On the Laotian roads

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Far away from our sidecars, we can’t compare our experiences on the Asian roads to the ones we had with our loyal Ural on the roads of South of America. In spite of this, our stay in Laos was rich of adventures on the various roads and paths of this country.

Our first attempt on the Laotian roads was on our second day. We travelled by bus from the station to the the Houei Sai city to reach the city of Luang Namtha, 170kms away.

With Emilie, we were the last ones to go in the 30-seat bus. In spite of the perseverance from the team to keep a seat for us, the bus was full. So we sat down on the folding seats, like two other travelers in front of us. A 4-hour journey on an uneven road with many potholes. The narrow road was winding between the mountains and the dense forest. No doubt, the jungle was around. The old Hyundai bus, which probably had the age of being retired, was struggling to go up the hill. But we managed to arrive without a breakdown, kind of usual issue in the country!

Luang Namtha was the point of departure of our adventure with our two wheels in the North of Laos. After many negotiations to find a shop to rent scooters for a few days, we hit the road. Going towards Muang Sing, 10 kilometres away from the Chinese border, the 8 scooters were following each other. It was looking like the moto-club of Provins described by Jean-Luc met in South of America. The road with a low traffic was winding in a dense forest with quite a few roadworks. Once we crossed Muang Sing, we did our first kilometres on a dusty path to reach the small city of Muang-Long on our Honda Wave 100, our semi-automatic scooters, the most famous scooters here. A true weaving in and out to avoid potholes, mud, stones… The position in the lane was important at this stage. Indeed, the first ones of the team have some dust. But the last ones were going through a big ochre cloud. Our clothes were changing of tint with a new cream-colour nuance at each break. At the end of the day, our bodies and faces were covered of dust.

Around each village, pigs, chicken or goats were welcoming us. Free, they enjoyed staying in the middle of the road. We didn’t have any other choices than playing with our “powerful” horns of our scooters. With our helmets on the head, like aliens from Mars Attacks, the inhabitants were looking at us with insistence. But once stopped with our helmets removed, the kids were curious and the adults were sometimes offering us some fruits.

In the mountains, in a village far away, we had almost empty petrol tanks. Gilles, an experienced rider-adventurer in this kind of country was sure we will find some petrol in any villages that we will cross. A few hundreds of metres further away we saw, in the middle of nowhere, the houses of Namhi. In the streets, for the first time there was nobody. In the shadow of a terrace, we saw a man. We needed to mime our request. He indicated a house with the tip of his finger, at the end of the “main” street. It wasn’t looking like a shop, but it was indeed the only shop of the village. We asked the guys inside who were cooking chicken for their lunch. We requested some petrol by miming with our hands. They had a little petrol tank under their house. They gave us old beer bottles full of petrol to fill up our tanks.

The track kept some surprises for us. We crossed screes and fords before to be in front of a wide stream. Two solutions: a bridge made of bamboo but which was not looking very strong or crossing simply the river. While the team was looking for the best solution to cross and estimating the solidity of the bridge, two young ladies on their scooters overtook us at a high speed on the bamboo bridge which was moving but without breaking. Then it was our turn. Each one of us opted for the solution of his choice. Narrow and unstable, we crossed by the bridge without any troubles. It was a bit harder by the river. Gilles was the first one to cross by the river and avoided perfectly the stones in the river. But we didn’t have a full success. One of us had a little fall down but without injuries.

These bamboo bridges are actually famous in the country to cross rivers, by foot or scooters, without being very expensive. In Vang Vieng, we crossed the river Nam Song on a 10-metre bamboo bridge to reach the western part of the city, more bucolic. It was in these lands that we met for the first time something that we called a “chopper lawn-tractor”. That’s a beautiful vehicle built with a lawn-tractor engine, two small tractor tires coupled with a trailer where the pilot was seating downs. He was directing his vehicle with a long curved handlebars which would make jealous any chopper-lovers. We saw these vehicle on a the isolated roads of the country, in more or less good conditions.

Other famous vehicle on the Laotian roads, after the Peruvian tuk-tuk, we met the Asian version named here, Jumbo. These three-wheel motorised vehicles were mainly in the cities and used as a taxi for quick errands or as a bus due to the wide space on the back welcoming 10 passengers. After negotiating the price and seating down in the back, the driver was weaving between the scooters and the others Jumbo. The tradition is to decorate the inside of his own tuk-tuk with many colours.

A warning atmosphere showing the state of mind of our road trip in Laos. In spite of some difficulties, we alway had great times making the richness of this adventure.