Ted had confidently and adeptly displayed his motorbike driving skills throughout Thailand and other parts of the world, and I was always quite happy to be the passenger. However, our next activity was a 400km (250 mile) driving loop that required each of us to have our own bike. To further complicate matters, the bikes were not automatic transmission, so it required an additional skill that I do not excel at.
But we were excited to experience “The Loop” after the rave reviews we had heard from other travelers from as far back as Bolivia. So we took the bus 5 hours south from Vientiane to our starting point in Tha Kaek, a small town among the foothills of Laos’ central region. We got hooked up with Mr. Ku who rented us our bikes, taught me a few things about driving, provided a pretty impressive hand-drawn map, and got us some decent helmets. We also met another traveler who was going to do The Loop too, so we had a partner in crime – Deo is Philipino but on vacation from Thailand where he was currently living and working.
Mr Ku's not-so-to-scale map of the Loop
When we set off on our ride, it was dry but the clouds were quite ominous and we were pretty sure rain was in our future. We knew we were on the front end of the rainy season, but we were optimistic/naive about how much rain we might get. Well, about 7 minutes into our 4 day/3 night 400 km motorbike loop, it started raining. Then it started raining harder.
We pulled off to get our rain gear on and pull down the visors on our helmets before we pressed on again. Our Philipino friend was leading the way, followed by me, with Teddy pulling up the rear. Twenty kilometers north of town, I rounded the bend to see our new friend in a ditch by the side of the road. He had apparently taken a curve too quickly for wet the roads and slid right off. His bike was busted up a bit, his rain poncho was in shreds, and his poor foot was a wreck. He may have broken something and at the least needed a ton of stitches. He was a little discombobulated – as you might imagine – however, still coherent enough to call Mr. Ku and to contact his health insurance provider in Thailand! Thank goodness he was traveling with a cell phone because we were not!
Another traveler stopped to help us as well as a Lao family who spoke zero English but knew exactly what needed to happen – this kid needed to go to the hospital. They were headed the wrong direction but they waved down another passing truck, helped load the kid into the back and off they went to get medical attention. Laos is one of those countries that you hope to not need medical care in. Our Lonely Planet guide states, “There are no good facilities in Laos; the nearest acceptable facilities are in Northern Thailand”. Fortunately for Deo, that wasn’t too far away!
So as our friend headed off to the hospital, we stayed by the side of the road with his motorbike waiting for Mr. Ku to come pick it up.
At this point, only 20 km into our trip, I am convinced our driving extravaganza is over. I was nervous to begin with and then I saw what could easily happen in just a moment’s time. We had already met dozens (literally dozens) of other travelers in Thailand and other parts of Laos with motorbike injuries – ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones. So after Mr. Ku rescued the bike, we got back on our own and headed back towards town and where we’d come from. The rain had lightened up but we still took it easy because I was a little shaky from all the adrenalin and nervous excitement.
And that’s where this story might end. But it doesn’t. No more than 5km back towards town, I changed my mind. I don’t know what really came over me but I decided I could it. I wanted to do it. We’d come all this way to do it. We should probably do it. So just like that, The Loop was back on! We decided to take our kilometers/hour down a notch, and we were not going to drive in the rain – but we were going to do it. And boy am I glad we did!
A taste of what was to come...
P.S. Our friend made it safely to the hospital in Laos but decided to return to Thailand for his medical care. He must know what the folks at Lonely Planet know!