The 2016 Distinguished Gentlemens Ride. Around the world, raising money for prostate cancer awareness and research, well-dressed men and women ride classic motorcycles through gentrified cities, French vineyards, tropical beaches and sandy deserts. Here in Laos, a rattly Honda Win that has survived 14 backpackers across 4 countries is the ride of choice. The only dress tie you can buy is from the Chinese market and comes with a zip. The scenery is gorgeous, but the roads to get you there maybe not so much. Still, a challenge is good. So, a group of ex-pats and a local Laotian bike gang organised a trip to the nearby Kamu Lodge a short 40km away. How hard could it be?
Hunt for the Gentle-people
It was only 8am, yet the air was already thick and the day promised to be hot. I only bought one ‘nice’ shirt with me to Laos and it would be drenched in sweat before the ride even began. The solution was easy, put on a t-shirt underneath to absorb it all. You end up a lot hotter but such is the price for looking good I suppose. Rachel was kindly donated a cute little Honda Win to use for the ride and looked the part.
Around 20 falung riders assembled at the old stadium (a flat, featureless field where once a stadium apparently resided) for a 9am departure. A call came through to the organiser, Hardus. There was a party last night and maybe our police escort could not make it. Also, the Laotian bike gang were too hung over and would be a no show. Disappointed, we prepared to leave. A few minutes later, with a roar, 20 90cc Honda Cubs arrived. The Lao people were with us after all! Deciding not to worry about the police escort, we pulled onto the main drive for a celebratory lap of Luang Prabang and then into the countryside.
Wheat from chaff
The first stage was a gentlemenly one hour ride through the back hills of Luang Prabang followed by photos, lunch and beer lao. Afterwards, with the main event complete, Rachel swapped the loan Honda Win for her tried and true Mega-Scooter. Then we gathered with the remaining riders to cross the Mekong and make for Kamu Lodge. A glamping resort which had kindly offered a discount for charitable gentlefolk.
The road conditions, never great to begin with, immediately worsened once we left the ferry. It was heartening to see roadworks, although weaving around operating excavators, rollers and trucks is not so great. Still, we made good time and quickly met the first river crossing.
Trials & Tribulations
The roads continued to worsen. Those on trail bikes made good time. The others, a mix of rattly scooters and Honda wins struggled somewhat. Many bikes were subjected to years of backpacker abuse, Chinese parts and disinterested maintenance. Stops were frequent, a re-tightened bolt or a quick tack weld from a village bike shop often the answer.
The motto was no bike left behind! Oh wait, it was keep going and they can catch up! Usually the group reformed at the trickier crossings. Eager to help or just looking for entertainment are both equally likely reasons.
How’s the Serenity?
For the first hour, the roads were wide (if not full of pot holes) and the scenery was mostly rice paddy fields and small villages.
Then, after a few more villages the road narrowed and began to wind up into the mountains. If it was possible, the road conditions worsened further with some ruts able to swallow entire scooters. But, it was worth it for the views.
The 3 R’s
Near the end of what seemed like a long day (although in truth it was only a 2 hour ride for 40kms) we made it to our stop, a small village on the banks of the Mekong river. Storage for the bikes was organised at the local school before boarding a boat which carried us across the river and kilometre upstream to Kamu Lodge.
Welcome to Kamu Lodge
Arriving dusty and tired, we were handed frozen refresher towels and iced teas. The bar was kindly pointed out and keys to our ‘glamping’ huts provided. It was a great start to the night, although I suggest crossbow target practice before the cocktails. That night it was agreed the ride was extremely fun and getting back the next day will be no problem unless it rains.
When It Rains It Pours
Overnight, long after the last cocktail had been served and everyone was snug in bed (or passed out) the heavens opened. For the next few hours they remained opened. One brave soul, who needed to be at work by 8am left at 6am to try his luck on the road. Someone heard a rumour the bridge was out on the road to Pak Ou. There was nothing for it, we would need to go back the way we came.
Progress was slow, the scooter was well designed for getting around the city. Not so good for steep, clay roads. Every 15kms we needed to park in a stream and unclog the front wheel which would get locked by densely packed clay. Sometimes a local would stop to help, they seemed to know the tricks to get it cleared quickly.
Eventually we made it back to the original river crossing. Thanks to all the rain it was running higher and it was decided that walking the scooter across might be prudent.
After that, it was only 15 minutes to the ferry where the operator tried to charge us double. I was suitably shocked and looked around for moral support. He shrugged and re-quoted a more acceptable price. We got back in Luang Prabang for a 3pm Lunch/Dinner and then a shower!
Thank you to Hardus, Laos Adventure Club, the Distinguished Gentlemens Ride and Kamu Lodge for a great ride!