- 1 - Tha Khaek – Why Are We Here?
- 2 - Still in Tha Khaek – At Least the Mekong Was Beautiful
- 3 - Solving the Mystery of the Disappearing Gas
- 4 - Monkeying Around on the Motorbike Loop
- 5 - On the Dusty Road Again
- 6 - New Year’s Lao Style – Water Fights, Karaoke and Drinking in a River
- 7 - New Year’s Party in a Tiny Laotian Village
- 8 - Another Detour in Search of Another Nonexistent Attraction
- 9 - Exploring Gigantic Kong Lo Cave by Boat
- 10 - Finishing the Loop With a Tour of Lao Bike Repair Shops
The next morning we got up early and went to a nearby bike shop we had scouted out the night before to get some bikes. The standard recommendation for the motorbike ‘loop’ is to rent bikes from the owner of the Tha Khaek Travel Lodge, the guest house I mentioned in the first part of this series. He charges a bit more, but the bikes are said to be more reliable. However, just about everyone we talked to who had rented from him had had trouble with the bikes; pretty much everyone we talked to who had rented bikes from anywhere in Tha Khaek had had trouble with their bikes.
We figured if you’re basically guaranteed to break down at some point, you might as well pay as little as possible for your crappy bikes, so we decided to rent from the cheapest place we found. That probably wasn’t the greatest idea in hindsight, but like I said, everyone seemed to have at least some trouble with their bikes—just maybe not as much as we ended up having.
When we got to the shop, the owner only had three decent looking bikes and one smaller, almost toy-like thing left in the lower price range. He also had a couple of really powerful looking dirt bikes that would have been perfect for this trip, but they would have cost several times what the cheap ones were. So we took the cheap ones.
As usual, the tanks were filled to the top with fumes; and maybe a few drops of gas at the bottom that the owner had failed to remove before giving us the bikes. He assured us we could make it to the nearest gas station no problem. We assumed he meant we could actually drive there, but as it turned out he just meant we could make it. He never specified how.
So of course one of the bikes ran out of gas on the way and we got to start off our trip by pushing a bike half a kilometer. Then, as we were filling up the bikes, we noticed that two of them were leaking something. And not slowly—quite a nice little puddle had accumulated in the short time we were at the pump.
Since our knowledge of bikes was limited to driving them and doing so poorly, we had no idea what the fluid might be. We did know that whatever fluids are in a bike are probably supposed to remain in the bike, so naturally, we took them back to the rental place where we learned we would have to wait until the next morning for them to be repaired. After some arguing, we got the guy to agree not to charge us for the day (yes, that took arguing) and to let us keep the other two bikes, since it’s the least he could do for setting our trip back a whole day.
Having the afternoon free, we figured why not explore the countryside around Tha Khaek for a few hours. We would be heading east the next morning, returning from the north a week later and the Mekong River and Thailand lay to the west. That left south and after a little research, we learned of a monastery with a stupa that was apparently famous and well worth checking out.
It may well have been, but we didn’t see it. We were told it was located about 6 km south of town and thanks to the little distance markers by the side of the road, it was pretty easy to determine exactly where the 6 km mark was. Nevertheless, we got to the 22 km marker before we bothered to even stop. I guess the warm breeze you feel when riding a motorbike on a mostly empty road along the banks of the Mekong on a hot Laotian afternoon was just too pleasant to worry about navigation or even just glancing to the right, which we later learned is what it would have taken for us to find the monastery.
We saw it on the way back, but by then it was already closed. We caught it this time because it turns out it’s virtually impossible to miss. There’s the road, a narrow strip of fields with the occasional tree or house and then the Mekong. Nothing else. And right around the 6km mark, all of a sudden, there’s a huge monastery. Well, maybe not really huge, but when it’s the only thing around, it looks quite big. To this day, I have absolutely no idea how all four of us managed to not see it. It’s kind of like taking a harbor tour of New York City and later asking, “Statue? Yeah right, there’s no way…. Seriously? There was a statue?”
Despite overlooking the most obvious feature for kilometers in any direction, not counting the Mekong of course, which I can proudly say I did notice, we still had a nice afternoon. We had brought baguettes and some toppings and sat in the shade under a large some-kind-of tree and had sandwiches while looking out over the river.
We also stopped to ask some local farmers about their crop. We had noticed that just about every house was drying large numbers of some kind of leaf (I know it’s not a monastery, but at least we did notice SOMETHING) and we were wondering what it was. Turns out it was tobacco. Apparently this part of Laos produces a lot of it.
The farmers even offered us some homemade cigarettes, but since I had quit a year before and the other three were currently trying to quit (well two really—the third just said she was trying, but ended up having a smoke every time she mentioned it, so I suppose she doesn’t really count) we had to decline. I have to admit, I was curious though.
On the way back into town, one of the bikes got a flat and we had to pull into some local repair shop to get it fixed. Naturally, they tried to sell us a whole new tire, then a new tube when we didn’t want the tire, then they overcharged us to seal the puncture when we didn’t want the tube. And just as naturally, less than 1km down the road, the tire blew out again.
Of course we figured they had done a half-assed job on the puncture to get us to come back and buy a new tube, but the new puncture turned out to be in a different spot. This time we bit the bullet and just replaced the tube, which amazingly, lasted all the way back into town and back to the bike rental place.
Series continued in part 3: Solving the Mystery of the Disappearing Gas