Bangkok - Luang Prabang - Bangkok

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by mikehohman, Dec 14, 2011.

  1. mikehohman

    mikehohman Ol'Timer

    Sep 16, 2009
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    Had a great ride from Bangkok to Luang Prabang and back (with a break in the middle), both with friends and solo. Here is a brief report and some pix. Hope you enjoy. I had an absolute blast on the trip, a really good adventure.

    Day 1: Saturday, Nov. 26
    Departed Bangkok at 5:00 AM on my KLX, headed for Phetchabun Province on my way to Loei and then Lao border. Got to Paholyothin Lak Si intersection about 5:20, still pitch dark, and the road completely flooded. Couldn't think of another way out of Bangkok to the north so I turned back to Racthadapisek, and then over to the Don Mueang Expressway. Blew thru the toll gate and headed out of the city. The look on the toll lady's face was priceless.

    Riding out to Saraburi was pretty strange. Main roads were ok, but frontage roads were completely flooded, and the fields beyond. There was a strong wind so the flooded fields had waves. It felt like you were at the coast. Past Saraburi and heading north the riding gets nicer, and by the time you're in Pethchabun, the views are nice. Arrived about 10:00 AM, headed straight for Lom Sak and then Ban Thap Boek, a village and hilltop 1500-1900 meters above the valley.

    Had a look around the mountain top, booked a hut in the middle of a cabbage patch on the hilltop to spend the night, and then went riding all afternoon. Past Thap Boek, which is a Hmong village, it's another 7 km to Ban Maan Khao, which is a northern Thai hilltribe village whose residents got relocated to Phetchabun some years ago. Past that is the Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park, one of the last refuges of the communists in Thailand. This is basically an enduro playground, with excellent dirt roads/trails all over the mountains and hills and thru the remaining forests. I spent all afternoon riding off-road and then returned to the Thap Boek hilltop for sunset.

    About 2km short of home, I wrecked in a downhill turn when I hit a patch of sand, and landed on my camera bag, which was slung across my shoulder. The camera was fine, but my lowest rib cracked right through. Painful, but not too painful to keep riding.

    Here are some shots:

    The incredible road up to the top of Thap Boek

    Taro farmer from Ban Maan Khao. When i asked his name, he said "Jack Sparrow"….

    Mountainside cabbage field. The hills are covered with them.

    Self-portrait: Outside my hut.

    Kitchen with a view…

    View from the shower at down the hill from my hut...

    A map of the ride up to Thap Boek hilltop and on to Ban Thap Boek

    A map of the backbone trail thru Phu Hin Rong Kla. Excellent double-track and trails all over this area.

    Day 2: Sunday, Nov. 27
    Got up early to see the sunrise, which was great, although a bit cloudy, and then headed to Loei. Route 2016 between Lom Sak and Loei is a wonderful rolling road thru the hill country. Lots of great riding. Arrived Loei about 11:00 AM, met riding friends BrianE and FrankT (who came up to Nong Khai on the train and rode into Loei), and we parked our bikes in the basement of the Loei Palace Hotel. Then off to the airport and back to Bangkok for Mon-Thur in the office before heading to Lao the following Friday. A visit to the doc in Bangkok and an x-ray revealed the broken rib.

    Route 2016 between Lom Sak and Loei, a wonderful rolling road through lovely hill country

    Our bikes nicely secured in a hotel basement parking lot. With Brian E and Frank T.

    Nok Air's Saab 340 Service from Loei to Bangkok

    iPhone snap of the x-ray film of the rib fracture. It's busted all the way thru, but only marginally offset, so prognosis for a strong heal is good.

    Day 3: Friday, Dec. 2
    My best friend back in the US is a neurosurgeon, and advised canceling the trip to Lao. But when pressed, he wrote: "Well, truth is I would just do the trip. Life's too short to bail just because of a rib fracture. If you need some strong pain medication when you get to the US, I'll send you a script." So, off to Lao it was with a flight back to Loei on Friday morning. Picked up the bikes, grabbed a bite to eat at Chris's Steak House, and then off to the border crossing at Tha Li. Brian, Frank and myself, joined by Ted who came in from Nong Khai after taking the overnight train up from Bangkok. Once across the border, we rode into Pak Lay, arriving just after dark, and found an excellent new guest house, brand new, called the SiChamPa Guesthouse (020-54268888), right on the main road. A perfect place for riders passing thru PakLay and needing a place for the night.

    Frank coming through the customs house on the Lao side of the border.

    Day 4: Saturday, Dec. 3
    Up early, a bowl of noodles for breakfast, and then off to the Nam Phoun National Bio-Diversity Conversation Area (Nam Phoun Protected Area) for a run up to Xayaboury. The roads up to the Park are very nice, with some great river crossings/bridges, etc. Further on, but just for the park, had a bit of a scare when i ran head-on into a Honda Wave coming the other way. Both the Wave and I were on the wrong side of the road in a blind corner and when we saw each other, we both tried to move to the right side. Unfortunately, we were moving too fast to make it in time and we met head on right in the middle of the road. We both went down, a bloody lip and cut foot for him, but no injury to me. Both bikes damaged, but ridable. Some money changed hands, and off we went again and into the Park.

    The NPPA is beautiful, and the roads are quite steep and well rutted, but thankfully dry. We got through fine, although one of our team, Ted, did have a bit of a struggle with the steepness and ruts, and dropped the bike a few times. Once past the main mountains, the trail comes to a Cattle Gate, and beyond that is about 30 km of the most awesome double-track trail I have ridden. Rolling, beautiful, well-bermed, and deserted, you can really take it fast for some serious fun. Ted led the way and I think Frank and I had to give it all out concentration and effort to keep up. A really great run.

    Out of the park and onto Xayabouri, arriving near dusk.

    Sunrise on the Mekong outside of Pak Lay

    Suspension bridge well guarded by local canines - we did have to pay a toll farther on to use the bridge.

    Young monks on the road before the NPPA.

    An elephant cruising thru cut rice fields. You don't see that everyday…

    Buffalo skin for sale. Apparently very tasty when grilled, which burns off all the hair...

    In the mountains in the NPAA. If you look closely, you can see Ted is down…

    Ted contemplates the descent

    Self-portrait. Listening to music at the cattle gate waiting for the partners to catch up

    Brian crossing a stream in the NPPA

    Ted straightening his handle-bars….

    Very nice bridge just north of the NPAA

    Sharpshooters on the bridge…

    Old Woman

    Happy children

    Ted curses his bike

    Ted crossing a stream…

    Woman making the local delicacy, river seaweed…

    Day 5: Sunday, Dec. 4
    Up early and on the road from Xayaboury to Hong Sa. This is paved the whole way, but is really quite a beautiful ride, and takes you thru some pretty steep gorges. A really nice way to start the day. 8 km short of Hong Sa is the turn off to Luang Prabang. From here on in to the ferry across the Mekong to LPQ is fantastic. Great double-track through the mountains and jungle and hilltop and ridge villages. Fast and fun with the great climbs and descents. Arrived at the river late afternoon, grabbed the first ferry across to the town and to some well deserved rest.

    My favorite image from the whole trip. I was just trying to get a picture of the bikes in front of the hotel in Xayaboury. But the expression on Ted's face (and his distance from the bikes) makes this image. Ted eyeing the bike that gave him so much trouble the day before. Seems like he is just about as close as he is going to get to it…

    Young girl and her brother. Note the blond hair. On the road to Hong Sa.

    Standard Lao filling station

    The road from Hong Sa to LPQ

    Ban Phousam Phanh, a village on a ridge line on the road to LPQ

    Farmers along the road to LPQ

    Frank T playing the giant at a hilltop village

    Village kids

    Village kids representing

    The future Lao version of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers

    My bike at the river, across from LPQ

    On the ferry

    Toasting our arrival in LPQ

    Day 6: Monday, Dec. 5
    Monday, our 3rd day in Lao, turned out to be a real classic. I needed to be back in Bangkok for work, so i headed off solo for the rest of trip (Brian, Frank, Ted, etc., went on to Phonsavan). Sorry to leave friends behind, but looking forward to a little solo adventure. I spent the morning riding single track east of the river and south of LPQ. Some really great trails in there, and some real challenges as well.

    I rode the single track trails south of LPQ but they don't go thru, they end in a 'walking trail' which really is a walking trail, over big rocks and boulders. So, back the way I came, along the river and down to Route 2501 which turns East and heads up to Tad Kuang Xi waterfall. After that, it's a few km of double-track into the hills to a small village, and past that it's all single track heading south for 40+ km. Was great riding until I got to the 2nd stream crossing and the 'bridge' was washed out. I found an alternate crossing downstream but the far bank was too steep for me and the KLX. After several attempts I went back and found some farmers to help. A couple more crashes later we managed to find a new way across the stream and on. All good again until I got to the next stream crossing. There was a bridge, but it was about 15cm wide. Enough for careful walking i guess (there was even a handrail), but not the bike. As I was contemplating what to do (after the experience at the last crossing there was NO WAY I was going back), a farmer walked up, looked at my bike, looked at the bridge, thought a moment, and then starting improving the bridge. We found some wood planks and such from a nearby Sala and in a matter of minutes, had a useable bridge. I told him I was headed to Kasi, and he insisted I go back down to the river and around. He said there were several similar stream crossings south of this one with no bridges. Having spent the last 4-5 hours getting this far, I accepted his advice and headed back down to the Mekong. I guess the 20km "southern half" of this great trail will have to wait till next time, preferably late in the dry season when the bridges are back in place.

    So, on along the Mekong and over to Muang Nan. This was 'ok', the views are nice, but the road is very rocky and rutty, so not that great. After Muang Nan, I headed up Route 4 a few km and then turned right onto the highway the Chinese are constructing between Muang Nan and Kasi. This late afternoon ride was just MAGIC. The road is under construction and not open, so it's part dirt, gravel, mud, and other surfaces. There are NO travelers on it, but lots of construction teams at various points. And there are parts where you still need to detour onto an old double-track trail. The views are incredible, and the route takes you to 2000m. It was late afternoon and the sun was just right. It was really surreal, almost like a martian or alien landscape. Really amazing, and really unique, unlike anything I have rode before. It was just in awe the farther i rode.

    A truly great day. I highly recommend both the single track and the Muang Nan-Kasi highway (soon, before it's done). I have lots of video of this whole day, and will share later as soon as I have time to cut it.

    The start of the trail after the waterfall.

    Self-portrait: In the hills east of the river…

    My bike at the bottom of a steep bank that ultimately sent me in search of an alternate way across...

    The second stream crossing. I lacked confidence to take this on my KLX… ;)

    Starting up into the mountains on the way to Kasi

    Dynamite drillers - the sounds from their drilling was deafening! Everyone i came across on the road, including these guys, were just great, so friendly, and really happy to see me out there trying out their road.

    High plateau between Muang Nan and Kasi, you can see the new road snaking its way across…

    Map of the route south of LPQ

    Map of the route Muang Nan to Kasi

    Day 7: Tuesday, Dec. 6
    Spent the night at a modest but nice guesthouse in Kasi and headed out the next morning at 6:00 AM. Took the 13 south to Hin Hoeup, which had some decent scenery, particularly as the sun came up, but the road is in such terrible condition, it's not a lot of fun to ride. After Hin Hoeup, i turned east and took a very nice, well-bermed, double-track dirt road all the way south to the Mekong. A very nice ride, fast and fun, but dusty, and quite dangerous, there were some fast moving trucks on this road. At the Mekong I turned left and followed the river into Vientaine and on to the friendship bridge at Nong Khai. This road really sucks, horrible condition, seriously dusty, big trucks, etc. Just shit. Oh well. The dirt before still makes it worth it.

    Crossed over to Nong Khai, got a room for a couple hours, cleaned up, got the bike washed, did some shopping along the river for my wife, had a late lunch, and then headed to the train station about 5:30. Got the bike on the train and myself into a first class sleeper berth and at 6:20 PM we departed for Bangkok. Arrived 2.5 hours late the next morning about 9:00 AM after a reasonably comfortable and pleasant sleep and ride. Was in the office by 10:00 AM.

    Dawn on Highway 13 south of Kasi


    My bike


    On to the train

    Self-portrait: Heading out of Nong Khai station…

    A great trip, all around.

  2. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Jan 16, 2003
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    Super trip & photos. It's brilliant to see you guys getting out of Bangkok & making rides like this. Well done.

    The Kasi -Muang Nan short cut is going to be the "new fashion dirt ride" in Laos for the next year or two I'd say; & it's good to see enjoying it before it is no longer dirt.
  3. JB2112

    JB2112 Ol'Timer

    Nov 3, 2011
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    Great post!
    Right now I am dreaming of these trips but they will happen soon enough.
    I love the "SPLASH!!!" shot and the photo on the way to Kasi.
  4. McGovern

    McGovern Member

    Aug 9, 2010
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    This is great stuff. I have done the trip fra Luang Prabang to Kasi several times (on bike and car) and will try that new undfinished road next month.
  5. TonyBKK

    TonyBKK Ol'Timer

    Dec 27, 2007
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    Wow, I missed this thread and am so happy it got a bump- what amazing pictures! Nicely done! :happy2:
  6. mikehohman

    mikehohman Ol'Timer

    Sep 16, 2009
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    Thanks all for your nice comments. it was a really great trip, lots of fun had by all. Hope to do a similar trip again this December. I made a video of the ride from Luang Prabang to Kasi, check it out below. That road is magic, at least now before its finished, and even after it will be a great ride.

  7. brian_bkk

    brian_bkk Ol'Timer

    Mar 30, 2010
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    Mike did you add more pictures to this post? either that or I missed the post some how!.

    Really great pics mate..


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