Classic northern Laos

Discussion in 'Mountain Biking - Road Trip Reports' started by el jefe, Mar 8, 2011.

  1. Here's a report of my recent trip. I did this in February 2010 with my wife and 3 friends and we met many cyclists along the way, far more than we've ever met before.

    Starting in Chiang Mai there are plenty of options. If you've never done this before my favorite way to get to Laos is to take the VIP bus (bikes are put under the bus for 50-100 baht) to Mae Sai. Get off the bus, have lunch, and take a quick tour of Mae Sai. Then get on the bike and head out to Chiang Saen. Stop for the obligatory photo opp at the Golden Triangle and take a tour of the original Opium Museum (not the new one in the park)

    Take the quieter route along the Mekong from Chiang Saen to Chiang Khong and cross over to Laos in the afternoon. Avoid the long lines in the morning.

    From Houie Xay it's 180 kms and two days to Luang Namtha. It's possible to do a homestay in almost any village along the way, but there are formal accommodations in only two villages -- Ban Don Chai and Vieng Phukha. I always choose Ban Don Chai as it breaks up the climbing better. There's an unsignposted guest house at the far end of town with 3 basic rooms. There are also a few other rooms now available nearby. Since our group and the other cyclists staying there needed more than the 3 rooms, my wife and I wound up in one of the "newer" rooms, set up in the back of a beer warehouse. I can't say I've ever spent the night in a room with 300 cases of beer before.

    It's a long day from Ban Don Chai to Luang Namtha. We always stop for lunch in Vieng Phuka which has decent restaurants. It's a much bigger town but the accommodations are no better than in Ban Don Chai. From there it's on to Luang Namtha where we usually treat ourselves to a night at the Boat Landing GH. It's very expensive for Laos, but worth the splurge. Their restaurant is probably the best in the area.

    The road from Houie Xay to Luang Namtha is in pretty good condition now, but there is a 14 km stretch centered around Ban Don Chai that is all dirt. They're watering the road on a regular basis, making it muddy and unpleasant.

    The next day takes you from Luang Nantha to Oudomxai. The road starts out fine but quickly disintegrates. The big climb out of Na Mor isn't bad but the descent is horrendous and doesn't appear like it will get better anytime soon. My recommendation is that if you're not on a suspended mountain bike that you take a bus from there to Oudomxai. Stay at the Lithavixay in Oudomxai. It's one of the original Lao owned and operated guest houses there. There are many new Chinese owned hotels. Typically they all look great on the outside but are old, dirty and rundown on the inside. And service to match.

    From Oudonxai, there's a beautiful road to the northeast to Muang Khua. This is one of our favorite roads in Laos. There's a weekly market in Xin Xai where Hmong and Akha women come to sell their goods. Whether or not you timed it correctly to see the market, this is the only place for lunch.

    From Muang Khua there is now a regularly scheduled boat down the Nam Ou every morning to Nong Khiaw. it used to be that this boat did not run unless there were 10 passengers or someone was willing to charter the entire boat. Some mornings it's a very comfortable boat with airline seating. Other times it's an uncomfortable trip with a 6" board and no room to stretch your legs. If you charter a whole boat for 1.2 mil kip you might be able to choose a better boat. But maybe not. We wound up on a small boat and then had to switch to an even smaller boat an hour later. We never figured out why. At the peak, there were 12 farang and 13 locals crammed in our boat, plus 7 bikes, several large backpacks and loads of cargo for the locals.

    From Nong Khiaw there are three options to get to Luang Prabang:
    1. Take two-three days. Go to Vieng Kham and then the mountainous dirt road to Pak Xeng, where there supposedly is a guest house. And then on to Luang Prabang. This is about 220 kms and only the strongest riders can do it in two days.
    2. Spend an extra day in Nong Khiaw and take a day trip as far as you'd like towards or beyond Vieng Kham. It's a great road with beautiful scenery and extremely low traffic. Then head on for LP as in #3 below.
    3. It's 140 kms from Nong Khiaw to LP via Pak Mong and easily doable in a day.

    We always end up doing option two, but I'll be back later in the year to do #1, trying to do it in two days. In Luang Prabang we always stay at the SomKhounMeuang GH on Tomkham road, two blocks from the center of town. Clean, cheap and very friendly, they're used to seeing us on bikes.

    Based on the current road conditions (Feb 2011), this trip is only do-able on a mountain bike, especially if you're going to spend the last night before Luang Prabang in Pak Xeng. If they ever repair the other roads, it could easily be done on a standard road bike.

    If anyone has any questions, I'll be glad to post more info and details. I'll also try to post reports on my two other recent Lao trips.
  2. hi el jefe,

    Are the rooms at the guest houses at Ban Don Chai and Vieng Phukha have in-built toilet and bath? Kindly add some pictures of your ride, would love to see them.

    thank you
  3. Abg Acid
    There are quite a few guesthouses in Vieng Phoukha with your own bathroom.
    If you're on a motorbike, Don Chai is only 1 1/4 hrs out of Houei Xai & probably too close to LNT to overnight on the way through.
    Not sure about a private bathroom in Don Chai, more than likely a family bathroom in a house, or the local stream for a chilly scrub up.
  4. ahh yes, David, "keep the power on". Tq. But on bicycle its "keep the pedal swinging" ;D
    You need to multiply by 4 for loaded bicycles touring, that translate into 5 hours of solid cycling. Beside that one needs to add another hour or so for rest/stop too. Therefore Don Chai is a perfect place for the night.
    mmm, probably shared toilets withthe family eh? That shouldnt be too bad,. another worthwhile experience!


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