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Border woes.

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Trying to keep the exiting a country without having to change money, I calculated that I had enough money to stay another night if I budgeted my meals and gas. A fairly popular stop in the south of Laos is the island of Don Khong and the 4000 islands. Basically, the confluence of the Mekong flattens out and during the low tide times thousands of islands spring up. There are a few permanently settled islands that have been turned into backpacker enclaves with varying degrees of partying. As I had only one night, I chose Don Khong as it had the better of the accommodations. Not too much to offer which is what many people to go for. A strict book reading in a hammock kind of place. I got my last little boat ferries there as well.

The next morning I headed back to the mainland having maybe 30kms to the frontier border. The border itself is not very populated with only a few small hut villages spotted on both sides with about 60kms to the first real town Stung Treng.

Just as I rode within eyesight of the border shacks, the back end of the bike started flopping back and forth and within an instant I was riding on the rim. It was a bit of a ride getting the bike stopped but after a mild shock I was stopped on the side of the road. I got my first real flat tire. After riding all over India, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos, I finally got my first real flat tire. Now being somewhat over careful and liking to be prepared I wasn’t worried at all as I had tire levers, a repair kit, and knowledge from changing the tire on my original Schwinn.

It’s fairly straight forward changing a tire on a motorcycle/bicycle as you actually don’t need to take the wheel off to fix the flat. Mine is a bit tougher as I don’t have a center stand to get the rear tire off the ground. I used a rock under the kickstand to raise the one side and then leaned it over and placing a rock on the other side to get the bike propped up. It didn’t take long to see the cause for the flat, a bit nail was sticking out of the tire. Using my superduty tire levers that I had been hauling around popping the tires bead off the rim was a breeze. I pulled out the tube and quickly saw that the tube was punctured twice as the nail had gone through both sides. I got out my sandpaper and scuffed up the rubber, put glue on the patch and the tube and let them sit a few minutes before sticking them together and pounding them together the best that I could. Getting the tire back together went fairly smooth as well. Even though it was a definite hiccup, things were going fairly smooth and even the sun which would have made it really unbearable was covered by overcast clouds. I got it all back together, and started pumping up the tire. Nothing. The air was going in but it wasn’t filling up. I quickly dismantled everything and rechecked the tube. I found another leak caused from a pinch when I was riding on the rim. I quickly fixed the hole and double checked the tube one more time. Bam, another pinch flat. Now things became a little more difficult as the tube of glue I had was half dried out as it had gotten a hole in the bottom. I only had a small portion left after using my pliers to squeeze out the last drops. It was just enough to put a light layer. I prayed that it was enough and pumped it up. It seemed to hold. I put everything together and loaded up my bags. It stayed inflated so everything seemed like it was going to be okay. As I was just down the road from the Laos border shack, they had been watching and I assume were wondering what I was doing as just as I started moving they had a couple of guys coming to check on things. Once they saw that I was coming they went back. I pulled into the check point, which was only a little one man indescript shack and got my exit stamps. I had been pre-warmed that this was a fairly lawless area and because so they border agents had implemented their own admin fees for processing paperwork for tourists. I unhappily paid the 10,000Kip and went on my way happy that I was moving on. Just across the road was the Cambodian border post and I went through the process of bending over and having to give the guys a dollar to stamp me out. I was just about ready to cross pass the police part of the check point when some stupid kid started yelling that I needed to go to Customs first. I knew that it wasn’t necessary as my previous crossing into Cambodia was just a wave through. I knew it was a scam as the guy had no idea what he was doing but when he said that I had to pay $10US I got pissed. We argued for a bit and ended up settling on $5 for the honor of corruption. A final $1US to the police at the gate and I was finally on my way.

I got about 100 yards when the back started sliding and I was sitting on a flat tire again. Having cleared all the administrative crap and the first tire repair going fairly easily I was still unflustered, although the clouds had cleared and now the sun was pumping out huge amounts of radiating heat. This time I couldn’t find any rocks so propted the bike up using a branch. Started going through the usual routine until the branch slipped and the bike dumped breaking the front brake handle. I had just taken the pin out of the tube stem to let the air out when the bike fell and I had forgotten when I proceeded on the repair. The pump wasn’t inflating properly so I forced it on the stem a little too hard and ended up breaking the pump. I ended up getting it rigged up so that I could loosen the pin so it is sticking out, pumped up the tire as fast as possible and then screw the pin back in before all the air leaked out. Unfortunately, the tube held air when it was loose, but when I put all the weight of the bike on it it would bleed out in about fifty yards. Being 50 kms away from the next real town, I was getting a bit flustered. The heat was horrible and I got my first heat headache in a long time. I was so sweated out that I was taking breaks after every few minutes to keep my head straight. A local kid came by on a bike and through hand signals he said there was a repair place up the road. I unfortunately couldn’t ascertain how far up the road it was. I tried pumping up the tire and making a run but it would only go a few yards as it was getting worse and I was getting dehydrated really quickly thereby losing all my strength. I figured that I would try to push the bike, but with no air at all in the tube the bead of the tire came off and it would no longer roll. I figured I would ditch the bags and I could push the bike easier so I hid the bags in a ditch under a bunch of grass. The bike rolled a little but it was like it had a square wheel and it was just too tough and I was quickly running out of gas myself. It got to the point that I needed to find water so I pushed the bike to the side of the road and started walking. About two kilometers up the road I lucked out and there were a couple of shacks at the entrance to a dirt road which led to a far off village. I happily bought and drank three bottles of water and a coke. The guy at the shop took me to a little shack which was a tire repair place. We had to wake the guy and for some reason it took about an hour before he was coherent. I finally ascertained he assumed that someone would be bringing the bike to him. Finally, I asked if I could use his pump and I would try and get the bike to him. I walked back to the bike and I guess as the patches had time to dry the tube held air and I was able to drive back to the guy. There was an odd wobble to the bike but I figured that maybe I had damaged the rim or a bearing and hoped that the repaired tire might fix it. It took another hour to replace all four patches. With everything back together again I went back to where my bags were stashed and got my stuff. The wobble was still there, but it was getting late and I wanted to get to Stung Treng before dark. In the whole fifty kilometers I passed only one other tire repair place so I was again sort of lucky where the breakdown occurred. I ended up wobbling into Stung Treng just before sunset.

The Exit.

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

After so many loops that I was getting motorcycle sick, it was time to head out of Laos. With the death of all things electronic, the primary directive was to get those repaired. My 80% plan was to head across the Mekong from Pakse to the Thai border and on to the town of Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand’s largest eastern town. I had done some internet research and contacted an American expatriate living there. He had done some legwork and had found a few camera shops as well as many computer stores. The only hesitation was that the camera shops did not do repairs in house but rather shipped them back to Bangkok. He assumed there were some in-house repair places but did not know any off hand. As there was little chances of getting any electronic work done in Cambodia with the possibility of Siem Reap and the capital Phnom Penh, Cambodia didn’t seem as a positive option.

Having a few extra days left on the $2US per day extension that I had gotten, I figured I would make a run south to the Angkor Wat of Laos, Wat Phu Champasak. It was a quick run of less than 40 kms south of Pakse so I just hopped on the bike one morning and headed down. The Wat is located on the opposite side of the Mekong so it required taking a makeshift raft (two canoes with a platform lying across them) across. As were readying to push off, a girl got dropped off by a moto taxi guy and she joined our little group. She was carrying a massive pack so I figured she was going to stay at the nearby village to the Wat. The drop off point is kind of out of the way and with a very low traffic rate, getting transport to the Wat is not the easiest. I was hesitant about offering help as I had become bitter after the electronics disappointments but as she was a solo traveler and we need to take care of our own, I decided to offer her a ride. Angela was a French journalist working for a newspaper in Phnom Penh. She had a week off and was going to do the southern swing. Somehow, as it became apparent that transport was going to be difficult she somehow invited herself to not only a ride to the Wat but also a ride back to Pakse with me.

The Wat was so-so interesting but the info I got was priceless. I told Angela of my camera woes as she was packing a nice DSLR, and she sold me on Phnom Penh when she guaranteed that I could get my camera fixed there as the many photographers there get their cameras fixed without a problem. I was somewhat debating on the validity of PP as a capital city should outweigh a large outlying city in Thailand. With Angela’s info, my ratio of options flip flopped with Cambodia going 90% and Thailand 10%. The reason for the larger percentage was that by going to Cambodia I would be able to travel through the rarely visited north and north east going from the most used overland border with Thailand to the least used in Cambodia. When options present themselves, the harder one is always more interesting.

So off to Cambodia we go.

I need a freaking nap.

Saturday, April 18th, 2009
It’s hot. Africa hot. Not quite Sudan in the summer hot, but enough to make a nap during the middle of the day a restless experience. Ever since coming down from the highlands I have been relying solely ... [Continue reading this entry]

Looping central Laos

Saturday, April 18th, 2009
dscn0289.JPG The central Lao loop is designed to give people a feel for the lives of the more rural peoples lives in central Lao. It takes you through what used to be some ... [Continue reading this entry]

I’m on strike.

Thursday, March 5th, 2009
calculator.jpg So I'm doing my third loop of Laos heading around and over the Bolaven Plateau. As I am leaving Pakse (my base) the old bowel movement kicks in and I have to ... [Continue reading this entry]

Searching for the perfect nap.

Thursday, March 5th, 2009
All my tech stuff is broken and the gods are mocking me so I am on strike. I will update this when my stuff is working again. For now a bookmark only.

Damn you technology gods or traveling gods or whoever is in power.

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009
Laptop- NTLDR is missing or Error Loading Operating System. shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. I just picked up a copy of Counter Strike (which I have been without since my laptop died last in Nepal) and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Sitting in the capital Vientiene responding to comments

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
dscn0287.JPG The Mekong ain't so mighty at the moment. Well, I made it to Vientiene the capital of Laos. It is about halfway through the length north/south. I have to do some Visa ... [Continue reading this entry]

Doing the tube.

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
dscn0267.JPG After my little excitement with Sasha, I made a dash for my next destination of Vang Vieng. I say dash as it was my second attempt and third time at that ... [Continue reading this entry]

Jars are the best!!!!

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
dscn0239.JPG After being emotionally, physically, and mentally drained by seeing the first plain of jars at the Plain of Jars, I took an extra day in Phonsavan to see site II and III. [Continue reading this entry]