Phongsali & "the Lost World At The End Of The Road".

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by DavidFL, Dec 28, 2016.

  1. A start: Phongsali sits at the top end of Laos & is undoubtedly the most remote province in the country.
    It's also usually the coldest place in the country at an altitude of 1200-1500 metres.

    Sitting on the ridge line you often get a cold cold wind blowing down from China.

    The road there is long & winding
    & is a bit of a pig in many places.
    tight & narrow it is easy to make a mistake with oncoming vehicles on the continuous blind corners; & you often have to hit the holes or get run over.

    Then you finally arrive in Phongsali & it feels a bit like youve arrived at a lost world in the mountains.

    more to come.
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  2. #2 DavidFL, Dec 29, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2016
    Some Phongsali history

    For centuries the Phongsali region was under the control of Tai groups
    Present day Phongsali was then cut up into 3 different zones belonging to two different kingdoms.

    In the north, beginning in the 12th century, Gnot Ou was part of the Sipsongpanna Tai Lue Kingdom.
    The other 2 were Muang Houn & Muang Khua & they belonged to the Lan Xang Lao Kingdom which was founded in the 14th century & later became Laos.

    France took control of Laos in 1893 & the Gnot Ou zone was annexed by the French in 1895.
    In 1916 Chinese marauders saw the French set up a military zone to control & protect the area.
    This was called the 5th Military zone & in 1940 it officially became Phongsali province.

    The Vietnamese kicked the French out of Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu & then proceeded to liberate Phongsali.
    There were two groups in Phongsali
    - The Pathet Lao backed by the Vietnamese
    - The neutralists supported by the Americans.
    Battles were fought in Muang Khua, Samphan & Gnot Ou.
    Eventually the neutralists went over to the Pathet Lao & the communists had control.

    In 1975 the Pathet Lao took control of all of Laos.
    From 1979-1983 tension betwen China & Laos saw the borders with China closed. Farms were collectivized & schools were built in every village.
    1986 Laos starts opens up economically & life slowly starts to improve.

    Changing Towns & districts
    When the 5th Military Zoe was established in 1916 Muang Khua was the capital.
    In 1917 it was moved to Muang Houn.
    In 1921 it was moved to Phongsali.
    From 1979 - 1985 the capital was back in Muang Khua.
    In 1985 the capital again was Phongsali.
    In the 1960s Muang Houn district was dissolved, while Muang Samphan & Muang Mai were created.
    Phongsali, Boun Neua & Boun Tai were one single district; but Phongsali left in 1980 & Boun Tai left in 1990.

    Phongsali has always been a frontier province with a very fluid situation.
  3. Muang La- Phongsali, the way.

    From Luang Prabang I overnighted in Muang La at the beautiful Lha Lkam resort on the Phak river.
    Stopping off in Muang La makes for an easy ride o Phongsali.

    From Muang La it is 35 kms to the Phongsali turn of at Xinxay / Pak Nam Noy. It is a gem of a rural "back road", Highway R2E, following the Nam Phak river downstream.




    Gently undulating with lots of villages along the way.
    it has to be one of my favourite rides in N Laos.




    In the Nam Phak there are villagers "fishing for river weed".


    They have a variety of styles for collecting the river weed.

    IMG_7176.JPG IMG_7180.JPG


    A litle further on up the road the Xinxay / Pak Nam Noy junction comes up & the friendly Akha vendors are ready for biz

    more to come.

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  4. #4 DavidFL, Dec 29, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2016
    From the turn of you head North onto R1B

    The mountain ride starts
    it's 106 kms to Ban Yo.
    At Ban Yo you can turn left & go out to the Chinese border, or turn right & carry on to Boun Neua & Phongsali.

    Generally the road is ok - bumpy asphalt, sometimes patched up & endless blind corners + Akha villages.

    20 kms from the turn off is BoumPhanh & I lucked out with a talad nut.

    Loads of Akhas.
    in "town" the day's market.
    Bouamphan - Talad Nut - R1b - The Sinxay - Boun Neua Road.

    Immediately after Boumphanh the road soars up into the mountains & the work begins.

    The road snaking through the mountains


    The annoying road works were worst towards the top end.
    sometimes these dirt sections were damp & greasy from the morning dew, & / or water truck.
    You never quite knew what to expect around the next corrner.

    Stunning views at the highest point


    One of the two turns offs to Samphan


    In one fertile section, vege gardens

    Nicer roads towards Boun Neua
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  5. Ban Yo is a T Junction.
    Left to the China border & right to Boun Neua & Phongsali.

    Ban Yo city

    It was only 2pm on arrival at Ban Yo & I thought why not slip out to the China border at Pak Kha for a look again.
    I was last out here in 2004 & the road was a beauty......but to my dismay since then the Chinese trucks have been pouring across the border & well the road aint what it used to be.




    Chugging along the intermittent dirt / potholed asphalt road took time.
    Then at the border lined up for a photo under the Lao immigatuon check point sign I was firmly told no photos, get out of here. Not once, but 3 times!
    I moved the bike across the street, parked, & thought oh well have a drink at one of the little shops & you can sneak off a photo.
    But no, I was told again to move on.. WTF came to mind, but move on I did.
    Then I thought how many recent photos of bikes at this local border crossing have I seen - zilch from memory.

    So here's one from 2004

    & I guarantee it doesnt look the same now.

    Back to Ban Yo & the time is now 2.40 PM, better get a move on for Boun Neua & Phongsali.
    The road is ok to Boun Neua & Boun Neua pops up in the distance
    from a distance a smart clean looking place.
    But once you arrive at the junction - what a dirty grubby place it is.
    Booming with construction & shanty shops but a totaly destroyed road & absolutely - the Boun Neau city road -was the worst part of the whole ride from Muang La to Phongsali = destroyed broken asphalt, only potholes & dirt.

    Incredibly there's one big hotel under construction in a cesspit of a town.

    rock on Phongsali...
    more to come.
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  6. #6 DavidFL, Jan 4, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2017
    Boun Neua to Phongsali is only 38 kms

    Its generally up the mountain all the way

    But the road is a pig of a road.

    tight narrow bumpy, potholed, broken asphalt.

    Every now & again I got stuck behind a pick up & couldn't see the road or potholes, then you have to find a way passed & amongst all the potholed blind, often sandy corners.
    Its a scary challenging ride - perfect for a light 250. 55

    It was just on dusk when I arrived in Phongsali & it felt like arrivng at a lost world on the edge of the planet somewhere.

    Phongsali sits on the top of a hill & runs along the ridgelne. It feels like the wild west riding into town, especially the old town with the narow lanes & low old buildings.
    You really do feel as if you are in another world.

    I didnt have a room booked so headed straight for the old Phu Fah hotel.
    A bit of a sprawling complex
    it was the Chinese Consulate in Phongsali up until 1975!

    Some pics from the old part of town.





    Sausage Central


    The Phongsali Tourist Office


    Renovatd old shops

    A view of town from the green lake
    Phongsali reminds me of Sapa in Vietnam, but it is a poor man's Sapa. Grubby & sadly with lots of litter around.

    The meat market

    no steak sandwiches for me in Phongsali

    A bit more to come.
  7. When Rexy and I came back down from Ou tai a few years back. We took a wrong turn and ended up at that Chinese border..

    The Lao side very unhappy to see us too.. chased us away...

    The go pro comes in handy during these situations. No pic but usually get video and take a few still shots later...
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  8. Nice road too then!
    But I see you wisely took the photo back from the "Line" I tried to get one right under the sign = No No No!
  9. After the karate trick treatment earlier. When rex tried to get a pic right on the sign and our 5 km dash out of there. We stayed back this one.. but if I remember correctly. Not happy we were there.
  10. #11 DavidFL, Jan 5, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2017
    It's a hard life in Phongsali....Mum still chops the wood

    and the kids look on after school

    'Brickies' getting ready


    The cesspool at the back of the hospital

    & a hospital too far away, that you would not want to end up in. Let alone get your bike transported out if you were unable to ride it out!

    I witnessed a silly motorbike accident outside the market & the resulting police investigation was amusing
    No closing off the area. The traffic flowed as normal around the accident site.
    Every now & again the police had to move out the way for a larger passing vehicle, then get the tape measure back out again & resume the microscopic analysis.
    All the while one of the victims stood by
    They make ém tough in Phongsali.

    Finally there were lengthy negotiations for compensation between the two motorcyclists & I chuckled at the thought they were probably only arguing about a couple of dollars, but no one had any money to pay.

    An honest bike

    Wat Keo is Phongsali's old temple.




    The Vstrom got the attention of the Wat's monks



    The Viphaphone Hotel has a rooftop with a sunset view
  11. #12 DavidFL, Jan 6, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2017
    As dull as Phongsali may look it has a small but excellent museum with a very informative display on the peoples & history of the province.
    but you would never know at street level.

    History of the province

    Phongsali city was founded by the Phu Noi people in the 18th century


    A display of Akha peoples & their costumes

    The ethnicity of Phongsali province




    Make sure you check it out in Phongsali - you won't be disappointed.
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  12. #13 DavidFL, Jan 6, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2017
    That was it for my Phongsali excursion this time round - a lighter bike -a CRF250 Rally maybe beckoning later this year = I wanna go back & explore more. There are too many dirt trails begging for a look.

    So time to get out of Phongsali & back to Luang Prabang for some comforts.

    It's 400+ kms from Phongsali to Luang Prabang & I thought why not have a go. Make a decision in Oudom Xai.
    The distance may not sound great, but it is not the best road I can tell you.
    Getting out of Phongsali is the worst the Start.
    Then at the end of the day is that less than optimal bouncy R13N from Pak Mong to Luang Prabang. Riding into the sun through all those villages with mega road side traffic at dusk + a bit more.

    I got away from Phongsali at 8.45AM.

    The sea of fog leaving was breathtaking


    The Google Earth View along the ridgline


    Apart from a few photo stops it was a ""non-stop" ride to Luang Prabang, apart from fuel & 2 cappuccinos in Oudm Xai
    Some nice road at the Boun Neau end


    Mountains of Chinese bananas


    Just think all those blue plastic covers are put on by hand

    It's downhill äll the way"from Phongsali to Luang Prabang.

    416 kms for an average speed of 42 KPH.
    just another hard day at the office.

    Arrival time at the Kok Jieng GH in Luang Prabang was 6.30PM.

    Enjoy. Phongsali is right up there out of the way.

    It has featured on GTR before here:

    Phongsali - Luang Namtra - Houei Xai. Its cold in them there Lao hills.

    Oudom Xai to Phongsali, tarmac all the way.

    OuTay - Phongsali - Hatsa - Nam Ou Boat Trip

    Phongsali - Ou Thai - Bosao.

    Chiang Mai – Phongsali / Luang Prabang & Return

    Huay Xai-Phongsali-Xam Neua Beyond

    Huay Xai-Phongsali-Xam Neua Beyond

    The Curse of the Hill Tribe Women.........

    Where to stay in Phongsali
    Phongsali - Accommodation

    Where to eat in Phongsali
    Phongsali - Restaurants

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