Easy rider

… Well actually more like highly strung, nervous and occasionally wobbly rider, but that didn’t make such a good title to capture our experience around the Thakaek loop – a 480km ride over 3 days.

For those who have ridden bikes extensively the riding might not be too daunting but when your sum total of experience amounts to the time it would take to actually watch Easy Rider, the prospect of riding roads of questionable quality gives a different complexion. This is what faced me as we woke early one morning to start the journey – me riding and Joyce chilling on the back, presumably pondering the meaning of life… I’m not sure if she’s cracked it but she believes it to be 46 and not the commonly quoted 42! You’ll have to take this up with her.

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So with trepidation we get on the bike (a semi-automatic by the way, whilst my previous, albeit limited experience had been with an automatic… just to complicate matters). The exit from our guesthouse was unjustly bumpy, followed by a busy town, with bikes and cars not seeming to notice the wobbly westerner trundling along, grasping the handle bars for dear life. But without incidence we got petrol, successfully navigated a roundabout (twice) and got over the busy crossroads (only nearly being clipped by a scooter that cut me up)! From there the roads were good, quiet and with the sun still low in the sky it was cool as we set a brisk pace.

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After a brief stop at a cave, meeting some friendly locals we were off again and decided to get to a small town called ‘Tha Lung’. As we neared our destination the roads slowly, and rather discretely, started to change; from Tarmac to gravel, straight to winding and flat to up & down! But we made it, and in jolly good time! So we decided lunch and then crack on – get more miles behind us.

Now this may have been a mistake… The ever friendly and professional Mr Ku who rented the bike to us also informed us how long sections of the journey would take… The section we had just completed was meant to take 5-6 hours and we had done it in 4, so the next section we thought would be equally quick, even if the roads were meant to be a little ‘bad’. However, and this is we’re my and Mr Ku’s ideas of good and bad differ… Where Mr Ku says bad, I say, ‘horrendous, practically un-drivable’.

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Gravel gave way to sand. Sand created barriers of dust with each passing lorry and truck – and there were lots of these – as the road was actually being built. And this is were things got truly interesting. As we rounded another bend, my back tire skidding out a little behind me in the soft sand, the road ceased. And I do mean ceased. In front of us were 2 men, a JCB and a mountain of soil.

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‘We must have made a wrong turn’, I piqued, my voice breaking ever so slightly. Oh, no, the Lao worker is waving us onwards. So with Joyce on foot I managed to work my way through the construction site, and the next one, and the next one. And after many, many more kilometres of ‘horrendous, practically un-drivable roads’ (sorry I mean ‘bad roads’) we made it to Lak Sao, as the sun was setting. We were ready for bed.

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The next morning’s ride followed a similar suit, with the only change being my confidence on the bike improving little by little as the roads continued to throw up surprises and as I got used to dodging wildlife of varying size – cows, ducks, geese, pigs, dogs and water buffalo mainly.

And it is on this second day that we made it to the reason for starting on this adventure – the Konglor cave. The cave is vast; a river runs through it for 7.5kms and you simply ride a boat all the way. It was an incredible experience – being enveloped, encased, travelling through the real heart of a mountain. The scenery was majestic at times, eerie at others and always breathtaking; all the time the sound of the engine booming off the walls, filling the cavernous space. But what was equally astounding was how few people were here to see this natural wonder. We saw maybe ten boats – 20, maybe 30 foreigners.

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And so, weary again we headed back to our hostel for some rest before the next, and final, day’s ride. We woke early the final day and after 150km riding on good roads, and after quite a few ‘bum breaks’ (… We suffered quite a bit with numb bums) we found ourselves, victorious – and alive (always a miracle) – back in Thakaek!

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So would I do it again? Absolutely. The riding was great, the cave staggering and the experience unforgettable – from what we saw to the people we met.

So when will our next bike adventure be; well we’re not sure, but we – if not our bums – are looking forward to it!

If you want to see more photos from our Thakaek adventure (mostly taken from the back of a speeding bike) they can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87021366@N05/sets/72157633002614408

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