Now available as an E-Book!

Now available as an E-Book!
Save money and a tree- get the downloadable PDF version of "Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels!"

Previews from the book "Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels."

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135 full-color pages of photos, stories, anecdotes, illustrations, journal pages maps and more!In addition to the four major sections on Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand I have included some back story on both my first (and unsuccessful) attempt to motorcycle through China as well as how the planning for the trip came together.I have chosen the very best of the more than 4,000 photos from the trip as well as the most humorous, moving and fascinating of the several hundred anecdotes for Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Cambodia

Stung Treng, Cambodia.

I crossed from Laos to Cambodia yesterday evening. I've seen parking lots with tighter security than that 'border crossing.' I knew when I saw one border guard sleeping shirtless in a hammock and another dozing off in a folding chair that this was going to be easy.

Here's a funny fact - the border people will ONLY take US dollars for visas - they won't even take their own currency. The ATMs all dispense US cash too.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Laos, Miles Covered.

Pakse, Lao P.D.R.

Here is an overview of my ride through Laos so far.




1. Boten. Crossed the border, entering Laos.
2. Nam Tha. Taught a free English class and got invited to a village party.
3. Oudomxai. Met the BMW motorcycling couple from the UK.
4. Muang Kuah. Chartered a riverboat to carry self and bike (and 7 others) to Luang Prabang. A dazzling eight-hour float down the ancient Nam Ou river.
5. Luang Prabang. Beautiful, breath-taking historical city and UNESCO world-heritage site.
6. Phonsavahn. Learned about America's Vietnam War legacy and witnessed the ancient 'Plain of Jars.'
7. Vang Vieng. Innertubed down the 'party town's' river. The ride in - one of the best.
8. Vientiane. Dusty, dirty, lonely capital of Laos. Rather not go back.
9. Pak Ngeum. Drank in the kindness and hospitality of a local Lao family - sharing in their daily life.
10. Tha Khaek. A lovely little spot on the Mekong River - enjoyed the local street food and
views of Thailand across the stream.
11. Savannakhet. A brutal ride in oppressive heat and sun. A mirror of Tha Khaek - a jewel
on the Mekong. Invited to a Lao barbecue where I learned to play Lao games.
12. Pakse. Where I write this post. Larger than Savannakhet and full of great temples and river views.
13. Cambodia. Ready to tackle the border again!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Rules of the Road

Pakse, Lao P.D.R.

Whenever I tell someone that I am traveling by motorcycle, they invariably reply with "isn't that dangerous?" or "aren't you scared?" Most people believe that motorcycling is inherently risky or dangerous. The truth is, it doesn't have to be.

Here is my personal set of "Road Rules" for motorcycling.

1. Ride in the Daytime. I don't ride at night unless it is absolutely necessary.

2. No Rain, No Ice, No Bad Weather. If it rains, I find an overhang and pull over. Always.

3. Helmet. Always. There is never a good reason to ride without one. Ever.

4. Be Visible. Use headlights at dusk - even if you can still see. Wear bright colors, make sure all running lights are working.

5. Don't Prove a Point. If someone is driving faster than you, let them pass. Don't try to prove you are right by cutting people off. I'd rather be shamed and alive than proud and dead.

6. Don't be in a Hurry to Die. Hot-rodding, wheelies, reckless passing, and other cavalier driving stunts are for movie stars. You already look cool enough with a motorcycle - no need to show off.

7. One Beer is Too Many. If you plan on drinking, then walk there - take a cab etc. If you drive there and then drink, lock up the bike and get it tomorrow or walk it home. There's too much to risk.

8. When in Rome. It doesn't matter how people drive back home, it matters how they drive where you are! In Asia, bigger vehicles always have the right of way. It doesn't matter who got to the light first. Watch others and what they do and copy them. Again, doesn't matter if you are right when you are dead.

9. What's the Rush? If you drive 65 miles an hour instead of 60, you will might get there about 6 minutes faster. Is getting somewhere a couple of minutes earlier really worth the risk? Obey speed limits and don't overheat your engine. When in the city, play it cool and relax - there is plenty of time to get wherever you are going.

10. Happy Vehicle = Happy Ride. Safe tires, good chain, working lights. Fix it before you get on the road.

11. Whatever It Is, Stop to Do It. iPods, cell phones, water bottles, chin straps. Whatever it is that needs adjusting, pull over and stop to fix it. You can never afford to only have one hand on the rack.

In the end, I stick with the mantra "life is already dangerous enough, why make it more so!?" With a little common sense, there is no reason why motorcycling has to be categorically dangerous.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Easy Riding!

Tha Khaek, Laos PDR

With great enthusiasm and motivation I left lonely Vientiane yesterday, fully intent on getting a good 250 km under my belt for the day. No further than 17 km later, Rocinante (the bike) began to choke and sputter. Bad fuel filter. I stopped in a small rural town to mend it, and get some water at a local convenience store. One thing led to another and soon I found that I was spending the entire day with a really wonderful Lao family. We played with their kids, did some chores, and even cooked a great dinner together. I especially enjoyed just sitting around and watching the grass grow while drinking the milk out of a fresh coconut (which I helped pull off the tree.) I stayed the night in their home / store and woke up refreshed this morning.

Setting off in the early sun, I noticed something very odd about the road I was traveling. I checked the compass which confirmed my suspicions- this road was straight! Hell's bells! I hadn't seen a straight road since I left the US. Hour after hour, mile after mile, the road shot straight out east, flat as the floor across a sun-baked savannah. I passed some 250km and would have done more if an aching sunburn hadn't reminded me to stop. So, stop I did, in the small city of Tha Khaek, just 100 km from Savannakhet which will mark my last leg of Laos before Cambodia. Best part of all - it's only 3:00pm! Looks like another lazy afternoon of watching the dust blow with the locals.

Bike nerd stuff: valve tapping noise may be the result of poor-grade gasoline. In China, various types of gas are available at every station (#0, #90, #93 octanes etc.) In Laos however, if gas is available at all, it is simply "unleaded" which I suspect is a low octane, low grade gas. In cars, low octane fuels can result in tapping or 'pinging' so I imagine the same must be true of bikes. Fuel filter replacement stopped the power loss and cutting-in-and-out that was happening yesterday. Air filter might need to be replaced as well... come to think of it, after all the dust and diesel I've choked on, my air filter might need replacing!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Time to Move On...

Vientiane, Laos PDR

I have spent a few days now in Vientiane. It is a rather nice city - still retaining some of its French colonial charms. However, there is something rather empty about it as well. It really is 'just a city.' When compared to Nam Tha, Luang Prabang (any comparison to Luang Prabang is probably unfair), Phonsavahn or Vang Vieng, the capital seems to come up short.

So be it! I guess that just means its time to saddle up and move on.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Odometer: 10,000 Km.

Vang Vienne, Laos PDR



I bought the bike at 6,800 km, and now it reads over 10,847. Therefore, I have traveled some 4,047 km or 2,514 miles so far! How is that possible in such a small space between China and Laos? It's because there isn't a single straight road in Asia. Mountains, mountains and more mountains.
Ride to Vang Vienne was spectacular. Here is a tease.



Moving on to the capital now.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Luang Prabang By Boat.

Luang Prabang, Luang Prabang Province, Laos


boats like these provide transport up and down the Nam Ou river

Traveled from Oudomxai to the river port town of Muang Khou by motorcycle. Roads were good 75% of the way, with patches of flood devastation and occasional landslide damage. From Muang Khou we (Andrew, the cyclist from New Zealand and 5 other travelers and myself) chartered a boat to take us to Luang Prabang.


top: the scenic Nam Ou river, bottom: Easy boys! That's my lady you have in your hands!

Getting the motorcycle on the boat was...something else. So far, Luang Prabang is amazing!


the sun sets on the river near Luang Prabang

Motorcycle seems to have developed a 'valve chatter' problem and is going to need some attention while I am in town.

Monday, 6 October 2008

School's In!

(Luang) Nam Tha, Northern Laos


a student looks into a classroom at the village school


I made my way to the south end of town today where I found the local "village secondary school." I wanted to volunteer to teach English and this seemed like the right place to try it. I was only on campus for about 10 minutes before I got what I was looking for!



students welcome their teacher as he enters the room

The school was a combination of simple concrete buildings with open windows and wooden 'crate' buildings - homemade affairs with untreated wood plank making up the floors, walls and everything else. The school was obviously poverty stricken - however this did not seem to affect the students' morale. Every student dressed in white shirts with black slacks for boys or black skirts for the girls. They all stood and saluted the teacher when he entered or left the room and they listened carefully and wrote lots of notes.

I met a Math and English teacher named "Ben" (he has a rather long Laoatian name.) He invited me to be a guest teacher for his class. I had lots of fun making them repeat things and role-play in front of their peers. They may be from a totally different culture, but being an embarassed and self-conscious teenager seems to be universal. Before long, students from nearby classrooms were lining up at the windows to watch.




Ben stands just outside a local village


After class, Ben took me to a string of villages in the area. When I say village, I mean village! Thatch-roof buildings, no electricity, no running water. Chickens and hogs ran about. Children played completely naked in the roads. To get there, the bike and I had to cross an Indiana Jones-style rope bridge! We entered the house of some Kmong (spelling?) people.

Ben saved the best for last. After waiting out a brief rain, he took me to a farther village where the staff of the school were having a party to celebrate "October 7th" - which evidently is a holiday for Laos. Every adult in the room insisted on shaking my hand and pouring a shot of "Lao-Lao" (local whiskey) for me. Then I was made to dance with the locals - which was a lot of fun. Finally I was sat in front of the village chief! (Yeah, I didn't know there really were such people either.) He seemed pleased that a foreigner had joined the party. The high school students, who were also attending, were a blend of curious and mortified by my presence. ha!


village chief (center) enjoys the party

In all of this, I couldn't help but be deeply impressed by the Laos people. Few people have suffered as much at the hands of America as Laos - yet never have I received such a heartfelt welcome.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Success! Crossing the Laos Border by Motorcycle.

Nam Tha, Northern Laos.

Depsite the protests and whining of the Chinese border guards, I was able to bring the motorcycle out of China and into Laos without a problem. On the Laos side, they didn't seem to care about the motorcycle and didn't feel the need to fill out any kind of paperwork. On the China side, they only charged me about USD $1.

So far, Laos is a laid-back, and very beautiful place. I plan to write more and put up photos - but in the meantime, check out my HELMET CAM video. I made my own helmet camera mount - seems to be working well so far. I plan on staying in this town for a couple of days and seeing the country side before heading south to Luang Phrabang.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Arrived: Mengla - Approaching Laos Border.


Mengla, Xishuangbanna County, Yunnan Province, China

Arrived in the city of Mengla which Lonely Planet describes as '...a dire little town...' - seems ok to me. Quiet, palm trees everywhere. Easy-going locals - what is so dire? I will try to get my things ready and acquire any gear I need here before approaching the Laos border either tomorrow or the day after. Last night's stay in a traditional 'Dai' ethnic hut was really rather nice. A table of Chinese persuaded me to drink 3 beers with them - they were a loud and raucous bunch.

The ride to Mengla was rather nice - the landscape looks more and more 'Mekong river delta' with every passing mile. Rice fields, thatch houses and bullet-shaped mountains towering about.

Above is a map of what I have covered so far, by bike and otherwise - as well as my future route.