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Main Vespa mechanic is in checkered dressUdon Thani Scooter Club Main Vespa mechanic is in checkered dress

    When we drove around Laos a problem on VESPA with gear shifting surfaced. Sometimes the gear fell out and sometimes we were able to shift to neutral in the position where it shouldn’t be at all. In Laos there is not so much Vespas and so after crossing back to Thailand we are looking for help here. We’re not sure how widespread Vespa services are in Thailand and so we go in first bigger city Udon Thani to search blind. We’re being directed to some place where we really found a small workshop, but the guy is supposed to come at noon. At 3PM he’s here like a charm. From our friends at Vespa Club Czech we got tips leading to potentional culprits and so we do arrangement quickly even without english. The guy still wants something and so we’re using Google translator(the best help in need) to understand each other. Thai language is quite difficult and with every written letter the context changes completely. When he started to write the English side was saying Friend, that changed immediately to Bitch then through My friend and The bitch with last letter written the English part stops with just one letter “I”. Even despite all of the gaps in this system we finally got to know that tonight at 8PM his friends will come and they would love to meet us(although it is possible that we have a meeting in Night Club at 8).

    After 8th the guys – members of Udon Thani Scooter Club - are really gathering(well night club maybe some other time).They are really excited by our expedition and give us stickers of their club and then even club T-shirts. They are a cool bunch, making trips all over Asia and they arrange a fun ride with us. Just a small one, because tomorrow is a working day, but it is fun even so. Mechanic with nickname Beer worked 9 hours on our engine. He discovered even more problems of which we hadn’t a clue and fixed them. In the morning we got escort which leaded us nicely out of city and after another 30 km they said final goodbye. We acquired several friends there who helped us several times with their net of contacts. Thanks guys.

    Laos has a very special culture. As the name Lao People's Democratic Republic suggests it is Communist country. All over the country you will find flags with sickle and hammer on them which of course is nothing special. But what really surprised us is the mixture of communism and religion. When we first encountered a sanctuary that looked similar to the Thai altar, but instead of Buddha it had the bust of Kayson Phomviane (one of the leaders of the revolution), it made us laugh. We were really surprised when we realized that they really mean it. Here, in some way, they eradicated the idea that faith is opium of humanity. Supposedly the supreme himself (again Kayson) was a great Buddhist himself.

I've visited the Revolutionary Cemetery near Vientiane and here are graves of Communist elite, on which there is protective goddess Apsara on one side and on the other is sickle and hammer. I have not seen such a mix anywhere else.

At the same time, they have for us a bit incomprehensible style of building ornamental parks dedicated to these symbols. The village on the Bolavean Plateau, which has around 1,000 inhabitants and is set in the middle of greenery, has one park with statues of revolutionaries, and two more are being built on its edges. I think that there is not a city which have much man-made greenery per capita. Either the Laotian are megalomaniacs, or the visionaries, the decision is left to up you.

   In Laos, LPG stations vanished. We knew that it will happen eventually. Our toucan had to switch to the classic cooking gas in bottles. Prices in Laos have surprised us quite a bit. From common 50 cents / kg, the price raised to 1,75 USD / kg, which is high enough. In order not run out of fuel, we have to carry two bottles.
So when we finally found our first LPG station in Thakhek, we immediately got our tank full to the max. We didn't know yet that there is still more to fill. The guys are enterprising and because the filling hose has the same nozzle as the gas bomb, they offer us its refuel. The price is one third lower and so we agree avidly. There is still around 5 kg of gas remaining in one bottle. It's normal capacity is 15 kg. The guy keys something in on the pump and is already filling the bottle. Before you say "propane-butane" another 22 kg of gas is already in our bottle. It is crammed with 27 kgs and it looks like it is rounding. The guy runs over to the second bottle, which is empty too. No way!! We are leaving and behind first corner we pour the gas from the melon-shaped bottle into the empty one. As the pressure in the bottle decreases, our clamped butt cheeks are also getting relaxed. Next time we'd rather look carefully over the the filling, otherwise in the end we'll have the cheeks made of iron.

Ceiling decoration of forgotten caveChandelier Ceiling decoration of forgotten cave
Among hills like this I would love to have a cottageLimestone beauty Among hills like this I would love to have a cottage

One part of Laos boasts beautiful limestone hills full of karst caves. Of course that we can not miss this. We're heading to the Buddha Cave. Several years ago a bats hunter climbed up there and discovered hundreds of statues about 300 years old. They were probably hidden here from the raids of Thais. Around the cave there are not too many signs, and so we find a incidentally a sign to another cave nearby. We have time and so it's not a problem. If it wasn't for a bunch of locals we would never find it, which wold be a pity. The cave with lake is full of stalactites and stalagmites, and there is nobody here at all. Something like that would have it's own admission and hundreds of visitors in our home. We go on along the path and it leads us to the rock wall where it ends. Suddenly, we notice the slightly worn stones, and they lead us into a cave that leads to the other side of the cliff. When we finally get to the Buddha cave, we will do not find suddenly it so interesting. Concrete stairs lead to it, and there are several locals overseeing the abiding of rules.

 
Forrest of ghosts in it's full beautyIdyll Forrest of ghosts in it's full beauty
Would you like a trip on the lake of ghosts?Trippy Would you like a trip on the lake of ghosts?
From there, we take a circle around the dam. Our map is in this area dotted with inscriptions and signs like unpaved roads, a missing bridge, can not be crossed and the like. We choose a route where are only unfinished roads, we really don't want to swim across the river. The dam is a bit dry. It's probably not too old, there are stumps of dead trees everywhere in the dam. It looks like a forest of spirits. There are also cruise boats and in one place even the offer for boat trips at sunrise and sunset. I thought that these trips are empty and the company is wasting away. But the opposite is true. These trips are sold out, fans of the Emo and Goth styles make tours en masse here. When passing the dam, it seems to me that some trees are cut down, but above normal level of water. Probably it works here so that when there is enough water in the dam, the locals will arrive on the boat and somehow gnaw off the tree. Then they pull it off with a boat so as not to carry it too far. The road has a beautiful tarmac finish and we drive with unexpected speed. The unfinished road is only few kilometers on the end we are only a few miles away. Nowadays even maps can't be trusted.

Takovouhle postupku jsme ještě neměliFreshly baked We never had a straight flush like this ever before

    One morning in Pakse we discovered that the brake pedal is on the floor. Broken tube (probably from bad ferry embarkation) has drained most of the liquid. Mechanic soldered it swiftly. In 2 km the pedal is on the floor again. Of course, we're going to handle a complaint (this is possible even here in Asia), and mechanic finds a problem in the brake pump. After the repair, we head again to the Bolaven Plateau. In another 20-kilometer drive uphill, the pedal is back on the floor. You can't imagine what joy gave me the idea of ​​driving back, downhill, with a half-working brake. Prior to every braking, you need to jump several times on the pedal and then it almost stops. This time the vent valve is the culprit. The guy is probably making it, but thanks to him we have a revised braking system. After two days entire brake with  which he fiddled dropped. Loose bolts. Well, sometimes you're lucky to meet a pro.

In Laos, ATMs surprised us a little. Every town has lots of them, but only two are willing to give us money. The maximum withdrawal amount is 1,000,000 and they charge 20,000 kips for that. That amount is terribly low - circa 125USD for which you pay 2,5 USD. The more millions we have, the poorer we are. All the time we didn't understand why it was so expensive when finally it descended on us. This is not an ATM but a cash printer. The banknotes are crisp new and come in sequence. They just do not print them too fast.

   Local cuisine has a culinary specialty. All soups are served together with a basket of green leaves. Predominantly assorted herbs with a lot of mint. An interesting thing which freshens up the menu. But not only that. The Laotians seem to have solved the problem as old as humanity. I have unpleasant pressure in my bowels, but there is a lot of people everywhere. As is common in Asia, there is nowhere to be alone for a moment. I relieve my tensed muscles and behold! fresh scent of  mint. The toilets don't have any air fresheners and, as you can smell, there is no need. Moreover even the streets seem to be scented. You just mustn't meet anybody who doesn't like soups.

Voda razí korýtka, která polknou náklaďák, jen to mlaskneStuckie Water makes ridges which swallow a track with just a click
Naši mazlíci to sklouzli na levé straně, těsně kolem zapadlíkaAdrenalin hill Our pets slided on the left just past the stuckie

During our trip to the Bolavean Plateau, which is home to coffee plantations, we wanted make a shortcut by a dirt road between coffee trees. Plateau has its own climate and so it rains almost every day. As soon as we enter the plantations drizzle starts. On tuktuk we have solved dust filter by attaching it to the hose and leading it out of the engine area because there was no room for it where there was not much room, and it and the place is so dusty that we would have to clean or exchange the filter too often. At the first deeper puddle it turned out that toucan became amphibian. He slipped into the depths and the only sound was gurgling of exhaust pipe. After a while the rain became downpour. Streams of red water form on the road and all the holes disappear. We carefully navigate through all the places and observe the new river with professionalism of canoeist so we don't sink. 30 km long drive turns into an incredibly long journey into the unknown..

Jeden z mnoha vodopádů ukrývajících se mezi plantážemiBolavean Plateau One of many waterfalls hidden between plantations
All the people who live in small houses here vanished into thin air and our hopes that we will ask directions ends up in the ditch. We went to the monastery for advice, and from the little monk we learn the name of this village. Of course we got completely lost, but that was expected. If we stick to this track, we should get back to the road. From the top of a muddy hill, we see a stuck truck. As soon as try to break toucan, both rear wheels go into a skid until it finally stops. The guys stop rescuing the truck and they're helping us guide toucan to slip past and not to hit their car. If there's a similar hill on the other side upwards, we'll end up the same as the truck. We have skated through and a bit further is tarmac. We did a beautiful circle around 20 km long and we can start again. This time on the paved road.

 

   In Laos, for the first time in Asia, people refused to feed us. Hungry, we came to the city and immediately invaded first dinner  room in reach. They said no. Well, they probably don't cook anymore, it's a bit late. Another dining room with lots of guests. No. What's happening? I wear the my boxers just a week, shoes are freshly washed in the puddle, it's not about the smell then. We speak Laotian as a born speakers, well freshly born, maybe the catch is in this. After the fifth rejection, we adopt new strategy. Immediately after arriving at the pub we enter the kitchen cheekily. Over there we just point out what we want to eat then sit outside unwilling to move until we are served. For first they try to get rid of us by giving us some nasty sauce but we persevere. Eventually it works! We got only meat without a side dish. Nevermind, for once, we can live without rice :-)

Did you also think that you won't hear about new adventures of our tuktuk? Wrong. Tuktuk is going to be star of Formula 1 Hungary in Budapest. I'll accompany him over there on the end of July and we will both be part of F1 village. I'm not sure whether or not they will let us on the circuit. That's because I'm sensing fear of tough competition. And the drivers are also afraid, that in case of my victory, there will be a wave of new professional tuktuk drivers from Thailand.

So be tuned to see some new pictures out of this cool event.

F1 Tuktuk

The traffic here is so rare, that all lanes but one serves as parking lot for employeesLaotian border The traffic here is so rare, that all lanes but one serves as parking lot for employees

    On the borders with Laos happened a bit of troubles. Since we are here a bit illegally we are one stamp short on our papers which customs officer demands. He's not reasonable and insists that we need a letter from king. The king is friendly with Czech's but I don't remember having correspondence with him. To our arguments, that this is needed for entering the country he responds that we should go to Poi Pet 600km away where we entered the country.

We were bending his ear so long that he let us go eventually, saying that Laotians won't let us enter without papers from him. That could be fun, because if this guy won't let us back then we would have to live in duty-free zone. We shall establish duty-free shop then, because they are the most expensive I know. On Laotian side they didn't miss king at all and our private correspondence didn't matter altogether.

 
In the currents of Mekong thrives fishingIn the currents of Mekong thrives fishing
Khone Phapheng fallsKhone Phapheng falls

The road off the border goes along Mekong. In the past there was intent to utilize this river for a boat transportation from China to Vietnam. Thsi waas ruined by Khone Phapheng falls. Allegedly they are one of most rich in water in the world. They are between the islands in all width of the river. In this case it is almost 8 km. The mass of water flowing here is unbeliveable. A bit up the stream is small fishing boat. Apparently those guys know what they are doing. 30 km upstream is our opportunity for a cruise. On the opposite bank is Unesco heritage Wat Pho.

 

With ship like this we can sail even on the sea :o)All aboard With ship like this we can sail even on the sea :o)

They say about Laotians that they are lazy. Asian proverb says that Vietnamese sow the rice, Cambodians watch it grow and Laotians just listen to it's growing. It's unclear whether it is out of this laziness or just out of lack of imagination but Laos is having cartographic phenomenon. Villages between two towns are named just according to the distance from one of those places. Map is teeming with names like Ban Lak 35 - village kilometre 35, Ban Lak 20 village kilometre 20 and so on. Absolute mayhem is in the fact that all over south Laos there is a lot of villages with the same name, the only difference is that the name is derived form the distance from another town. We have one more disadvantage in the signs, because even though they are written in roman letters the numbers are in Laotian words. I have to brush up my Lao and find a village 35 where is the ferry.

To find the road to ferry is not easy. We're asking locals in the village 35 which way to Champasak, and they just wave in the direction of the river. The ferry itself seems to be unknown to them.When we start think about the possibility of swimming across we get the tip, that it is 10 km from here in the village 35. The brush up of the knowledge wasn't perfect but I guessed the 5 right :o) At the ferry they try to stuff us with tuktuk on the boat where fits barely a grandma with dog(dachshund, german shepherd have to go solo). They are arguing for a while on the phone and afterwards they say a sum of 250 000 kip(circa 40 USD). Incredible. We go to a bigger boat which will be able to carry us for sure. The price dropped to 100 000 (15 USD). That was acceptable but still I can't imagine that anz locals would go for this price. We can drive around on the ground, but it would be the same. We are going aboard but when tuktuk was driving up the planks he tore them down and sat on the chassis. He's simply a daredevil. Luckily for us it's a pocket vehicle on which the heaviest things is our luggage and so it's not too difficult lift and carry away. After our arrival we got to know that tourist prices are tenfold the local ones. Yep I suspected something.

   Wat Pho is amazing. We encounter here a group of soldiers of MAG organization which is responsible for clearing the area from unexploded ammunition out of Vietnamese war. All over Laos was dropped several millions of bombs mostly anti-personnel. Laos became one of most heavily bombed country in the world. Guys with mine detector walk few meters in front of us and so we walk on the most safe paths in all the area. If you pay a bit more they will even check your bed so you don't sleep too lightly.

 
Even at home I don't have this certainty to not step on mine(<em>you know</em> we have a dog)Safe path Even at home I don't have this certainty to not step on mine(you know we have a dog)
Beautiful site undergoing partial reconstructionWat Pho Beautiful site undergoing partial reconstruction
It happens quite often, that ammunition get new purpose. Here serving as a bell in monasteryPeaceful uses It happens quite often, that ammunition get new purpose. Here serving as a bell in monastery
 
 
 

 

 

This is the end of fun, amusement begins :o)This is the end of fun, amusement begins :o)

    We're not yet quite used to road signs in Cambodia and so it happened that we got lost. But just maybe 100 km. We're a bit confused by a fact that cities have the same name as districts. On road signs is every time marked a junction and there is written even the district. So when we drive to Preah Vihear and on every road sign it is written so it means that we go by a correct road. Up to the point that we're unable to find a city which we currently pass trough on the map.
Our mistake took us into a beautiful region close to the borders with Thailand and later with Laos. In a village where we stay one night we became attraction number one. We decided that we will take on the way out a road which lines national park. We named it immediately Forest highway. We learned that after 20 km is the end of tarmac and that surprises us a bit. Well... let's go it is supposed to be like 50 km so we will make it somehow maybe. After 12 km we encounter red. It gives off dust like in cement works, nonetheless the road is good. After some kilometres we are asking for the way. We go along the advice and the road deteriorate more and more. It starts to be strange and the people around too. We are asking a guy who harvests poppy. He's a bit weird – he's having a dull look and poppy which he harvests it still green. Weirdo. But according to him we are on the border and if we will continue more we will be in Thailand again and without customs. We're going back and continue in dusty drive.

Forest highwayForest highway

On the next junction we are 100% sure that here it is possible to leave dirt road. After 50 km our certainty is on 20% and after some more is our certainty back at 100 % that we go wrong way. It shakes so good that our mirror on Vespa broke off. After several hours we hit Mac as local calls Mekong. We know where we are but we don't know why. It looks like mistake in navigation or in map materials. More likely the map, because if we follow it precisely we would have to dodge the trees.
Our vehicles underwent a stress test by which we are uncertain how it turned out. The trip prolonged to 150 km through dust and bumps. Anyhow we know that for something more like this we need to tune our darlings. Tuktuk don't have an air filter at all and in Vespa there is something to prevent flies to go in.

 

Satellite Cambodian way - we have never seen a village so even like thisVillage in the middle of nowhere Satellite Cambodian way - we have never seen a village so even like this
After bus passing by the visibility is zero for a secondFog in front of me, fog behind me After bus passing by the visibility is zero for a second

As if we didn't had enough we went later in the east to see a waterfall. Before we visited a beautiful lake and we swam. The way to the waterfall started as standard dirt road and so we took it. We arrived to a hill which is pretty steep and thanks to the fact that there is a lot of cars going and their wheels spin on the spot sometimes so the hill is covered with really fine dust into which your leg sinks up to an ankle. It reveals that the dust hides a lot of potholes where the level of dust reaches half the height of wheels. One local guy is driving fast on his motorbike and when he looses his flipflop so he said goodbye to it immediately without even trying to look for it. To the waterfall it should be 17 km and this looks like a dare :o) It is clear to us that on the way back we will go maybe by a tractor.

Locals know how to enjoy attractions. Try this in waterfall back home :o)Swimming Locals know how to enjoy attractions. Try this in waterfall back home :o)

Almost every hill is the same. Potholes so huge that some of them we have to run around and lots of superfine dust, which when driven through by some local off roads is lifted and makes a red mist. The way to the waterfall took more than 1,5 hours. Some poetic soul who wrote our guidebook said about this trip that the road winds nicely between rubber plantations and farmers houses. That guy had to go by feet! Otherwise I can't explain how he perceived it all. To us the view shakes as if when working with jackhammer. Waterfall itself wasn't maybe even worth the effort, we encountered better ones on our journey. When returning we arrived back to the first hill which was clearly the most steep one and we could do nothing more than to state that the tuktuk is wallclimber. It didn't even lost it's breath :o) We arrived back to the lake which we left totally clean. Boys collecting the entrance fees and who adored tuktuk on our first visit yells "For free, for free." We have no clue whether it is because of our state or tuktuk state, but into the lake we jumped with all our clothes on. Tuktuk doesn't like the the water so he didn't jumped with us, but because it was really though he got a wash by the hotel, little piggy.

Everywhere you look are Chinese lanterns and new ones are being madePreparations for New Year Everywhere you look are Chinese lanterns and new ones are being made

First evening in Cambodia we decided to try local beer as a celebration of entry. For some time we shyly looked on the offer. Beers are laid in full sun and brand have funny names - Angkor(most famous Cambodian historical site), Anchor, Cambodia.... We ordered one and we got it how else than on ice and with a straw :o) After dinner we just roamed the city and as mosquitoes we were attracted by the colourful lights in one garden. There is some feast and so we just peek in from a distance how do they celebrate in here. In a second some guys are after us, probably to throw us out. Before we can do anything we sit by the table beer in hand and baby powder with tint of camphor(which is here in the east maybe even on condoms) spread all over our faces.

 

The year of goat(in Czech Kozel – base word for nickname Kozáč) we simply can't missThe year of goat(in Czech Kozel – base word for nickname Kozáč) we simply can't miss

    Local ruler of the district organized a celebration of New Year for his employees, so he invited us on one beer. According to local customs is good for luck to smear faces of each other with baby powder.
Everyone is white and they have powder everywhere. Nice custom except for it is going into your eyes and beer. I don't know what is worse. People dance around fountain in free style. In fact it is just walk with waving hands somehow. We got ourselves carried away with this and waved also. It is maybe first time anybody seen Kozáč dancing :o)) Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera in spite of darkness and so there is no proof. We got informed that Cambodian king studied in his youth in Prague. Most probably college U Fleků(famous pub).

Celebrations are everywhere and in big styleCelebrations are everywhere and in big style

   Celebration is at it's best and local policeman in civilian life DJ is mixing like hell. Beer, which we wanted just to taste today flowed. Suddenly its eleven and as if in magic everyone disappears. Everybody jumps in their cars and the fun is over. They didn't even waited for midnight.

   New Year accompanied us afterwards, sometimes even a bit unpleasantly. When we reached Siem Reap, city famous by temple Angkor Wat, we have been informed, that hotel which is for 5$ per night will cost 30$ during the celebrations and almost everywhere is booked up. After leaving this city we encountered a problem that all restaurants were closed and we were unable to get something to eat.

As you slow down just a bit you are getting it :o)Soaking As you slow down just a bit you are getting it :o)

   During our trip through villages on the north we experienced one more side of New Year. You're driving in peace on the road and suddenly there is a crowd of people trying to stop you. You slow down – maybe there is some accident perhaps a buffalo run over by a small tractor because nothing else is not going on these roads – and all at once splash in your face lands a bucket of water. You brake and immediately there is old friend powder which everyone around tries to rub in your face. Lot of people rather speed up to not to get this treatment. However I got it three times just for sure.

Hill in the landscape is having magical effect - after many kilometres of flatland it is impossible it tear your eyes away from itUnusual Cambodian landscape   Hill in the landscape is having magical effect - after many kilometres of flatland it is impossible it tear your eyes away from it

    Driving in Cambodia have it's rules which we need to learn quickly. Thanks to the character of landscape it is not easy to drive here. Cambodia is totally flat and roads were designed by a guy who wanted to verify himself the theory of infinity of parallel lines. Driving is not only boring, but also anaesthetizing. Locals hence found a way how to stay always alert. They drive in a way which keeps high level of adrenalin not just for themselves but also to all road users. During the day any time somebody just drives into your path without even looking, a motorcyclist going 30 km/h changes direction of drive without being interested in what's going on behind him. Overtaking in two rows is also the order of the day. In the middle of this all suddenly comes a motorcyclist whizzes from opposite direction. At night it is even more thrilling. In order that your eyes don't close itself every odd car have high beam turned on and as a bonus there is sometimes so called ghost car – driver without any light at all. Warranty that you don't fall asleep is almost 100%. The one who falls asleep will mostly sleep forever. After finishing first drive I'm sure that adrenaline sports are nothing for me - after this experience I would fall asleep with boredom by most of them.

For repelling tiredness are Cambodian able to perform various pranksDistraction for your eyes For repelling tiredness are Cambodian able to perform various pranks