The following morning we caught an early flight to Ubon Ratchathani, then caught a bus to the sleepy Thai/Laos border town of Mukdahan. Our spacious hotel room at the newish Submukdahan Grand Hotel was a steal at 500 baht. We lucked out in that our visit coincided with Mukdahan's Red Cross festival. We walked out of our hotel to scores of teenagers performing Thai traditional dances accompanied by a light show, fog machine, and bubbles. The night market was brimming with vendors and behind it was a carnival with rides, a shooting (as in 0.22 caliber) range, lounge singers, and a flashy, Sparkle Motionesque talent contest.
After the Ban Tha Long bridge we encountered a long line of trucks. Having recently attending Indian driving school we cruised to the front, hoping to squeeze through on the shoulder. A tree had fallen across the road and a road crew of ~5 people was busy clearing a path through the thick branches. Amazingly, there were at least 40 people on both sides standing around watching. I was timing our Loop attempt, so I decided to help out to get us moving again. Finally a few other bystanders pitched in and a path was cleared. This set us back by an hour. I tried to make up time on the next, more technical section of road and dumped my not so off-road machine twice, breaking off a mirror on the second spill.
Eventually we made it back onto the pavement around Lak Sao and I got replacement mirrors for 15,000 kip (~$1.75), including installation. It was ~1 pm and we knew we had 200 km to go, so unless we encountered some major construction of mechanical failure we would be back in Tha Khaek well before dark. The next section of road was spectacular as we wove through limestone towers dripping with lush vegetation. We wondered whether the huge limestone walls held any climbing route potential. The journey back went swiftly, or rather as swiftly as possible on our underpowered bikes which were lucky to hit 90 km/h on the downhills. Jascha had some difficulties in keeping up with me on a scooter made for 100 lb Asians, not 200+ lb Americans, but we rolled into the guesthouse together 9 hours and 48 minutes after we started. We headed to Fountain Square and treated ourselves to some well-earned nam kao (spicy sausage filled with ground pork, rice and glass noodles served with shredded cabbage, fresh herbs, and piquant dressing) and a crepe-like dessert made from a pan fried thin dough wrapped around a scrambled egg, topped with sweetened condensed milk and banana slices.