Northern Laos Trip Report


Apr 14, 2004
Purpose of Trip:
• To explore some of the most remote places in northern Laos
• To test my recently purchased bike, Honda XR 250, 2002. I bought it from Feurd, the Vietnamese guy on the T2 road who services PVO’s bikes and all falang’s bikes in Vientiane.

Phil, Michael and I all work in Vientiane and needed to be back in town for Easter so we had a short, six day window. We had a blast. I rode the XR 250 and Michael and Phil hired BAJAs from PVO. The only mechanical failure was a broken clutch cable on Phil’s bike.

Day 1
Vientiane – Udomxai: 578.5 kms. Great riding between Vang Vieng and LPG. Get Michael to lead if you want to break record times.
Day 2
Udomxai – Phongsali: 233.6 kms. Slow riding on dirt between Sin Xai turnoff and Ban Yo (110 kms).
Day 3
Phongsali – Chinese border in the north – Ban Yo: 302 kms. If you are of Chinese descent (like I am), the provincial police at Boun Nua will want to search every item in your pack before heading north…allow 30 minutes for the delay. Leave contraband at home (Michael?). They’ll mistake everything in your pack for illegal substances, so just smile, explain politely and offer them a muesli bar or two just to prove you that sealed packets can also store nutritious food. For 95 kms between Boun Nua and Ou Thayi there are great views but it’s slow difficult riding. Guaranteed numb bum. And if you have some spare money, you can throw it away at a new Chinese casino one kilometer from the border on the Laos side. There were a lot of shiny Chinese cars and other buildings being constructed. We tried (not very hard) getting across the border but were declined.
Day 4
Ban Yo – Luang Namtha: 290.1 kms. Boun Noua had a few guest houses but nothing impressive. So we continued to Ban Yo’s single guest house which was not any better and definitely worth less than the 10,000 Kip. Phil was not impressed. The last 30 km stretch to LNT is pot-holed.
Day 5
Luang Namtha – Muang Sing – Luang Namtha: 118.2 kms. Well sealed road. Muang Sing is worth a fruit shake and visits to local handicraft markets.
Day 6
Luang Namtha – Vientiane: 697.4 kms. Our longest day but we were missing the wives and kids. Tell Michael to set the alarm for 04:30, then 05:30, then 06:30 for a 07:15 departure! We just didn’t want to start in the rain…it didn’t really make much difference anyway since it rained nearly the whole trip!

Travel Tips:
• Bring sleeping bag and mosquito net. Guesthouses – even of dubious quality - may not be available. Be prepared to sleep in villages if your traveling north of Phongsali city. This shouldn’t be a problem if you are polite, ask permission first from the village headman, and are generous with a smile and reimburse your host appropriately with a gift before you leave.
• Even in the hottest month of April, expect cold, wet weather. The north is mountainous and has it’s own unique weather systems. Bring waterproof jacket and over pants. I wore a thermal top under layers.
• Fuel is readily available. The longest stretch in between fuel stops was 80 kms. From Boun Nua and Ou Thai in Phongsali. This section was also the most tiring…dirt, gravel, ruts and lots of sharp bends. Expect to average no more than 25 km/hr on this section.
• Road conditions vary dramatically. Be prepared for the worst and the best regardless of what maps indicate.
• Make sure all lights are working on the bike, especially brake and driving lights. Essential for night riding in convoy in the rain.
• Carrying my digital camera on my body (in a plastic bag inside the case) worked extremely well even in the heaviest downpours and hours of drizzle. Easy access, water proof, more shock absorbent. Thanks David for the tip.

General Impression:
The north has great riding of all conditions…from sweeping asphalt bends to dirt and gravel plus river crossings. We did this trip in April though (dry season) - I wouldn’t attempt riding north of Phongsali in the wet season unless you’re a real masochist.

Northern Laos:
The scenery was spectacular, the weather ranged from mid-30’s Celsius to cold, wet weather. I saw wildlife I’d never seen before unique to Laos. Small deer in the forest and massive flying bat creatures with long, black bushy tails for sale in a roadside village. Children were very responsive and flashing a big smile instantly built rapport with older people. One of the biggest risks was waving to all these kids or appreciating the spectacular scenery because by the time I looked back at the road, I suddenly found a sharp corner in front of me.

Riding in a range of conditions and different surfaces was a great learning experience for me, a novice rider. My number one piece of advice is never cut corners because when you do a big bus taking up most of the road will be coming your way. Traveling in a group of three was ideal for safety, decision-making and camaraderie. Having a foam mat on the seat made the long day’s more comfortable. GT-Rider Laos map was perfect…distances and road locations accurate. I bought mine from the mini-mart next to JOMAs in Vientiane.

Before heading out, we should have checked PVO’s bikes more thoroughly…especially driving lights, brake lights and tightened the chains. By the end of the trip Phil’s engine was missing going up hills and the chain banging over every bump. My bike did brilliantly. The only modification would be to fit a brighter headlight or add an extra lamp for night riding. Does anyone know where and how I can get this done?

If you’re in Vientiane and need local advice contact me and we can chat over a beer lao.



Jan 1, 2004
Good trip report. I am heading to Chiang Mai Wednesday for maybe 1 week of riding then into Laos via Nong Khai. Looking to rent a bike in Vientanne and get some good, local advice. Will buy you the beer Laos, ha. I'm an American living and working in Thailand, first trip into Laos.

might have one other rider with me.

thanks in advance,