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Lost in Laos

An adventurous journey through uncharted territory by motorbike gave Simon Brown the chance to discover the charms of Laos

 

The entire village turned out and crowded round us. The elders shook hands while the youngsters hid behind the legs of the adults, peering with wide curious eyes at the strange farang (westerners) dressed in boots, helmets and body armour. I had no idea if the cluster of thatch dwellings had a name. If someone asked me where I was, my reply was a simple ‘somewhere in northern Laos’ far beyond the reach of a guidebook.

I pulled the camera out of the tank bag. The shutter clicked and the back of the camera lit up, revealing the portrait. Everyone crowded around, pointing, laughing and jabbering away at the villager now displayed on the LCD screen. Smiles all round. Judging by the reaction, this was the first time anyone had seen their own picture. Now everyone wanted to see their face on the camera. It started to dawn on me why our arrival carried such significance; the village was maybe 60km from the main road through a jungle of dense bamboo and banana plant thickets. An easy ride by bike, but how long would it take to walk out? Who in the crowd has never left the village? Who has seen farang before? Who understood the magic of digital photography? I might have been gone only five days, but home was long way away indeed and already Laos was teaching me to expect the unexpected.

Our group – comprising a solitary Brit, four Germans and our Thai guide – had crossed the Mekong river from Thailand two days previously, registering our arrival at the border town of Houei Xai. The bikes, riders and backup vehicle carrying the overnight luggage, petrol and spares took the short ferry ride before the formalities of visa and passport stamps. Our trip had started and would end in the Thai city of Chiang Mai, looping into the Golden Triangle along the Burmese border before crossing into Northern Laos and heading south to Luang Prabang some 20km short of China. From Luang Prabang we would cross the Mekong again and head west, back to the Thai border. Taking the road northeast from Houei Xai towards China the tarmac quickly became a casual affair the further from the town we rode and the choice of bike – built to cope with the changing conditions – was perfect. 

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Lost in Laos

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An adventurous journey through uncharted territory by motorbike gave Simon Brown the chance to discover the charms of Laos

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