Laos Solo Adventure - Part 1

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by ZCM, May 27, 2018.

  1. ZCM

    ZCM Ol'Timer

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    #1 ZCM, May 27, 2018
    Last edited: May 29, 2018
    Untitled-1-1b-860x280.
    6th May 2018 - 17th May 2018
    11 days of amazing riding in Laos! (Google Map – Full trip link)
    I’m going to attempt to keep this trip report concise, but it will be hard.
    There were so many great experiences that it will be difficult to narrow them down, but for the sake of easy reading, I will try! (TRIP HIGHLIGHT VIDEO AT END OF REPORT)


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    Day 1: Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Namtha, Laos
    . (Google Map link)

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    Knowing that I had a lot of ground to cover I set of early. So by around 5:45am I was on the bike and heading off on the main route to Chiang Khong (via Chiang Rai). I made no stops except for fuel and arrived in Chiang Khong at around 9:45am.

    I met up with David and his friends for coffee and around an hour later I was back on the bike and heading for the Friendship Bridge crossing.
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    As I had already been through this crossing in November 2017 (Muang Sing or Bust trip report), and was a straight forward process. This border crossing is normally nice and quiet. Once the paperwork was sorted, I was escorted across the friendship bridge (with a compulsory fee of 500 baht..even though no one actually needs this escort and no other border enforces it…..)

    At the Laos side I parked up and headed straight to pay for the Laos visa (1500 baht or 35 USD). Next I took my bike documents over to another counter to process my bike through. (I have a full video guide on this crossing HERE).

    Once stamped I went to get insurance sorted out, (except the girl who normally does the insurance wasn’t at her station, so I ended up on a bit of a wild goose chase of being directed to some bizarre outhouse of people cooking and families working together. Here was the insurance girl, and she did my insurance right in the middle of this family style kerfuffle. It also took her a REALLY long time to do the insurance..and she hammed it up first time round. So make sure to double check that the details are correct.)

    Untitled-10b. Insurance (eventually) sorted, I then went to the last stage where my documents were stamped a million times by a really sleepy girl who had most of her focus on her mobile phone. Another SLowwwww process, but such is life. All i could do was stand bug-eyed at the wasting of (my) time and breathe my way through it.

    Eventually I was through and out the other side. Had a mix of relief, excitement, and apprehension as I set off on my first solo ride through Laos.

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    You have to have your wits about you on this route to Luang Namtha. The road has strange ripples and ridges, potholes, and crazy Chinese (HGV) trucks going at a fair speed around blind corners (on your side of the road). Then of course there are the usual dogs, cattle, goats, pigs, children, families, slow drivers…. Hah! The list goes on.

    Still, it is amazing experience. Many of the homes you pass are simple wooden one room houses, perched on stilts on the edge of the mountain.

    Usually these homes all share the same water source for cleaning and showering, which is sometimes just an overflow pipe leading to a ditch on the side of the road.

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    Most of these families live their lives outside of their homes so you ride past daily life being played out openly for all to view. People washing, showering, cooking. Children playing on the road (often in the ditch at the side, playing in mud). Very surreal.
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    To top it off many of these homes have a satellite dish sticking out from their humble roof. Such is the modern world, even in rural Laos!

    Untitled-12d. I had one hiccup on this road in a rural location (aside from the usual everything-is-going-to-kill-me moments). My heart skipped a beat when I noticed my bike was leaking fuel like it had incontinence.


    My adventure had only just begun and already it looks like it was going to end! I was not actually sure how to fix a fuel leak, but I am completely sure I would have worked it out. I have enough faith in myself to get myself out of a tricky situation. Luck was on my side though as I spotted what looked like a mechanics yard as I passed a rural village. I rode up the dirt slope to his shop and showed him the issue…and he set to work.

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    Looked to be quite tricky, but he sorted out the fuel line and stopped the leak.

    Some curious children came to watch too. I feel really lucky to have had this help, and watching him fix it, I am sure i can sort this issue out on my own, if it ever happens again. He charged me 80 baht, which I am sure is more than the going rate for Laos, but I gave him 100 baht note instead, because i was so grateful.

    I continued to check the bike for leaking for a fair few KM’s, but eventually began to relax when i realised it was holding fast. 20180506_183155.

    At around 4:15pm I arrived in Luang Namtha, relieved, and weary. I headed straight for the Dokchampa Hotel because I had stayed there before and meant I didn’t need to hunt around. At only 400 baht, it was a good deal also. Old building, but clean and with a hot shower. It was all I needed. I cleaned up and then headed to The Manychan for food. Half way through my meal I realised i was really fading fast. Sleepiness had caught up and I was finding it hard to chew. It was only 6:30pm! I gave up on finishing my meal and went to the local store to quickly buy a sim card with internet package and a large bottle of water. I then headed straight back to the hotel to sleep.

    Day 2: Luang Namtha to Luang Prabang. (Google Map link)
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    Another early start. On my bike by 6am. Made a lot of sense to set off early, because the air was much cooler and the risk of rain lower (start of rainy season period, and the storms are often dramatic). As I set off, I realised that I had forgotten to top up my fuel tank the night before due to being so tired. Ended up kicking myself because the garage up from the hotel was closed. I had around 40kms left of fuel in the tank, so figured I would just wing it. Thankfully there was a petrol station not to far from the town, so that was a relief. I filled up and headed off, enjoying the misty crisp morning air.


    I had hoped that as it was so early that the roads would be quiet and free from the big trucks. Sadly not the case and the trucks still kept trundling through. The road condition wasn’t too bad though, so at least there was that. The first main village I came across was Na Mor, which was bustling with local life. (video clip of this town (and more) is included in my main video at the end of this trip report).

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    Hello Ladies! Have a good day!

    A lot of this road was just fantastic. Take a look at this section between Na Mor and Muang Xai (and it got even better after Muang Xai!)


    There was a lot of Chinese development on route (and everywhere in general). Quite a contrast here between a modern factory and a rural roadside town. Strange to see such sweet rural children playing right next to such a monster development.


    At Muang Xai (capital of Udomxai Province) I stopped for a coffee and croissant. By this time (9:30am) it was already beginning to heat up significantly.

    cxz.
    Looks like many of my biker friends have already been here! Haha.

    After coffee I headed back on the R13 and the road between Muang Xai and Pak Mong intersection and was absolutely glorious!


    This section of road was a refreshing change from the bumpy pot holed road I had been riding thus far. This section of road was apparently resurfaced back in 2014 and was still in fantastic condition. Lots of great curves and nice road. Just meant i could switch off for a while and enjoy the ride without fear of broken up road around the corner. Wasn’t too busy either, so had a total joy moment and found myself grinning and laughing out loud.

    Spotted this abandoned house en route and stopped in to take a look around..


    Approximately 70km before Laung Prabang I pulled into a garage to fuel up and noticed a large group of big bike riders resting outside a local store. Was an unusual sight to see, as there seemed so little big bike riders around. These guys had some serious bikes too, and all decked out, unlike my humble Dtracker 250cc.
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    Turned out they were from China and were riding in Laos, exploring the area. The were on their way to Luang Prabang, and invited me to join them. I declined, as I love to solo ride. In all honesty, my bike is more nimble on these kinds of roads, so I was going at a pretty good pace by this time. I also wanted to be able to stop when I want to take photos etc, without the inconvenience of the group riding experience. Lovely people though.

    Spotted even more large scale Chinese development projects en route to Luang Prabang. This one was absolutely massive. I think the video doesn’t show it well, but the people working on it look like ants!


    At around 2:15pm i pulled into Luang Prabang and began to hunt for someplace to stay. I wanted some place along the river, but I didn’t want to spend high amounts. My plan was to try keep this trip within a reasonable budget (or what i consider reasonable). I found one place that gave me a discount for 2 nights stay. (700 baht per night). Was clean but turned out to have no view, but I was too tired to care.

    Unfortunately I soon found out that the shower was pretty much useless and cold and the rooster outside had no concept of time. I cant imagine ever staying there again to be honest, but there was nothing truly wrong with it per say. Not the worst I have stayed in by a long shot. Just think it was pricey for the time of year and for what I got, but I suppose Luang Prabang is probably a pricey city.

    20180507_181313.

    After I cleaned up I took a walk around the walking street market and ended up at a small riverside restaurant having dinner and a Beer Laos. I slept erratically that night, mainly due to the annoying rooster. Such is life!

    Day 3: Luang Prabang to Kuang Si Waterfall (and explore). (Google Map link)

    Untitled-2aa. The next morning I set off on a daytime explore. I had been given a tip off that Kouang Si Waterfall was well worth a look, so had a morning coffee at Joma Cafe, then headed off to the waterfall. The road to the waterfall is quite lovely, with a few advertised touristy things to do on route (animal park, butterfly farm, etc). Plenty of coffee shops, restaurants and fuel stops along this route, so nothing to worry about on that front.

    I stopped at one village to enjoy the mood that the village evoked. Was so peaceful to watch the cows chewing grass in front of the temple.


    When I arrived at the waterfall parking bay, it was already buzzing with visitors. I parked up in secure parking zone, paid the parking small parking fee (2000 kip), then headed to the ticket booth to buy a ticket (20,000 kip). When you go through the gate to the falls, the first area you come across is the Bear Reserve. Apparently these bears have been rescued, but I am not sure of the full story as yet.

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    I then walked up to where the falls begin. ..and WOW what a view!

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    Stunning emerald clear water met my gaze. I had no idea it would be so beautiful. It was so inviting that I took a swim. I got in with all my clothing, because I knew it would keep me cool as I walked around. Plus I did not want to fuss with trying to dry off in order to get the clothes on again. Sometimes easier just to dive in. Unfortunately though I ended up catching my yoga pants on a sharp rock and having it rip at the bum area. Oops! That made for some covert covering up with a small towel I had packed. All i could think is thank goodness i took a towel at all!


    The waterfall is a multi level fall, with a 60 meter drop, and also a steep walk up to the top level lagoon. This additional walk up is not for the faint hearted, as it’s fair steep ascend on dirt steps. Once at the top you can purchase cool drinks though. At this lagoon area you can also rent a boatman to take you to the source of the waterfall, if you wish.

    A little further on from the lagoon you walk a approximately 3-4 km trek through a dirt track to reach a cave.

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    Its a fair walk with not much to look at on route, so best to have plenty of water and lots of resolve.

    At the base of the cave, to the right, is another lagoon with a small restaurant run by a local couple.

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    They will serve you up simple Laos dishes and have drinks (and even beer), should you want them.

    The cave itself is rather small,but still interesting none-the-less. The entry fee is 20,000 kip and you are provided a torch to take with you.

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    I would say I am glad I went in to see it and tick it off my list, but I wouldn’t have much desire to go back to it. I have been lucky enough to see some quite amazing caves, and this one was fairly low key…but was good to get some exercise in. (*EDIT* - I mistook this cave for Pak Ou Cave. Apologies. It seems it is not, and is instead just a small cave.)

    I walked the 3-4km back and then descended the dirt steps again. Not a route you would want to do if it has been raining. Would for sure get very muddy and slippery.

    At the base of the steps I noticed a group of monks having their photos taken. I took the opportunity to request a photo. Lucky for me I got one!

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    I headed back past the bears (with one last stop in look), then back on the bike to head back to Luang Prabang. It was already around 4:30pm by this point and I wanted to get back before sunset.

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    I had yet another wardrobe malfunction of sorts, in the sense that some flip-flops I took with me had shredded up my feet on the previous nights walk.


    So, here is a comedy moment for you.

    I decided (as a temporary measure) to cut up the useless flip-flops and just use electrical tape to fix them to my feet. A temp measure whilst I went to find a new pair to replace them.
    Thankfully I was able to get a decent cheap pair at the night market that night!


    I returned that evening to the same restaurant I had eaten at the night before. To be honest it really wasn’t a good restaurant. The service was bad and the food was not so great. The only reason I returned is that because it is so bad meant that it did not have many customers. Thus, I would have the place to myself. This is the consequence of being an introvert. Sometimes the mere presence of other people is just too much. I had already enough stimuli for overload, and just wanted a reliable place to switch my brain off and enjoy the view.

    I slept early.

    Day 4: Luang Prabang to Phonsovan. (Google Map link)
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    Another early rise and on the bike at 6am again. Was a lovely crisp morning and i was looking forward to getting out of the city and into the mountains.

    This road did not disappoint. It was not 100% smooth, but not rough either. The views were amazing and fantastic to be riding on a road and seeing a clear view of how it twists around the mountain ahead of me.
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    The closer I came to Phonsavan the cooler and fresher it became and the last approximate 50km was absolutely beautiful. Was like riding straight through a painting. The landscapes were lush and green and the open roads were filled with cattle lolling about happily. The whole region had a peaceful slow vibe, which is amazing considering how badly the region was bombed during the Secret War.

    By 12:30pm I was already in Phonsavan and stopped in at Cranky-T cafe to get my bearings and work out where to stay.
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    Initially the Vasana Plain of Jars looked nice. More than I wanted to pay, but the rooms apparently had baths and a warm soak sounded great. However, when i took a drive to the location the route to get to it was fairly gravely and muddy. Fine in theory, but thunderstorms were predicted to hit and my body was aching. I just didn’t fancy a bone shaking muddy route just to get to my hotel and back when exploring. It would be an additional achy extra that wasn’t necessary. Instead I (thankfully) opted for my 2nd choice of Favanhmai Hotel, and was totally happy with this hotel. The rate was 700 baht per night, it was very new, very clean, and had fantastic views over the city.

    Turned out to be brilliant timing too, as an absolutely MASSIVE thunderstorm hit whilst I was in the room. Quite beautiful to watch this stunning storm from a nice comfortable room and I was very glad to have a birds-eye view of the town as it hit.
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    The storm and rain lasted throughout the night so I had a very wet walk for dinner (I thankfully had packed a small umbrella. Silver lined. So is good for both sunshade and rain).

    (Unfortunately dinner did not sit well with me at all, and got myself a terrible stomach upset. It was a night of not much sleep ..arghh!)

    I suspected the mornings ride to Plain of Jars sites would be a pretty muddy affair…

    Part 2 here
     
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  2. ZCM

    ZCM Ol'Timer

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    *Update* - I seem to have gotten mixed up about Pak Ou Cave and it was another cave I visited.
    Thanks to David for reading and letting me know.
    I will amend the trip report.
    All i can do with regards to the video is make a not in the YouTube description.
    Sorry about that!
     
  3. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Nice one. Enjoying the trip.

    untitled-7-.

    That town of Na Mor is a beauty eh. There's always so much going there, it's like a permanent "talad nut" town.
    It must be about time to spend a night there, just for the exotic experience.
     
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  4. ZCM

    ZCM Ol'Timer

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    I loved these ladies, particularly the younger one in the hat.
    She gave her companion a tap on the arm to look at me.
    She gave me a lovely smile.
    Just one small moment in a million wonderful ones.
    This one felt really good.
     
  5. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    What was the score with parking at the Favanhmai Hotel in Phonsavan - any under cover parking?
     
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  6. ZCM

    ZCM Ol'Timer

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    There was construction going on at the side, which looked to be the developing of under cover parking.
    Currently nothing though.
    (I will report back on this point in future. I never thought to).
     
  7. Moto-Rex

    Moto-Rex Moderator

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    Great report ZCM.
    Makes me want to head off to Laos immediately.

    Moto-Rex
     
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