Friday, 10 October 2014

Back to Laos and the Lifan

Back to Laos.

Home.

Hello..

 I'm back in Laos, once again it was a long trip from the UK..

Uk-India-Bangkok-Chaing Mai-Chumpae-Vientiane and finally Ban Namsanam Laos..

Many thanks to Auke for meeting me in Chaing Mai...

Sainamhai Resort

It's great to be back Home the Sainamhai Resort is looking lush after the rains..Mr Vongsamay picked me up from Vientiane and saved me a hellish bus ride, great to see you Mr & Mrs Vongsamay, we have many new projects on the go for 2014-15....Watch this space.

Mr & Mrs Vongsamay 

It was the end of Buddhist lent and an eclipse of the moon....many people came to the resort to set the small boats afloat down the Nam Hai river...

Mrs Vongs made the boat...wow
  
After a few days rest i decided to see if Lilley would fire up after her long sleep in a dusty shed, alas it was not to be, no ignition......strange as she was fine when I left it..

So I purchased a new Battery for about $7 and set about the wiring loom with a multi meter..



Checked the fuses and battery feeds, all good
All the lights are working, I'm getting close.
The wiring diagram I have is not much good but gives an overview of what's what, turns out the ignition switch is faulty, I bridged it out and it came back to life, a few kicks later and she fired up...all good.

Next thing is the Barrel and piston, the piston had got damaged in a partial seizure last year in a river, pleased to say that my home made gasket lasted..


Looking a bit sorry

So simple it's a joy...

Cleaned the head and carb...

250cc.....

Complete Clutch kit

After refitting the parts, I set the valve clearances, changed the oil, cleaned the air filter, fresh fuel and away she went......refitted the wiring look, lubed and adjusted a few things.....

Next was the rear wheel, I hit a pot hole down in Xepon last year, the impact broke the wheel bearings!!I have had 3 sets of bearings since so I figure the hub must be damaged as well, new tyre as well..

Basic tools.

Complete wheel, tyres a bit skinny

All done back together and running sweet, took her for a run and she's as good as it's ever been, I will order the new ignition switch and broken panel from Thailand and fit them when they arrive.

I will spend the next few days checking all my kit and then head of for a ride next week...

Happy days.....

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Mangkone Cave Laos

My last small trip was one to Mangkone Cave in Khammouane Province Southern Laos directly south of the Mui Gai pass ,it's a hard one to get to lots of lowland with a lot of mud and a chewed up tracks. I have wanted to travel here for a while, I'm sure it was used in the war by the Vietnamese as a short cut into Laos so of  I went to take a look.

Welcome sign

Cave is marked as river tunnel on left of picture.

I set of for a 4 day trip with a sore knee which I had done by tripping over whilst walking back to my room, it doesn't seem to want to heal, so perhaps some exercise will aid it's recovery. I cant say I was really looking forward to the ride but decided to do it anyway, so instead of a usual route I opted for a new one to make it more interesting, well that certainly worked as it was very muddy....

It looked muddy and it was...

The route got harder and the pace slowed as I got bogged down by some small muddy rivers, paddy fields and Jungle trails, some of it was quiet beautiful with some nice trails and as it was a new route it was all new to me...

Nice views, the dry parts were spectacular.

Nice section of trail.
I fell of on one part that had been torn up by the animals, the bike fell on me, I couldn't get my sore knee from under the bike, which made me chuckle a bit......it soon became unfunny when I noticed fuel dripping onto the hot exhaust...it didn't take long for me to get free from the bike and stop the leak.

It really doesn't take much for your day to go wrong what if the bike had caught fire or my knee had been injured further, this was not a good location for such problems as there was nobody else around. I do travel with survival and medical kit as well as a SOS beacon, but you still have to get to medical care which could be a long way away with serious injury. The best preparation can only aid you in such situations, returning home safe is above everything else.

Back on the trails and I passed through a few villages and stopped for some cold drinks, extremely friendly people is this neck of the woods....I will go back....

Really friendly

They asked me if I liked her...

This guy had a camera, great English as well

This guy was trying to fix me up..

I continued down the last part of the trail to the cave, lots of mud and some interesting bridges...this one had a turn that dropped away and then rose again......

Incredible Bridge.

Loose boards everywhere.

I arrived at the cave about 4pm and talked to the guy selling tickets, it was to late to enter now so I decided to go find a camp spot, I went back through the village and headed into the jungle down a small track soon finding  what I considered a nice spot to camp for the night. It was super hot with many flies about so I decided to get a fire going to smoke them out...whilst I was smoking them out I put my Hammock up, it would soon be dark.

Bike Parking at the cave.

I could hear some children playing in the distance and their voices grew closer until they were about 40 feet away then they turned onto the track passing within 20 feet of me, they saw me so I waved and said hello, they giggled and carried on their merry way, I had been spotted. Forty minutes later 2 guys on a Honda passing by checking me out, I acknowledge them as they rode on...

My Hotel for the night

Night falls and the heat starts to drop cooling the air, I get into my hammock and stretch out ready for sleeping, it's a beautiful night. It's not long before I hear voices coming my way there are 3 local villagers with torches coming down the trail towards me until they are peering into my Hammock at me,they asked me what I was doing and informed me I could not stay here I must come with them to the Village were I can stay in the guest house, I told them I didn't want a guest House and that I was happy here.....I was told no way I must pack up my kit and return to the village with them......time to pack.

I rode back into the Village, as we passed through more and more people start to follow us, I was given a phone and told to talk? A lady asked me what was wrong in English...I explained that I had chosen to camp as I had no information about any guest house in the area, she asked to talk to phones owner and explained what I was doing which was then explained to the crowd, everybody starts laughing....I get told to go the building at the end of the track where the English speaking lady from the government is waiting for me, along with  Laos Start TV film crew staying at the unknown village guest house.

Village guest House with my Hammock underneath.

The man from Laos Star TV

Her Name was Noi with a film crew shooting a program about the Mangkone Cave for Laos TV, there 5 of them so we shared some food and a few drinks, I was informed the guest house was full but I could sleep under it so I put up my hammock and tried to sleep, unfortunately a party in the village would not allow this until the small hours...How I wished I had not been found...

Sunrise over the Village was Mythical.

I went for a look around the Village whilst waiting for the other to rise...war Scarp.


Good Morning

The evening before Noi had asked me to join them on a trip through the cave how could I refuse? of we went to the cave where we were met by the man selling tickets, It cost me more as I'm not local. I was pointed in the way of a small trail that followed a lake and started the hike to the cave entrance, my knee was not good  and the undulating trail was not making for an easy walk. 

Long walk to the cave.


Beautiful place

Lots of Fish.

More Dodgy bridges.

Birds exciting the cave.

Noi taking a rest.

Cave Entrance.

Its Big.

Setting sale.
After a painful walk to the cave entrance the film crew climb aboard the boats and set of into the darkness, I have to wait for the 3rd boatman.....

Looks inviting.

 On his arrival we jump into the boat and head off, with the boat is listing to the left no water anywhere so I decide it's safe enough but the list had made me feel uneasy as we are in a cave.... we soon catch up the other group and there powerful lights show of how big this Cave really is, we then arrived at a what looked like the end with a rock section to climb, my knee will not go up there, if the others are going climbing I'm going to head back. they decide to climb over so the 2 of us head back but the Captain has no flash light, I have mine and a spare so I will illuminate they way....bad move.

It's much darker without the lights from the other boats and I'm not enjoying this at all, I have know idea how these guys navigate in here it's a labyrinth of small tunnels big tunnels and rock formations, it all looks the same and the boat flips over to the left and we are both in the water we had struck a rock..my first though was my bag which I managed to grab and pulled it up over my head, I couldn't touch the floor the Life vest was a good move.

 I had bike gear on and was a lot heavier next thing I needed was the boat so with my other hand I felt around and grabbed it, it was floating just under the water....

I then noticed my torch tethered to my wrist still working, without the torch and life jacket I fear things may have worked out very differently.

 The film crew had heard all the commotion and came back to check on us, I had already walked back up the trail, my camera was ruined so the trip was over for me if I cant take pictures I might as well be at home so I said my goodbyes and set of for Thakhet to get a hotel and dry out

About 50ks from Thakhet it rained really hard which is not expected at that time of year, I got wet again which added to my misery but when I think of what might have happened things look a whole lot brighter. Laos is not the place to have accidents. 


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Khammouane Province Laos

Khammouane Province  is Located about 250 kilometres south of the Capital Vientiane it is made up of 10 districts and is  home to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, The Limestone Forest, Konglor Cave and City of Thakhet plus many more attractions which are listed below. I have been based at the Sainamhai Resort whilst I have been exploring the area and will update this page as I learn more.

Most people come to do the Thakhet Loop which is basically 3 left turns after leaving Thakhet, one heads along Route 12 and turns left onto the 1E through the flooded area of Nam Thuen 2 power station, then it's into Lak Sao and another left turn onto Route 8, finally another left back onto route 13 South and on the way back to Thakhet. Some of it is unpaved other parts are difficult and dusty, the rest is Tarmac and easily done on scooters, many have done this on Bicycles. Most of the loop can be seen on the map above.

Over View of khammouane Province, between route 8 and Route 12



Getting around khammouane. Motorcycle hire is available in Thakhet and Nahin, Buses and  song tails are plentiful, it really is an easy place to get around. Ensure your rental equipment is safe and road worthy, wear proper clothing whilst riding, I have seen many bashed up people in the last few months, flip flops and shorts do not protect you, medical care can be some distance from you at all times....Lock your bike when not being used. Thief's are operating in Thakhet, rooms are even being burgled whilst guest sleep, I know of one case of rape.....BEWARE.

Mad Monkey Bike Rental. His bikes are well maintained and offers a breakdown/help service He can be found in the square by the river Mekong. Contact: dcn66@hotmail.de




Map Of Thakhet


When I arrived in Khammouane  I decided to go have a good look around to see what else is out there apart from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, if your into the outdoors activities whether it be motorcycles,mountain bikes, boating, walking or driving there is a lot to see and do as I have found out. All my rides, walks and drives have been from the Sainmhai Resort which is truly a jewel of a place situated on the banks of the Nam Hai River near Ban Nahin, a family owned business established 7 years ago by Mr Vongsamay Check it out on trip advisor. Sainamhai Resort

The Sainamhai Resort Web Site


Mr & Mrs Vongsamay. Pillars of there community, supporting the local weaving industry along with many other projects The  will make you feel most welcome.


Villagers products for sale.


Markets have been found to sell products throughout Laos.

The Sanamhai Resort....Beautiful.

Nice view of the river.

Happy diners, excellent food.

Happy Birthday Mrs Vongs.

The Grand Palace.

Both Couples married on the same dates.

 Mr koopmans  from Holland but lives in Chaing Mai provided all the maps. Green triangle Mapping.

Sunset over the resort.

Nice Bungalows air conditioned 130,000 kip a night.

The River Nam Hai.

View of the Fog rolling down the mountains in the morning.

There is a tourist information center in Ban Nahin  which is situated 150 meters west of the water falls on Route 8, a little outdated. It does have some information on the area and a glass of cold water for the hot traveller.

Look out for the sign.

Tourist advice centre

Ban Nahin

Tat Namsanam Falls. Is about about a 3 kilometre walk up to the falls 500 meters away from Ban Nahin which is on route 8, kilometre mark 75.

As you leave Ban Nahin and head west within 1 minute you arrive at Tat Namsanam water falls.

Route From The Sainamhai Resort  Ban Namsanam to Tat  Namsanam Water falls, then west route 8.

Sign on Route 8

It will cost you about 50,000 kip to go up with a guide which I recommend as its a real jungle climb up to the falls, over rocks and trees you will get up to about 350 meters, the signs are not so good and it's easy to take the wrong trail, it's also very hot so plenty of water is required, once at the falls you can climb even further if you wish.....

Entrance to the falls.

Its a nice place to have some lunch and a dip in the water and will certainly give your legs a work out,some of the trees are huge and it's teaming with bird, butterflies and such, worth a look if you enjoy a walk.

A rocky climb

Huge trees.

Make shift ladder.

Dead unfortunately.

The Falls.

Infinity pool?

Signs can be hard to spot


The Limestone Forest is next along route 8, you can miss it there is a huge sign The Sala View point. The Limestone forest was formed a long time ago and is a stunning panorama of jagged limestone mountains, there is a view point at the top and it's another great place to sit and relax, the sunset on the viewpoint can be rather spectacular. a must stop on your travels..

The limestone forest, can you spot the rubber duck?

Wow.

Map of the area showing the Forest.

Unknown to most people there is a cave under the Forest Khoun Keo Cave discovered in 2012 by a local farmer, it is not open to the public as yet but you can organise a visit through the Sainamhai resort. I have visited the cave and can tell you it's huge, like a cathedral inside with many river channels and tunnels inside, the rock formations are amazing. The cave is relativity  un-mapped, we walked around inside for 2 hrs climbing up to see higher passages and checking out water ways, fish and turtles have been seen as well as some rather large spiders. This cave makes the others look very small and in time I'm sure will become a big attraction.

Huge formations.

Strange looking things.

Made over many years.

Stunning

Magnificent.

The Ceiling was 30 meters high in places.

The floor was amazing.

More Sculptures.

Mrs Vongs entering the cave.

Konglor Cave. This one has to be the most visited place in the area, it's open from 8am and See's a steady stream of people all day long, set in a small forest it's a nice place to relax, swim,feed the fish and of course make the trip through the Cave by boat. You buy your ticket once inside the complex, food and refreshments are available as well.

Map of Konglor.

Welcome

Prices.

Nice area,swimming allowed.

No swimming allowed.

Feed the fish.

Cave entrance.

The boats.

Worth a visit....

The road down to Konglor is stunning, mountain ranges and small villages all the way, lots of trails and track to go of exploring if you wish, it's easy to spend the whole day at Konglor.

Mountains all the way down to Konglor.

Wow.

Many abandoned villages on the way

Happy Children

More Caves on the way down to konglor


More Mountains and new irrigation system, villages are growing a lot of Tobacco in this region.

Staying in the Khammouane central area there are a few other nice things to see that people just don't know about, here's a few before we get back on the Loop.

Boat trip to Ancient Temple Katour Banna & Cave
Great Views on the River Hinbourn, this river trip is exclusive to Sainamhai



Way point 21 is the Temple, by road it's of route 13
. This is a place that people no very little about, leaving the Sainamhai Resort early its a 30 kilometre cruise down the Nam Hai and Hinbourn river. The boats are moored and the last part is done on foot, through a cave and then onto the temple grounds, picnic lunch and return by boat will see you out all day..a beautiful day out. Prices from $50 contact the Sainamhai Resort for further details. The Temple is open to the public and is also reachable by Motorcycle or Car, the Villagers will look after you belongings and should provide guides, you have to ask, the cave is vast with some deep water, torches are required.

The walk to the cave is about 3ks, nice walk

Cave entrance is large, deep water in places, other parts have sandbags under the water to follow, amazing walk through, take a torch and some decent foot wear.

The exit gets bigger as you climb up to it.
Ancient Temple some 400 years old, it's foundations plundered for the riches buried beneath 

Restoration seems to be taking place.

Lady of the lake in the Temple grounds.

Fantastic scenery on the river Hinbourn.


Sainamhai Resorts Back Yard. There are countless trails around the resort whether on foot,bicycle,motorbike or 4x4 you can soon find yourself in some beautiful surroundings, it's possible to enter the Limestone forest from these trails.A whole lot of adventure is very close by.

Wide open spaces.

Nobody around but me.

Great place to Mountain bike.

Plenty to discover.

Easy trails to ride.

Dusk over Khammouane

Mountains all around.

I wanted to climb this one...

Not an easy climb, trail all the way to the top.

Great view of Ban Namsanam


Great riding around here

The Limestone forest on ground level.

Peaceful.

It's an explosion of great viewing.

Mythical Laos.

Getting up close.


More inside the Limestone forest.
Back onto to the Tarmac and heading south towards Thakhet.......

Kong Leng Lake.

Sign on Route 13


Map showing lake of route 13.

This is a great place to visit, I camped overnight here, the road to it is rough in sections but what you find when you arrive is well wort the trip....the locals arrived in spades to bathe, swimming is allowed.

I was not expecting this

Wow.

Beautiful Colours.

Crystal Blue water.

Looks inviting.

fantastic.


Friendly Local wan


Sunset, nothing in this view had changed for 50 years at least.


Sunrise.


Morning Coffee for me.

Fetching water to tend to her garden

I cant remember the last time I slept that well....a must visit with an over night stay was only 5000kip.

The Great Wall
Heading for Thakhet you can also see The Great Wall, not really sure what it's all about but if your exploring why not have a look...


A big wall?, grounds are overgrown.

Moving on from here away from Thakhet and out onto Route 12 these is a host of caves to see, heading east on 12...

Map of Caves.

Pha Chan Cave, no more signs after this one?


Budda Cave. This is another great day out but the road is very bad so get ready for a bumpy ride. It's very well organised and well thought about, you can even take a trip through the cave on a boat.

Picnic area with lots of local things for sale

Information about boat trip

6000 Kip to enter.

View looking down from the cave.

Small entrance.

River tunnel

Pricing.

Nang Aen Cave. Not visited yet.




Pha In Cave. Looks like another great place to visit...worth a look as always.

Sign on Route 12

Cave entrance.

The Falan. This is a great area for relaxing, swimming and having a good time, I went of exploring and found some beautiful spots.

Many day trippers enjoying the spot


Children enjoying the water.

Nice lakes all around.

Local lady fishing.

A very nice spot.

I carried on exploring, beautiful area.

Nice trails

Paddy Fields in bloom.



Tam Phanang Cave.  

This is another Cave that is seldom visited, we found it by luck as the villagers didn't want to go there as there was no electricity. Situated 8 Kilometers south of Mahaxai it was home to some 2000 people in the early 70's to the end of the war.

Dirt trail leads to the cave of route12.

Cave entrance

Beautiful 

Amazing sculptures made over many years. 

Still used today by the locals for worship.

A big cave with a large pool in it, I went some 300 meters into it, it goes further.


Well worth a visit.


Mangkone Cave. 

 This Cave is over by the Vietnam border and not easy to get to and not accessible from on a tour bus, lots of mud and bad roads, there is a guest house in the village for over night stays. The cave is huge and set in a beautiful area, I'm sure this would have been used in the war, I found a lot of war scrap in the village.

Not easy to get to but worth the trip.

Welcome.

Lots of big fish in the lake.

Ladders up to the cave entrance.

Entrance to Cave.

A difficult climb in some areas.

The boats about to depart into the 2 kilometer river tunnel



After all the fun of of the caves you can keep going East to the Vietnam border where you will find the Mu Gai pass at the border with Vietnam, the start of The Ho Chi Minh Trail proper, most take the left through the flooded area back up to Lak Sao and onto route 8...The Thakhet loop is done.


Mu Gai  Pass looking toward Vietnam.

Flooded area.

Nice place.

The road to Lak Sao

Fuel cells made into boats along route 8

The Ho Chi Minh Trail. This is the reason I came to Laos in the first place, I have spent 18 months riding the trail and still have much to see and do, if you want to visit the trail get in touch with The Sainamhai resort who can organise the Tours  it's not easy and a lot of it only accessible on Motorcycles, easier section can be done on foot,bicycles or 4x4's. The History of the Trail is immense said to be one of the great engineering projects of the last century....Contact the Sainamhai Resort for tour details.

Map showing the Trail. Dong Museum 


Xe Banfai Ford

Cluster Bomb casings.

War Scrap at Ban Laboy

Original Cobblestones toward the Ban Kari Pass

Overview of Ban Laboy and Ban Kari Pass

Last updated on June 19th 2014.