The end of the road...?!

Trip Start Jan 09, 2013
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

So no blogs for a while i know, and that's mainly because i had a slight change of plan to get to Thailand in time to see Jamie & Suzanne and my mum around mid-late April which i wouldn't miss for anything so it means i have flown right through Cambodia and Laos and just made it to Thailand now....
I'm currently in Vientiane, the capital of Laos and though i crossed back in to Thailand a few days ago i had to pop back here to get my Visa for Thailand... the past week has been all change, with everything, so much has happened but i'll try remember as much as i can about Cambodia and Laos first. Unfortunately all this is going  in to one blog so it won't map each area and when i tried a full google map it locked me out, i tell you, its easier to break in to Fort knox than it is to answer Google's security questions...makes the Spanish inquisition look like a chat with the vicar.... but i managed to just create a line drawing version, very rough but it shows the route and stats wise i can tell you i visited many many many places, met many many people and drove so many roads... as a rough guess i'd say i drove 7000km in about 3 months.... its not until i created a map and roughly calculated the distance that i really realise how immense the trip was the achievement of not only doing it but never having a single road crash either... so i know i've given it away already but yes as i type, the trip is over, by motorbike anyway... so here's is everything up until now....
So my final blog was a quick one about Cambodia, i spent about two weeks from the most South Eastern corner and went up through Phnom Penh the capital, around Ton La Lake in the centre which is about 1/8 the size of the country itself and then looped back down and followed the mekong up to Southern Laos.
I do love Cambodia, its very different to anywhere else, probably because its very poor there, undeveloped and people are much more shy overall. There arent many roads to travel and the main highways were pretty dull, just long straight, unchanging roads and there are few areas of any beauty around the highways, its predominantly a very dusty, bleak habitat. There are fee minor roads and when you find them they are a lot more trouble than they are worth so driving wise it was no where near as enjoyable as Vietnam was so only spending two weeks worked out well but it meant that, from including my previous visits, i had now covered the whole country and the only areas i didn't see were two huge national parks, one called the Cardammon mountains which i'm gutted i didn't catch but its always going to be there.
Travelling Cambodia so quickly meant i had about 3 weeks to travel South to Mid Laos. Last year i had seen a good portion of north west Laos and so the plan was to get to Vientiane in the middle and near the Thai border and take a 3 month visa for my last 3 months in Thailand before heading back for my sister, Delly's wedding.
Now i had no problem getting over the border to Cambodia and likewise here, it was a doddle, and it was a great start to Laos because i was headed to the nearby 4000 Islands, Si Phan Don, one of the big tourist pulls here, and area of amazing natural beauty consisting of approx 4000 islands on the Mekong, but 3 main big ones that had developed in to a tourist area. There was also apparently SE Asia's largest waterfall in terms of water mass nearby and literally 10km or so after passing the border i saw a turn off saying it was 2km down a track - wow, great start, it was 2 hours until dark so i could see this on my first day before 4000 islands and am i glad i did... wow... huge!!The beauty of this place was the lack of health and safety..! You could literally walk anywhere over the rocks to the edge of the ferocious water mass and there were even long tree logs placed in between rock masses that you could walk across, sometimes with ease but sometimes a good 10ft up above the mighty water flow... which i am sure only the bravest of locals would actually attempt.
I made it out and to one of the 4000 islands just before dark after a nice private boat ride with me and Wilma across the mekong but i'd come to the more upmarket island which was nice but not great so i spent one day before heading to where i found the perfect spot and best bungalow on the islands on Don Khon, right on the river with my own balcony, hammock and no one in the next bungalow until the last night of the 5 nights i spent there... all for 4 quid a night!!
It was a great time just winding down, exploring a little, being off the motorbike and just getting ready for the final leg of the trip. I found a great little restaurant but which had no other customers every time i went. They were only 200m or so from the main hub but they had no signs up or anything that made the place approachable so on the last night i suggested i make them a sign and menu welcome board to get people in so we spent the night, me, the cook, her husband and son making the board up and sticking all the prices and info on to a table cloth covered board using sticky rice!! It worked perfectly but imagine what sticky rice is like in your body if you can easily use it as glue!! Anyway, got a few photos and got to say it wasn't a bad effort for a couple of hours work, i hope it got the customers in. They gave me a Buddhist wrist band as thanks which was a real honour and i have a friend possibly visiting the same area next month so can get them to check out if the signs still up and if its got any customers in!?

 So next stop was Pakse, a large centre point in the south and somewhere to prepare to do some inland loops from and only 140km or so away. They had a great tourist info which allowed me to plan a nice route out to Salawan through an area of waterfalls and coffee plantations around the Bolovan Plateau, an area of rich volcanic soil which created the perfect growing conditions for coffee and the centre of coffee production for the whole of Laos, similar to that of Buon Ma Thout in Vietnam where some of you will know just how good the coffee is ;)
The up and also downside of this area was the great coffee, i had to try it but it was so good i got the caffeine bug, as i so easily do and probably drunk way too much over the next 3 or 4 days but managed to ween myself off again!! I visited a few beautiful smaller waterfalls along the way and witnessed some beautiful countryside and villages and it was obvious that this was a more prosperous area of Laos due to the growing conditions here.
Outside of Salawan i stayed at Tad Lo, probably the best waterfall area and had a nice swim, some nice coffees and then decided that since the roads here were pretty good i would attempt a inland route up towards my final destination via Savannakhet, a market town about 650km below Vientiane and on the main highway but a great place for trying out many traditional Laos foods.
I didn't have a map book, just a general map of Laos and the main roads but i still had google maps which, until this point, had never let me down!! Both showed a minor road leaving just outside Salawan which went right up in to the centre of Laos to a cross roads which continued up  to Northern Laos, right to Vietnam and left, to my destination, Savannakhet. So when leaving Salawan i came to a right turn but it seemed to come a little too soon but the maps only showed one road so i guessed it must be the right one. I checked my Google maps about 10km up and sure enough it placed me on the road and when i stopped to ask about Savannakhet they pointed me in the direction i was going so i carried on. About 20/30km on i checked maps again but it placed me in no mans land off any road, about 30km east of the road i was meant to be on but because of my checks i was still fairly sure i just wasn't getting a good 3G signal and google maps couldn't pinpoint me exactly. The road was beautiful, through some great countryside but right from the word go i was  little perturbed by the lack of other traffic on the route.
After a while the road turned in to this brand new road that Brands Hatch would have been proud of and the route turned in to this fantastic windy mountain  route weaving up to one of the highest points in this mountainous area where you could see level with the mountains around. Any doubts i had about the road were eased by this obvious new road and i was convinced they had just updated this obviously pivotal Laos trade route to a worthy main road but again, some 100km in and i had not come to that cross roads yet and there was literally no traffic on this road at all but i was sucked in by the beauty of the area and the quality of the driving route and so i wasn't overly worried...
After a while, however, i was pretty sure that the cross roads should have appeared and when i came to this small but bustling village i decided to stop, have a coffee and suss out exactly where i was. There was a lot of trading activity going on which immediately made me suspicious but not as suspicious as when i saw a small food place for coffee and when i spoke Laos, the owner and his wife didn't understand me at all.... then in a few minutes of all the pieces of the jigsaw coming together, my situation became clear... looking around i saw a sign in the shop with what they sold and the sign was in Vietnamese,,, hang on a minute, the couple who run this place who don't speak Laos actually look Vietnamese... there's a guy loading up his truck right in front who sits opposite for tea but he speaks Laos so i ask him him where i am and he says its called Ta Oi... That 'Oi' point is definitely Vietnamese sounding so i ask him where he is from and he says Quang Tri, Vietnam!! I know the place!! so i grab my phone and i've got enough slow 3G to google Ta Oi and yes, you guesses it, its just off the Vietnamese border, on the opposite side of the country to where i was supposed to be?! about 300km in the wrong place!! and whats more miles from anywhere with a guesthouse!! I couldn't believe it but couldn't work it out at all, it felt like i was in the twilight zone or something! So my only option was to head back and see what happened... my first reaction was that i had hit that cross roads and turned right but how could i have!? it was one road the whole way... so heading back i was eagle eyed in looking for any possible turning...
Anyway, bombing it back to beat nightfall there was never a turn off and so i drove all the way back to where i started from!!! And although gutted about a wasted day i was so glad i had driven such an amazing driving route and seen such beautiful countryside. Now when i got back to the original turn off i had about an hour until nightfall and so to make some progress i decided i would travel back to the main highway, take a guesthouse there and next day take the main highway to Savannakhet as i had been completely bamboozled by this inland route and although it was just a dust road the whole way i thought it the best idea. Anyway, about 15km down the road i come to a V in the road and a pretty major turn off and it struck me that this might have been the road i originally should have turned off at! I check google maps and yes, it was!! Unbelievable... and so it struck me that the other road was so new it wasn't on the maps or even google maps and must have been newly built to link up another part of Laos and google maps, being confused, had wrongly placed me on the other road because it didnt have this new road to put me on... anyway, the road was again a dust road and so i decided i would stick to the plan and hit the highway tomorrow and i made it just as darkness fell and found a hotel about 10km up the highway.
Next day i made it to Savannakhet, an uneventful drive on the highway but with a few little surprises, one being that i had unfortunately got here a few days later than i wanted. In Laos, New year is from 12-14 April officially, but unofficially it started today as it was the friday before and the weekend and at new year the whole country just shuts down, most guestouses, cafes, shops, buses, and immigration all shut down which i wanted to avoid here and experience in Thailand after having got my visa and out the country. Its amazing though, i've never experienced anything like it, everyone is just in party mode, outside almost every house are big canopy covers, with families and friends all gathered, drinking beer lao, with HUGE sound systems blasting out a kind mix of drum and base based traditional music and everyone is dancing and having a great time and everyone is soaking wet too! They also call this the water festival as everyone, and i mean everyone has buckets of water, water pistols, anything you can thrown water on other people with, young or old, it doesn't matter, everyone is doing it and constantly this goes on for about a week but extremely full on for the 3 official days... you really have to see it to believe it but on the 3 official days the streets are crammed with people and cars all with massive sound systems blasting out, huge buckets of water for refills and hose pipes and water guns everywhere and there's never a lull, everyone is in full swing, partying and dancing solidly... its a beautiful sight and everyone just joins together as though the whole country is one big family. If anyone ever gets chance to come to Thailand,Laos or Cambodia i highly recommend this time of year to visit.
So back to the road trip and i had sporadically passed a few water stands where people were targeting vehicles and also been hit by the numerous 4x4 filled mobile water tanks that just drive around targeting everyone but i was on an open piece of road doing around 50-60km/h and saw a small food place with a young girl, about 8 years old outside just watching me approach from afar but as i passed i saw what she cleverly hid before which was a small bucket of water which she launched at me just as i passed and holy moly, at that speed i swear i thought she had decapitated me from the chest up! IT felt like a sword just tore right across me, like the same pain as a belly flop off the top board and the water was ice cold too.... she got me good style!!
When i arrived at Savannakhet everything was in shut down and so i knew i wouldn't find anything here and i still had enough time to get to my next destination Thakhek which is where my brother Jon is currently based and where i had arranged to meet up with him. Now most of you will know, mine and my brothers relationship is far from on the right track but i had decided to stop to see him, wipe the slate clean and sort it once and for all and so it seemed right to get there and get it done. One thing i have kinda learned about myself and life on this trip is that the problems, resentments, issues we all hold are are own choice and that its a lot simpler than i ever realised to see them as these things and to let them go and so i realised that's what i needed to do with my brother so we could almost start again and start from this day onwards...or so i thought...
This turned out to be a major changing point for the whole trip and not just this because asides from my trip my wonderful mother had informed me about the troubles in Korea which i read about and realised weren't just going to be a passing fad and cast a serious shadow over my being able to teach there in August and so i practically decided that i would now teach in Thailand because, even though i wouldn't earn as much, the climate was much better, i knew i loved Thailand and i was getting pretty good at the lingo too so what started out as a problem actually ended up being a much more satisfactory answer and i'm glad i didn't end up continuing to pursue the Korea idea.... but that aside, it was my meeting with my bro that changed the trip i was on...
Now i wont bore you with the details, but also go in to detail on a private thing like this but lets just say it didn't go to plan, the opposite actually which left me surprised and disheartened and so next morning i set off towards Vientiane to get my visa and leave Laos. Now the problem i had was that with new year officially starting the next day it meant immigration was shut until 4 days later which meant a long wait somewhere. I didn't want to stay in Thakhek for obvious reasons and Vientiane was boring and expensive but i didn't want to be on the roads either because everyone was going to be constantly pissed and so driving was gonna be dangerous. Now i had found that i should be able to cross in to Thailand with the motorbike but it wasn't easy and i would have to sign something to say i would leave the country with the bike at some point or pay a $2000 fine and with me planning to end the trip in Thailand this was an added problem. After weighing up the options though, i decided the best and most cost effective option, where i could keep the bike in Thailand, was to head to Vientiane that day, wait it out over new year which would be eventful anyway and then leave almost a week later with the motorbike and consider how to get rid of the bike at a later date...
Now what i hadn't mentioned was that about 40km before Thakhek an engine problem had started which sounded very familiar to the same problem i had in Vietnam where he had to take my engine apart and do a major repair but i had driven on and made it to Thakhek. Now that morning, there were no places open to have a look at it so i hoped i could just make it to Vientiane and whilst waiting there get it repaired. About 10km out of Thakhek i approached a V in the road, left to a friendship bridge border crossing To Thailand, which i knew Thakhek had but thought i must have passed back in the town, and the other up to Vientiane and no sooner had i seen this point did my bike take a turn for the worse, stutter and die! Shit! 
My only option was to walk the bike back towards Thakhek some 10km and hope i find a mechanic on the way though i thought this unlikely and even more unlikely that anyone would stop to help so the thought of a 10km walk pushing my heavy motorbike in red hot heat with people throwing water over me just didn't appeal. Luckily after a couple of km i passed a  mechanic sleeping but looking like he was still open for business. He proceeded to take my engine apart and even remove it to work on it until some 3 hours later he said he needed parts he couldn't get for 3 days because of new year and that if i stayed back in Thakhek i could come back in 3 days to collect and it would cost 60 quid!! I haggled him down to about 42 quid and then agreed, thinking i had no option, so i took my bags off, crossed the road and just sat at a small shop with a drink before trying to flag a lift back to town.
AS i sat there all i could think was how much i didn't want to be back in Thakhek and spend new year there as it wasn't the greatest place in the world and then i remembered the turn off to Thailand.... now i couldn't get a bus to Vientiane now but i could just go to Thailand! I mean, if i traveled to Vientiane, and stayed there almost a week that would be expensive too but what about the bike... well my realistic sell on fee would be around $150 and since it was going to cost me $75 to repair it didn't seem worth it for that and when i thought about it, i was only going to travel a small area of northernTthailand on the bike anyway and since i had rushed the past 4 weeks, i was more than ready to have a break from the bike. So i got up, walked back to the mechanics and told him he can have the motorbike to cover the cost of the past three hours diagnostic work he had done and that i was no longer going to Vientiane, the bike breakdown was too big a problem and i was off to Thailand...! Gobsmacked and a little unsure he understood what i meant he happily agreed and said he'd take me on his motorbike to the border crossing as it was a few km after the turn off... so he did and within an hour i was in Thailand without Wilma but still carrying my helmet! Its then i realised what had just happened and how quickly but also how liberating it felt to be able to just ditch the bike and not 'have to' keep it or wait around for it, the beauty i guess of buying a cheap motorbike, but still it felt an instant relief to have made that decision, be in Thailand and not to be sat on my motorbike and since then i've really enjoyed being back on buses and relaxing and having time to read, listen to music and not be constantly focused on the road.
This did mean, however, that i still had to travel north and cross back to Vientiane for my visa but it meant in that waiting time i could now travel up through a bit of Thailand, see something different and not then wait so long in Vientiane which is where i am now. Its been awesome here though, absolutely mental and i would definitely come back here again for new year though to be honest you could be anywhere here and have an amazing few days. So tomorrow i go to the embassy to order my visa which will be radio rental because this already busy place has been shut almost a week and apparently the first day open is mega busy so gonna get there a bit early, fill in my forms quick quick and then you wait until next day to collect. I want to get straight to Chiang Rai to meet my very good friend Zulu who i met last year at New Life as he's flying back to Europe on 24th so we will have a night out or two like old times in Chiang Rai just in time for the day trip to Chiang mai to meet Jamie and Suzanne on their honeymoon which i really can't wait for, i heard about there amazing wedding and spent most the day here just wishing i was there but it will be great to hear all about it and see them both in Thailand - now that doesn't happen everyday!!
So after that i am looking to stay and live in Chiang Mai for a while... Its the 2nd biggest city to Bangkok but a great place and so this is where i'll find a teaching job. Now school terms are May-Oct and Nov-Mar so i'll be trying to start for the 2nd term but means quite a wait until November but i should be able to find work in learning centres or private tuition. I'll look to start this after Delly's wedding when i come back mid August and so until then i have 2 months in Chiang Mai and 1 month in Chiang Rai at New Life foundation where i need to finish the enneagram training i started. In Chiang Mai you can rent a studio apartment for as little as 60 quid a month and get something really cool for about 100. I'm going to take Thai lessons, get an apartment with a kitchen and get Thai cooking and i've also found a Muay Thai boxing training camp... and so cheap, 160 quid a month for 2 training sessions a day 2-3 hours each! Other than that i'll try find a road bicycle and get back to training and preparing for my next adventure....
So i'll leave you with what was that cliffhanger i had previously mentioned and a brief outline of whats next..
So probably around March/April after the school term finishes and i have hopefully saved up some cash i will take my road bicycle to Hanoi, North Vietnam where i'll bicycle the northern route i missed on the motorbike trip, cross in to Northern laos and then up into the amazing mountain area of China, the Yunnan where i'll head over to Tibet and from Lhasa take the 1000km ride to Everest base camp, some 9000km above sea level and from there take the worlds longest decent all the way down to Katmandu, Nepal and from there its down through the rest of Nepal, India, Burma and back in to Thailand...! Does it get any better or more challenging than that?! I don't think so,,, its the challenge i need and the kind of trip i want and from then on i think my travelling days will just become more typical short trips but as far as what life holds for me at that point i really don't know... right now i see myself still teaching in Thailand or around but by that point i might even want to come back to the UK and if you remember i met a Belgium guy who traveled to Thailand by hitching and taking trains all the way from Belgium to India and then over to Thailand... i could do the same back either the same way of on the bike.... anyway, that's also a huge trip but i've learnt one thing and that's not to discount anything, everything is possible, and likely, so who knows but for now that's the plan...

As far as the blog goes its pretty much then end of the trip and so from now on i'll just keep in touch by phone, email skype and in person too when i'm back in August for a few weeks. Planning to fly back very late July and come back about 3 weeks later around 18th August-ish so if i don't speak with you before i'll certainly be in touch and see you then...
So sorry the blogs tailed off a bit but i just want to say a massive thanks for all your comments and support, they meant a great deal and really were the icing on the cake for this trip and doing the blog and its been great having you along.... its been a once in a lifetime trip and more eye opening, exhilarating and life changing than i ever imagined it to be... i'm so glad i did it and though the motorbiking and moving around has almost come to end, its just a new chapter that awaits and to be honest i'm very excited about it and the vast possibilities that lie really is a land of opportunity, a life of opportunity, and there are so many doors open to me but its time to stop drifting around and put what i have learned and changed towards something and see where it leads....
All my love and thanks to you all and really can't wait to see and have a beer with every one of you when i'm back in a few months!!

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Carl Hodgson on

I'll miss your blog it's been a bloody great read in what's been the longest,coldest winter ever !!!
call me when you get back need some competition at pool !

Chris O'Grady on

So cool Lee, so very pleased for you

Chris O'Grady

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