blast.

My new 'Saturday Morning Coffee group' in Laos.

Of course all of them speak perfect English, travel the world, including an upcoming trip for the owner of the tour company trip to an international tourism conference in Berlin; the owner of the restaurant, a DUCATI rider, also gets ready for a trip to Switzerland where he registered for an ‘Iron Man’.

To add to all this, they introduced me to a German architect who lives in Vientiane but plans to retire in Pakse and I looked at his drawings and heard about his plans to build a huge retaining wall and retirement home on his property directly on the Mekhong for which the contractor-rider does the soil engineering.

I must say that I am a little exhausted from the days with them, and I believe the alcohol consumption must have had something to do with it. The very expensive –and illegal- shots of a Laos schnaps mixed with gall-bladder liquid of a bear (bile) from the spectacular mountains around here which the restaurant owner served didn't help either.

I followed their advice to ride up into the mountains to a VERY remote area where I currently stay in a bungalow near one of the main beautiful waterfalls in this area. Maybe I recover here from all the talking, wild riding, the crossing cows, dogs, and goats, and of course, from the alcohol.

The cows are leisurely strolling across the road. But sometimes they can jump and run pretty fast! Careful!

The roosters are flying from tree to tree in front of my bungalow, a sure sign that I don't need to set an alarm for tomorrow morning.

They went on to Thailand to the bike event. I would have liked to join them but for me as a U.S. passport holder, and with my bike U.S. registration, it would have been a time-consuming hassle at the Thai border.

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