Northern Laos over 14 days

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by smitty0476, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. smitty0476

    smitty0476 Member

    If you’re looking at coming to Laos for your first time, check out my post on what you need to know before coming to Laos for a moto trip.

    Two Canadian dudes with a thirst for adventure, authentic travel experiences, meeting locals rather than tourists, roughing it and getting off the beaten path. We’re in our 30’s, fit and are experienced riding dirt bikes, but not full time moto fanatics.
    First time in Laos.

    Recomended route (from Jules) if you had 14 days... with some variations along the way.

    DAY 1:
    220kms at 50km/hr moving average
    After riding the bikes in the afternoon the day before and getting our systems all sorted, we headed off west from VT towards Xanamkhan for lunch and fuel and eventually Paklai.
    Highlight of the day was a couple river crossings... a taste of what was to come, and the ‘ferry’ crossing just before reaching Paklai at sunset was amazing. Two longtails with a couple pallets connecting them was the dirt bike ferry. Very cool.
    Paklai is a little place on a dirty strip... a guest house or two. Stayed at Jenny guest house and ate good food across the street at Saendy..

    DAY 2:
    202kms at approx 35km/hr moving average.
    One of the best days of the trip! Amazing route through the Nam Phoun national park. Rough and rutted dirt road turns to singletrack with lots of creek crossings and technical sections. Ran into elephants in the park. AWESOME!
    Lunch in Nam Pouy and on to Syanbuli.

    DAY 3:
    200km – ish. Slow going from Hongsa to LP
    Sayanbuli to Hongsa (paved fun twisty road). Hongsa for lunch, then the long fun road from Hongsa to Luang Prabang. Really nice with some remote villages along the way. Cool ferry over into LP at the end of the day!
    Booked in at Pumalin Guesthouse, a little more posh than our usual, but nice to have the wifi and some comfort after getting used to a few long days on the bikes with packs.

    DAY 4/5:
    140km around LP. Did some in town stuff, saw the usual LP city stuff. Did a ride out to the elephant sanctuary north of Tat Sae but weren’t really interested in riding them with the tourists. We were thinking we could find a boat guy to take us down the river to see them in their natural surroundings (without people on top of them). We were told to go to Ban Aen, where the boats leave for Tat Se waterfall. They did their best to rape us there ($50 per guy for a couple hrs in the boat) and we weren’t going to see the dry waterfall with the masses.... so on the trusty GPS, we made a route to get lost in some villages and take some photos. It was well worth it to take our time in some of these cool little villages.

    DAY 6:
    Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw – Muang Ngoi
    160ish km, 50 km/hr moving average
    The wrench in the plans. My buddy got some bad news from home.... family illness forced him to head straight for Vientiane and fly home. Heavy stuff for him and lots of solo time for me to reflect on things as well. Off solo for the rest of the trip.... less than ideal logistically and safety wise, but it would all work out.
    The road was straight, paved and fast for the 160km to this cool little spot on the river. Scenic bridge that splits the two halves of town and looks through the first real mountain landscape that I’d come to so far. You could easily stay here for a day.
    Stashed the bike behind the Thai restaurant Coco Home (super nice lady, excellent food) near the boat launch area. Caught the afternoon boat up to Muang Ngoi, a tiny, roadless village about an hour up the river.
    It was a little less “out there” than i had hoped for.... word is out and it’s full of backpackers and set up for exactly that. Lots of treks, river stuff to do there if you wanted to spend a couple days.

    DAY 7:
    Muang Ngoi – Nong khiaw to Vieng Thiong
    165km @ 45km/hr moving average
    Due to some boating schedule stuff, I decided to get on a pretty early boat back to nong Khiaw so I could split the big following day up.
    Did the 140km on the road to Vieng Thong and stayed there.
    Crashed at Dok Khoun Thong guesthouse and ate across the road, very good.
    Went up and visited some ‘hot springs’ listed in the book.... but essentially it was a dribble that you couldn’t touch because of the sulphur content. There was steam coming up from the water. Sweet.
    Hung out with Leo, a German guy riding a jules bike solo as well, also met a seasoned French rider Polo. He has been everywhere in Laos on his 650 with his Lao girlfriend seated on the rear rack. Was a super interesting guy!

    DAY 8:
    Vieng Thong to ViengXai
    130kms @ 45 km/hr
    Super twisty paved road all the way... like going up and down your favorite ski hill all day.... except for the praying there wasn’t a truck coming the other way part.
    Stopped at Tat Saloei waterfall 36km before reaching Samnuea, worth it and a good spot for a little break. Right off the road.
    From Samneua to ViengXai is an amazing collection of Limestone cliffs. Some of the better scenery on the trip IMHO. Provided the living quarters for the Pathet Lao government during the war while Laos was getting the crap bombed out of them for very little reason other than being near the Ho Chi mihn trail and supporting Communism.
    Stayed at Naxay 2 guest house and ate at Thavisay restaurant. Neither was all that exciting (although the restaurant setting is cool before dark), the town effectively shuts down at dinner and there is nothing going on unless there is tour groups or something in town. I might stay in Samneua and day trip it if i did it again.

    DAY 9:
    ViengXai caves – Back to Samneua
    Pretty cool tour that goes through the caves where the Pathet Lao lived during the 10yrs of bombing. There is a good English audio guide... I highly reccomend it.
    Stayed at the Samnuea hotel and found a shop to do the electrical tape/gasoline trick on my free-twisting grip.

    DAY 9:
    Samneua – Phonsavan
    230 ish kms at 40km/hr moving average.

    Froze my ass off. Couldn’t feel my hands for 4 hours. It was a low fog/mist and the route twists and winds up and down through mountains, spending a lot of time on plateaus around the 1400/1500m elevation. Wasn’t expecting to be cold EVER on this trip. I had on everything in my pack... 4 layers of smartwool shirts, goretex jacket and pants over the kit. Keeping hand warm between the pipe and the engine block ;-)
    Super fun road though... paved and twisting most of the way.
    Hard to whine too much when you roll through villages and there are kids wearing barely anything, huddled around a fire.
    Stopped in Muang Kham to eat and try to sort out my brake issues (rear brake pad not staying in calipers because it was worn down). Good luck with that.
    Rode most of the day with no rear brakes, and took the pads right out for the final 60km to Phonsavan.
    Spent a bunch of time trying to figure out how to find brake pads for this bike. They don’t exist in Laos.
    Finally phoned Jules’s guy and he set me up with a helpful mechanic in Phonsavan.

    DAY 10:
    Around Phonsavan
    After getting my bike back, rode out to Plain of Jars sites 1 and 2. I’d had about enough jars after that. Site 1 is cool if you can get there early and avoid the people. Any more than a couple sites is more of the same IMHO. Checked out a cool waterfall a few km away from site 2, totally worth it.
    Russian Tank near site 2 – totally NOT worth it.
    Also on my way back, found something about an Air America Plane in the GPS map info. Headed that way.... and finally saw the reminants of the American air base that the secret CIA Air America project flew from, complete with old radar towers and old planes. Amazing!!! You can see one of the old Air America planes in the field.... but you can also see someone guarding the barbed wire entrance at every point.
    There was no amount of bargaining or kip that was going to get me in... I tried a couple entrances.
    If you can find a tour or way to get in there, it would be amazing!
    Turns out they GLUED new brake pad material to the exiting metal shoes for my brake fix. Never worked right from the beginning and somewhere during the day, the pad fell out again.
    Out with the tool and limp back with front brakes to figure something out and wonder how I was going to do the next 400+kms back with no brakes.
    Call Mr Thinga again and a magic stroke of good luck!
    Someone was leaving one of their bikes in Phonsavan that day. Hijacked the rear pads out of it and I was in business! Praying it all held together until VT.

    Day 11:
    Phonsavan to Paksan
    220 km at 50km/hr moving average.

    I was a little nervous about this one as I was alone. All reports said that this route went through technical terrain in the middle of nowhere.... the route condition was unknown with little info out there. It was fairly long. I was also getting pretty worried that this bike was not going to get me back to Vientiane...
    The route turned out quite different from my expectations!
    They are paving this route to Paksan (I would guess completed in the next year... maybe longer). Lots of it was paved and lots was graded for paving. There were a few little testy sections and a few interesting (deep) river crossings, but overall a pretty uneventful day. Made great time.
    Apparently there is a split in the road somewhere where you can choose the more remote and technical route still. Would have been fun if I had the security of a partner/sat phone there!
    Stayed at Paksan Hotel and ate there (don’t eat there). There is a great restaurant not far from there but it was closed because everyone in town was at a wedding at the hotel. That was pretty interesting to watch!
    Ran into some nice Aussie guys there on the first day of their trip. They were having some issues and as worried about the bikes on day 1 as I was on day 12.

    DAY 12:
    Paksan to Vientiane
    140km at 60km/hr.
    Smooth sailing into Vientiane. If you consider several near death experiences on the crowded road between Paksan and VT to be chill. What a gong show.
    There are some good detours into and through the Phou Khao national park, and I had time… but honestly I was happy to get the bike back in one piece and get off that crazy road and into a nice shower.

    Off to Thai for some beach time before the flight home!!8)

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