Cambodia – Laos - Thailand - Cambodia loop

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by Philippe, Jan 31, 2006.

  1. [8D]
    We entered Lao at Voeun Khan on Jan. 12, 2006 with 4 bikes (250 cc). After visiting the 4000 Phan Don, we crossed the Mekong to the West side at Ban Hua Kong at the West side of Don Khong island. From there, we followed small road through Mounlapamok, Soukhouma, visited the Wat Pou at Champassak. This is much more interesting than just driving crazy all the way from border to Pakse on # 13. Two friends who flied from the US, joined us in Pakse after driving rented bike during 2 days the whole way from Vientiane on # 13!

    From Salavan, going North to connect with Road # 9 there are 2 options:
    (1) ROUTE 23: This trip requests a minimum of motorbike skill and can be done in one day. There are 2 major river crossings, where American planes have bombed big concrete bridges in the past. (Thanks to them, they didn't support reconstruction cost yet!!). Scenery of those collapsed bridges is spectacular.
    The first crossing can be made easily in dry season driving the bike East of the bridge. For those too lazy to get feet wet, crossing in small boat cost 5000 Kips.
    The second crossing, on the Xe Banghiang river, is impossible through the water. As there is no other option than crossing on small narrow boat, price has to be negotiated. Boat man request 300 Bahts per big bike, but can be cut down to 200 bahts. It is much secure to lay down the bike over the small boat, as there is story the big bike ever dropped in the river!! After river crossing, the road North of Tat Hai, is now very good up to Phim on road # 9.
    (2) ROUTE 15: going from Salavan to Tahoy (not on GT-Rider map: please David correct). Should be close to Tapung on GT-Rider map). We didn't take that road, as we didn't know about possibility to continue up to Dong, West of Xephon.

    Later on, once arrived in Xephon via road # 23, we went to Dong, where we found a large road under construction going South. Engineer building road said this road is going up to Tahoy; work is already well advanced. This will be at least a good laterite road crossing great scenery. As we can see, little known OFF road are already up-graded before we have the time to enjoy them!! So, I believe that connection from Salavan to Dong by road 15 should not be too difficult.

    XEPON / ROUTE 9 - ROUTE 12
    Connecting road #9 with road #12 in central hill land Lao:
    This is a real nice trip, passing through areas, which it seems, have never seen a "farang" before and neither big bike. (report from villagers??)
    The crossing is quite challenging from the Silabury gold mine area until Xay Boua Thong, which is a new administrative district town (not on GT-Rider map: please David correct), just 2 Km, North of the small village of Nongthat village (which is on GT-Rider map).
    From #9, take the direction of Silabury Gold mine at the intersection in Nabo village, just a few Km. West of Xephon.
    Vincent, the French guy leaving there, who supplies the gold mine with food plans to re-open his "Bar Beer Dokkeo Gaillard" in the future he said. Vilabury is 42 Km North on a nice dirt road.

    There is a major checkpoint at the gate of the city gold mine. Just explain that you go North up to Mahaxai and they will let you go.
    Fill up gas here in the town and continue the road to the North. 10 Km out of town, turn right at the intersection in middle of rice field. There is only one house at the right corner and continue a few km until Masou village. There is a store in the village (drink and gas, but stock was empty) and just at the store make a sharp left turn. Don't continue the main "road' on the right of the store, which return to Vilabury (?).
    3 Km after Masou village, is Non Dip village, just a few houses there. Just after a house in this very small village, there is a dirt road on the left, where there is a board (not very visible) with the mention of Xay Boua Thong. The road continues in a forest area and reaches the village Ban Say Boua Thong. There is a long school building in a field, which you leave on your left and you continue the way following the big hill on the right until Ban Pakhat.
    The road continues in beautiful scenery until Ban Naphoa, and then reaches the bigger village of Phut Nadi, where gas is available.
    The next 10 Km may be difficult for inexperienced rider as there are several sections with deep sand here.
    Finally, the road reaches Nong That where the small road connects with a big laterite road. Here turn to the right and Xay Boua Thong is just 2 km away. There is a government guesthouse in the district office. Very basic comfort.

    From here, just continue the good laterite road going North for 45 Km through Mahaxai (which in fact is ON road #12 and not a few Km South as on GT-Rider map) until connecting with road # 12.

    It is possible to make the connection in one day for good riders. Other will have to spend the night in Xay Boua Thong.
    It is interesting to continue North up to road # 8. Roads connecting road # 12 to # 8 are much better off than roads in the Southern part of the trip. Those roads are now upgraded and will be concrete road soon (please David correct the map). There are major construction works along those roads for the huge Nam Theun 2 dam, which is built in the hills. It is possible to make a nice trip going up hills on the way to the dam, very nice scenery.

    Construction of new bridge North of Nakai is just completed, so no more problem to cross the Nam Theun river.
    Road # 8 from Nam Phao to Vieng Kham is beautifull. Visit to the 7 Km long cave of "Tham Lot Kong Lo", which the Nam Hin flows, is a must. There are 40 Km of dirt road from Ban Na Hin (= Khoun Khan) on road # 8 to the cave. "Unfortunalely, this beautifull dirt road up to Ban Kong Lo near the cave will be up-graded soon. Even this remote village is connected to electricity!!
    Can make the 2 x 7 km trip a small boat through the cave. No problem to find accommodation in village house. They offer full boarding with food for 5$ per day.

    Back to road #13, at Vieng Kham, we continued up to Vientiane. Then crossed Thailand from Nong Khai, Udon, Surin and re-entered Cambodia at O'Smach. Thus is too much good tarmac roads. We were happy to find the dirt road from the border up to Siem Reap.

    Total riding from P. Penh back to P. Penh was 3,300 Km in 2 weeks. I will recommend next time to put the bike on bus from Pakse up to Vientiane, then explore the Phonsavan area.

    We still don't know if the connection from Paksan to Phonsavan is possible and "authorized" by the Lao authorities?

    I has been working in Laos (Pakse) in 1994-95, then moved to Cambodia. Ten years later, I found Laos much better off that Cambodia today, while in the 90s both countries were about in the same mess!
    We were surprised to find most of lao villages, even in rural remote area with electricity and the development of national road is much better in Laos as well.
    The density of Land Cruisers by Km of street is much lower in Vientiane than in P. Penh. This may be a good indicator to explain the better development of Laos!!
    By Philippe


    (Note from David: Excellent report Philippe. I've tweaked it a bit so it is easier to follow. Hope you don't mind.)
  2. Philippe
    Great trip report mate. There’s some really valuable info in there for a lot of riders & I’m sure your trip will be a bit of an inspiration for quite a few others. Even I want to take check out some of the roads now.
    Thanks also for all the map tips & corrections, but it looks like you’ve used the “old” 2004 map & not the new current one out in Nov 2005.
    If your mate Hendi was with you, then he should have picked up a new one in Vte on the way down – if he didn’t then, naughty boy Hendi, especially after all the questions you asked on the board prior to the trip!

    You suggested
    1. Tahoy (Ta Oi) is on the 2006 GT Rider map.
    2. Xay Boua Thong (Xaybuathong) is on the 2006 GT Rider map
    3. Silabury (Vilaboury?) is on the 2006 GT Rider map, hopefully in the right location. I actually think that there might be a road connection from Nabo – Phonhay – Sopkhon – Vilabury, but preferred to leave it out. Is this what you did / did you hear anything about this?
    4. Route 12 – route 8. Are we talking about the “main road” that goes from Gnommalath to Nakay – Lak Xao / route 8? You claim that they will soon be concreted – any idea when you think this might be done – 6 months, 12 or 18 months? With the Nam Theun 2 dam project in this area, we can expect dramatic road developments here in the next few years.
    5. Mahaxay disagree on this. Mahaxay is not on Route 12, but 6.3 kms south of R12. The village on R12 at the junction is called Lak 60. Been there & GPS-ed it all correctly.
    6. Dong – south to Nong – Ta Oi made a note for the next map update.

    The “problem” for me is that based in Chiang Mai I can’t do all the roads, even (in North Thailand) that I’d like to, as there are just too many & not enough hours; so any info is really very useful & very much appreciated.
    For a lot of the road classification info I have to rely on expat mates in Laos, or from good fellow riders like yourself who like to contribute. Some contributors are also more reliable than others. And to be safe & sure, I tend to err on the negative side overall, so that I / the map does not lead people / riders up the wrong garden path & stuff up their holidays.

    The next edition of the map will have all your corrections.
    If anyone else who has corrections to suggest pls send me the details, so “we” can get a perfect map for touring in Laos.

    is possible as a couple of riders have now done it. Take a look at
    Robert’s report (with photos) at Link removed
    Motorheinz has also claims to have done Thabok – Xaysomboune plus Xaysomboune – Phonsavan, although he’s a bit too vague on details for me. Take a look at Link removed and make your own decision.

    Thanks again for the tips & report.

    Keep The Power On
  3. David,
    Thanks for your comments.
    Can be see in the photosite below, somme of the pictures taken during our 3300 Km rally.

    PS: I didn't find the way to insert picture in GT-rider message.
    Is there a trick?

    We are ready for take off soon for an other roundtrip in Cambodia.
    Heating up!!

    From Philippe

  4. Philippe
    No real trouble to add pictures, althought it might be a bit tricky the first time.
    There's a whole topic "Adding Pictures - Help" at
    Link removed
    that explains how to go about it.
    I'm sure you've got some good 'uns; so let's see them on the GT Rider board, where they belong.
    Thanks again for the report & glad you had a good time.

    No worries about the heat in the North yet. I'll be sailing down the 'Khong with bikes on board next week. But yeah we know it's coming yet again.....

    Keep The Power On
  5. Thanks David

    insert the picture of the new bridge built:
    I have tried several time, but still have the same problem:

    I inserted
    1)the hyperlink between the but appears only a box with a red X inside!!
    2) just the hyperlink as follow, without the : [url=""][/url]
    then if click on the link, the picture will be download, then visible, but is not in the text?
    What is wrong??
    I think I need an Angkor beer now!!

  6. Philippe
    Right click on the photo to get ... 719383.jpg
    Insert image" alt="" />

    hey presto

    Keep The Power On
  7. Thanks for the report Philippe.

    Last year we got our Minsks from #12 to #9 via (using the new GT map) Nongchan, Bualapha, Kok, hill 517, Sopkhom and the Aussie mine. I’ve been reluctant to post it because there were so many turns, bogs and bombs that I’d probably do more harm than good trying to put it to words. No way to explain which way the road goes except to say that you are better off starting in the north because that way you can just ask for Sepon at any of the many forks you come across. We lost our way in the forest plenty of times but our Vietnamese came in handy. It’s a forest track all the way and there is unexploded ordinance and bomb craters everywhere. No other traffic, no supplies, just a few small villages with lots of metal detectors. This is a dry season road only, but in the dry it is fine on a dirt bike. There is one deep river you cross by canoe at Saang and a couple of tricky but doable creek crossings further south in the forest. There was a checkpoint near Bualapha due to the boys in green’s logging concession up in the Hin Namno NBCA but they did not stop us.

    Both times we made this run it took a day and a half. First time we went Tha Ket up #12 to Nongchan (sealed highway for the last bit so with luck there will be a border open to foreigners soon), then south to Bualapha (small dirt road which a 4WD could do) and west to Xaybuathong (good sealed road for logging trucks) and then Mahaxay, where we stayed. The next morning we went back to Bualapha and then south through the forest all the way to the mine (not sure if a 4WD could do this due to some monster bogs) and then Sepon (nice new road). Second trip was essentially the same but this time we came south from Lak Xao to #12, then up to the border with Vietnam (the Mu Gia pass at Na Phao) then south from Nongchan to Bualapha and west to Mahaxay. Then it was the same forest track down to Sepon via Bualapha.

    We are heading back over on our Minsks in March 2006 and will make the run through this area again. Once in Sepon we will head east to Dong and see if we can get down to Salavan. Assuming we can we’ll then go back up 23 from Salavan to Phin.

    Will keep you posted!
  8. Digby
    Thanks a million forthe "update" - great to see you on the GT Rider board mate!
    I'm sure you've got a few other hot tips in your "riding vault", so when convenient, please keep 'em coming.

    Keep The Power On
  9. Update on Hwy 12 eastbound from Thakek.
    This road is scheduled to be paved within 18 months(as told to me by an expat working on dam #2) and the 67 km from Thakek to slighly past Gnommollat is unkind and hellish. The road is all weather dirt but the amount of fully laden trucks on this road is fairly heavy. At current, there are sections near the staging areas north of the turn to VN and the road is in foundation stage, strangely enough, bricks laid in an incomplete pattern on the subsurface you have to ride over. The dust aspect is similar to roads in Cambodia and getting stuck behind a logging semi with ten huge trees on it churning up the road is an air filter nightmare.

    The loop starting from Thakek. east on 12, north to Lak Sao, west to Vieng Kham with a stop at the cave is a very heavy backpacker route. The entire trip is possible from Thakek in one day leaving early(hard to do) and arriving late-ish. There is a somewhat descent guest house about 12km north of Nakai, almost half way on the loop. The scenery is excellent but I did not complete the loop and missed from the bridge down to Gnommollat. From reports, it is not difficult and only one section of road about 5km long in an upgrade northbound direction.

    What did suprise me about the "loop" in Lonely Planet is that the backpackers are doing it on 100cc bikes in three days. The bikes for rent in Thakek are severely beaten and good for town rides only - if that. I did see one sad backpacker about 5 km from Lak Sao with a busted chain getting it fixed for $ 23 USD. Part of the journey.

    The road down to the cave from Vieng Kham is gravel/dirt grade and not too tricky. It is 38 km from the turn and during rainy season, looks like the stream crossings were fairly high from last year's water marks. Sala Hin Boun Resort is a mixed place, but since it's the only one there, a good deal.

    A pleasant stop in Vieng Kham is the cafe/hotel under construction on the east end of town. Ralph, a British man and his girlfriend Mon serve some pretty tasty western and Lao dishes at reasonable prices. The UK crowd from the #1 dam site usually fill the place at night and it's lively for a remote place.

    Ride Safe
  10. Damn fine bridge but on July 18th, 2006 it was under water. There is a new bridge under construction a few hundred meters downriver and about 30 meters higher but a long way from being done. The water level in the river is supposed to rise more here according to a man at the guesthouse in Tha Long. When I was there, it was closed but but some big dumptrucks seemed to be able to get over for the moment. The mud out here was pretty good if you love mud but really bad you have an African Twin...

    Ride Safe

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