Chiang Mai – Phongsali / Luang Prabang & Return

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by DavidFL, May 27, 2004.

  1. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Dates: Monday 10th May – Saturday 21st May
    Weather: Heavy overcast – wet – hot & cold. What more could you ask for?

    THE WAY:
    1. Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai – Mae Chan – Chiang Saen – Chiang Khong – Huay Sai.
    2. Huay Sai – Luang Nam Tha
    3. Luang Nam Tha – Muang Sing – Xieng Kok – Muang Sing
    4. Muang Sing – Udom Xai
    5. Udom Xai – Phongsali
    6. Phongsali – Udom Xai – Luang Prabang
    7. Luang Prabang
    8. Luang Prabang – Sayabouri
    9. Sayabouri – Luang Prabang
    10. Luang Prabang – Udom Xai – Pak Beng
    11. Pak Beng – Huay Xai – Chiang Khong
    12. Chiang Khong – Payamengrai – Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai

    TRIP SUMMARY

    DAY 1
    Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai – Mae Chan – Chiang Saen – Chiang Khong – Huay Sai.
    Easy ride up the main highway. Got away from home at 7.30 am & picked up my riding buddy Armin & his BMW F650 on the way.
    1st stop was Charin Resort for the obligatory coffee & cheesecake.

    Ran the fuel tank on the 250 Baja dry to get an idea of the fuel range.
    The bike this time was a was a “renta” Honda 250 Baja from Joe with only a regular small tank & I wanted to check out the fuel range.
    Reserve came at 155 kms & empty at 197 kms, so that meant at least 170 kms on a tank, which was good enough for Laos & so no need to carry extra fuel.

    I have to bitch about the bike though as the suspension sucked, particularly the front. This however was my mistake, trusting Joe to provide me with his best Baja for Laos, and indeed the motor ran perfectly the entire trip but the front was one of the worst I have ever experienced.
    Now if only I had test ridden the bike, beforehand I might have been able to change, but as it was I picked up the bike & hit the road……..never fear, you can do it, but it was heavy going at times, especially in the tight rough stuff when just turning was hard work!

    Arrival time in Chiang Khong was 11.30 am & we hit Thai customs straight up. The temporary export papers for the bikes took 20 mins complete and it was a pleasure to deal with such friendly agreeable staff.
    Next stop was the downtown immigration office to secure the 2 necessary forms for taking vehicles out with pax / crew.
    These forms are
    1. TM2 Information of Conveyance
    2. TM4 Crew List
    which seem a bit silly just for riding your bike across the border; but there’s no doubt immigration delight in hitting you with this officialdom!
    Getting these forms takes at least 40 minutes from staff that certainly isn’t as pleasant as customs! And this is a not uncommon complaint with immigration at Chiang Khong - be warned the CK Immigration staff aint particularly friendly or agreeable.
    My riding buddy with his Thai resident permit was hassled leaving, needing 20 mins clear to immigration & then on the way back in with no other person in sight we were asked to move away from the counter as we were blocking access. Totally absurd, as by the time we had completed the arriving pax cards 5 meters away & been stamped in there were still no other person in sight!!! Yeah yeah that’s your wonderful welcome to Thailand….

    Anyway we almost did not get on the car ferry leaving, as Armin was held up getting stamped out, despite being totally 100% lieb loi. The skipper on the car ferry was in a hurry & I had to plead for him to wait. For a while it even looked as if he was going to leave with just my bike on board & Armin still at immigration!
    Getting into Laos was a breeze & took just 20 minutes. Entry permits were given for 2 weeks for a change, rather than the regular 7 days. Whether this is a new policy I don't know, but perhaps Phil Pirip will be able to confirm what he has on his current Laos trip.

    In Huay Sai we checked into my regular hotel the Keo Oudomphone downstream from town , but close to the Wang View for happy hour.
    Quiet a few beers were consumed at the Wang View, & indeed its almost impossible not to as the place has such a magic atmosphere at sunset over the ‘Khong. Dinner later on that evening was at the Nut Pop, one of the main restaurants in town. The food here is good, big servings & delicious, but oddly enough we were the only customers – is there somewhere new to go in HS?

    Davidfl
    Keep the power on
     
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  3. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    DAY 2: HUAY SAI - LUANG NAM THA
    Up early & had a full Lao brekky of fried eggs, baguette & lovely thick Lao coffee.
    On the road at 7.30 am – something of a record for me I can tell ya. However the thought of a wet & greasy 180 kms made sure even I rose to the occasion & was ready to ride.
    And with heavy overcast skies I was pretty sure we were going to be in for a tough time, so much so that I was expecting a glorious non-electric night in Vieng Phukha, “half way” thru.
    Unbelievably though, we had good weather, the road was generally dry to firm

    Pic below: stopped in Don Chai
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    & it only started to rain 5 kms out from Luang Nam Tha!
    Arrival, time in LNT was an impressive 2.15 pm!
    Stops were made in Don Chai

    2 pics below: Don Chai
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    Nam Ngern

    Pics below: Nam Ngern "main street"
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    and a spot approx 10 kms east of Vieng Phukha to pick up a fallen F650 & rider, plus Charoen Suk.

    Its always funny how it goes & riders come to grief; this time just into the start of the steeper tighter narrow stuff & the rider accelerates nicely coming out of an corner into a sweet little uphill straight & runs off the road into the ditch, dumping his bike in the process. It’s called a concentration lapse I think. Fortunately the bike was undamaged & the rider suffered a damaged chest & some pain for the rest of the trip. The pain was fixed with a regular Tramadol in the morning & in the evening to ensure that he made it home safely, only to have an x-ray & be told he’d definitely cracked a rib. I was truly impressed, as he’d ridden on the best of the rough roads in N Laos with a broken rib. Well done Armin, let’s hope you don’t do this again eh!

    Davidfl
    Keep the power on
     
  4. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    I'm going to cheat & knock up a summary.
    Hope this is a help & some of the info is useful.

    SUMMARY

    HUAY SAI – LUANG NAM THA

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    190 kms & the old “jungle road.” Something I don’t normally recommend in the wet, as it can be heavy going if its damp & greasy. In the jungle the sun does not always shine thru on to the road to dry it out, leaving the roads greasy. Also in the wet season, drizzle is worse than heavy rain & it just leaves slime to clog up the tyres & leave you without any grip / traction / braking or steering, if you are unlucky. So be warned.
    It’s also most definitely NOT recommended two-up!
    Generally you can divide the road into 2 sections.
    1. HUAY SAI – NAM NGERN (& the lignite mine) is the good new road.
    2. NAM NGERN – VIENG PHUKHA – LUANG NAM THA, the old jungle road. A narrow trail, thru the jungle, basically 2 smooth wheels ruts. But it aint that bad, as we saw one 10-wheel truck & a 40-seater bus in there! Unbelievable, so the boys are out there are doing it in bigger vehicles now.
    HUAY SAI – NAM NGERN is more mountainous & better forest cover.
    NAM NGERN – LUANG NAM THA

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    is generally undulating – hilly – steep hilly.
    In the dry the Nam Ngern – Luang Nam Tha section is easier, but in the wet the Huay Sai - Nam Ngern section is easier.

    To allow for bad weather & a greasy road we left Huay Sai at 7.30 am & lucked out with the weather & a good road – it was dry to firm, with rain coming in the last 5 kms before Luang Nam Tha.
    We arrived in Luang Nam Tha at 2.15 pm.

    LUANG NAM THA - XIENG KOK = easy

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    LUANG NAM THA – MUANG SING = nice tight hilly winding narrow asphalt.

    Pic below" Muang Sing
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    MUANG SING – XIENG KOK = good gravel road, ready for asphalt

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    LUANG NAM THA – NA TOEY = old asphalt road. Patchy & broken asphalt at the Luang Nam Tha end.
    NA TOEY - UDOM SAI = good narrow steep & winding asphalt.

    UDOM SAI – PHONGSALI
    UDOM SAI – SIN XAI = good undulating asphalt / dirt. Approx 19-15 kms good gravel before Sin Xai.
    SIN XAI – PHONGSALI = all steep & winding mountain roads

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    SIN XAI – BAN YO = generally good dirt / gravel

    Pic below: the Lao / China local border crossing at Pakha, west of Ban Yo
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    BAN YO – BOUN NEUA = generally good tight hilly asphalt.
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    BOUN NEUA – PHONGSALI = mountainous tight steep winding gravel / dirt. Ok even in the wet.
    Phongsali is 1,700 metres up

    Pic below: Phongsali
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    Pic below: Phongsali, the main street
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    & if there is any cloud around at all you’ll be riding in the mist, making it cold & probably wet.

    UDOM SAI – LUANG PRABANG
    UDOM SAI – PAK MONG = all asphalt although with quite a bit of silly road works under way, & most of it of very questionable quality. In places we thought the old road was better than the new one just finished. It will be real interesting to see if the new road can last 2 wet seasons!
    In the heat you also need to watch out for molten asphalt on most of the corners. It is so bad that it even sticks to your shoes like gum if you walk on it!
    PAK MONG – LUANG PRABANG = fast flowing generally downhill asphalt.

    LUANG PRABANG – SAYABOURI
    Pic below: crossing the Mekong at Tha Deua, en route to Sayaboury
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    LUANG PRABANG – SAYABOURI TURN OFF = good winding undulating asphalt.
    TURN OFF – SAYABOURI = good flat to undulating gravel. We did most of this in the wet & it was good, although in some places it was sometimes potholed & corrugated from the traffic.

    SAYABOURI – HONGSA
    A STEEP CLAY TOUGHIE. We got 25 kms in on dry to firm clay, but the further we went the damper the clay became.
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    So, with heavy black cover we decided not to tempt fate & be so stupid as to continue. The logic being that if it was wet it would be hard enough just trying to walk up the steep slopes, let alone push bikes. So the Hongsa road’s going to be saved for another day. Our original plan was to ride to Hongsa, then down to Tha Xouang & the Mekong, boat to Pak Beng & then out to Huay Sai. But as it happended ot was back to Luang Prabang - Udom Sai - Pak Beng, then on the boat & up the 'Khong.

    Pic below: Udom Sai - Pak Beng. Got seriously wet here!
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    TIPS
    HUAY SAI: Keo Oudome Phone Hotel. Wang View Resort for sunset & happy hour.
    LUANG NAM THA: the Boat Landing Ghouse.
    MUANG SINGH: Singcharoen Hotel / ghouse (the best place in town.) Food: the Daen Nua ghouse.
    UDOM SAI: Linda Ghouse. Keomoungkhoun restaurant (diagonally opposite Linda gh.) The tom yam pla at the Keomoungkhoun is really good. Servings are also huge!
    PAK BENG: Donevilasak Ghouse – the new one & good value for 300 baht a night, although the owners / staff are bit cold. All the other places in Pak Beng are totally shyte to stay in, so the new Donevilasak is the only place to stay. The food here was pretty good too.
    LUANG PRABANG: Souansavanh Ghouse. Soudephone restaurant (best Lao food & Mekong river sunset setting in town for me. The highlight of LPB for me each time. Amazing spring rolls & larb gai, plus fried fish with garlic – don’t miss out!!) Scandinavian Bakery – best brekky & cappuccino. Muang Sua nightclub (we hit the MS 2 nights running & both nights had a brilliant time.) The Maylek Pub closes at 1.00 am, this is the last late night joint in town (we closed each night in LPB!) Glen Turner Pure Malt whisky @ 500 baht a bot is first class value – we managed a bot of night in LPB, & found it hard to leave!
    SAYABOURI: Stayed at the Say Moung Houne ghouse, had late lunch at the King Kham, which was good, but after the event we noted the best restaurant in town was the SaynamHoune. The Night Star disco was also a bit alright for a beer & a laugh.
    PHONGSALI: eat at the Phongsali Hotel. Excellent food & huge servings.
    SIN XAI: the restaurant on the left as you aproach the bridge from Udom Sai. The fried fish with garlic we had here was one of the best meals on the whole trip!!

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    BOAT PAK BENG – HUAY SAI: The Mekong River here is beautiful. My riding buddy on the trip has done the whole Mekong by hovercraft from Jinhong to Saigon & agrees that the Pak Beng – Huay Sai section is the most beautiful part of the river. We chartered a 40-seat pax boat for 5,000 baht from Pak Beng – Huay Sai & it was the perfect way to relax & end the trip (with a bot of whisky to drink & a half dozen baguettes to much on).

    Pic below: Loading the 250 Baja onto the boat in Pak Beng
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    There are 2 new 40-seat pax boats on the Khong & they both have farang toilets with a tiled floor even!

    FUEL:

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    "Essence" (super) is available every 60 kms & at worst 80 kms. In Laos super is red colour, diesel is yellow - dont get caught.

    DISLIKES
    XIENG KOK: the people in this place are distinctly unfriendly. We wanted to eat & fuel up here, but were so discouraged by the attitude of the locals that we rode back out of 20 kms to eat & fuel up!
    PHONGSALI: generally not impressed with the people. The Phou Vao hotel up on the hill overlooking town has a fantastic view, but has a permanent water problem, so there’s no running water to shower in or flush the toilet with! Next time will give the Phongsali hotel a try.
    SAYABOURI: don’t get conned into eating at the popular Chinese restaurant on the river at night – service sucks & if you don't speak Chinese the staff don’t give a shit – typical!
    BOUN TAI: in the rain, trying to locate the only petrol station in town. A fenced off shed, hidden behind the market place in a muddy field.

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    You almost needed 4-wheel drive to get in there!

    Boun Tai: the main street
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    LUANG PRABANG: Irish coffee at the Pizza Luang Prabang. Correct Jameson’s whisky in a mug of thick Lao coffee with coffee mate for cream. Oh well, it was actually funny, but not something that I recommend you try, and I did manage to drink it reluctantly.

    FULL KILOMETRES are on the map

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    All you other Lao riders, please contribute....

    Davidfl
    Keep the power on
     
  5. aschoch

    aschoch Member

    David's account on our Lao trip is so complete with road descriptions, names of guest houses, restaurants and other venues where we hung out, etc. that there is hardly anything I can add to his report, except:

    TYRES
    It has been about 11 years since I set off with David on any motorbike trip. Since then - and living in Bangkok until the end of last year - I have had different bikes but rode them only in Bangkok traffic. Going into the Lao trip, I omitted to check on my tyres.

    [​IMG]

    Riders must make sure that their tyres are in good shape before they contemplate riding in the wet in Laos. I had clocked about 6500 kms on my road/dirt tyres and never even thought about them before setting off. Several days into our trip and after arrival in Phongsaly, I called Joe in Chiang Mai to have him send new rear and front tyres by air freight to Luang Prabang. As things go in Thailand, Joe was forced to go through an agent at CM airport who, contrary to Joe's instructions and corresponding charges of 3500 Baht elected to send the tyres to Vientiane from where they had to be trucked to Luang Prabang. This we found out after two unsuccessful visits to the Lao Aviation Office at Luang Prabang airport and ensuing phone calls to Chiang Mai. The Lao Aviation personnel were extremely helpful, though, and I would recommend that in any future such case the manager of the Lao Aviation Office in Chiang Mai be contacted directly to assist with the air freight on one of the direct Lao Aviation CM - LP flights.

    BAGGAGE
    I packed stuff for a full two weeks. Cleverer would have been to plan for a washing stop in Luang Prabang. Bags should be watertight or packed in a large plastic garbage bag to avoid your clothes getting wet. It is no fun to get completely drenched on the bike, only to find out that the stuff in your bag did not stay dry in the rain.

    SOUANSAVANH GHOUSE, LUANG PRABANG
    Excellent place to stay at and practical as the ghouse has a compound within which to park the bikes overnight. The night watchman likes to hit the bottle, however, making it practically impossible to get into the place if you come back after 1 a.m. If you manage to climb over the fence, you can still not find anyone with the key to open the gate from inside...
     
  6. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Oops I neglected to mention 2 highly amusing incidents

    1. Heading south from Udom Sai, just 3 or 4 kms out of town, we spotted a man walking a compressor down the road. Yep a compressor on a leash being walked home, not the family dog, but a real 4-wheeled compressor out for his afternoon exercise with his master leading the way …….… I had to drop a gear & slow down, so as not to fall off my bike with laughter.

    2. In Luang Prabang at the Mano ghouse trying to order hot fried cashew nuts to have with our happy hour Glen Turner. Sorry we don’t have any cashew nuts. Well what about some peanuts? No, none of them either. A quick peak at the menu then almost had us ordering the “flash fried” veges, but as fate would have it we spotted a dish “fried tofu with cashew nuts.” Ah yes, that sounds promising. Do you have the tofu, yes came the reply. And do you also have the cashew nuts, yes came the reply. Well that really is interesting. Can we order the fried tofu and cashew nuts, but without the tofu? Yes you can, & voila 5 mins later, out came the hot fried cashew nuts! Now I can assure you considerable laughter ensued, followed by several celebratory Glen Turners.............

    Davidfl
    Keep the power on
     
  7. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Some distances & ride times, just dug out from my records
    Udom Xai – Sinxai =60.3 kms. 1 hr 25 mins
    Sinxai – Boun Tay = 74.2 kms. 2.05 mins (rain)
    Boun Tay – Ban Yo = 27.8 kms. 0.42 mins
    Ban Yo – Boun Neua = 21.0 kms. 0.33 mins
    Boun Neua – Phongsali = 38.0 kms. 1hr 10 mins (rain)

    Davidfl
    Keep the power on
     

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