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March 20th, 2011 | Asia

Delays in Vientiane…

It rained or drizzled for three straight days after my arrival in Vientiane…

Willi and I went into town during a break in the weather on Friday evening and after a light meal walked around to find a spot where we could sit and chat…

It continues to amaze me how big my bike looks when it's parked next to one of the thousands of scooters...

Where profanity is acceptable...

He had been toying with the idea of heading back up into central and northern Laos, to see the Plain de Jars near Phonsavan, and heading for Vietnam through the border post of Dien Bien Phu… From there he wanted to head for Hanoi…

One of the many Stone Jars carved to hold the remain of the dead... Photo: Wikipedia.

The Plain de Jars is a prehistoric site dating back to the Iron Age… Huge pots or jars, every one of them hewn from solid rock, lie scattered in 90 sites across the valleys and open plains of the plateaus of the Annanes Cordillera, the largest mountain range in Indochina…

One particular site holds more than 400 of the jars…!!

The jars, some of them almost three metres in diameter, are thought to have been used to contain the remains of the dead… To think that they were carved out of sandstone and granite, using only Iron Age tools, boggles the mind…

But wandering around in this area is not without it’s dangers… An enormous amount of unexploded cluster bombs, a remnant of the Vietnam War of the 1960’s, are still being cleared from the area… Many of the sites are closed to visitors and are regarded as “no-go” areas…

Where to go, what to do...?? With my maps spread out on my bed, I planned my routes for the enxt few weeks...

“I think I’ll spend a few months in Vietnam and then move on to South America…” he mused…

I thought about my own plans, and how fairly rigid they were… I had always had a fairly good idea of where and when I would be over the next few years…

In many ways I envied Willi being able to move about at little more than a whim…

I was beginning to think about letting go of my plans to get through South East Asia as quickly as possible, to “catch up” the month or so that I was behind schedule with…

I sat thinking about the many countries I had rushed through without seeing or experiencing a fraction of the things I could have…

I also thought of the finite budget I had put aside for the three years I planned to be on the road… That had a very important bearing on what I did and when I did it…!!

I had never planned to spend too much time in Vietnam, as I knew that they would not let the Big Fella into the country, and if I could not ride my own bike there, I was not very keen to hire a scooter to ride around on… Willi came to my room later that evening and handed me his spare maps of Vietnam and Cambodia…

He then outlined a likely route for me to take from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi… “It’s a long way, and will take you a few weeks to cover it all if you take it easy… Remember you won’t be covering the same distances as you do on your big bike…!!” he said as he left…

I thought of the very same trip the guys from Top Gear had made on their scooters, and smiled at the memory of the mischief Jeremy Clarkson and his side-kicks had got up to… It was a tempting idea that Willi had put forward…!!

Willi loads Little Red to continue his own personal journey...

While Simon hides a smile and pretends to look interested in something on his bike...

The following morning dawned bright and clear, and Willi loaded up his scooter and prepared for his ride to Vietnam…

Simon was out working on his bike, and when he saw Willi’s pile of luggage, his eyebrows rose as high as they would go…

“Is he putting all those bags on the scooter…?” he asked…

“Wait and see…!!” I suggested, “You’re gonna witness an amazing sight in a very short while…!!”

I helped Willi get the all important “food bag” tied onto the scooter’s footplate, and then stepped back take another photo of his set-up…

Lisa came down and stared open-mouthed at the sight of Willi and his overloaded scooter…

Willi gives us the "Intrepid Mr. Hoover" pose before heading off...

"See ya in Vietnam, Gypsy...!!"

Having completed his elaborate loading routine, Willi was good to go…

We bid each other farewell, and with a wave and a shout, he wobbled out of the parking lot, turned the corner and was gone…

I stood looking at the open alleyway he had just vacated, wondering if I’d ever see him again…

We were going to the opposite ends of Vietnam, and would be separated by about 3000 km… He would eventually work his way south, but by that time, I might well be on my way through Malaysia…

I spent the remainder of the day in my room, trying to bring my journal up to date and working out my route to the southern tip of Laos, where I would enter Cambodia…

Sunday morning was spent much the same way, but the improving weather got us to venture out into the bright sunlight…

After a leisurely lunch at a nearby Restaurant, Simon, Lisa and I returned to our hotel to do some maintenance on the bikes…

Simon needed to top up his gearbox oil and sort out an electrical fault on his bike, and had also suggested he plug in his GS911 Diagnostic Tool into the Big Fella to see if there were any fault readings that I need concern myself with…

This specialized piece of equipment was developed by a South African, specifically for BMW motorcycles… I had agonized about buying one before I left, but at the time, I had already spent more than I had intended to in preparing the bike, and had reluctantly crossed it off my list that was already too long anyway…

The “Electronic Wrench” as it is affectionately known, plugs into your bike and with the aid of a laptop or mobile phone, allows you to detect and clear any faults or glitches in the bikes electronics…

Impressive huh...!! BeeEm Rules, Dudes...!!

Simon puts the Big Fella through his paces...

I had explained that I would not be able to service the bike until I reached Bangkok in a few weeks time, and would have traveled at least another 3000 km before then…

With the Big Fella hooked up to Simon’s laptop, he checked various components on the bike, and gave it the all clear…

I am sure he must have seen the relief written plainly on my face…!!

Simon had never ridden a GS1200 before and I asked him to give the bike a quick test run to tell me what he thought of the handling…He was in the saddle seconds after the words had left my mouth…

After riding in a few tight circles in the hotel parking lot, he commented that the bike handled very well, the clutch and gearbox felt good, but he thought the back brakes were “a little soft”…

On checking the pads, we discovered that they were worn completely through…!!

My last set of back brake pads had lasted for almost 56 000 km, and the current set were changed in Poland, a little more than 22 000 km ago, so I had not checked them for a while, believing that I would probably need to change them in Australia in a few months time…

Simon advised that they were so bad, that I should ride no further with the current set, and have them changed immediately…!!

There was no way we were going to find a set of BMW rear brake pads in Vientiane at 5.00 pm on a Sunday afternoon, nor were we likely to find a set of BMW brake pads on any other day of the week either…!!

Then we got to discussing other aspects of riding and Simon asked how many times I had to pick the bike up during the course of my journey…

“Well, I’ve only come off once, in Ethiopia, and before I have wiped the dirt and leaves out of my eyes, six guys had already picked the bike up for me, so technically, I have not had to lift it even once…!!”

“Have you practiced lifting it on your own…??” he enquired with a smile…

“Hell no…!! Why would I want to do a silly thing like that…!! The world is full of people eager to help a traveler in need…!!”

“Come on, let’s see you give it a go…!!”

Not a view of the Big Fella you will see very often...!! He was more than a little annoyed...!!

Before I could protest, the Big Fella was down on his side… Simon demonstrated the best way of picking the bike up again without giving yourself a hernia or two, or popping a blood vessel or three… Then it was my turn to try…

I hardly managed to get the bike an inch off the ground… Simon reminded me about the correct body positioning and I tried again, this time gaining a few inches but still not getting the bike upright…

“You’re not helping very much…!!” I whispered to the Big Fella through gritted teeth…

“I don’t recall being asked to be put in this embarrassing position…!!” came the swift reply…

The SNK was beginning to feel like home...!!

I recalled the time I had slipped in a patch of oil close to Johannesburg Airport in 2009,  and had picked the bike up only seconds later, without even thinking about it…

I had weighed about ten kilo’s more then, than I did now, and had since, due to a particular nasty bout of Malaria I picked up in Ghana later that year, lost a lot of my upper body strength (along with 15 kilograms at the time…!!)…

When Simon tried to lift the bike himself, I could see that he was surprised at the effort it took… His bike was heavier than mine and he had no trouble lifting it… With a frown on his face he moved to the back of the bike…

“It should not be lying at so flat an angle…” he mumbled, “You should be able to get a better leverage on the thing…!!”

Standing behind the bike and balancing it on his own, he lifted up the back up and down a few times…

“Here’s the problem…!! Your rear shock absorber is stuffed…!!”

And so it was…!! I remembered that we had “bottomed out” a few times on recent rides, but had put it down to the bad road conditions we had battled through… Simon now confirmed that it was time to say goodbye to my trusty BMW shock that had carried me for most of my journey thus far…

“So does this mean you are no longer going to take the piss out of me for carrying a spare set of shock absorbers…??” I asked…

Out of my duffel back came the Ohlins shock that I had carried since Turkey, when Debbie had brought it back after its service in South Africa… This was the very same shock that had let me down so badly in Namibia and Tanzania… I have to admit that it did not give me too much confidence, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I had always thought of it as a back up only… It would be great to get through the rest of my journey with it, but I will not be holding my breath…

It was dark by the time we had parked the bikes and Simon had exchanged a number of riding tips with me, making me practice riding around in a tight circle to improve my handling skills…

“We’re getting back on the road tomorrow, but if you can be up early, I will help you change the shock before we go…!!”

The hotels staff bus has this emblazoned on its panels... We considered using it to cruise the streets of downtown Vientiane... We were certain the message would be understood....

I was grateful for the offer and set my alarm for 5.00 am the following morning… But sleep would not come…!! I tossed and turned, thinking about the little niggles that had cropped up with the bike… I guess some folk would think that a tired shock absorber and no rear brakes were more than a “little niggle”…!!

I had the shock absorber angle covered, and was pleased that my decision to carry the bloody thing so far had paid dividends, but I struggled to understand how my back brakes had “gone off” so quickly, after the last set had lasted so long… Then again, most folk would be very happy to have their shocks do 22 000 km, but still it bothered me… The last set had lasted for 56 000 kms…!!

I hardly ever used my back brakes, and had developed a sort of “duck-footed” riding style which kept my right boot almost an inch away from the rear brake lever… Many riders unconsciously ride with their foot on the brake lever, and slowly wear away their brake pads without even realizing it…!!

I did not expect to find a replacement set of pads here in Vientiane, so would have to nurse the Big Fella for the next few thousand kilometres, or stay here a few more days and get a set sent to me from Bangkok…  I wanted to keep moving forward, and did not like the fact that I might be kept in Vientiane for a few days “against my will” so to speak…!!

At 3,00 am, I finally dozed off into a fitful sleep, conscious that I would need to be up again in just two hours…!!

©GBWT 2011

2 comments to Delays in Vientiane…

  • You should ask Will to load your bike on his scooter. I dont think it would make much difference the way he packs it. LOL

  • Åke

    ” Learning by doing ”
    We are doing that all time 24/7. When my time comes when I drive my own bike,it’s going to be heck of a lot
    “learning by doing” !!

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