Ever since the first time I sat down on a motorcycle, let out the clutch and felt the bike take off, I was hooked. I've since ridden for a few years and at best would call myself a mediocre rider, but I have learned what to appreciate in a road. After three weeks, and well over two thousand kilometers on a bike in Laos, I can say that it is a motorcyclist's dream. Sometimes a fantasy, and sometimes a nightmare, but a dream none the less.
There's dirt roads that wind their way across six thousand foot ridge lines with endless views, passing through villages that time forgot. There's also things......you could call a dirt road........ that are actually more pothole than road. You lumber along at twenty kph and feel every jolt like a ten pound sledge hammer to the jaw. I've heard that in Mongolia, the roads are so bad, you can round a bend and come across a four foot deep and ten foot wide hole aptly named a “Mongolian Surprise”. There's something similar here that I've taken to calling “Tiger Traps”. Our twice broken rack and once broken frame can attest to how many of these we ran through. I've also just recently learned the term “bull dust”. It's about the consistency of talcum powder, and when trucks pass by, it blows up a blinding shield, lasting for minutes at a time that only a Jedi knight could hope to navigate through. When you actually have to ride on the stuff, it's like taking the first run down a slope at Vail with six inches of fresh powder (have I mentioned yet that i've never ridden off road?). What was completely baffling though, was how the Lao government chose to pave ten kilometers here, and twenty there, with no rhyme or reason as to why they chose the spots that they did. Every time we saw the pavement coming we did a little cheer, knowing that it would only last for about five minutes. At times I was vexed and at times exhilarated, but at the worst of the times I just had to take a look at my surroundings to realize how lucky we were to be doing what we were doing. There were of course the very worst of times when I just wanted to be at our destination, but a little perseverance never hurt anyone. Never the less, my curiosity has definitely been piqued in off-road riding.
Now for the tarmac ......WOW... it's like riding on the Dragon's Tail...if it never ended. Smooth pavement with curve after curve after curve after curve. And all of it with mind numbing views of rolling mountains, bizarre limestone karsts, and bucolic river valleys (did I mention that the curves didn't stop?). And the best part about all of it is that there's virtually no traffic. You can ride for hours without seeing a single vehicle with the exception of a few people on motorbikes, and the odd tiller carrying ten people.
And if that isn't enough, when you get to the south, there's long straight stretches of road where you can just open up the throttle and watch the rice fields pass by with the wind blowing in your face.
Overall though I would say that the best part of it all is being able to see things that you just can't see while zipping through a country on a tourist bus. You can stop when you like in any small village; and while some people stare in curiosity, and others welcome you and try and communicate the best they can, most people go on about their lives and you get a tiny glorious glimpse of everyday life in rural Laos.