A little road update for Northern Laos

Jan 22, 2005
We just spent the last couple of weeks riding in the Xam Neua and South of Phonsavan areas and wish to share some of our findings.

The riders – David and Mai from Chiang Khong
The bike – BMW 650 modified to Dakar specs with added heavy duty suspension and extra ground clearance height.
The weather – Really a mixed bag of sun, fog, cold and RAIN

Starting in the North of Xam Neua and working South:

Rt6A - is still pretty much all red dust and rocky and we’d forgotten how unexciting the scenery is when compared to other parts of Laos. The bridges over a number of small streams that we’ve previously encountered along this route have all been completed so no more wet feet when crossing the streams.

Rt6 – This is a nice road all the way up to Na Meo at the Viet Nam border crossing. Four years ago we saw them building a road about 20K back from the border that headed off to the South. This junction is opposite of where David’s map shows a road going off to the North towards Naman. The road is nicely done and winds along some spectacular scenery with deep gorges and goes South up and over the Nam Xam NBCA and ends in a town called Xamtai. We would guess this town is about the same size as Xam Neua in layout and was Very Clean and very friendly. There’s even a pleasant looking guest house on the left side of the main road into town. The main street being about three lanes wide, rock and dust, but well constructed. People were well dressed and very clean.

From here you could day ride up and back to a local border crossing with Viet Nam. Going to the South from town leads you onto some rough tracks that multidirectionaly head off into the various surrounding valley networks.

Locals told us that they had never seen a foreigner there before.

If you are on a road bike and want to ride somewhere that others haven’t been yet, then you might consider giving this area a shot. And if you are a 250 single track rider, then you could do worse then spend a few days in this previously (we think) unexplored area.

Rt7 from Muang Kham to the Viet Nam border. We’d always bypassed this road when going up and down between Phonsavan and Xam Neua so thought we’d take a look – glad we did. This is all nice hard surface with good twisties and plenty of splendid scenery. And then when just about back to Muang Kham just passed Nam Tien there is a “hot springs”, as David’s map indicates. Along with the “hot springs” is a guest house and OK restaurant. While the water was warm, it was not exactly what we had imagined a “hot springs” to be. There are multiple small individual rooms, each with a smallish bath tub and the locals from Muang Kham drive there to bath and have a beer or two. There are also a couple of bungalows, each with a bath tub with a steady flow of warmish hot water to keep it full. Hey, when you are in this part of the world and after a long ride – a tub full of warmish hot water is great. And Cheap too – only about 150Baht for the room and all the water you could use.

Phonsavan area:

Longcheng - We had no expectations of getting to Longcheng, but had to go take a look and ask about it. We went towards the Plain of Jars site #3 and the small village called Latkhay. It’s from this intersection that you take the road to Longcheng. The road was blocked by a cross bar and guard. We were told that you could not go this way (other then for locals living a short distance down the road) for two reasons. One, the military will Not let you in and secondly the river was higher then normal and the buses could not get through….even for people with proper papers.

Rt10 and heading South East – Once passed Mouang Khoune we continued South East towards Phouviang. This is not to be confused with the route heading towards Xaysomboune or Pakxan.

Phouviang is actually a very pretty valley setting at the confluence of multiple valleys all coming together. The road was a nice hard dirt with some rock. There were also multiple nice dirt roads and tracks we could see that radiated out in all directions as we went South East. We were told by the locals that from this valley, you can continue Southeast towards Lak Xao in Southern Laos, but that the road was not very good and takes two days. Also there are many places to get lost and off the main road/track and various unmarked forks angle of at odd times. We managed to get a flat tire here and that was all part of a fun time. We had the spare tube and almost had all the tools we needed.

Again for you 250 single track riders – this could be a fun way to try and get from Northern Laos to Southern Laos.

Phonsavan to Xaysomboune, but actually ended up going to Pakxan. When we got to the village of Tha Viang and the turn off for Xaysomboune we got second thoughts. Or at least I did, but my wife Mai wanted to give it a try. The turn off to leads you down a sandy dirt track about 100 meters to a suspension bridge good for scooters and pedestrians and bigger bikes with care. But on the other side of this suspension bridge are mountains up to 1,900 meters and climbing to that height within about 10k from the bridge. We asked some locals and they said that a powerful bike such as ours would be OK – but some teenagers where a bit more forth coming when they said that it was TOO steep for a scooter. And I’ve always thought that if a step through can’t make it up or down, then 2up on a 650 no matter how it is set up would be testing the limits of reason – especially with no other rider to help out if I made a mistake or two. So produce being the better part of valor I convinced Mai that we should keep this for a future ride.

So off we went, continuing onto Pakxan. According to all the posting on this web site, this should have been a pretty straight forward run, but somewhere I think we made the wrong turn and climbed up into the mountains, where of course it started to sprinkle. Just enough to turn the dust and hard pan red clay into some adventuress mud. Instead of going South East to Thasi and then turning towards Muanghuang, I think we turned West at Nakhoun which is just South of Thathom and still a good 30-40k North of Thasi our intended turning point.

When we got to the junction at Nakhoun we stopped a passing white NGO looking pickup and asked them the way to Pakxan and they pointed West – and UP towards a newish looking very dusty road. So off we went in 1st gear and found ourselves being in this gear more often then not as we continued to climb up into the mountains, to go down into a stream or river crossing valley and up the other side. Almost all the time for over 3-4 hours we found ourselves seemingly gaining more elevation then going downhill and having to carefully choose our route while using a lot of 1st gear. And it wasn’t until the
South side of this area that we started to see isolated very small villages and were able to ask directions – and they always simply pointed South.

We don’t carry a GPS, but in this case it would have interesting to actually see where we had been.

And in Pakxan that evening it rained even harder then it had periodically during the day. The trip was just over 200K and 9 hours of hard riding (hard for us anyway) and no lunch stop.

The next day we rose early and headed off to Luang Prabang. A ten hour ride, but it got us there in time for drinks and dinner with friends from Idaho and Alaska, plus we had some beers with David (Mr. GT Rider) and Robert (Mr. KTM).

The ride from Luang Namtha to Houei Xai and back across the Mekong to home in Chaing Khong should have been a 3 hour blast on the twisties as it had been two weeks earlier. But his was not to be the case; RAIN! It rained during the night, but by 9:00 in the morning we thought we had a break in the weather so off we went. Only to just barely get down the road before it started again; drizzle turning back into full on rain. And no rain gear – for of course it does not rain at this time of year so we left it at home.

And OIL on Rt3. Due to the repairs needed to fix the lack of proper road foundation along this route, there are multiple areas that have been dug up and a oily asphalt lay down. Or just oil in the large torn up areas waiting for asphalt. The surface was oily enough to both see it and to be able to smell it. Not really a surface I wanted to ride on while being cold and wet, with rain in my face.

And the river crossing? Should’ve been quick and easy once onto the ferry, but seems the ferry people wanted to overload it (and the Chinese dams up river don’t help either). With so much weight it was stuck in the mud and after working the engines overtime, they finally decided to off load one of the heavy trucks in the rear. But of course the ferry was not properly aligned with the ramp so the truck only got partially off the ferry before it was stuck in the water and mud – half on the ferry and half off the ferry. And all the time a drizzle continues, sometimes turning to hard rain. Finally after two hours we got across the river – and Home.

Hope this report is of some use and at least a couple of riders will take advantage of some of the more off the beaten routes that we road.

For pictures of this trip and many others, please go to our picture web site www.2up.smugmug.com

David and Mai


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Thanks for the tips re Xam Neua - that is still one area I need to explore.
It was good to meet up with you in Luang Prabang, & great to see you active on the board again - it's been a while.

I agree on the weather - cold & wet - it sucks & spoiled my LPQ holiday with the happy go lucky girlfriend singer: no rain gear & we had planned a run out to pristine Nong Khiew for the night. Instead it was "yet another night" eating & drinking by by damp 'Khong.
She's back in Cnx now & I had a cold damp ride south from LPQ only for the mighty ancient AT to breakdown with electrical troubles 100 kms out. No doubt that will bring joy to the snipers on the sidelines. Ha. Ha.

Re Luang Nam Tha - Houei Xai: Rhodie & I had some fun on that with wet tar totally covering the road in numerous places, making for dirty bikes & slippery goey riding. As that portion of the road is being built by Thai contractors my thoughts were that the driver forgot which side of the road he was supposed to be driving on so covered the lot with wet tar (or he was just having a bad day!)

But where did you stay & eat on your trip - any tips?
May 29, 2006
Hi David,
Really interesting report. Was good to read it and look at some of the photos on your smugmug website.
We rode to Xam Tai in Feb last year, just after the road was completed. We really enjoyed the couple of days there and back, and like you, found that we were more of a novelty than usual. I don't think we got any waves from the kids on the way, and one open mouthed boy backed off a small bank as I rode past!

For your interest here is a Google Earth image of the road, nice and hilly with lots of twisty stuff:

A few more photos and comments on the area are on another blog for our friends and family (I never got around to posting the north east section of our trip on GT-Rider): http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Laos/blog-139252.html



Dec 28, 2005
davidf ,
thanks for the info ..it is still rainy season in loas?i and my friend will entre Houei Xai on 6th febuary.. i will u at cnx on 4th Febuary before we proceed to Chiang Kong. :arrow: i will callu upon arrived in bkk.