Trip report from three rides to Lao from Vietnam

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by Digby, Feb 20, 2005.

  1. Digby

    Digby Member

    The following information was gleaned from three trips to Lao in late 2004, early 2005, from Vietnam. As the three rides overlapped, I'll just summarise what we found.

    In general

    1. Get a copy of David's GT-Rider map, anyway you can.
    2. Keep an eye on your petrol and top up when you’re half empty. Regular is red, diesel is yellow.
    3. Remember we rode in the dry season (i.e. a little hazy and no green rice) on small 125cc dirt bikes which meant we could go pretty much anywhere no probs. All things taken into account we averaged 50km/h on the super sealed highways down the Mekong, 30km on the winding stuff (dirt or sealed) and 10km on the real killer stuff.
    4. Also remember that we’ve been in Vietnam for years now so am more into roads, bikes and scenery rather than being the centre of attention in some small village. Thus when I say a road is boring I’m just referring to the scenery, not the people, who are, I should say, fantastic all over Lao.
    5. No harm carrying some rations because sometimes those lunchtime stops aren’t so appetizing.
    6. In December and January we encountered both freezing and warm conditions so you will just have to be prepared for both. But man it must get HOT in summer!
    7. Compared to Vietnam the Lao are the most considerate drivers in the world! — no horns, no high beams and mostly their side of the road!
    8. Carry a pump and repair kit.

    Road Description

    NA MEO BORDER (VIETNAM) TO XAM NUA: Sealed, quiet, karst, worth it. Did not visit the Pathet Lao caves in Vieng Xai, too busy enjoying our first Beer Lao!

    XAM NUA TO PHOU LAO INTERSECTION: Sealed, incredibly curvaceous, road sticks to the ridges (I like to call them hogbacks when you can see off on either side of the road) with some trees trimmed so great views, worth it. Xam Nua tends to be foggy in the morning so when you drive out of it you get to pop out of the fog and into incredible views. Don’t forget to visit the stone-age rock pillar site at Suan Hin. Weird, old and a nice bit of dirt road (5km) getting up to it. Just follow the big orange sign. We’d come from Mai Chau in Vietnam and that was a good day.

    PHOU LAO TO NONG KHIAW: First 50 odd km is boring road with deteriorating surface, a bit relentless. Once you get into the Phou Loei NBCA things brighten up considerably with some wicked forest/big rock mountain driving on sealed road. The final third to Nong Khiaw is nice because the sealed road follows the hogbacks again so great views although a little tree trimming would enhance this. The whole stretch took as all day with little resting. Worth it.

    NONG KHIAW UP THE RIVER TO MUANG NOI: Excellent. We chartered a boat for $20 and could of carried our bikes up to Muang Noi. Takes one hour. The gorge north of Muang Noi was one of the highlights of the trip and next time I will drive all the way to Phonsali and return by boat to Nong Khiaw on that river.

    NONG KHIAW TO UDOM XAI TO LUAN NAM THA: Sealed except for a few patchy bits, boring. Took the whole day. Stayed at the Boat Landing, superb food but a little $$.

    LUAN NAM THA TO HUY XAI: To be honest we were looking forward to seeing how bad this road was and we were very excited in the initial stages when it was in the forest. Unfortunately the road had little else in store and was simply bumpy in an annoying way, dusty (lots of mine trucks), rocky and to be honest down right boring. And the Chinese have started building it at the Luan Nam Tha end so one day it will be sealed and boring. Can appreciate how this road would be a real bitch in the wet, especially on a large bike. Took us the whole day.

    HUY XAI DOWN THE MEKONG TO PAKABENG: Beware backpacker hoards! We wanted to put our bikes on the speedboat but quickly realised that was impossible, so a slow boat it was. We paid $7.5 for a seat and $15 to put the bike on the boat. There was room for about three bikes (maybe four) on the front of the boat. I guess you could fit Honda Bahas if you wanted. We were organised early so what a shock when some 50 odd backpackers descended on our boat and packed it to the rafters. End result: the river trip was nice and was worth it. If I had the coin and some language I would hire my own boat. Impossible to put large bikes on the backpacker boat. When we arrived in Pakabeng the boat parked away from the road so there was NO WAY of getting the bike off. Had to suffer the indignity of carrying our saddle bags up a steep slope and into a tiny settlement now packed to the hilt with backpackers. Every room was full by the time we climbed up so it was the floor of some nice person’s house for us. If I ever do this again I might consider taking the speedboat to Pakabeng ($13) and paying for the bike to be taken buy the backpacker boat ($15).

    PAKABENG TO SAYABOULI: In the morning we returned to the boat and went a further 14km down stream to Thaxuang where we had the pleasure of leaving our bag friends behind. Bit of a heave up the sandbank but our small bikes with some hired help managed it. Guess a Baha could do it but would be need LOTS of help getting a big bike up. The road to Sayabouli was dirt, on the hogbacks, SUPER steep in places, worth it. The road engineers simply went up and over rather than around hills. Lots of fun but would be a bitch in the wet.

    SAYABOULI TO LPB: nothing special but saw some elephants and there was a nice crossing of the Mekong. All season dirt road. Took our time got to LPB around lunch time.

    LPB TO PHOU KHOUN TO VANG VIEN: Well this is the sealed road we all must do so enjoy it, it’s a cracker. We took our time so it took a day.

    PHOU KHOUN TO PONSOVAN: A wonderful driver’s road which means sealed, clean, quiet and cambered. Enjoy! Half a day.

    PONSOVAN TO PAKSAN: All told it was about 190km which took us all day. First 30km to Mouang Khoune is sealed then its 50km on new graded dirt to Tha Viang (must be a logging concession around there), then it’s a nice rough dirt road (great fun on a dirt bike but probably a bitch in wet due to three deep river crossings) for about 90km to Borikan then it’s a 20km dash down to Paksan on a graded dirt road. Worth it. There were no checkpoints. Only for dirt bikes. No food, just water.

    VANG VIEN TO SAVANAKET: A no brainer. Sealed, fast, clean, boring. Take a walkman or take a bus.

    VIENG KHAM TO CAU TREO BORDER: Sealed, lots and lots of wicked karst, worth it.

    LAK SAO TO GNOMMALAT: Nice soft dirt road, enclosed in forest. Worth it. No problem with any river crossings.

    MAHAXLI TO MU GIA TO SEPON: This is just a combination of many, many different local dirt tracks in the forest with many intersections, few people and one super deep river crossing (we used a canoe to get the bikes across) that was enhanced by some old war maps.

    DOWN TO THE KHONG LOR CAVE: Worth it especially for bikers as its pretty much impossible to get to unless you have your own transportation. You need to go to Na Hin (on the road to Cau Treo border about 35km from the Mekong road). Na Hin is where there is this golf course (!) due to some nearby foreign hydro dam. You’ll have to use your wits but just follow the signs south to the Sala Hinbourn resort. Middle of nowhere spot in sweet kart scenery. Not possible in wet as road meanders through rice fields (you have to take a boat in the wet). From the resort you drive down to the village at the entrance of the cave where you park, organise a boat and then go for a n hour boat trip (!) through this wicked cave, only to emerge in an amazing lost world. That’s all I’m going to say. Do it!
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  3. BobS

    BobS Ol'Timer

    Hi Digby

    Nice summary of your travels.

    Could you give us some info about the border crossings? Such as:

    Where your bikes are registered?
    What crossing did you use?
    How much paperwork, money and time to get across?
    Any updates on size of bike that will be allowed into Vietnam?
    Etc, etc.



    "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "...holy shit...what a ride!"
  4. Digby

    Digby Member

    Hi Bob,
    The bikes were 125cc Minsks, registered in Vietnam.
    We used the Na Meo, Cau Treo and Lao Bao border crossings.
    We only needed the Vietnamese registration papers and drivers license for good measure. Minimal paperwork, half hour wait at Vietnam post, ten minutes and one beer at Lao post, no payment. Remember we were temporarily exporting Vietnamese bikes into and back into Vietnam so no dramas.
    The 150cc bike limit is still in force in Vietnam so the only bike you can realistically tour Vietnam with is the Minsk.
    Chao Digby
  5. Ben

    Ben Member

    See my message under 'Inside Vietnam' for details on getting Laos registered 250cc bikes into Vietnam.

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