My Tips For Solo Ride Across Rugged Laos

Oct 10, 2014
Brief overview.pdf Pros & Cons of me and the bike
Lao checklist.xlsx what to carry checklist
route.pdf A mix of planned and unplanned route. Please note that at some cases route between 2 points can be tackled on sealed and unsealed roads. Terrain describes which one I took.
I did a solo ride across Laos on 2014 summer for around 3820 kms. Please see attachments for checklist, brief overview and routes. Also some photos are there.
It was a special ride, everything went really nice, the only gripe is I should have bought MX boots rather than settling for a hike boots. There were around 4 crashes where the bike fell on my leg resulting in swollen leg at one point in the journey so that I had to take rest at Luand Prabhang for few days. Being solo I was able to interact with the locals more using Lao/English guide, they were also keen to talk to you where as if it was group they might stay away. Also you ride at the pace you want and stop where you want and after all riding on an organised tour is not real adventure. Isn't it?
Lao People: People are very friendly. Being a solo rider I have been invited many times for food, beer and even accommodation offers. And whenever you can you please buy them back something like a beer or so. Don't make the children beggars by giving them coins and candy; buy them books instead. At one point kids posed infront of the bike without me telling them a word and then they shouted "coins"..hmmm.. guess what some of the previous riders had done to them. People are very curious to see this alien wearing all the bike gear and happy to spend time with you.

Bike : Honda CRF250L Brand new rented from Fuark. He can speak English. When I first saw it still had the plastic wrap around it. So I was the first one to rent it. Fuark contact details are in this website under Laos. I called him from overseas he told he will set aside a new bike for me, no advance needed. I wasn't sure he meant it until I went there and saw the bike. I did few follow up calls just to be sure that bike will be there for me. I left the passport there as a security which is a standard there, however, when I wanted to renew my visa I found an agent to go to Fuark take the passport, renew it and give it back to Fuark. The dual sport tires were finished by the end and the last week I mostly stick to bitumen because of that.
Fuel: In towns Fuel are available from stations and in towns and its sold on the road side in bottles or from a small shop with manual pump. Most days I carried a bit of spare fuel though never ran out of fuel.
Distance & Terrain: 3820kms mostly through dirt, unsealed, rocky, sand, clay, ford, hanging bridges, bamboo bridges, A,B & C class sealed roads.
Duration: Total 5 weeks but not always riding. Nearly a week in VTN for arranging bike, warding off jet lag, setting up map, making local friends, then en route few days to recover from a crash, other days for site seeing, overnight treks etc
Season: Summer - Nov/Dec. The rivers were still flowing, there were still mud on trials. I think it is impossible to do the same tracks on monsoon unless one is prepared to crawl with the bike.
Rider: No dirt ride experience, never traveled alone. Though I have plenty of experience riding through traffic of developing countries and avid sportsbike rider living in the West I had zero dirt bike experience. Little direction sense, basic knowledge in bike maintenance like changing oil, lubing chain etc. On the plus side I am good with people, born and brought up in the East so I can understand their way of thinking even though I dont know the language.
Navigation: Garmin GPS + GT rider paper map + 3G + Ask around. GPS map from Laos GPS Map & The Ho Chi Minh Trail . Don at gpsmap is an expat and have ridden almost everywhere in Laos. His gps map has got dirt roads which were not in the paper and google maps! And that's how discovered all the remote rides where I ride for hours and lucky to see one person. The map is not like the native garmin or tom tom map so I had to muck around a bit, sometimes zooming through locations after looking at the paper map. There isnt much 3G and people available in the middle of nowhere.I made local friends who can speak some English at VTN so I could ring them and be my interpreter in rural areas.
Route Plan: I asked Don-GPS to give me the toughest roads and yes I told him I have no dirt experience while he commented the bike I am taking is not a 'real' dirt bike. So I did took the routes he dumped in the GPS, however, I didnt follow all of it because I wanted my own way plus the injuries resulted in change of plans. I had a rough idea that I should go North till Pongsali and south till the duration allow and back to VTN. Other than that there were no plan. Everyday I woke up and looked at the paper map and point a town where I think I can reach the same day. And then look at the Don's GPS map to find the trickiest, windiest, dirtiest road to reach there.
Breakdowns: No breakdowns as the bike was quite new and I rode it around VTN for few days just to be sure.
Food: Prepared to eat noodle soup (PHO) starting with breakfast. Sticky rice is everywhere. I carried fruits for daily consumption and dry fruits and canned food for survival. The villages in the middle of nowhere don't have restaurants. There could be a shop if one is lucky. On such circumstances I requested them to boil the egg which is for sale and some sticky rice which they are happy to share from their kitchen. Pay them nicely or buy something from that shop and give it to them in return.
Accommodation: Remember you are on a bike means you are in advantage to go pass the town to find cheap and non touristy accommodation where you can sleep quietly, away from other tourists. While Lao don't do cut throat bargaining like Thailand you can ask for a fair share just in case you think its over priced. Most accommodation even in small towns got Wi Fi and hot water these days.
Highlight: On cities and while doing other activities like trekking I caught up with backpackers and they discuss the highlights. For me the highlight was always the ride. I didn't took much photos because I didn't want to stop.
Small tips: The veterans know this all, this is aimed for the first timers like me.
Get proper MX/enduro boots
Get MX/Dual sport helmet with the shade, the afternoon sun is straight on the eyes depending on the direction though

Few pics in media gallery
Check the links in the beginning of the write up
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Mar 18, 2013
Nice report, thanks.
The nice thing about riding alone is that you meet and talk to basically everyone you meet during the day. The locals is not afraid of talking to you and so on.
Oct 10, 2014
Thats a nice trip with loads of good info.
Thanks for the contribution.

I inserted one of your images in the report & can do the others if you want.

Let me know.
Thanks David. I did few more, feel free to tweak it further.
Oct 10, 2014
What exactly was the distress alarm in your gadgets check list?
View attachment 1336
The distress alarm was a 140dB panic alarm Personal Attack/Anti Rape Alarm "POLICE APPROVED" Minder with Torch
Because I haven't traveled solo and never been to Lao I used to keep it as a precaution while wandering alone at night. I eventually dropped my guard as I found the people were very friendly. Also I thought the alarm will come handy to locate me if I fall off the cliff at the middle of no where. Poor man's PLB.

I have added the same link in the check list as well.