OuTay - Phongsali - Hatsa - Nam Ou Boat Trip

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by SilverhawkUSA, Feb 8, 2009.

  1. Date: 26 Jan 2009- 4-Feb-2009
    Rider: Dave Early (Silverhawk)
    Bike: Suzuki DR650se

    Ou Tay is a small village about 70km north of the Boung Nuea junction to Phongsali



    No idea what this sign said, but it shows that this area is probably more Chinese than Lao.


    It is surrounded by the usual rocky roads with some great scenery. After winding through the mountains twisty roads it is a relief to see it in the distance and then gradually descend onto a straight road into the village


    On the way into town you see the Nam Ou River with dugout canoes and what I later learned was a myriad of electrical power generators.


    In town the girls at the local fuel stop said I could get food and a place to stay down the road at the hotel, actually the Manyvang GH.


    The girls asking me what I would like to eat pointed to the Barking Deer on the wall as a suggestion, but I passed.

    On the main road I saw a guy (Armin) with a Honda Africa Twin. It turned out he and his friend were staying at the Manyvang after trying another GH the night before. His friend turned out to be “Steve” from Cambodia who I had ridden with some 5+ yrs ago. They both basically live in Cambodia, but Steve had just returned after doing some logistics work in Afghanistan for a few years.

    It was Steve (R) who,5 years ago, found the Burmese border road north of Nor Lae that is now popular with Happy Feet’s tours. I was still riding rental bikes then.

    (The photo was taken in Muang Sing where we crossed paths again.)

    We took a morning stroll around Ou Tay the next day and found it to be a friendly and interesting village.


    Instead of what you would expect, it appears the first chore of importance was to get the Lao Kaew whiskey ( never sure how to spell that) stills going.


    Many houses had there own little garden next to the house and elevated so the pigs, chickens, buffaloes, etc couldn’t get into them.

    As we walked down by the river we say where the larger gardens were planted.



    At the river we found the generators. We were told they a 1.5 kw generators and each household runs it’s own wire to the home. The guesthouse had a gasoline generator and ran it from 6PM until 10PM making just enough electricity for one light bulb per room. There were no electrical outlets.

    If you are in the area, across from the guesthouse is a little strip of restaurants. The owner of the main one on the right, Chansone, is a Lao born NGO from Vientiane and has lived in this area for many years. He speaks five languages and is very familiar with the trails in the area, even pointing out one that led to the Chinese border with an unguarded frontier. Steve and Armin said they did this one.


    I left for Phongsaly and had in the morning low hanging fog that obscured your vision and was a little cold until getting some altitude.


    The road from Boun Neua up to Phongsali is smooth asphalt until maybe half way now. They were hit hard by last years tropical storms and were cut off for some time by huge mudslides. They are now resurfacing the road in spots but it is easy going and will be back to all asphalt soon.


    I never saw much attraction to Phongsali except for the altitude, cold weather and the view from the road in the morning.

    northlaos37. northlaos38.

    I stayed at the overpriced Poufa Hotel (150,000kip/650baht) which at one time was a French prison. It is in the process of having another make over and although the rooms are nice the grounds are not what they used to be.

    Ever have that feeling that you are all alone in the world?

    The Chinese motorcycles are certainly configured for the type use they get in this area.

    I rode down the backside of the mountain from Phongsali to Hatsa. This is the boat landing for the Nam Ou. Some backpackers were heading out for a 5 day trek north and others were heading down to Muang Khoua.



    I inquired about putting bikes on one of the boats, as others had asked me before if this was possible. After some debate they decided you could charter the whole boat, multiple bikes, for 850,000 kip/3,500baht. As nothing seemed sure, this is subject to change. It is probably a very scenic cruise but I am not sure if it is worth the effort as it really doesn’t save that much in the way of distance traveled. I suppose one could possibly negotiate a boat all the way to Nong Kiaw but it would be expensive and I am not sure if you could get the bike from boat landing to the road in Nong Kiaw, from what I remember.

    Just up the road from the boat landing is a small road that leads to this French built bridge. They had to do something with their money I guess. On the other side of the bridge is a small dirty village and a small road/trail bypassing it. They said at the village you could take the road but you would have to turn and come back the same way. This one needs to be explored. I wonder if it goes to the same village as the 5 day trekkers are going by boat?


    So that’s about it for this series of reports. A lot of opportunities for further adventures out there.

    https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorc ... t5213.html

    https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorc ... t5216.html
  2. Silverhawk
    Nice one yet again.
    Only done Phongsali once a few years ago & could not agree more about "I never saw much attraction to Phongsali except for the altitude, cold weather and the view from the road in the morning."
    It's an odd town, stuck in an out of the way place, but with quite an amazing ride & road geting there. Then once you're there, you sought of think well, so what?
    I need to go back, & I think that's it's been a long time coming because of "well, so what" was it worth it - a question I was not able to answer at the time & which the jury is still out on.
    But what do you reckon - yes / no - is Phongsali a must do?

    Also I too stayed at the Phou Fah & I agree "overpriced & not what they used to be" - times have not changed. Was the hot water working? I bet not.

    Thanks for getting down to Hatsa & getting the GPS tracks & photos.

    When are you going back?

    Oh yeah how did the Lao Kao whisky taste? Steve must at least sampled some.
    Pretty amazing to run into Steve up there, eh?
    I think that the last time we were together was in Fang in search of the Red Haired Disco babe with Philippe & Frank Butler "Mr Beem
    who later got into Vietnam on his F650.
    How time flies when you're having fun!
  3. The last time I was at the Phou Fa in Pongsali was 2005.

    It had some character and looked like the former prison that it was.

    It looks more like a former Brothel !

    Not much has changed up there. I would like to see what is the other side of the bridge from Hatsa but that is about all.

    In 2005, my DR250 lost it's alternator there. This year, one broken luggage rack and a set of steering stem bearings. I really hate that road from Xin Sai on. Even Rex said it is the worst road he has ever ridden (and Rex seldom complains). Maybe in another 4 years. :wink:

    Your AT seems to be smoother on that type of road, so it may not be as bad. Just watch out for the "bulldust" :eek:

    It was pretty surprising running into Steve. He says Phillippe is still in Cambo and doing well. Even more amazing, hooking up again in Muang Sing when neither of us knew where the other was headed from Ou Tay.

    Unfortunately, or fortunately, the Lao Kao wasn't ready for tasting yet. Also not very good before breakfast. :roll:
  4. Dave,

    Really interesting posts. The curse of the HTW cracked me up.

    We hired a boat from Hatsa to Muang Khua in 2007. Loaded our three bikes on, bought some ice and beerlao, overcharged a backpacker for a berth, and it was bloody good.

    The river trip was scenic, and it meant we avoided a second round on the rocky nightmare north of Sin Xai (you only really want to do that once, especially with the bollocks suspension of a Minsk).

    Good day though, I would recommend it, especially if you take the river back down and know you only have to do it once.

    Funny that David U mentioned the hot water at the Phou Fa. After a long day's ride to get to a cold Phongsali, there was no hot water, and the power was down (ie no shower), so it was a thermos of hot water and a bucket for us...

    When we stayed at the Phou Fa the price was slightly more reasonable (US$10) I think, and we had a good laugh and more than a few drinks with the staff there.
  5. Dave, really interesting report and a hell of a ride you're doing there !! At least now you are now having more luck :lol: because in your first post it all was just :evil: :twisted: :evil: :twisted: :oops: ..........cheer & keep 'em comin', Franz
  6. Regarding the boat trip from Phongsali to Muang Khoua;

    Here is an email I receved from a couple who were traveling on a rented 250 and were attempting the boat trip. Their fee was different than what I was quoted, so as usual it is always negotiable and depends on who you talk to. :?

  7. Bumping up an old post with an informative vdo clip about the life of the Akha & Khamu in Phongsaly & Muang Khua.

    Thank you Speedy Buffalo for the tip off.
  8. I am a big fan of Phongsali province. Due to westerners not being able to cross over into China it's a dead end, therefore gets no through traffic and fewer visitors in general. I've been up to Ou Tai a few times. The last time I continued up to Ou Nueu and then the China border crossing to try my luck. I made it to the abandoned Chinese casino on the Lao side but wasn't allowed any further around the bend where the road continues the short distance to the Chinese checkpost.

    I agree with your views on Phongsali town, nothing endearing about the place but it feels different, more southern China than Northern Laos to me.
  9. There are legal short cuts into this very remote - more a sort of "been there done that" part of the country. The entire area is meanwhile properly colonised by the brothers from the North; more Chinese vehicles (they operate fleets of trucks in an absolutely "amazing" condition), paired with their driving skills = watch out! The deforestation is almost completed; congratulations to that part of the inheritance to future Lao generations.

    Their own wood needs are in no comparison to the ransacked area:

    I was up there two weeks ago (4x4, not bike) with some notes. There is a “shortcut” of 230 kms from Luang Namtha to Phongsaly without leaving Laos (i.e. no passing of Chinese territory). The more “traditional” route via Oudomxay is a more boring 360 kms, all-paved, albeit with some nerving pothole scenarios!

    The “shortcut” will save you mileage only but not really time; the driving though is much more fun and you’re all by yourself. In my case it was a full day trip leaving Luang Namtha at 8 am and hitting Phongsaly just in time for the sundowner Beer Lao! If you use GPS then do not rely on your phone as half the trip will be “no service” which makes the various mapping gizmos useless. So you would need a navigation system rather than a GMS-phone.


    Leaving Luang Namtha towards the North you drive on (sealed) Road 3; at Nateui’s only intersection (21.061779, 101.644051) you keep right (left would lead 16kms to the Chinese border at Boten).

    A further 21kms later on Road 3, at 20.945834, 101.724434, you branch off left onto a dirt tarmac. A muddy affair during the rainy days, two, three little creeks to cross without bridge - no sweat. You’ll embark on a sparsely inhabited stretch of Laos’ road network passing hamlets of hill tribes, fantastic species of colourful birds chirping their repetitive acoustic (mating?) beacons.

    After almost four hours driving you come down a slope onto a mini-plateau; take a sharp left turn at this unmarked Y-junction (21.309831, 101.965688). Follow that dirt road for another 45 minutes towards Boun Tai (21.387539, 101.974309) onto the sealed 1A which connects Oudomxay (150 kms south) to Boun Neua/Phongsaly. Should you need fuel in Boun Tai then turn right towards Oudomxay; after 900 metres (21.385171,101.977651) your prayers will be heard. There is also a (very basic) hotel and three zero-stared guest houses "en ville" in case you ran out of time.

    From Boun Tai to Phongsaly it’s another 93 kms on all-sealed tarmac (after Boun Neua towards Phongsaly they are “repairing”); the Phu Fa (21.685734, 102.103613) is still the residential top offering I found at LAK 100’000 (THB 400); hot water, mosquitoes and barking dogs at night included (my ear plugs came in handy!)

    Towards Oudomxay the road is getting better and better; 85 kms south of Boun Tai take the right on the Y-junction (the forward-left would take you up to Mouang Khoa towards Dien Bien Phu) at Pak Nam Noy (21.101887 102.25394) - another 65 kms and you’re in Oudomxay (the last +/- 10kms suck due to heavy tarmac repair).
  10. Yes, Dave, this is the very same routing. A lovely stretch to drive; in rainier days possibly a little sludgy ;-)
  11. "In the rainier days possibly a little sludgy".. Rex and I did this in Dec 2012..
    So wet and muddy... fun at first.. but half way through the day.. really looking forward to some pavement..








  12. 6 years ago. Great trip.


    Phongsaly - Hatsa in the morning.


    At the Nam Ou


    Start with 5 boats.







    5 hours from Hatsa to Mouang Khoua.

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