Finishing the Loop With a Tour of Lao Bike Repair Shops

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Riding the Motorbike 'Loop' in Laos

We hung out at Hin Poun Viewpoint at the top of the pass for a bit, admiring the view, taking pictures and enjoying some celebrity treatment at the hands of a group of Laotian college students on break. Basically that involved every one of us posing for various pictures with every one of them, as us westerners are often asked to do in Asia.

Hin Poun Viewpoint Laos

The Hin Poun Viewpoint offered some spectacular views; my camera did not.

After that, we had a thrilling descent down a curvy road and I finally got a chance to be the fastest bike in our group. It was a lot of fun and I almost wanted to head back up the pass for another go, but decided against it, considering the power of my bike and the speed with which it took hills. It would have been faster to take my bike apart, carry the pieces up in my backpack and reassemble them at the top, than to ride back up.

When I say the descent was fun, I’m talking about three of us. The fourth was having decidedly less fun, since his brakes literally fell off his bike somewhere near the top and he had to rely solely on his hand brake to keep him from flying out of a curve to his death. That meant he had to make the whole descent at about 20 km/hr while we were waiting at the bottom, wondering what had happened to him. It turns out I actually could have gone all the way back up for another run down from the mountains.

Hin Poun Viewpoint Laos

Another average photo of an amazing view

Once out of the hills, we found a place that was able to put the brake back on the bike. It took a while, but eventually we were ready to get back on the road. We drove though the town and got ready to hit top speed once we hit the open road and……….we got another flat tire. It was the same bike that had just lost its brakes.

So we went back to the same repair shop and got a new tube put on the bike. Now we were ready to hit the road and hit it we did, flying along at top speeds for a good ten kilometers before we got the next flat. Same bike, same tire. Apparently the new tube had not been quite so new. My friend insisted on driving back to the same repair shop, since they had clearly sold him a defective tube, but that didn’t really turn out so well.

Hin Poun Viewpoint Laos

You’ll just have to trust me when I say it was beautiful

The conversation went something like this (English edited to resemble actual English):

Mechanic: “Oh you got a flat. I can help you with that.”

Friend: “Yes, I got a flat. It’s the tube you sold me 20 minutes ago.”

Mechanic: “Let me see.” Then he took out the tube. “Look” Pointed to the broken seam in the tub and the general bad state of the tube as a whole. “It’s a bad tube.”

Friend: “Yes, I know. You sold it to me.”

Mechanic: “A new tube will cost 50,000 Kip”

Friend: “I’m not paying for another one. I just paid you for that one.”

Mechanic: “That’s not my problem. You bought a bad tube. Now you need a new one. Why should I lose money because you bought a bad tube?”

And that went back and forth for a really long time. In the end, my friend had no choice but to buy not just another tube, but a whole new tire as well—it turns out having the tube blow out at a high speed is not especially good for a tire—and hope this one would last longer than the previous one. By now, we had spent several hours waiting around for various repairs in the hot sun by a busy road as large trucks roared by and sprayed us with dust and gravel. Needless to say, none of us were in the best of moods.

Hin Poun Viewpoint Laos

One more from the viewpoint—it really was nice up there and not just the view: the fresh air, the weather, the cool breeze, just everything.

Or mood did not improve when the ignition-less bike ran out of gas less than ten minutes later and we weren’t able to fill it up because you need a key to unlock the seat to get to the gas tank and, as you may remember, the key was lying at the bottom of an underground river somewhere in Kong Lo Cave. We tried to pick the lock; then force the lock; then break the lock, but nothing worked. In the end we just hired some guy at the gas station to pry it open for us with a long screwdriver.

Since this was the last day and we would be returning the bikes that night, we were trying to fill the tanks with just enough fuel to get us back. We did not want to leave any gas in the tanks for the guy at the bike shop (who, you may remember, had already attempted to steal gas from us), so we put enough gas in the tank to get us the remaining 100km or so and forced something into the lock to keep if from re-locking. We also filled gas into a liter bottle so we could refuel on the road.

Bike Repair Shop Laos

This is how we spent most our our day—standing around various repair shops…

Hoping to finally put some road behind us, we set out and soon ran out of gas again. It was the same bike and our little trick of keeping the latch on the seat open hadn’t worked, so we couldn’t refuel on the road and had to find someone to open the lock for us once more. This time, we simply had him remove the lock entirely. He actually ended up just keeping the lock, but we didn’t realize that until much later, since we were too busy being annoyed with the gas situation.

This particular bike had run out of gas much too quickly, so naturally we suspected a leak, but nothing was dripping out. That bike ended up running out of gas four more times over the course of the day. We concluded that whatever the guy had done the previous day to allow us to start the bike without a key had somehow turned it into a gas guzzler.

Motorbike Breakdown Laos

…or pushing our bikes along the road…

And so we continued, stopping throughout the afternoon to fill up the same bike, until we finally made it back to Tha Khaek. Just before town, my bike actually ran out of gas, too. It happened a few hundred meters from a gas station though, so I was able to just let it cruise most of the way there. I only had to push it 50 meters or so and then just refilled it with little more than fumes.

At the bike shop we had some trouble, as you may have guessed from our previous dealings with the owner. Naturally, we didn’t expect him to pay for a new ignition or the many punctures we encountered, but the guy who had to replace his tire and have the brakes reinstalled didn’t feel he should have to pay for those. Especially not the brake. They argued for about two hours and I actually have no idea how it ended exactly, since I stopped paying attention long before. All I know is that no one was happy with the end result.

Rural Gas Station Laos

…or at various gas stations.

We kept two of the bikes for another hour, to move our bags from one hotel to another. It should come as no surprise that we ran out of gas one last time on the way back to the bike shop. It was the same girl whose bike had been guzzling the stuff all day, but not the same bike. I was following on my bike and since we did not want to give the owner of the bike shop more gas, we decided to push the empty one the last few kilometers.

I put my bike next to hers and put my foot on her pedal, pushing her bike along. This was much more difficult than it sounds, as we both had to keep our bikes in a straight line and equidistant from each other, all while avoiding the various obstacles typically found on a main street in your average Laotian city. It was slow going at first, but we eventually got the hang of it and by the time we got to the shop, we were practically experts.

It was kind of fitting that my bike should be the one pushing us to the end. It was the smallest, the oldest and the weakest of the four bikes and definitely looked like the one most likely to completely fall apart, but it made it through the week-long motorbike loop without a single problem. Ok, so the mirrors kept falling off and I ended up just storing them in the seat, but other than that, it ran beautifully. And who needs mirrors anyway?


  1. says

    I just read this whole series, I really enjoy your writing style. My husband and I did the Tha Khek Loop in January and it was one of our favorite experiences. My husband grew up in rural Thailand and the villages along the Loop reminded him of how his village was 25 years ago. We loved checking out the local markets to see what kinds of bushmeat were for sale. Most of the road is paved now, making the loop much tamer than how you describe it.
    Martha recently contributed to world literature by posting..I married a jungle boy 5My Profile

    • says

      Thanks! I remember the bushmeat. We went on a jungle safari in another part of Laos and they asked us to be on the lookout for markets selling certain endangered species. We saw several of those species being sold as meat around the loop.

      The paved road will definitely make a big difference, but even with the horrible roads and all the troubles, the loop was one of my favorite experiences. I’m glad to hear you guys enjoyed it as well.
      Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..Arriving In Manang…Two Weeks Later Than MostMy Profile

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