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IndoChina Adventure 2008 - Week 04 Chapter : 15 Oct ~ 21 Oct


Flag of Vietnam


Flag of Vietnam


Flag of Vietnam





Another week has gone by on the GlobeRiders IndoChina Adventure 2008. This time you can read about our experiences as we travel through Laos. The country is small and with just over 5 million people, it has been quite a contrast to our travels in Vietnam.


As you will see from the stories below, we lucked out and happened to be in Luang Prabang during the yearly Moon Festival. Colorful and noisy, we joined the crowds in their celebrations.


Thanks for following our journey and as always if you have any comments feel free to write us any time.




Helge Pedersen, Founder



Day 22 - Rewinding to Vietnam - Linda Sikorowski

From Demilitarized Zone to Tourist Zone



For me, I couldn’t arrive in, nor leave, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia without thinking about the Vietnam War. I was in college during the war and have forgotten much of the war’s history. Before I left for this trip, I read books and watched videos of the Vietnam War. I talked with veterans who wished to share their experiences and marked up a map where they spent their time during the war. Many of them spent time in Vietnam near the DMZ (the DeMilitarized Zone). From 1954 to 1975, the Ben Hai River served as the dividing line between South Vietnam and North Vietnam.


So, as I crossed the DMZ in Vietnam on the back of a motorcycle (in what feels like many weeks ago), I thought of the vets I know, the vets I know that died here, and the Iraq war. A billboard came to mind: “We’re the home of the brave because of the brave”.


Near the DMZ I also saw a sign that read, “Tourist Zone,” and reflected on how times have changed. We rode a section of the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail (it was major supply link for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong); the “trail” is now an excellent road winding through steep mountains. We also visited the Cu Chi tunnels, a few war monuments, and a couple of war museums frequented by tourists.


As I learned more about the Vietnamese, I sense that many wish to forget and forgive what happened in the war. Just like some Americans, it’s harder for some than others. In older generations and government officials, there may still be some prejudice against South Vietnamese (sometimes less subtle than others); but today there is only one Vietnam and the people take pride in their country.

The steep mountains, thick jungles, heat and humidity, must have been a very inhospitable place for our troops to fight. I know many served in different ways and not all experienced combat. It’s difficult for me to fully appreciate the worst that the troops (from all sides) experienced during the war… combat, bombing, loss of friends, killing people, the difficulty in determining friend or foe, etc.





I’d like to include a quote from a friend of mine, Richard Hogue, who wrote, “We Were the Third Herd.” His book describes his transition from living in a small Iowa town to fighting as an infantryman in Vietnam. He writes, “Although the experience of each infantryman who served in Vietnam was different, we share one common sentiment. It changed our lives forever…. We all lost our innocence and many will carry the physical and emotional scars of their combat experience to their graves.”


Thanks to all veterans and current soldiers for their sacrifice and willingness to serve. And let’s end the Iraq War where the environment is equally inhospitable, the troops equally young, the enemy equally difficult to distinguish, and the purpose equally questionable.

“For those who have fought for it, life has a meaning others will never know.”



John O’, I’m thinking of You,


Love, Linda



Day 22 - Luang Prabang, Laos - Mike Mathews

Luang Prabang …Day 22


As the 4th week begins, we have traveled far and experienced so much already, we wonder what more is to come?


Well, it comes. . . !


This day is full of different experiences beginning with a really relaxing boat ride on the Mekong River. We traveled up river to visit a local village which specializes in rice whisky and the making of woven goods using the old, traditional hand-operated weaving looms.


Garments are priced on how long it takes to make the item with some single items taking more than 3 months. The rice whiskey takes on many different flavors, including that of a Cobra taste:




We stopped at the Pak Ou cave which holds thousands of Buddha idols which were stored and worshiped over the centuries. The idols were hidden in both lower and upper caves over the years. We watched the local monks as they constructed a bamboo boat which would be lined with candles and used for the Banaw Auk Phansa celebration this very night. This celebration takes places only once a year and we happen to be at the right place at the right time.


As nighttime approaches, we walk to the beginning of the celebration point. High on a hillside, up a long walkway, are gathered more than 25 large bamboo boats decorated with lit candles, flowers and grasses. The boats are carried over the heads of the builders and taken down a long set of steps, then launched into the river to float down river for all to see.


Along the streets, many locals have constructed beautiful flower arrangements with incense to burn. These arrangements also have candles and are launched down the river, also lighting up the river with a wonderful array of lights. Fireworks continue to go off along with roman candles shooting fire balls into the night sky. The celebration continues well into the morning hours, but we are ready to ride the next day for another day of adventure.


Mike Mathews




Day 23 - Luang Prabang, Laos- Karen Ofthus




Our hotel in Luang Prabang, Laos, sits cozily along the mighty, muddy, Mekong River. We’ve lucked out. It’s the full moon festival and there’s going to be a huge party. Locals construct bamboo boats and floats, festooned with colorful tissue paper, huge stars and hundreds of candles. With a flashy fireworks display, thousands of these little boats are sent down the Mekong, taking with them the wishes and prayers of their Buddhist makers - candles flicker and dance on the current.


Vincent has his own way of celebrating the full moon festival. A while back, he decided he was going to shave his head. I thought he was kidding. But when he asked Helge for his razor and brought a towel down to the bank of the Mekong, I figured this must be the real deal. Not wanting to miss the fun, several of us took turns shaving him bald, as the sun, low in the sky, was setting. Once finished, fistfuls of Vincent’s curly brown hair, and his wishes for a new lease on life, floated down river.


Under a sweltering sun, our two-hour boat journey up the Mekong glides us past villages and fishermen and curious on-lookers. I light incense at the Pak Ou Cave, a limestone wound in the side of a mountain. The cave is adorned with literally thousands of Buddha statues, some hundreds of years old. It is quiet and peaceful here, I think I could stay forever.


At lunch, Joe slips, and like Olympic athlete Greg Louganis, takes a dive off the side of the boat and into the thick, sucking mud along the riverbank. His camera is submerged for a fraction of a second before he whips it out, one arm held high like a man drowning in quicksand. “My CAMERA!” he croaks. I tell you, the man is quick as a cat! We pull him out of the slimy, oozing mud and clean his camera…all is well again. Only afterwards do we get to laugh at him. I give him a 9.5 for his effort as he remembered to point his toes on the way down!


If you’re game, get up at 5:00 am, and head out to the street for an amazing sight. Every morning, hundreds of orange-robed monks leave the monastery and single-file, make their rounds around town, accepting offerings of sticky rice, fruit and other treats. Mongrel dogs follow them, certain of a generous tidbit. Cover your shoulders and legs, turn off the flash on your camera, don’t talk, and be respectful - this is solemn, serious business. When giving my fruit offering to an approaching monk, I’m sure to stay on my knees, as women should never be standing higher than a monk. But I discovered that if you purchase a chocolate candy or other special treat from a local woman and offer that, you can get the monks to smile, especially the little ones. After all, I bet they're sick of all that sticky rice.


Linda and I treat ourselves to an oil massage at Massage with a View, a little place near our hotel, overlooking the Mekong. We are escorted upstairs to a little room with open windows, a nice breeze, and a birds-eye-view of the river and the street. Undressing, we discover that our roommate is some guy … German perhaps. He’s lying flat out on the middle mattress greased up like a pig with a big, fat smile plastered on his face. Linda and I take our positions either side of him, sorta like a German-stranger-man sandwich. Linda wonders aloud, “Hmmmm....this must be a co-ed experience…” I feel compelled to introduce myself …after all, I AM sharing this experience with him. He just smiles as the two, now naked Americans take their places alongside him. Shoot, I figure for five buck, you can’t complain. We enjoyed our massages…odd as they were.


You could spend weeks in Luang Prabang and never run out of things to do.






Day 23 - Luang Prabang, Laos - Linda Sikorowski

Sunrise to Moonrise in Luang Prabang, Laos


Our layover day in Luang Prabang started before dawn and ended late into the evening.   We woke to see the daily procession of Buddhist monks as they walk down the main street to receive alms (usually food, money and flowers) from worshipers and tourists alike - inspiring and well worth the unusually early wake-up.   Buddhist males are encouraged to serve as monks sometime in their life.   It’s their choice as to how long they study; we met men who served a few months to 12 years.


Most of the group then took on a full-day of sightseeing.   They took a boat down the Mekong River to visit Pak Ou caves.   Located on a limestone cliff, these caves are famous for the number of Buddha images in them.   The group also stopped at Ban Xang Hai (or “Whiskey Village” as the locals call it).   They saw how rice whiskey was made (strong stuff), saw people weaving beautifully colored textiles, and just walked around reflecting on what it must be like to live there.   They also sat and talked with monks who were building their boat for the parade and festival that night.


During the afternoon, Karen and I went for one of many massages I’ve had since arriving - I’ve now lost count (eat your hearts out, girlfriends).   Karen got the view position overlooking the Mekong River, but who’s really holding their head up to look out when someone’s expertly massaging every muscle in your body?  And since Luang Prabang is famous for its nightly colorful market, I did my best to contribute to the local economy; guess what you’re all getting for Christmas?


When you’re traveling, every once in awhile you get lucky and stumble onto a festival … like the annual Bun Awk Phansa.  It’s a celebration marking the end of the rainy season and the monks' fast.   It’s held in this city during the full moon, usually at the end of October.   Everywhere, you see people making paper floats in the shape of boats in all different sizes.   In the evening, we joined (what seemed like) the entire city to watch teams parade and showcase their large paper boats decorated with candles, then carry and launch them into the Mekong River.  It’s a dramatic sight watching the boats float down the river.  After that the city partied with fireworks, music, and drinking through the night.


Before I leave Luang Prabang, I must mention that Vincent decided to get a haircut here … how many hairs you ask?   All of what was left.   We had a ritual on the Mekong River while Karen cut his hair. Check out the picture - Vincent, you look marvelous!


Party on…




Day 25 - Savanakhet, Laos - Mike Mathews

Vientiane to Savanakhet … Day 25



The road today is very good and we can travel with some speed over the 300 mile distance. It gives us the opportunity to stop for a fabulous lunch along the river, enjoying the cuisine of the locals.


We find a spot, park the bikes, and place our order on the large menu, with some items in English. The cooks begin using both propane and coal as the main fuels for the kitchen. The meal is great and the atmosphere is relaxing. The local ice cream vendor rides by and Helge makes sure he stops. We all enjoy the ice cream and get back on the road.


The hotel for the evening is a tremendous downgrade from others, but the best available. The design is such that you can sit on the toilet and take a shower at the same time; in other words no shower stall in this room. The amenities in the room look like something from a kiddy store.


To pep up the evening, for a big surprise, we decide for dinner to all put on our pink shirts and white hats given to us by Than, our Vietnamese guide. As we enter for dinner, we are singing songs and jumping around like kids. He is very surprised. We celebrate the evening with the riches we gathered from the local duty free store including chocolate candy, Bailey’s Irish Cream and other goodies.


It was a very good day,


Mike Mathews



Day 26 - Pakse, Laos - Linda Sikorowski

The Vietnamese People



I’m sitting on the balcony outside our hotel room overlooking the Se Don River in Pakse, Laos. The Se Don flows into the Mekong River here. We crossed the border from Vietnam into Laos 6 days ago. As I say hello to Laos, I wish to say goodbye to Vietnam, but only for this visit because I would love to come back to “one of the most enriching, enlivening, and exotic countries on earth.” (Yes, the quote’s from Lonely Planet again – because one, it’s the only guidebook I have with me, and two, I agree with them).

Vincent said it in his first story: this trip is great “because of its people”. Wherever we went, we were continually impressed with the friendliness of the Vietnamese people. If they weren’t already smiling at you, all it took was for you to smile and they could barely contain their grins. It didn’t matter if they were Hill Tribe people, urban or rural residents, young or old, rich or poor – they are gentle, gracious, welcoming people.


Family comes first. Since life revolves around the family, several generations are often living under one roof. Their incredibly strong family ties mean everyone takes care of the kids. Also, one of the children (usually the elder son) takes care of their elderly parents when they need help or a place to live. Large families are still the norm, even though there’s been a government policy since 1975 to promote two children. Personally, I think the only reason people have 2 children is that 4 is generally the limit for fitting on a motorbike (although I have seen 5 and 6!).


Once they’re born, the two most important days of their lives are their wedding and their death. Weddings are big celebrations, expensive, and symbolic. The Vietnamese people, like many others in IndoChina, honor their dead. I was particularly impressed with the colorful graves and cemeteries. They also have colorful shrines in their homes, businesses and on their property where they might worship their ancestors, pray for prosperity and health, give thanks, or all of the above.

They value education. Even in the more rural, poorer areas we saw a lot of uniformed kids attending elementary school. Yet there are still many families too poor to send their kids to school, or need them to work. Unfortunately, we did see much poverty, but I’m hopeful for the people that this will change.


Like many developing countries, Vietnam is in transition. There’s a lot happening (good and bad) economically, politically, environmentally, and culturally. They’re trying to blend past traditions and present societal influences, balance old and modern, lessen the gap between the have and have-nots, and are more capitalistic in spite of a minority communist government.


The Vietnam War was incredibly difficult for both the Americans and the Vietnamese people. It was a civil war then, and in some areas and with some people there’s still a North vs. South division or prejudice today. Yet, the Vietnamese people are doing their very best to unite and move forward.



Thank you to the Vietnamese people for a warm welcome, and as they would gently say when saying goodbye, “may you have good health.”





Day 27 - Pakse, Laos - Linda Sikorowski

8 Nights in Laos



It could be a screenplay for a mystery, comedy, thriller or romance movie, but it’s not; it was our “Laos in a Nutshell Tour”. We spent 8 nights, 9 days in Laos, covering approximately 1,000 miles.


In the north, we rode in spectacular, rugged mountainous terrain; a guidebook states; “there are vast swatches of pristine wilderness,” and that “unmanaged vegetation covers 75% of the country, with 25% of this primary forest.” That unmanaged vegetation sure looks inaccessible to me. Yet, as we learned in Vietnam, there are many diverse ethnic groups living in relatively untouched villages.


In contrast, the plateaus in the south were usually lined on both sides with rice paddies … sometimes as far as the eye could see. The country is tied together by the mighty Mekong River; it serves as a natural border to Thailand for much of Laos.


We traveled through scores of small and peaceful villages. We saw much poverty everywhere and people working very hard to live. It seemed like I saw a lot more young mothers (15+) with babies on their hips or backs; all were very friendly and eager to put their baby in front of the camera when I asked if I could take a photo. We also saw a lot more cows, goats, chickens, dogs, and water buffalos on the roads (no connection there, just observations).


Compared to Vietnam, the country’s population is much smaller (6 million as compared to 90 million), poorer and less educated. Some families just cannot afford to have their children in school or need them to work.

Ninety percent of Laos is Buddhist. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook, “…nothing seems to faze the Lao … "'No Problem' could be the national motto. To a large degree, ‘Lao-ness’ is defined by Buddhism. Karma, more than devotion, prayer, or hard work, is believed to determine one’s lot in life, so the Lao tend not to get too worked up over the future.”


Tourism is increasing in Laos. I saw informational signs about community-based tourism projects to help villages and many places advertise guest houses and homestays. For all you “activists”, there’s cycling, trekking, kayaking, tubing rafting and even rock climbing. Of course, you can also rent motorbikes, but right now I feel a lot safer on Mike’s bike than I would on my own.


I have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure I’m not dreaming. I’m actually here in IndoChina!


Wishing You Good Karma,


Linda in Laos



Day 27 - Pakse, Laos - Linda Sikorowski

Laos’ Treasures



During the 9 days we spent in Laos, we stayed in 5 different cities and visited 2 UNESCO sites; UNESCO stands for United Nations Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organization. They find great treasures around the world in hopes of preserving them.   The ones we visited in Laos were no exceptions.


1 night in Muong Xai: Memorable hotel, dining area and décor.


2 days in Luang Prabang: This is Laos’ ancient capital and the entire city is a UNESCO site. We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore this laid-back, French-influenced, charming city located on the bank of the Mekong River. We stayed in the Old Quarter and savored the ban on buses and trucks.

2 days in Vientiane: Also on the bank of the Mekong River, the current capital of Laos has lovely tree-lined boulevards. One can see and feel the influence of Thai, Chinese, Russian, U.S. and the French.   We visited the Patouxay (their Arch de Triumph) built to commemorate people who died in past wars.   Vientiane is also known for its abundance of temples and Buddha statues; we got our share in - very impressive.

1 night in Savanakhet: Another memorable hotel, dining area and décor with a special tribute to Than, our guide, and a party in the Hutt suite.


2 days in Pakse: Peaceful city and on our layover day we traveled to Wat Phu, a spiritual site since the 5th century, an archaeological treasure and UNESCO site.   While that alone would make a great day, everyone’s highlight, however, was ferrying the motorcycles across the Mekong River each on an individual boat.    Having Mike, me and the motorcycle transported on a single boat was definitely a unique experience, as well as watching the locals maneuver the entry planks and boats for us to drive the motorcycles on ... the boats’ heights didn’t exactly line up!


As special as our visit’s been to Laos, it was also made memorable by Mike and I falling on the Triumph Tiger twice (Mike wrote about that in other stories).   Plus, the shock went out AGAIN on the Tiger (whine – I’m beginning to get a complex since it happened once on the Silk Road Adventure).   But fortunately: 1) it broke right next to a service station, 2) the station had a person and a pickup truck that would haul it 70 miles for $80 to Pakse, 3) where we had a planned layover day, 4) so that Mike could install the spare shock that he brought, 5) with extra help and expertise from the other riders.


I know what you’re thinking … what if it happens again?   No worry, another spare shock is currently on its way to Thailand, just in case.   Anything and everything is possible. So, now all is well in the Tiger’s world again.


My experiences and memories of Laos: All wonderful!


Khawp Jqi! (Thank You in Lao),





Day 28 - Luang Prabang, Laos- David Ow

Same old stuff - great riding, fancy hotels & resorts, delicious buffets, fantastic local foods and friendly people.  I guess I am getting spoiled.

Did have a small problem with my top case.  The rear sub-frame broke and it was not secure.  It now rides in the chase van.  Helge and Mike had given a warning before the trip.  My Garmin Zumo GPS gave up yesterday.  No power to unit from the motorcycle and all the battery life was used.
I could not trace the break.  More work this afternoon.

In Cambodia the gas station pumps show the amount in US dollars and they accept US $s for payment.  Cost is about $4.25 a gallon.



Motorcycling On,





Helge Pedersen Images from the IndoChina Adventure 2008 - Laos & Cambodia




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