Road Trip

Lunch in Laos

I had to make another visa run last weekend. Being as I had already done a run to Burma (Myanmar as the commies call it), it seemed prudent to hit a new country. A Laos run can be done via tour van for around $25 US, in a single day. That would be too easy. However, I've seen those poor bastards climbing out of that 14 person van when it drops them off at the hostel after 8 hours of riding. They look like death warmed over other than that smile on their face that they are out of that van for good. No thanks.

I picked up the Honda Phantom on Friday night along with an extra helmet- just in case I could find a young lady crazy enough to ride shotgun to Laos. Didn't happen, probably a good thing, for reasons to be mentioned later. Anyway, I hit the road around 07:45 on Saturday morning. It was a great ride, nice sunny day, not too hot. On the ride, I determined 'Lunch in Laos' would be a better blog title than 'Visa Stamp in Laos', so the goal was set to have lunch there. A few hours later, I was in Chiang Rai, turning off the main road on to the back roads for the "shortcut" to Chiang Khong and the ferry to Luang Probang, Laos. The fact that my map did not have road numbers on the back roads 'complicated' the journey. This hadn't been a problem thus far, but throw in the fact that the map is plain wrong, and you have a difficult navigation situation. Bottom line, I missed the shortcut, took the long way through the back roads. Not a problem, other than the back roads were the most pot holed stretch of asphalt I have seen, ever. Large potholes are a 'limiting factor' for attainable travel speed, especially on a motorcycle. This added an hour or so to the ride. Made for a late lunch.

After double checking with Thailand Immigration that they would let me back in the country, I boarded the ferry and for $1.10 and I was in Laos. I forgot to factor in the cost of a visa to enter Laos, this turned out to be around $50. Sign said $35, but I'm not one to argue with communists with guns. Maybe they needed extra grocery money...... Cleared immigration, walked about 200' to the first restaurant I saw, and had great fried noodles with chicken and a coke and water for less than $2. Factor in the visa, and it was about a buck a bite. Lunch completed, it was back across the Mekong to Thailand. And no, I did not buy any souvenirs.

By now, the clouds were brewing between me and my desired route to the scenic area of the Golden triangle, so In the words of Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway- Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome- I took the main highway around the rain back to Chiang Rai. Approaching Chiang Rai, just like my last visa run, there was a large wall of rain between me and home in Chiang Mai. I high tailed it to town, got a hotel, and went straight to a European style restaurant. I sat down, and 3 minutes later it was raining. I love it when a plan comes together. Had 3 fillet medallions, each with a different sauce. Best steak I'd had in 6 months or so. Got a brilliant 2 hour Thai massage for $10. Ran a pool table for an hour or so against a drunk dude from Cardiff (the capital of Wales) and called it a night.

Got up in the am, had a crappy breakfast, chatted with a fellow from Israel, and hit the road. The scenic route home was spectacular. It also further displayed Thai incompetence at making an accurate map. I wanted to hit a national park, that on my map, had three scenic overlooks. Where the "Mae Nam Fang National Park" was supposed to be (according to my map), I instead found the "Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park". I payed my $6 to get in, thinking they would have a better map and I would see something cool. For something cool, see the photos. On paper their map, looked splendid. Ground truthed, it was as bad as my original map.

I gave up on the three scenic overlooks and decided to concentrate on the one that both maps kinda agreed on. Hit that and then hit the road south to Chiang Mai for what should have been a 2 hour cruise. The road started out flat and straight, but then hit some hills and curves. That equals fun on a motorcycle with dry pavement. On the curves, I was able to keep pace with everyone but this crazy dude in a Mercedes. On the straights though, I was passed frequently. A 500 cc bike just doesn't have the balls to achieve and maintain adequate speed. Lesson learned- stateside, buy a bigger bike. Again the monsoon season raised its ugly head and I had to start dodging rainstorms. I hunkered down under a tree for an hour or so in lieu of driving through a massive downpour. It was relaxing, I watched spiders, worms, ants, and centipedes doing their thing. Got back on the road, and this begins the discussion on.......

Limiting Factors

After a day on the road, when I lay down to sleep, the visions going through my head are of my bike and myself sliding across a highway curve towards a guardrail or oncoming bus. It takes a while to clear these visions so I can sleep in peace. That said, wet pavement is a limiting factor for attainable travel velocity on curvy mountain roads. Not being an expert rider, I error on the side of caution in the velocity department. ~Limiting Factor #1: Wet Pavement.

Back on the road, it became obvious there was another storm passing in front of me. It was a typical summer storm, not raining where I stopped, but 300 yards away it was pouring. Therefore I retreated to an unused tarp set up by the road construction crew, and waited for it to pass. ~Limiting Factor #2: Walls of water dumping from the heavens.

Hit the road for a little longer after this one passed and ran into another massive wall of water. This one required stopping for dinner. I don't remember what I had, but it was cheap. (Lunch was cheaper- Pad Thai and a Coke for $1.20.) By this time it was also dark, which becomes another limiting factor. The headlight on the Honda sucked. Any speed over about 25 mph was severely overdriving the visibility provided by said headlight. Doing the math, this becomes 'not good' when you've got 65 miles between you and home. ~Limiting Factor #3: Lack of sun / dim headlight.

Got back on the road since the downpour had changed to more of a light shower, and I was out of smokes. (Not drinking turns you back to other vices) I stopped at the first road side shop that was big enough to have said smokes, and the nice man there gave me some newspaper to put under my rain jacket for extra insulation. It gets cold when every part of your body not under the rain jacket is wet, even in the tropics. The newspaper helped eliminate what could have been another limiting factor, cold.

Still in the curvy roads, I determined the best way to overcome the visibility factor was to follow a car, allowing their headlights to illuminate the path far forward and giving you a set of tail lights to follow. While cornering on a motorcycle, you should look to the 'exit point' of the curve- where you look is where your bike naturally tends to go. Tail lights make a great exit point. Sounds great in theory, until you re-introduce limiting factor #1: wet pavement. Problem is that most of the cars on this stretch of road were going way faster than I cared to go on wet pavement. I finally found a small Isuzu pickup carrying what appeared to be 180 cubic feet of onions. On the curves, hills, and short straight stretches, his max speed of 30-40 mph suited my travel plans nicely.

This worked great until we dropped out of the hills to the plains. His max speed increased, thereby introducing the next limiting factor, pain induced by inadequate equipment. I rent bikes from Mr. Beer. For this trip, Mr. Beer had no helmets with visors. Visors are great for protecting your eyeballs from things like bugs, rocks, and raindrops. At speeds above 40 mph, rain drops start to hurt when they impact your eyeball. I would compare it to having your eyeball tatooed. Limiting Factor #4: Pain.

Sunglasses work extremely well for eyeball protection during the day, so it seemed like a good solution. Don the shades and haul ass. Cuts down on your overall visibility, but it was manageable on the straight flat roads on this stretch of highway. Fingers make decent windshield wipers for shades. My onion truck pulled off the road, so I had to get a new buddy. Lacking slow moving onion trucks, I tried for a few cars. Over 55 mph, rain drops start to really sting when they hit your face. This makes it difficult to keep up with fast moving traffic, so I was relegated to around 50 mph in the slow lane. By this time it was a 4 lane highway, with frequent overhead illumination. Eventually the sunglasses got wet on the inside of the lens, which is basically impossible to clean while driving. Throw this in with the mist kicked up by passing cars, and the fact that every drop of water makes cool halos around all the light sources, and I'll just call it Limiting Factor #5: Lots of Water.

Eventually I made it home to the hostel. What should have been 2 hours, took over 6. This incurred an extra day of rental charges, since I was about 3.5 hours past Mr. Beer's closing time. I still wouldn't trade it for that van ride.


Blogger AMIE said...

Hi Larry! I just figured out how to actually get to this section of your blog- helpful that you added the blog is here>>>> Glad your out there having such a grand adventure. Totally jealous am I! Rock on!

August 21, 2008 2:23 PM  
Blogger Summer said...

Hi Larry! I certainly enjoyed reading your blog about your experience with the maps. It made me laugh to remember how 3 different maps of the exact same place could look completely different, inclusive of 3 different spellings for 1 street name. Due to my amazing female sense of direction, I often found myself stumbling down some side street that smelled of curry and sewage asking a non-English speaking Thai for directions.

Hope you are enjoying your travels, and glad to hear you defeated the dengue! Guess I should consider myself lucky that I escaped the epidemic. I'm sitting in my beige walled cube at work. I sometimes get disoriented after staring at the computer for a while due to a lack of a reference point. Needless to say, I'm certainly envious that you are still outside the continental U.S. A trip back for New Years in April is already in the works.

You still at M.D. House in Chiang Mai? Those were some luxurious digs.

Take care!

August 22, 2008 4:54 PM  

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