Vientiane to Luang Prabang and return.

Jun 21, 2006
Vientiane to Luang Prabang and return, 2 up, on China's answer to the Honda Dream.

So, after towing my bike 1,000 miles from Phuket to Elle, (my girlfriend) parent’s home 2hrs east of Nong Khai, I was looking forward to doing some riding around Isan country. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that Songkran, (the Thai new year water throwing/festival) was going to last a week up here. When I used to live on Koh Samui, Songkran only lasted for 24 hours. I read Davidfl’s report saying it goes for about a week in Chiang Mai but I thought, (wrongly), that out here ‘in the sticks’ if would be over pretty quickly.

So we decided to drive the car to Nong Khai, where we left it parked in a temple car park, (10 baht a day, instead of 100 baht a day at the border), and took the bus over the Friendship Bridge into Laos. Once over the border, we got a taxi for the 22 km ride into Vientiane. Good job we didn’t take a Tuk Tuk, as Songkran was full on in Laos, and those in the Tuk Tuk would have been sprayed/drenched with water, as the locals seem to be on every corner, armed with the Ghost Busters type water guns. We made for Samsenthai Street, as this is where most of the guesthouses are located in Vientiane, and the street is 3 streets back from the river.

We thought we would try The Dragon Guest House, (one of David’s recommendations), but alas they were closed. So here we were stranded on the pavement with water fights about 50m in each direction. Luckily our taxi driver said to go down lane at side of Dragon GH, and more Guest Houses there. Boy, that was lucky as we were able to find another GH, without getting drenched. The day we arrived was the last day of Laos New Year, and we were assured by the hotel staff that all would be okay (dry), by morning. There was a nice looking bakery across the road but unfortunately closed for New Year. We could see a café open about 4 blocks down, so by going up and down the side streets were able to get to the café without getting wet. Then it was back to the GH for an early nite, as the locals were showering everyone with water, way into the evening.

We have the book and the map, now we need a bike.

Next morning, sure enuf all water throwing had stopped, shops open, so headed out for brekkie. The first café we tried only showed us a drinks menu, and when I asked for a meal menu, they said sorry, have run out of food. So went next door and had a good old fry up for brekkie, whilst eating the meal, we looked at the kitchen of the previous café, and noticed that the outside kitchen doors were padlocked from the outside…. Must be to keep the staff in. (And I believe a fellow GT-Rider is the manager of this café.


No chance of the cook nipping out for a smoko, with the door padlocked on the outside.

So after brekkie, off we went in search of a motorbike. I had printed all the info from GT site re bike hire in Laos, and only one shop was mentioned hiring out Honda wave/dreams. As there were only the 2 of us, didn’t need a big trailie, so we headed for SB Motor. They had a Baja 250 for rent, 800 baht a day, and I asked about one of their Chinese copy Honda Waves. The lady said I cant take that to Luang Prabang, I should take the Baja, then in Laos she said to Elle that one of their Waves had just got back from LB. So after a bit of pleading on my part, we agreed on 1,000 baht for 7 days rental, I got them to put a basket on the front, and quickly left the shop. Then riding around VTE we came across quite a few other bike shops, with heaps of better looking Waves than ours. PVO especially down by the river front, had a good selection of bikes.
After calling in a couple of shops, managed to pick up a copy of David’s Laos map. That night we park the bike outside the hotel, alongside another bike, locked it up and retired for the evening, to study the map and read the trip reports I had printed out from the Laos site..


our trusty Chinese Bike complete with Honda Wave stickers.

In the morning all ready for the big ride, we come downstairs and I notice the bike has been moved, parked alongside most of the other bikes, and both tyres flat. Obviously someone didn’t like where I had parked, moved my locked bike and let the tyres down. Luckily there was a bike repair place close by, so pushed the bike there to get the tyres blown up. Both tyres stayed up, so we decided to head off. The plan was to make Vang Vieng the first nite and stay 2 nites there.

For those not yet been to VTE it resembles a rather large construction site, they seem to have dug up quite a few of the roads, and no matter which way you leave to get outta town, you will come across a load of road works. Once on the outskirts the road cleared, and I found that 60 kph was about the maximum to ride the bike, anything above that and the whole bike started rattling/vibrating big time. Also noticed fuel gauge showed full all the time, and checking the fuel tap, only had on/off no reserve, so had to make sure stopped often for fuel. The fuel gauge not working was a real bummer, as one thing I hate is having to stop for fuel, luckily I have never run out over the years, but must have come pretty close.

It seemed strange riding on the wrong side of the road, many years ago I lived in Germany for 18 months driving a lot for the company I was working for, (British Army civilian attached) so have had experience being on the other side. After about 1 hour something didn’t feel right with the bike, and stopping I looked down to see the rear tyre flat. Luckily it was only about 50m to a bike repair place. The guy took out the old tube which was covered in patches, so he suggested it would be better to put a new tube in. He didn’t have one in stock so he went up the road to buy me one. Whilst he was putting on a new tube, Elle got chatting to his mate, who happened to be Thai, from Udon Thani, and used to work in the Boat Lagoon on Phuket, that’s just up the road from where we live, I have a few friends working there, but he didn’t know any of them.


Puncture Number 1

So back on the road again, it’s Route 13 all the way up so no danger of getting lost. We got to Phonhong and decided it was time for lunch. This village has the junction to go to Ang Nam Ngum which is a vast artificial lake, the hydro electric plant there generates most of the electricity for Vientiane and even sells some of the power to LOS. Whilst sitting in a café there a Laos guy turned up on a Suzuki Djezibal 250, complete with wife, baby, and a large bag on his rear rack. He said he has a resort at Vang Vieng.

Lunch over it was an easy ride to VV, getting there about 3.30pm. For those not good at map reading (me included), the main road actually bypasses VV, we were expecting to see all the guest houses listed on the map, and when we only saw 1 or 2, we got the map out again, and realized there must be a road into VV. Once in the town, we turned down beside Green Discovery Tours, and on the left, stayed at the Dokkhoun 1 Guesthouse. Quite a modern place, $4 a nite, and for that you get hot shower, fan, towels etc. a really nice place, set back a bit so no noise from the road, and if you go to end of their driveway, there is a lean to garage where you can park your bike under cover.

VV is certainly a nice place to chill out for a few days, we stayed 2 nites here, internet a lot dearer that VTE but at least the cheap accom., makes up for it. You can even stay in little huts by the river, lazing in a hammock all day, if you really want peace and quite, or stay in town close to all the restaurants. Its quite unbelievable here where they have the tv programme Friends going non-stop in 3 restaurants. You can sit in one restaurant on the corner of the street watching Friends, and hearing another episode from restaurant across the road. VV is popular for kayaking down the river or for something different they give you truck inner tube and you float down on your own. Whilst there we decided to visit a Hmong village. To get there head north from town, on R13, just past KM 169 marker you will see sign on left for Caves, go down track and Hmong village is across the rickety wooden/bamboo bridge. You have to park by bridge and walk over, but the locals ride their bikes over. (Wonder how many slip and fall into river). The Hmong village wasn’t really worth visiting and a tourist office in VV said the one we saw was the better of the ones around. Wouldn’t mind searching for a better one next time.

Vang Vieng. You can still have fun, even on a small bike.


Vang Vieng. The rickety bridge to the Hmong Village.


If you don't want to ride back to the village, you can always take the (rubber) Tube.

I noticed the backpacker minibuses take 5 hours to do the trip VV to Luang Prabang, and VIP buses 6 hours, so thought it may be best to take two days for the trip to LP especially as we don’t go above 60kph, and sometimes when riding in 3rd gear the bike starts missing, also on the downhill parts, when you back off the throttle, the exhaust keeps popping. Our second evening in VV we met up with GT Rider Jimoi, and he said we can do VV to LP in 1 day no problem. So it was up early the following morning, porridge with banana, and a cuppa tea, for brekkie whilst watching 2 episodes of Friends, then on the road again.

Once past Kasi you really start to climb, the bike was handling the steep hills okay, just ignored the occasional slipping third gear/clutch and made the most of the vibrations through the foot pegs. The scenery is really breathtaking, David mentions this is one of the great rides in S.E. Asia and he wasn’t kidding. Especially at our low speed, we could really enjoy the scenery. The weather great, fine and sunny, no low cloud or mist…. Then way way up, passing thru villages that consist of 10-15 straw huts, we get our 2nd puncture. I couldn’t believe it, the back wheel again, and with the new tube in it. So now pushing the bike, the scenery was going past even slower….. luckily only about 50m we found a repair place. The guy pulled out the tube and found 2 holes in it. I was wishing we had waited a few more days and bought my own bike thru, how many more punctures/flats before we make it to LP.


Puncture Number 2.

So finally back on the road again, taking care of the road surfaces, to keep out of any potholes/bumps etc, and was even able to overtake the occasional local bus, both going up hill and down hill. When arriving at LP, the main road bypasses the town and once again we went the wrong way. Will have to learn to study map a bit more before riding.


The road is way down there, check how the seat has collapsed.

Luang Prabang another great town to hang out, most of the guesthouses have polished wooden floors, and the town has World Heritage status, as so much of it has been preserved from the olden days. We enjoyed sitting in the restaurant looking down on the Mekong watching the boats going to and from, then at night the scenery all changes with the various lights coming on. It was interesting watching the local fishermen, they lay a long net in the river and just let it drift down with the current. So many local buses we saw all had motorbikes on the roof, so suggested to Elle it may be better to get a bus back to Vientiane, as we have been lucky with the last 2 punctures being near places to get fixed, but there are a lot of places where it could involve a long walk. Also once we have been riding for about 30 minutes each time, the padding in the seat seems to disappear, and it feels like you are sitting on bare metal.


Well, we finally made it to Luang Prabang


Luang Prabang, nite market, anyone for a t'shirt


Anyone for a haircut...

Anyway Elle (bless her), was happy to give it a go riding back. So we thought of trying to make it back to Vang Vieng in 1 day. We left quite early, we had a dream ride back, a bit more down hill this time, and with 2 spare water bottles filled with fuel made it back to VV by 1pm. Booked back into same guest house, stayed the 1 night only. As it was Sunday and the MotoGp was on I was all set up in the hotel lounge in front of the tele waiting for the 3 races to start. Just before the races were due to get underway, the signal went, and was the same for the whole village, as I quickly went to check out another couple of restaurants that had cable tv going. So I sat for about an hour in front of a blank screen hoping the signal would come back, but no luck. You should have seen the faces on some of the guests, walking past me a few times, and there I was just sitting in front of a blank screen. So I gave the race a miss, and ended up in a restaurant watching some more episodes of Friends.

The following day, Monday we rode back to Vientiane, arriving around 1pm, stayed in the same guest house, and this time had a room with a tv, so was able to watch the race then. Had arranged to meet up with Jimoi the next day at the Kop Chai Deu Pub, and Craypot was there as well. I showed Craypot the Chinese Wave, and he couldn’t believe we had gone 2 up on that all the way to Luang Prabang.

To sum up, it doesn’t matter what bike you ride, all will get you there. The road is sealed all the way up, and at KM 307 is a good spot to stop, on the way up, for a meal. This is where all the tourist buses stop, you can get a meal, fuel, even a cup of tea. (and I do like my cuppa).

The stretch from Hin Hoeup to Vang Nieng has a lot of deep potholes, you have to be careful not to ride in them, especially on a small bike like the Wave, obviously the bigger trailies will be able to handle them better.

You start to climb the mountains once you have passed Kasi. There are heaps of small villages you ride through, and its best to keep your speed down as you have to dodge, ducks, pigs, goats, cows, dogs, and horses, and most of these critters had babies as well, roaming the roads. Nearly hit 1 goat, he was on my nearside and just as I was going passed him, he ran across in front of me.


For the people in OZ, where their donations go to.

On one mountain bend a semi trailer was coming the other way, he had a huge transformer as the load, and on the bends he would take up both sides of the road, then a bit further on, you could see where his tyres had literally torn up the road.

The drivers don’t give way much to motorbikes, unlike Thailand. One truck driver saw me approaching and still threw an empty drink can, out of his window right in front of me. He wasn’t deliberately throwing the can at me, just tossed it out when empty.

When in Vientiane if you sit near the river your Thai mobile fone works perfect, as there is a fone tower just across the river. I even went into the local handy mart shop, (no 7-11’s in Laos) and bought a Thai fone top up card. Seemed strange being 20kms from the border, and here I am in Laos using my Thai fone. (I don’t have roaming; you can’t get it on pre paid).

In VTE couldn’t believe all the flash cars we saw, the mountain villages might be poor, but in the capital, we saw a Porsche 911, quite a few SLK Mercs, a Hummer, Lexus’s etc.
Watch out of you go to the Scandinavian Bakery, the cakes are too yummy, as is the coffee, bit hard to leave, you can sit outside, or go inside upstairs in the air con and watch cable tv.

On the whole trip (approx 800 kms), the only fallangs we saw on the road were a couple on bicycles. Whilst in Vang Vieng we saw a few Baja’s and a guy and girl from Finland on 2 Suzuki Djezibels with Cambodian plates. Didn’t get to chat to them, but looking at their parked bikes, they certainly had some gear with them. Their pannier racks were so big, there wasn’t any room for a pillion to sit on the seat.

Whilst filling up with gas high up in a mountain village, they have the large glass bottle they fill then siphon into your tank. My tank was full, with still some fuel left in the pipe, so they went and got an empty water bottle and put the remaining fuel in that for me, then put the bottle in a plastic bag and was able to put the bottle under the seat. I thanked them for this as I was expecting them to keep the left over fuel and sell on to next person.

Coming back across the bridge, had to stop at Laos customs to have our bags checked, and the customs man kept saying ‘thank you very much, thank you very much’ to us. I had learnt the Laos for that so replied the same… what a nice man.

Excluding GT Riders, not many people would have seen this road sign. It tells you to change driving from one side of the road to the other.


Friendship Bridge, donated by Australia, opened 6th April 1994.