Saturday, December 06, 2014

Riding Laos roads

For our first day's travel in Laos, we headed inland to the northern parts - but we were now driving on the right side of the road rather than the left as in Thailand and other countries we had recently been in. The road was an excellent, winding, country road and our first day's destination was in the heart of the infamous Golden Triangle.

The area is very rural and the main enterprise is agriculture. We saw a lot of what Jordan refers to as the Cyclops. It is a farmer's multi-use tractor, for lack of a better word, that consists of 2 wheels side by side, a 1-cylinder diesel, 2 long handlebars, and 1 light at the front giving it the Cyclops feature.

While it is not used in the fields, it is always hooked up to a trailer that the driver sits on while it putts along (also seen in northern parts of Thailand). We see them in the fields, but mostly we see them on the roads carrying all types of cargo for the occasion including family and friends heading in and about the villages and fields.

One-eyed creature

A new farm vehicle sighting that reoccurred with frequency was that of homemade trucks that had the same motor as the 2-wheeled tractors, mounted up front. The top speed seemed slower than a chicken being chased for dinner!

Not a Toyota

Jordan had to keep his eye on the road because you never knew what was around each corner. Once, we saw a huge transport truck that had run away down the hill and met its end crashing into the ditch only to be plagiarized for parts in the days to follow. More common is livestock with no sense of imperativeness, most notably 1 day were 2 young bulls butting it out in the middle of the road oblivious to traffic. Soon to follow were 2 young rams doing the same.

Bulls butting

We eventually settled at the small dusty town of Luang Nam Tha after exploring a remote road to its end up by the border of Myanmar and China where we saw hill tribe villages along the way of pitiful penury, its inhabitants at roadside trying to hawk all sorts of eatables including centipedes and beetles.

The next morning, our plan was to motor to Nong Khiaw where we could take a boat trip up a river to see a traditional village. As we left Luang Nam Tha, we met another biker, Peter, who was headed in the same direction so we decided to ride together. We travel fast and proficiently even though our small bike is loaded and not suited for rough roads, but Pete, with only 1 leg, outperformed us on his more powerful and better built beast.

The road branched and turned very gnarly, reminding us of our driving in the Himalayas of India. It was a gravel mountain road under construction, and big equipment and transport trucks choked us in dust and obscured our vision so passing was a treacherous manoeuvre.

We fared well compared to the villages at roadside. Their hapless homes - not airtight and built mostly of thin bamboo or spaced boards - as well as the vegetation was camouflaged in either the reddish or grey dust giving the scene a dreary monotone.

Dusty dames

Typical bleak scenes were that of residents plodding along packing firewood, children playing in remnants of cement powder, and women squatting while cooking open fires. Until the roads are completed, what choice do they have but to endure it, at the expense of their well being and latent poor health.

Near the end of the day's journey, the road became a welcomed pavement and the sloped mountainside geography gave way to impressive limestone cliffs. It was such a relief to finally arrive at the riverside village of Nong Khiaw and check into a guesthouse and wash all the dirt off!

Riverside village

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