Kickstart Laos

Paksong Travel Blog

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My trusty bike - a Honda. Not made for scrambling but bloody reliable. Bolaven Plateau in the background.
Bugger, bugger, bugger - I really should have bought petrol from those little Lao girls in the last tiny village. Better not run out in the middle of sodding nowhere on top of the Bolaven Plateau, really better not. I should have stopped at the sight of their cherubic faces peering over the top of rusting oil drums and filled the bike with rustic rot-tank petrol. But noooOOOOooo, not me - it was all: "I can't be arsed: it'll be fine - I'll make it through to Paksong and fill up there." Paksong being only about 90km away of course - brilliant Salad, just bloody brilliant. Bugger, bugger, bugger...

So here I am, half an hour further on, scrambling up a steep muddy slope on the most difficult stretch of road that the 3 day loop should throw at me.
Yours truly - one big bad biking mo fo. Eat your heart out Hell's Angels...
The petrol situation is temporarily forgotten as there's a tight right turn to negotiate. I throttle the bike up and round, the chainsaw buzz of 2nd gear rattling my eardrums. I think it's going to be ok, but then the wheels suddenly start to slide in the sludge and I career to the right, towards the inside curve of the road.

I release the throttle and the bike's pace slumps immediately, but it's not enough to prevent me from running off the road and into a patch of long grass. The bike collapses sideways and I just about manage to struggle off and away from it, desperate to avoid the searing-hot exhaust pipe, as the whole thing whumps into the natural cushion of greenery. I grab at the handlebars, hurriedly switch off the engine and heave a swift sigh of relief; there's no damage to me or the bike.
The pot holed road, I think you'll agree that this astonishing shot was well worth burning my leg and shattering a wing mirror for. I think a Pullitzer is in order personally.
Ok, back to square one, there are, after all, a few things to consider:

1. I am almost certainly not insured on this motorbike. I declined to check my travel insurance documents but I seriously doubt that my bog standard policy covers me for 2-wheeled rural death rides. Should I end up hurting the bike or, worse, myself, it'll be my own meagre savings up the swanny to pay for any necessary repairs/treatment.

2. I'm riding alone and this isn't the most populous of areas. I've seen about 3 people since the village of juvenile petrol purveyors. There's unlikely to be an ambulance to come and get me if anything goes seriously tits up.

3. I have survived two days of motorcycle riding on asphalt and dirt roads - clever me. Unfortunately this experience, coupled with a scrambling technique learned from the BBC's kids' motorbiking show Kickstart circa 1986, does not a competent or safe rider make.
The shattered remains of the wing mirror. That's seven years bad luck right there people.

With these things in mind I re-mount the bike and set off at a more leisurely pace, putt-putting up the steep route that will lead me onto the flatter and easier roads of the plateau itself. By the time I reach the top, the orange needle of the petrol gauge has dropped below the half-full point and I'm starting to get more concerned; getting to Paksong without a refill will definitely be a close thing.

I try to put this out of my mind, buzzing along at a steady speed and savouring the lovely views, the breeze, and a feeling of distilled freedom that accompanies a motorcycle trip with no-one to answer to but yourself and the elements. The road undulating gently, I begin to pass through small villages where the Lao kids get excited at seeing a foreigner, greeting me with wide smiles and energetic cries of: "Sabaai Dii!!" After another half an hour of this, I spot the first bottle of petrol for sale at the side of the road, emit a "phew!" and know that I'll be ok. I decide against filling up, having read that these village petrol floggers often pedal substandard product. But at least I know that I won't be pushing the bike for miles if my current tank doesn't last.

And so I finally leave the dirt road behind and head onto a sealed highway that's more cratered than the pocked cheeks of an acned teenager. Seriously, I made better progress on the dirt road as I wasn't so afraid of riding straight into one of the wocking great pits that scar the asphalt. I decide to snap a photo of the shocking surface for posterity and so pull in and park up at the side of the road.

It's as I'm rummaging about in my pocket for my camera that balance deserts me. Like the lazy arse noblet that I am, I haven't put the bike stand up and in case you are unaware; motorbikes are really quite heavy. So as I grope for the camera, inadvertently shifting in the saddle, the bike suddenly falls sideways onto the road. Again I somehow manage to stagger clear but this time the bike crashes squarely onto hard packed dirt shattering one of the wing mirrors - seven years bad luck eh... that'll make a change.

I curse and panic a bit like the rookie biker I am, stupidly pressing my left leg against the scorching hot exhaust pipe as I attempt to push the bike upright again and check the damage. I yelp like a kicked puppy, pulling away from the scalding metal but not keeping the bike steady. The bloody thing falls back towards me once more, eager to make the acquaintance of my leg for a second time. This time it burns a different patch of skin and I let out an encore puppy yelp.

Eventually I manage to maneuver the bike into a roughly vertical position and kick the stand into position. I check out my leg and find that, should an even more painful alternative to leg waxing ever be required, then exhaust scorching would do the trick. Two patches of leg hair have been singed into oblivion, replaced by pinky-redness and a growing soreness that feels like very bad sunburn. Ah well, look on the bright side; at least I can take my photo of those pot holes now.

Half an hour later and I'm in Paksong eating noodle soup, just for a change. The petrol lasted and I'm feeling tired but exhilarated, scorched leg, broken mirror and all. It's a straight downhill run back to Pakse and the end of my three day odyssey. I can honestly say that it's been one of the most enjoyable bits of my whole trip. I can't remember ever feeling so free; it was more than worth the risk. 

In a year's time, I'll probably be pacing the tedious floors of a strip-lit office back in England. But I'll be able to think back to my brief time motorbiking in Laos. And I'll know that I've lived, just a little, but I've lived. And that, my web surfing amigos, is what travelling is all about.     
Saladin79 says:
Hi Dave. Glad you enjoyed reading the blog. It's a little weird reading these entries back now - feels like forever ago.

Laos is less in your face than Vietnam and Thailand and I loved it for that. There's a great sense of warmth and curiosity in the people.

The motorbiking was a definite highlight. On reflection I was a bit daft to do it without insurance but, for me, it was worth the risk as the roads were so quiet.

Have a great time! Dave.
Posted on: Jun 30, 2009
dave_cambodia says:
Hey buddy - I know its a little late but I'm really enjoying reading your blog, I'm going back to SEA in September but have never been to Laos, I think a motorbike trip may be in order! Great writing as well, helping pass the time at work!
Posted on: Jun 30, 2009
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My trusty bike - a Honda. Not made…
My trusty bike - a Honda. Not mad…
Yours truly - one big bad biking m…
Yours truly - one big bad biking …
The pot holed road, I think youll…
The pot holed road, I think you'l…
The shattered remains of the wing …
The shattered remains of the wing…
photo by: Saladin79