Exploring Southern Laos

Jim and I headed over to Southern Laos again last month.
Absolute ripper of a trip and a great bloke to go riding with.

We wanted to do something different.. Not the normal tracks or now graded roads and stay in the same old Guest Houses.
This trip we planned to camp as much as needed and seek out new tracks and try and link up some different ways.

We leave Ubon and cross over at Chong Mek (Thai Side).
The road works on the Thai side are long completed.
Dual carriage way all the way to Chong Mek.

Vang Tao (Lao Side).. Big border crossing upgrade going on.
Has been going on for a while.. Really starting to see it take shape.

Then the road is upgraded around 18km on the other side.
Certainly not to the same standard as on the Thai side.
Much wider and maybe when they put lines on the road they can squeeze in dual carriage way.

Same routine as last time when we crossed with Justin.. First dirt track on the right and off we go.
Getting off that boring 45 min ride on the tarmac to Pakse.

Jim had done his homework. Plotted out a nice route to Pakse using Google Earth with dirt all the way to the bridge over the Mekong.

There was only one bit where we went through rice fields. Sure the locals have a work around when the rains come.

A nice easy crossing and a rumble through the back way. We arrive at Pakse.

The next day we wake up at a leisurely hour and head off to Tad Fane.
Jim plotted this one on Google Earth. Again the creative way avoiding as much tarmac as possible.

We were not sure if we could get through.. Worse case scenario, go back and up to Paksong the boring way and stay the night

We did make it. If you look at the map where we join the tarmac for the last bit to Tad Fane.
There is actually a trail to the right that will take you around to the entrance of Tad Fane. Have ridden this in the past.

We decided to push on the last few KM on the tarmac and get some food and decide if we give Pakse to Attapue a bash in one day.
If we don’t make it and it gets dark.. Camp out along the way..

Last time we rode this in the rainy season around 18 months earlier there were plenty of places to camp with water source.

Lots and lots of rubber tree plantations after you leave Pakse.. Sad really as this would have all been lovely forest.

Some kids along the way

Also some fun trails after leaving the rubber plantations.

Magnificent views along the way

To our surprise we arrive at a gate. The entrance to a coffee plantation.
Luckily no padlocks and we let ourselves out.

Getting closer to Tad Fane..
We try to avoid the tarmac and see if we can follow the power lines running parallel with the road.

After a feed and a coffee at Tad Fane..
We decide to push on down to Attapue..
– Back up plan to campe if we don’t make it before dark.

Last time we did this route to Attapue –
– Our No Plans Tour.. Made it up as we went along.

Second part of the days ride down to Attapue

Sadly this track has been totally destroyed by the road upgrade 🙁

Now – Dry Season.

Before – Rainy season.

More current pictures

The wooden suspension bridge at the bottom is still a ripper.
Also in much better repair than before

Now

Even has hand railings and no missing or skewed planks.

Before

Riding the bridge

 

This time we decided to ride through the river as it was low enough and water crossings are fun too.

River Crossing.

Getting closer to Route 18a

Very dusty and white out when trying to pass cars

The home stretch to Attapue.
An easy ride in the end. Arrived well before dark, unlike last time in the rainy season.

After all the dust and excitement it was agreed a rest and maintenance day was in order.
For the bikes and us.

Jim had plotted out what looks to be a nice day loop out of Attapue for the next day.

It was great to leave the gear behind and just have the tools and essentials.

When we hit the last big river crossing with less than two hours day light left.. We were beginning to think it would have been nice to have all our gear with us.

There was no going back at this stage. We would be riding through the bush in the dark for a good many hours if we head back.
I walked the river about 5 times taking different lines. The flow was swift, the rocks big and small plus slippery..

We decide being older and wiser 😉 to walk the bikes across..

This really is a must do day loop out of Attapue.. One of the highlights of the trip..

Nearly forgot. On the way back from the day loop we passed the NEW Attapue International Airport.

So new it is not even open yet.. Scheduled for some time end of this year – 2015.

We had a ride around and checked it out.
All looks good. Just need to staff it and of course – planes.

Riding south from Attapue to explore the trails along the Lao / Cambodian border..

Asked a local for some directions and ended up in a Hydro power plant under construction.
But no short cut.

Tet. Vietnamese New Year and all the workers had gone home..
A solitary worker in the tunnel. They are digging to put a pipe through the mountain..

Not sure I am in a hurry to visit this area again..
Lots of logging and incredibly dusty. Some of the worst dust experienced in Laos for me. Horrible.
We were both glad to get back down to the “normal” dust.

The entire area was as dusty as hell.. Vid below a great example

Time to head towards Lake Nong Fa and camp in the jungle while trying to find a way through to the North or West.

We leave Attapue.. Jim had plotted a way that takes us though the rubber plantations. Then we hit some remaining jungle.
Sadly.. Looks like all the remaining jungle is being cleared for rubber too.
Along the main road for a bit, then back down south towards the Viet / Cambo border

Close up of the more interesting track to the east near Vietnam.

The bull dust was amazing.. So amazing.. As I pass the cameraman.. He falls off the bike LOL

After “bulldozing” our way through the dust. We make it to the main road and very happy to be out.

Then peel off a bit further up the road, heading towards the Vietnam border via dirt.
Then swing a left back up to the tarmac..

It is a nice ride through here.. But you guessed it.. Logging going on everywhere.
Jim said the last time he rode through here with Chris it was still pristine.

Going up a twisty track. The next thing a Honda Wave comes like a bat out of hell.
Two up. Just misses Jim and side swipes me.. Whack on my SIDI Adventure Boots. But no damage done.
A loud sound as he bounced off me and made a big indentation in my plastic Jack Daniels bottle.

I looked back and couldn’t see any one so guess they kept on going and managed to keep it upright.

A hearty snack of chick hatchlings on a stick.

Pop back out at the tarmac with daylight fading fast..

We have a choice..

Check out the border then turn off up towards Lake Nong Fa and find a place to camp before dark.
or
Head back to Attapue.

That would be an hours ride and we would end up in the dark and only have to come all the way back..

We decide on checking out the border and camping.

Lots of trucks waiting at the police check points before the border.

The tarmac is cut up in parts..
Need to be on the look out for trucks and cars avoiding the holes and taking bends on the wrong side of the road..

We get to the Nong Fa turn off and fill up on fuel before venturing in. Not sure where and if there is fuel further in.
Rode this with Rex a few years earlier and know a tank on the KLX will get you in and out before the reserve light comes on.

The pictures look quite bright.. But it was dusk and the sun fading fast.
Not so easy to find a good place to camp this close to the main road.
All the good spots have people living around them

It is best to be near a water source..
You can take a bath. Filter water for drinking etc.
Just nice to be by the river.

We turn off at the big bridge crossing and make our way to this spot. Which was an Enduro adventure in its own right.
Soon decide to move on as there is no where to secure the hammocks so we are off the ground.

Trying to find a place out of the way so we don’t have any human visitors in the night..
We pull down this logging track. It is New Year all the Vietnamese workers are gone, the Lao too.

Eventually we get to the end of the logging track and make camp..
Now it is almost dark and we are right in the bush. Setting up hammocks and getting a fire going by flash light.

No water and we had been riding all day. Sticky and sweaty.. Only one thing for it.. “A Pommie wash…”

Good morning.

After a hearty bush breakfast of boiled noodles and salami stick..
It was time to move on..

We continue up to Lake Nong Fa.
An extinct volcano approx 1,200 metres above sea level.

The plan is to explore around the area and see if we can find away out to the North or West.

The route up from last nights camp site.
The yellow line to the right is the border with Vietnam.

A close up of the good stuff we ended up doing this day…

Along with a few steep climbs.
You can imagine how much fun 10 to 20 km of track is coming back down in bull dust with rocks, twists and turns.

Easy powering on up.

Coming back down is never my favourite.
Just like my first time here with Rex. I nearly lost it once or twice coming back down.

This area is also opening up big time.. When I did this ride a few years earlier with Moto Rex.
It was a lot more remote, less villages in between and a lot less exploitation of the environment.

After leaving the camp we reach a check point with a new big army building to the right.
They didn’t seem too happy to see us.
Asked for our passports..
We obliged and waited and waited while the army guy looked through..

Obviously with no idea what he was looking at.
Then allowed us to pass, luckily.

Auke and Chris were not allowed to pass less than a week later..
So even here it can be pot luck with the officialdom.

To make things official. He went back and put his uniform on.

They have to put the uniform on or they have no right to stop you..
– This was from a Lao friend.

Happy faces along the way..

Passing the mine on the way to Lake Nong Fa.

Modernisation is coming and so is the power.
They were upgrading the single power lines for double power lines..

Lake Nong Fa

It is a steep climb up here in bulldust and rocks.
Not to be attempted in the rainy season unless you like serious slippery challenges.
A 4WD friend Peter was told no go by the army in the rainy season on a previous trip.

There is fuel for sale at the village near Nong Fa.
Very expensive fuel !

We tried a track that is going in the direction we want to be heading.

Google Earth looks promising..

The locals said no go.
We pushed on until we were stopped by a permanent fence with the top wooden log nailed in.

Off trying to explore other routes..

A mine in the middle of no where.. Again, the end of the trail.
– looks like an illegal mine.

On the way up to Nong Fa we noticed a very big and nice graded road going west.
We head back here and check it out as all the other routes didn’t work out.
It was fun exploring this area. So remote and lovely scenery..
Except for when you get closer to Vietnam.. The logging is intense.

It is getting late and time to setup camp.

Jim was awake before me and the locals had parked a Honda Wave next to our camp.
Came back with a small rifle. They had been hunting – Not us luckily.

Filter some water for drinking and off we go to see where this track takes us and if we get get out to the west.
The idea was not to back track if possible and find new routes that we hoped could be made in to a nice loop.

After a good feed and decent nights sleep in the hammock.
It is time to see where this new track takes us.

We made it to the river, but it was not possible. Local on a Honda Wave. Just doable.
Well. If you were really determined you could have.

While we were waiting the locals crossed and took 3 or 4 of them to push one Honda Wave up the the rivers edge to where we were standing.
Also the boats used are very small and operated by kids.

We were afraid of our over sized bikes and bodies would end up in the river..
A long way from any where to get help.

The edge of the track and still along way down to the rivers edge.

Jim looking for a way through… You can see a track on the other side of the river.

Get your bike off the boat in the muddy river. Then get it up the river bank, then up what we named Suicide Gorge.

A couple of months later we came back from the other side of the river. Just to link these two up.
No boring farmland out here.. Steep and twisty with loose soil and rocks.


Suicide Gorge from the other side of the river

The graded road was really in good if not great condition. But right at the edge, just stopped..
Became steep and twisty with loose soil, rocks and hard to get any traction..

Getting down was OK. But getting back up was tough..
We could hear the locals revving the the Honda Wave and stuck in the soil and rocks at the steeper parts of the climb
There were two of them getting the little wave up the hill.

My first attempt was lets just say. Feeble.
When this remote I am more cautious..
This loose stuff needed a bit more Umph in the spirit of the weekend rides with Pattaya Bad Boys Enduro Crew.

So after having a couple of slow motion goes and help from Jim pushing. We get the KLX up to the first part of the mountain.
Knackered we take a rest, Jim’s turn. Again knackered and we take a rest.

Jim heads on up and one drop of the bike but does it…

My turn… Click Click.. No power.. Oh no.. What is going on here..
Jim walks back down and we try a few things.. But no go.. Has to be the battery.

I always leave my GPS on and never had an issue before..
(Later confirmed with Rex this was still the original battery. New battery in Bangkok after the trip and all good)

We try to bump start it.. but no go… ONLY one thing for it… Roll the bloody bike back down the hill where it took so much effort to get it up.
It worked, managed to bump start. I ride it around a little trying to put what charge the battery will hold back in..

This time no pu55y footing around and charge the hill and make it up… Phew.. (In the video)
Catch my breathe and make it up the next part to the top.

Except for the Honda Wave that crossed..
We did not see one other vehicle on the entire stretch of road all the way back to the main track up to Nong Fa.

The ride back up from the river. (The camera lies on the angle as usual)

There is a stream not too far up the track. We stop here to cool off.
It is hot out.

This is a stunning track.

Snake for lunch

Just before getting off this track on to the main track.. Left Nong Fa, right back to the highway and Vietnam border.
It starts to rain.

I stop to cover some gear up on the bike.. These kids come along.. Obviously I am a very scary person..
Playing with them. Running along side and they sprinted. But were smiling, not terrified.

Chucked it down for a good few kilometres.. But then came good before the real steep stuff down off the mountains.
We made it to the tarmac and headed back to Attapue..

Back to Attapue we go. R&R for bikes and riders. Few repairs and some good food

A glass of Vietnamese coffee to get you started for the morning.

Magnum Central.
After a feed. Every trip to Attapue we always stopped at this lovely Lao families shop for a Magnum.

Very friendly people. Very welcoming. When ever we ride past in the day always a big smile.
When we come back on other trips… ‘ Back again to laughter ”

The daughter was fun and wanted to practice English with us..

They have two German shepherds. Reminded me when I was a kid with German Shepherds.

They are either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid..
The old dog was the smart one. The younger one the stupid one.

We came back a couple of months later. The older one comes towards me very directly at a swift pace.
The owners yell at him as they think he is going to have a piece of me..

All he did was put his head against my leg..

He didn’t give the locals that turned up the same treatment.. LOL.. Usually a few good barks..

After a couple of days R&R..
Riders and Bikes given some well needed maintenance.

It was time to go off and explore behind the new Xekeman Dam site.

This is just up from Pa am, the SAM missile site everyone stops at and gets the obligatory snap.

Instead of going straight ahead over the mountains towards Xekong.
Take a right which leads to the quarry and Dam site.

We came in a different way as there is a great seafood restaurant on the main road leading to the Vietnam border.
We stopped for a big feed before heading in to the bush.

Spent three days and two nights exploring in here. Trying to find a way out with out back tacking.
Unfortunetly.. Most of the Google Earth tracks showing possible ways out are dead.
There are a lot of other new tracks not on GE. But these are mostly logging tracks and dead ends.

Clearing out the logs before the dam water comes in and floods the area.

We had to come back out the way we went in. So the pics will be grouped together.

After going through the quarry site. Heading up to the dam.

Jim taking a pic past the dam site of the view. Really is lovely in here.
I wonder how long before we are island hopping in Laos.

Note the tree line that has been cleared.. High water level or what? ( Back mountain where it is brown )

Here comes Jim. You really had to separate out or you eat dust. Enough dust to make a semi trailer proud

Remove the greenery before the water comes.

Couple of pics from the phone.

There is some lovely riding in here.. Shame it will be flooded out soon.

A few pics of the scenery.

Camp site the first night.

Our neighbours. They watched everything we did.
Camped out, logging the next day.
Nice and friendly. Woke us up late at night running around, up and down the creek catching and cooking up frogs.

Luckily not ripping along here. You can barely spot the contrast as the track comes to an abrupt end / drop.

Jim decided it was hot and wanted to cool off.

A real little adventure the next night camping when some poachers turned up

It was getting late and time to look for a camp site.

We can see on the GPS map that there is a river to the right, not that far in.
No tracks on the GPS that lead to the river..
Take what looks like a couple of previously well used logging tracks that go in the river direction.

Couple of wrong turns, rather over grown.. We finally make it to a trail leading to the river.

We make camp for the evening. That was tough and over grown.. We shouldn’t not see any visitors tonight.

Wrong.

There was a little loggers camp spot here already.. Not recently used.
We tidy up the area a bit and cut back some of the bigger branches with prickles.
Put the branches around the back entrance to the camp site.
Stop animals or people getting in from behind us.

Collect some wood. Move the fire place a little away from the edge.

We are ready..

A short stroll down the embankment to natures bath tub..
– This spot is special..

Fill up the water purifier for the evening.
Jim bought this a long. A ripper. Packs up small and gravity does the work

To my surprise. The remnants of a camp fire on the river bank.. Upon closer inspection, hot embers.

Jim doesn’t drink. I have a few nips on my JD and we have dinner.
Picked up a great little flash light / lamp in Bangkok. You can see it at the top of the picture.

When the charge runs out.. There is a mechanism to manually wind up and charge it.

We crash out in our hammocks. I am half deaf anyway. So I don’t hear much in the bush.

30 minutes later. Jim is up and shaking my hammock. We have visitors.

I am like.. ” What, Can’t be.. who can get in here ”

Sure enough. At the top of the hill before the decent to the river. There was a vehicle and headlights.
Barely visible through the bush, then we could hear voices..

Really not expecting to come across other people out here.

We just stand there at our bikes and wait and wait and wait.

They are running around all through the bush with flash lights up and down, across the trees.
Eventually they came to us. May be spotted the red fire embers in the pitch black..

They were on the other side of the trees and flashed there lights through to see what / who was there.
Jim flashed his light straight back at them. It seemed like a while but was probably 4 or 5 seconds. they went off.

Both of us standing next to our bikes with a flash light in one hand and our machetes on the handlebars in the left hand.

We heard them running all over the place then they spent a fair bit of time down by the river.
(The next day I found a load of black feathers)

One of those times where it is best to say nothing. Neither side knows who or what the other is up to.
For all we know.. They could have an AK for all they know we could have had an AK.

The next morning Jim made a joke.. Nothing like bringing a machete to a gun fight.

Have to say. That was a bit of a tense feeling until they buggered off.
We have expensive bikes, cameras, gear, cash..
No one had a clue where we are. Just a rough idea in behind the dam area.


3 in 1, campbells soup for breakfast..

Fill up our camelbaks with filtered water and decide to head out back towards Attapue.

So many times on the GPS we were 7 or 10 km from places to the north / west / east.. But the trails were either gone or impossible to get over the mountains to link it up.

Went up the side of a few mountains that were steep only to come to a dead end where the logging had finished.

Cheers
Brian