Cambodia-Thailand-Laos-Cambodia

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by bill, Dec 21, 2006.

  1. bill

    bill Ol'Timer

    Six of us departed Cambodia on 28-11-06 to head up to Laos thru Thailand via Koh Kong, Bangkok, Nong Khai.
    As circumstances would have it, the group split 3 ways to do different things.
    My route, after been refused entry to Laos at Nong Khai , was thru the border at Nakhon Phanom/Thakhek then continuing on to Vientiane-Vang Vieng-Luang Prabang-Phonsovan-Pakxan-Ban Nahin (Kong Lor Cave), Lak Xao-Thakhek-Savannakhet-Pakse-Stung Treng-Kratie-and back to Sihanoukville.
    Total trip ~5000km over 3 weeks.

    For some reason, the Laotian customs are not allowing foreign plated motorbikes to enter the country thru Nong Khai unless they are part of an organized tour group.
    Laos customs imposes huge taxes on imported vehicles so a lot of motorbikes etc get smuggled in. I assume the new law is in response to the smuggling issue.
    However, the left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing in Laos customs department, so its still possible to get thru at other border crossings.

    The road between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is a great ride and can be done in a day if one starts early. I stopped for lunch at Vang Vieng and arrived LP around 4pm.
    LP must have been a great place 10 or 15 years ago before it became a tourist trap. Nevertheless, it’s a convenient place to hang out for a few days and plan the next leg of the trip.

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    I did two easy day trips by motorcycle while staying in LP. They were Kuang Si Waterfall and Pak Ou Cave.
    Kuang Si Waterfall is 37km from LP on good roads. Its great for swimming this time of year and has a small zoo featuring an Indochine tiger and some Black Bears. The zoo was set up by an organization that rescued the animals from poachers.

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    Pak Ou Village is 25km from LP on good dirt roads. The cave is accessed by crossing the Mekong river in a hire boat (I paid $2 return trip). Inside the cave are a multitude of Buddhist statues.
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    From LP I headed eastward to Phonsavan to visit the Plain of Jars. This is another great ride on a good sealed road that winds its way thru the mountains.
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    Plain of Jars is an archeologically intriguing place with artifacts found on site dating back to 2000 BC.
    Visually it was so-so for me but the mountain roads leading to Phonsovan made the trip very worthwhile.

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    Phonsovan is cooler than LP, and most of the locals were wearing pullovers during my stay there. Accommodation is plentiful. I stayed in a Chinese run guesthouse, Air/Hot water/Cable for $8. Lots of hacking and spitting Chinese staying there at the time. Dining options in town include an average Indian restaurant and some good value local places.

    The next leg of the journey was Phonsovan to Pakxan and is one the best dirt road rides I have been on. The scenery is spectacular as the road passes between some of the highest peaks in Laos. Lots of old growth forest, rapids, and at least 6 river-creek crossings.
    The route passes thru Mouang Khoune, Tha Viang and Borikhan. There are no signs so I had to continuously reconfirm the route with locals on the way. Fuel stops (drum with a rotary hand pump) were never more than 50km apart.
    I didn’t measure total distance but guess its ~150km from Mouang Khoune. Trip time was 6 1/2 hours including a lunch stop (noodle soup) at Ta Viang
    Heading out of Mouang Khoune town you turn right at a T junction. It wasn’t sign posted so I had to confirm with a local bystander that it was the road to Ta Viang.
    The first section appears to be an all weather dirt road but has a lot of loose gravel on the surface.
    Later sections include some sandy/clayey bits that are OK now but could deteriorate rapidly in the wet season..

    The river crossings were shallow, ~20-30cm deep except for one. It was too murky to see the bottom but there were some fresh truck tracks going into it. I was feeling lucky so I thought, give it plenty of gas and see what happens.
    It turned out to be ~60cm deep and the Suzuki DRZ managed to splutter its way thru. Obviously these water levels will drop as the dry season progresses. Apparently Laos didn’t have much rain last wet season so I lucked out by being able to get thru this early
    I met some French cyclists coming the other way. They said they were questioned by police before being allowed to proceed, however, I didn’t encounter any police or military presence.

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    There’s a lot of small very basic villages enroute but thankfully not much traffic. What traffic there is doesn’t kick up much dust because the road is simply too windy and steep to go fast on.

    Pakxan has plenty of accommodation options but dining options are limited.
    I found two large hotels as you come into town that offer Fan room for $3 and
    Air/ hot water/cable for $6

    Next day it was go east to visit Kong Lor Cave in Khammouane Province.
    Head down Hwy 13 and turn left onto Hwy 8 at Vieng Kham . Hwy 8 passes thru the limestone forest

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    I stayed at Mi Thuna GH in Ban Nahin, a little town on Hwy 8 just after the turnoff to Kong Lor cave. The GH is run by Ralph, and Englishman and his Laotian wife Mon.
    The western food there is excellent as Ralph gets his ham/bacon/ sausages etc sent down from Vientiane. He’s also very knowledgeable about the local area and things to do. There are some basic food/accom options in town and out near the cave plus a relatively expensive resort near the cave.

    Kong Lor Cave is 40km from Ban Nahin on dirt roads. There are two routes to ride to the cave. Option 1 is a good dirt road for 22km (at time of writing) that joins onto a rough track for the remaining 18km. Option 2 (for offroaders) is take the rough track all the way. Eventually the good road will extend the full 40km. I took 1 ½ hours each way on the DRZ without being too silly but the locals give it 3 hours one way on a 100cc Honda dream.
    Upon arriving at the village near the cave, I hired a small dugout boat (100,000 kip/ ~$10 for 1-3 people), to take me thru the cave.
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    Kong Lor Cave is basically a river that passes thru a mountain for 7 km.
    The cave is up to 100 meters high and 75 meters wide in some parts.
    The water level is low now so there are several areas at the entrance and inside the cave where the boat has to be dragged over the rocks. No big deal, the boatmen handle most of it.
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    Inside the cave the boat stops to allow viewing of the stalactites.

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    When you come out the other side, the boat pulls over to a picnic area for lunch. Best to bring your own as there’s not much on sale there.
    I was the only tourist there that day so it’s still a bit off the beaten track until the new road is finished. Go see it soon

    Other points of interest near Ban Nahin include Tat Nansanan waterfall and Nam Theun Dam 1.
    The entrance to the falls is opposite the turn off to Ban Nahin market on Hwy 8. Turn left if heading east. A 1.5km track thru the forest leads to a parking area then it’s a 1.5km hike up to the falls. The path is a bit vague so make mental notes as you go.
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    Nam Theun Dam 1 is 18km east of Ban Nahin . It is connected to the power station 7km away via a 7m diameter water tunnel thru the mountain. Most of the power is sold to Thailand until there is sufficient domestic demand.
    Construction of Nam Theun 2 and 3 are underway.
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    I decided to head down to Thakek by heading east to Lak Xao and taking the scenic dirt road via Nakai. Unfortuneately the road has a constant stream of dump trucks plying the route to service the huge Nam Theun 2 Dam project. Its very dusty .
    I stopped at Thakek for lunch and overnighted in Savannakhet. At this point I decided time was up and made a beeline back to Cambodia.
    Next night I stayed in Pakse which is a pleasant enough place and seems to be a good staging point for exploring southern Laos.
    The Laos-Cambodia border crossing at Veun Kham is a bit vague until the new road to Stung Treng is complete. Currently , on the Cambodian side, the new road is connected to the Cambodian immigration checkpoint via a 5-10 km ? ( speedo cable broke a few km’s back) dirt track with a couple of un-sign posted turns.
    I followed a taxi to ensure I went the right way .
    Its 60km from the border to Stung Treng where you cross the Mekong via a ferry.
    Completion of the bridge looks another year away.

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    I chose to overnight in Kratie which is a picturesque river town 150km from Stung Treng on good dirt/sealed roads.
    Five dollars for a fan room with cable will get you this view across the Mekong at several riverfront guesthouses. I stayed at Heng Heng 2 GH.

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    All in all, a most enjoyable trip. Still plenty left to explore for another time. Lets hope getting bikes into Laos doesn’t become a major headache.
     
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  3. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Bill
    Nice report.
    Too bad you got caught up in the Friendship bridge hassles. The current policy & system there is all a bit confusing & will most likely take a long time to sort out, as some official in Vte wants to enforce antiquated laws. However I note that you still enjoyed yourself. Thanks for contributing again. Well done.
     
  4. bill

    bill Ol'Timer

    David
    Thanks for the info re entry at Nong Khai.
    I found the GT-rider website very useful in planning alternative routes.

    Best of luck to others heading to Laos and dont forget to keep us updated on border issues
     
  5. petersuter

    petersuter New Member

    Thanks Bill! I´ll definetely go for Pakxan Phonsavan, looking forward to it! If you got any info about possible GH on the way, would be most welcome!
     
  6. bill

    bill Ol'Timer

    Peter
    I went straight thru in one day so I didnt take much notice of GH options.
    I can tell you the villages are fairly basic.
    Power lines are being run from Phonsavan down, and from memory, Tha Viang has power and some small resturaunts.(Ask around in Pakxan)
    Roadworks are in progress coming from the Pakxan end.
    I met some French cyclists travelling Pakxan to Phonsavan. They didnt have any problems walking their bicycles thru the river crossings.
    The water will be even lower in Jan.

    Some other motorcyclists from Cambodia went thru a few days after me.
    One was 69 years old riding a Honda Steed (Harley lookalike) so there ya go.
     

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