Laos Route Descriptions & Maps

Laos 2010

Cambodian border to Don Det (Nakasang) 19Ks

Hwy. #13 to 16Ks. Left to Ferry at 19Ks. Gentle winds. Flat, dull. Quiet.

Don Det (Nakasang) to Don Khong 18Ks

out to Hwy. #13 at 3Ks, left for Don Khong. AM winds from south (tail) in February. Stay on Hwy. #13. At 17Ks, road for passenger and bike ferry to Don Khong. Ferry at 18Ks. The ferry lands in the center of the hotels in Don Khong.

Don Khong to Champasak 105Ks

**(See description below in opposite direction from a previous trip 2002. Notes directly below are additions from our 2010 trip.)
1K to Hwy. 13, left. Rolling then mostly flat and rolling again. In February gentle winds but mostly at our backs. Light traffic but fast moving. Dull and redundant scenery. At 97Ks, left. Ferry at 102Ks. Into Champasak from 103 to 106Ks.
Champasak Don Kong Island 105Ks
8Ks back to Hwy #13. Right. Good tar road, wide 2-lanes. Rolling then mostly flat till 80Ks. Then rolling again. Winds from all directions but mostly head winds. Light traffic but moves fast. Dull and redundant scenery. At 104Ks, right on 1-lane tar road to “Kong Island” At 105Ks, the ferry landing. Small boats to the island. The landing is in the center of the hotels.

Champasak to Vat Phou 20Ks roundtrip

10Ks out and 10Ks back, flat, nice ride.

Champasak to Pakse 39Ks

**(See description below in opposite direction from a previous trip 2002. Notes directly below are additions from our 2010 trip.)
Out to Hwy. 13 6Ks, right. Winds from south in February 2010. Pakse at 37Ks.
Pakse to Champasak 39Ks
Hwy #13 out of town. At 2Ks, the turn for bridge over Mekong and Thailand. Straight. Slightly climbing. At 8Ks, junction. Straight to Bolevans. Right to Kong Island (120Ks). Right on Hwy #13, At 9Ks, end of gradual climb and end of urban sprawl and new highway to Paksong. Rain then head winds then tail winds. At 15Ks, good road drifts lower. Light traffic. Finally, the country side. OK scenery. At 31Ks, right on tar 2-lane road with a few potholes. Up a little then down a little to ferry at 36Ks. Off ferry and 3Ks into Champasak at 39Ks.

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Pakse to Paksong (In the Bolevans) 53Ks

**(See description below from a previous trip 2002. Notes directly below are additions from our 2010 trip.)
Out on Hwy. #13, south. Wide 2-lanes, urban to junction Hwy. #23 at 8Ks, straight. Climbing. Traffic dies down but its fairly busy to junction for Salavan at 21Ks. At 39Ks, dirt road to Tad Fane (in 1K off road to see waterfall and resort). continue up to Paksong at 51Ks, 1300 meters.
**Hwy. #23 is shown as Hwy. 16 on road signs.

Pakse to Paksong (In the Bolevans) 53Ks

This route is described in the Lonely Planet Bike Book. Go south on Highway #13 to a junction. Take Highway #23 and gradually climb all the way on a good road. We stayed at Tad Fan Waterfall. Beautiful jungle resort and we were the only guests. Paksong is nothing special.

Paksong to Salavan 84Ks

**(See description below from a previous trip 2002. Notes directly below are additions from our 2010 trip.)
Straight through town on Hwy.#23. Now rolling down on a good 2-lane Hwy. Little traffic. Nice scenery. At 37Ks, Tha Teng. At 40Ks, start of new road (scheduled to be finished July 2010.) First 10 Ks are rolling then down steeper. Good scenery here. Junction at 58Ks. Right to Salavan. Gradual grades mostly down . Good quiet road. Nice villages. Salavan is spread out, center at 84Ks.
**Roads are now paved in this area to Kekong and to Attapu from Salavan.

Paksong to Tad Lo 60 Ks

Per Lonely Planet, continue on Highway #23 to Muang Tha Teng on a scenic good road. (We did not take the back road recommended by LP because we liked Highway #23). 18 Ks before Ban Beng, the road turns into dirt and dust; however, there was no traffic. At T junction you can go right to Salavan or left to Tad Lo. There is a sign for Tad Lo after 4 Ks to left. This side road is about 2 Ks to many guesthouses on a nice waterfall and loaded with backpackers.

Salavan to Tad Lo 33Ks

Gently climbing to junction of Hwy. #23 at 26Ks. Winds gentle and variable in February 2010. Rolling to turn for Tad Lo at 31Ks. Left for 2Ks. Tad Lo at 33Ks.

Tad Lo to Pakse 86Ks

to Hwy. #20 2Ks, right. Start climbing. Moderate grades. At times steep. Then gradually climb from 7Ks to 11Ks. Now, generally gradually descending. Occasional short climbs. Road still quiet. Gentle winds (head). Only OK scenery. After 40Ks, rolling hills and nice scenery. Basic villages. At 50Ks, two bigger hills then gradually climb, steeper before the Junction at 66Ks. Right. Gradual down. At 78Ks, Junction Hwy. #23. At 86Ks, center of Pakse

Pakse to Thai Border 45Ks

Over bridge at 4Ks. Slightly rolling. Wide 2-lane road. Light traffic. Gentle variable winds. Dull scenery. Thai Border at 45Ks.

lao.map.route.12010bWe cut through Thailand to Northern Laos (See Thailand for the route)

Thai Border (Friendship Bridge near Nong Khai) to Vientiane 20Ks

The bridge is narrow. From Border out and right. 4-lanes. Moderate traffic. At 13Ks, traffic circle, bear right. At 18Ks, its a one way road. At 20Ks, the center.

Vientiane to Vang Sang 62Ks

In 2012, this road had deteriorated, very dusty and repairs we set to start in late 2012.
Out past airport at 5Ks on Hwy.#13. Previously, we had take Hwy.#10, better) Urban sprawl to 15Ks. Slightly climbing. Moderate traffic on a wide 2-lane tar road. A little bumpy on the edges. North (head) light winds. Green areas are pleasant. Guest houses along the way. Some rolling hills, mostly up. At 62Ks, Vang Sang.**
**We understood that this guest house was at 80Ks but it was at 62Ks, so it was a short day. There are several nice guest houses in Hinheup, 32Ks farther up the road.

Vang Sang to Vang Vieng 94Ks

In 2012, this road had deteriorated and repairs were set to start in late 2012.
Hwy.#13 Hilly to Phon Hong at 8Ks. Junction with Hwy.#10, straight. Flat. Good scenery. Good 2-lane road. Light traffic. North(head) light winds. At 20Ks, a 2K moderate climb then down a little to a valley. Easy rolling to Hinheup at 32Ks (Guest houses). Ups and downs, twists and turns to 45Ks. Then road mellows out. At 63Ks, easy along river. At 70Ks, Huay Mo, a long busy town. At 73Ks, gradual climb to 76Ks. Variable light winds. Rolling generally gradually down. At 83Ks., flat and straight. At 92Ks, first turn for Vang Vieng, left. Two scenic quiet Ks into town at 94Ks.

Vang Vieng to Kasi, 60Ks

In 2012, road repairs were were underway near Vang Vieng. More traffic.
Out to Hwy. #13 at 1Ks. Wide 2-lane road. Mostly good condition. Occasionally patched. Less traffic. Great scenery of Limestone Karst mountains. Rolling gradually up. North (head) light winds. In PM variable. At 18Ks, Patang. Over bridge over river. Now gradually up valley. At 28Ks, moderately climb with some steep short ups. Top at 36Ks. Down gradually. A few minor ups but generally down. Easy riding. Kasi at 60Ks. Variable winds.

Kasi to Phoukhoun 45Ks

In 2012, road is older, patched and a little broken but still OK. We rode both ways and going down from Phoukhoun to Kasi was simply a scenic easy ride. More traffic, south winds and because of a night rain great visibility.
Gradually climb thru a beautiful green valley to 7Ks., then climb. Mostly moderate, short steep parts and occasional short downs. At 13Ks, rolling transverse then a steep descent for 2Ks. to bridge at 21Ks. Excellent scenery. Gusty winds (tail). Quiet, good road. Moderate climb to 27Ks. A 1K reprieve then up again. You can see the top now. At 35Ks, view point restaurant but still not the top. At 36Ks, the top. Rolling easy riding then down. Great views. At 41Ks, moderate climb to 44Ks then down into Phoukhoun at 45Ks.

****Phoukhoun to Phon Sawon (Xian Hoang) via M Soui 136Ks, toward plain of Jars
A new road. Very curvy and hilly. We started thinking it was 98Ks but the road signs indicated it was 136Ks. This was enough to turn us back. We got two varying reports. The first was that there was a loop all the way back to Luang Prabang. That’s what we intended to do. But a motorcycle guide said that it was a rough roads except in and out of Phon Sawan. We did not want to go in and out the same road.

Phoukhoun to Kiewkacham 51Ks.

Older rougher road. In 2012, only the part of the road north of Phoukhoun for 6Ks is often broken (bottom of the first hill). Vistas but in March obscured by smoke. At 10Ks, road improves. Interesting minority villages. A circuitous route. Great biking. Here is how it goes: up to 1K, down to 7K, up to 11K, rolling to 21K, down to 30K (some steep), up to 38Ks (some gradual),Rolling up and down to 46K (gradual), up to 50K, down to 51K and Kiewkacham.

**Phoukhoun has 2 or 3 adequate guest houses. Kiewkachan has 2 or 3 poor guest houses.

Kiewkacham to Xiengnceun 55Ks.

Up 1K then down for 22Ks, moderately to 23Ks. Bridge then up. Moderate gradual grades up. Never steep but always climbing to 38Ks. Dowm Good road. Light traffic. To 39Ks then climb to 41Ks. Down twists and turns,OK to town at 54Ks.

Xiengnceun to Luang Prabang 25Ks

Down along river to 7Ks then away from river, rolling up then moderately climb to 15Ks. Still light traffic, good road and good scenery. Steeper toward the top. Rolling down gradually all the way. More traffic as you go. downtown at 25Ks.

Luang Prabang to Pak Muang 111Ks

In 2012, good road. Out to single lane motorcycle bridge over Nam Khan river at 1K. At 2Ks., left on Hwy.#13. Busy for 8Ks, then quiet. Rolling. At 15Ks, along the Mekong. Good 2-lane road. North (head) winds. At 21Ks, the road to the caves. More rolling hills. At 32Ks, cross the Nam Ou, then following it up river. Very good scenery. Mostly easy rolling hills. 3Ks up to 68Ks then down to 72Ks and up a tributary river. Rolling. At 83Ks, cross this river and now gradually up a pretty, green rice valley. Gradual climb to 95Ks. Then rolling to Pak Muang at 111Ks and Junction.

Pak Muang to Nong Khiew 30Ks

At junction right on Hwy.#1, narrow, a bit broken 2-lane road, quiet. Rolling down a river valley. Great scenery. Occasional hills. Bridge in Nong Khiew at 30Ks. (see below for Oudomzay to Pak Muang in 2012)

Nong Khiew to Vieng Kham – day ride 96Ks round trip.

Hwy.#1, narrow older but OK road. Very quiet. Hilly generally up stream to 14Ks, beautiful then good scenery. Climb moderately (sometimes steeper) to 26Ks. Variable winds. Now down moderate/steep through hill tribe villages. Long vistas. Some hills down into Vieng Khan at Seng River, 48Ks.

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**Nong Khiew to Muang Khua via boat. Red dashes are the boat ride.

****Vietnam Border to Muang Khua, 2012

Vietam Border to Muang Mai 28Ks

This road is under construction and they tell us it will be finished by June 2013. Vietnam border to Passport control down gradual 3Ks. Then steep. At 10Ks, gradual descent to river at 18Ks down river valley then 2K moderate climb and down into Muang Mai at 28Ks.
When sealed, it will be a great mountain road. Good scenery. Variable wind.

Muang Mai to Muang Khua 40Ks

Start climbing. At 5Ks steep. Good hazey vistas. At 15Ks, moderate climbing. Up and down to 20Ks, up steep to 22Ks (top). Better road (still under construction) At 30Ks, sealed section to 35Ks to river. Rolling hills up river. Rough sections and a stream ford. The Tug ferry at 40Ks, Muang Khua. Tough trip. When sealed, it will still be a hard ride up for 20Ks.

Muang Khua to Oudomxai (Muiang Xay) 100Ks.

Out on Hwy.#2E along Pak river. Easy rolling. Nice scenery. Good, quiet tar road. At 72Ks, Muang La (after bridge restaurants and guest house). No wind. Now up a wider valley. More of a climb to 81Ks. Hills away from the river then back to the river (which is now getting puny). Again hilly. After 91Ks, more down than up. At 100Ks, Oudomxay.

2012 Oudomxai to Pak Mung 83Ks (going back toward Luang Prabang)

Slightly up to turn for Pak Beng at 4Ks, left. Moderate/gradual climb. Older tar road. Lots of rough broken sections. Nice views. At 16Ks, rolling hills then at 21Ks, climb moderate to 26Ks. Top*. Steep down to 32Ks then gradual to 40Ks. Hills then moderate climb to 48Ks. Gradual traverse up to pass at 56Ks. All down, some steep. Occasionally a short rise Pak Mong at 83Ks. Tough ride.
*From Muong Khua to this top is 126K climb. Actually, mostly rolling and easy.

Oudomxay to Nateuy 78Ks.

In 2012, this road is new. Rolling hills up river valley to 9Ks. 1K up, 1K down. At 14Ks, climb. Excellent road. Light traffic. No shoulder. Moderate grades. Curvy. So-so scenery. Hazy. At 18Ks, traverse. Denuded mountains. At 20Ks, easy rolling hills, generally climbing. Top at 30Ks. Down mostly moderate to 44Ks. Interesting villages. Better scenery. No pattern for winds. Easy up then easy down to Na Mor at 50Ks. (Guest Houses). Rolling then up 2Ks to 65Ks. Through tribal villages. Rolling down to Nateuy and junction at 78Ks. (Guest houses, New one 1K out).

Nateuy to Louang Namtha 37Ks

Excellent highway now Wide 2-lane road. Light traffic. At first rolling hills then stair step descent OK scenery. No wind. At 28Ks, turn for by pass to Houei Xai. Bear right toward Namtha. Now straight and nearly flat to 36Ks. Junction. (Right to Muong Sing) Left 1K to Namtha at 37Ks.

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Namtha to Muong Sing 118Ks round trip

Out 1K to junction then straight, rolling hills. Graually up the river on Hwy. #17. Tribe villages. Nice scenery. Today a follow wind (east). Quiet. Older tar road. A little bumpy but OK. At 25Ks, longer, steeper hills. Finally, at 34Ks, a moderate/steep, climb to 37Ks. The top. Moderate/steep down to 40Ks, then rolling hills down a valley. Good scenery. At 50Ks, narrow valley becomes wide and more rolling then a gradual descent to 58Ks, a junction. Right to Muang Sing at 59Ks. (Left at the junction takes you to Xieng Kok where boats are not running to Houei Xai because of low water in the Mekong River 3/2010)

Namtha to Vieng Phukha 61Ks

Out to junction with by pass road at 9Ks. Mostly flat. Some traffic out of town then quiet. Rolling gradual climb. A steep 1K climb to 24Ks. 1Ks steep down. Good mountain scenery. Light winds. Very good wide 2-lane road. Rolling down to 30Ks, rolling up to 47Ks, some steep hills, then rolling down to Vieng Phukha at 61Ks. (easy riding)

Vieng Phukha to Ban Don Chai 51Ks

Easy rolling hills up a valley to 13Ks, the dreaded coal mine and now coal trucks. Continue rolling up till 21Ks. Moderate/steep climb to 26Ks. Good scenery. Quiet road but some coal trucks. Rolling down moderately steep to 33Ks. Then a stair step climb to 40Ks. Hazy vistas. Now down moderate/steep. Bottom at 48Ks. Drift lower to Ban Don Chai at 51Ks.

Ban Don Chai to Houei Xai 69Ks

Up 1K steep. Newly completed asphalt road in 2012. Easy rolling to 10Ks. Steep then moderate climb to 13Ks. Down to 16Ks. A short hill and down to 20Ks. Good scenery. Tribal villages. Quiet road. Rolling hills. 3K steep climb to 31Ks. 3K steep descent then rolling to 37Ks. Now its a very gradual down but a few moderate hills up and down. Still little traffic (Sunday). Variable winds. Dull scenery. At the Mekong River at 64Ks. Rolling hills Into Houei Xai at 69Ks. Main road is one-way against us.

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Southern Laos, March 2009

Vietnam border at Lao Bao to Sepone, Laos 45Ks

Rolling hills through low mountains. 2-lane. Very good road with a drop down shoulder. Quiet. Dull scenery. Some big trucks. Head winds (west). Sepone at 45Ks.

Sepone to Maung Phin 35Ks

Flatter, hazy mountain views almost eerie. Road good but patched. Quiet road. Early tail wind then head wind, fluky. Subsistence farming area. Maung Phin 35Ks.

Moung Phin to Dong Hene 94Ks

Hwy #9 is slightly rolling and straight. Dull scenery. AM tail wind then the winds swirl from all directions. Road is starting to deteriorate (3/2009). Light traffic, some big trucks. Into Dong Hene at 94Ks. (No guesthouses between these two towns.)

Dong Hene to Seno (turn for Pakse) 35Ks**

Easy rolling or flat into Seno at 35Ks. AM trail wind (light). Dull scenery. Light traffic but more into Seno. Good road, occasionally a little broken.

**Seno Junction Hwy # 9 & 13 (west) to Savannakhet 30Ks, (south) to Pakse 230Ks, (north) to Vientiene 440Ks.

Seno to Paksong 64Ks

On Hwy #13 south. Good wide 2-lane tar road. Easy rolling. Light traffic. Viariable winds mostly following. At 23Ks, junction, road from Savanakhet. Greener with nice big trees here. Nice. More rolling after 35Ks. Less scenic. At 62Ks, Paksong.

Paksong to Khong Sedone 104Ks

Hwy #13. The same after 40Ks, some hills. Dull scenery. Winds start from east (head) in AM then in PM switch all around. Often tail winds. Into Khong Sedone at 104Ks. Nothing special.

Khong Sedone to Pakse 64Ks

Hwy 13. The same flat. Nice green rice fields and distant mountains. AM head winds. After 20Ks, more rolling. More traffic into Pakse. Across the 1-lane bridge into town 64Ks.

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Pakse to Champasak 39Ks

Hwy #13 out of town. At 2Ks, the turn for bridge over Mekong and Thailand. Straight. Slightly climbing. At 8Ks, junction. Straight to Bolevans. Right to Kong Island (120Ks). Right on Hwy #13, At 9Ks, end of gradual climb and end of urban sprawl and new highway to Paksong. Rain then head winds then tail winds. At 15Ks, good road drifts lower. Light traffic. Finally, the country side. OK scenery. At 31Ks, right on tar 2-lane road with a few potholes. Up a little then down a little to ferry at 36Ks. Off ferry and 3Ks into Champasak at 39Ks.

Champasak to Vat Phou 20Ks roundtrip

10Ks out and 10Ks back, flat, nice ride.

Champasak to Kong Island 105Ks

8Ks back to Hwy #13. Right. Good tar road, wide 2-lanes. Rolling then mostly flat till 80Ks. Then rolling again. Winds from all directions but mostly head winds. Light traffic but moves fast. Dull and redundant scenery. At 104Ks, right on 1-lane tar road to “Kong Island” At 105Ks, the ferry landing. Small boats to the island. The landing is in the center of the hotels.

Around Kong Island 37Ks.

ong Island to the border with Cambodia 38Ks

3Ks south to Big Ferry then 5Ks to Hwy at 8Ks, right on Hwy #13 the same. At 28ks, road to Ban Nakassang and ferry to Don Det. Straight. At 32Ks, turn for boat to see Dolphins (in 6Ks). Border at 38Ks

Southern Laos 2002

Entire trip is Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Southern Laos
January, February 2002

Thai border to Pakse Laos 40Ks

Highway #10 is a good paved road. You cross the new bridge with good views into Pakse. Light traffic and mostly flat.

Pakse to Muang Khong 125 Ks

Take Highway #13 south out of Pakse. You will climb for 5 Ks on a busy road then it becomes quiet with dull scenery. Toward Khong, it’s flat and dull. There’s a ferry to Khong Island. The island has a path you can bike around the island on. Highway #13 is good to the Cambodian border about 22 Ks. It is sometimes possible to cross to Stung Treng in Cambodia. The roads in Cambodia are very rough.

Muang Khong (Khong Isalnd) to Champasake (Returning to Pakse) 95 Ks

Go north on Highway #13 to the road for Champasake. Take a left to the ferry that crosses the Mekong. From the ferry it’s an excellent 10 Ks ride to the Temple complex.

Pakse to the north

Eventually this road will be completed. In 2002 it was under construction and reported to be dusty, miserable and dull.

Pakse to Paksong (In the Bolevans) 53 Ks

This route is described in the Lonely Planet Bike Book. Go south on Highway #13 to a junction. Take Highway #23 and gradually climb all the way on a good road. We stayed at Tad Fan Waterfall. Beautiful jungle resort and we were the only guests. Paksong is nothing special.

Paksong to Tad Lo 60 Ks

Per Lonely Planet, continue on Highway #23 to Muang Tha Teng on a scenic good road. (We did not take the back road recommended by LP because we liked Highway #23). 18 Ks before Ban Beng, the road turns into dirt and dust; however, there was no traffic. At T junction you can go right to Salavan or left to Tad Lo. There is a sign for Tad Lo after 4 Ks to left. This side road is about 2 Ks to many guesthouses on a nice waterfall and loaded with backpackers.

Tad Lo to Pakse 90 Ks

Highway #20 west climbs for 10 Ks, it’s interesting and very quiet. The junction with Highway #23 is at Ban Huayhe. From here it’s 20 Ks of gradual down to Pakse.

This route is in the LP book.
This route is in the LP book.

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Louang Phabang to Pak Mong 111 Ks

This is a relatively easy ride on a well-engineered road. From Louang Phabang, the road generally heads up the Mekong river toward the Pak Mong Caves. There are rolling hills and you cross 2 bridges over rivers running into the Mekong. The traffic is light (as usual) with nice scenery. At 66Ks from Louang Phabang. the road heads inland and initially climbs 3Ks and then stays inland along a river for 28 Ks. Stores and noodle shops occasionally dot the way. Finally, you cross the river and gradually climb up a smaller river. It’s never steep and leads to a broad high valley at the source of the river. Here are rice fields and more population. Highway 13 then drifts lower to the junction with Highway 1, the east-west road in northern Laos.

Pak Mong to Muan Ngog 30 Ks

Highway 1 is older, not as well engineered, hilly and sometimes bumpy. It’s 9 Ks to Nam Bak where there are guesthouses etc. More hills but also some level areas. There is increasingly beautiful scenery. Muan Ngog is 21Ks from Nam Bak. There’s a bridge over the river in Muan Ngog. (Highway 1 is a reasonably good road heading east after the bridge. There are occasional villages and good scenery.)

Muan Ngog to Udon Xai (Sai) 116 Ks

Retrace your route 30Ks to Pak Mong. Out of Pak Mong the older Highway 1 heads up a river valley over rolling hills. Then a continuous 6% Climb for 7 Ks to a Hmong Village which is 22 Ks from Pak Mong. Then up again thru a valley with denuded hills over an older, less engineered, curvy and sometimes rough roads. There is virtually no traffic. Often trees shade the road. Highway 1 continues mostly up and some down through Hmong villages, usually situated on mountaintops. These are very interesting traditional villages which sometimes offer bottled water and snacks. At 30 Ks from Pak Mong at the highest point, the rough road descends for 8 Ks crosses a river and climbs 2 Ks then descends another 8 Ks. There is a village, 37 Ks before Udom Xai at the bottom.
In 2001, this road was being improved. Highway 1 climbs along side a river then mostly descends at 23 Ks before Udon Xai. Another 2 K climb and 2 K descent before the junction at 5 Ks to go. Turn right at the junction on a good road. (Highway 2 goes left at this junction toward Pak Beng)

Option A

Udom Xai to Muang Houn, (toward Pak Beng) 92 Ks

From the city go 5 Ks back to the junction and go straight to Highway 2, the very old road that was known as “The China Road” years ago. This road eventually follows the Beng river valley down to the Mekong river at Pak Beng. In 2001, this road was under construction and difficult. At 13 Ks from Udom Xai, you climb over a ridge for 2 Ks. There is a long 6 K descent then climb over a gradual pass, the headwaters of the Nam Beng. Go down 4 Ks then short climbs and descents. Good scenery through rice fields. In Maung Beng (63 Ks form UX) there’s a basic guesthouse. Continue mostly down to cross the river. Now there’s more population in a broader valley. There is a marker and at 92 Ks, you are in Moung Houn.(see road story)

Moung Houn to Pak Beng 52 Ks

8 Ks from Moung Houn the way becomes hillier and rougher for 20 Ks. At 121 K Marker there is a short descent and the road, which is still broken black top, becomes better. You ride through a beautiful narrow gorge and pass beside the Beng River Forest, as you continue down the right side of the Beng River. It is rough road all the way to Pak Beng. The last few Ks are steeper down to the Mekong River.

There is river transportation from here either direction: back down river to Louang Phabang or up river to Houai Xai where you can cross into Thailand. It’s possible to take bikes on a long tail speedboat up the river in a very short time. We did this on one trip and our long boat carried 4 passengers, (the two of us plus another couple) and our bikes and panniers on a fast, exciting noisy rush up the Mekong. We paid two extra fares for our bikes.

Option B

Udom Xai to Luang Namtha 117 Ks

Staying on Highway 1, the first 15 Ks are good road then the road deteriorates and starts climbing over rolling hills. There are some Hmong villages. At 32 Ks, the road improves and descends. Good scenery. Some patches of improved road but mostly bad and rolling. Toward Luang Namtha, it’s flatter and the road is better through a rice valley.

Luang Namtha to Maung Sing 58 Ks

Some good road especially near Laung Namtha follow up a river gradually. After 27 Ks, there’s an interesting Akka village. Climb up a valley for 9 Ks to the top. The road is sometimes ok and sometimes rough. Good scenery through lush jungle. Then down a valley, which widens out to a rice valley. The road is better for the last 8 Ks after potholes and some gravel.

Side trip

Muang Sing to Chinese Border 11 Ks

Sometimes it’s possible to ride for the day in China. Can’t officially cross. Go gradual up on a rough blacktop road to the border.

Muang Sing to Xiang Kok 70 Ks

In 2001, there’s a new dirt road that was smooth. This road could (will) change. Easy 12 Ks up to a small pass then down along a river. Road is 90% good. Good scenery and villages. More rolling hills for last 30 Ks with light traffic but dusty. Last 10 Ks is a gentle descent to Xiang Kok.

Xieng Kok to Houay Xai (across from Thailand) 4 hour boat ride plus 30Ks by road

We took a long tail boat on the Mekong for one of the most exciting rides of our lives. These small boats take bikes. The trip is 4 hours down river. The boat dock was 30Ks before Houay Xai. There is a new road to town. The road is going to be extended. This is a good ride, quiet with rolling hills along the Mekong.

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Road Stories

2012 – Peddle Problems

Unlike ourselves, our bikes are getting older. Arriving in Luang Prabang, Laos, my left clip on pedal was agrinding and acrunching. It’s time for a replacement but there is no such thing as a clip on pedal in Laos. So, I settle on one junk pedal and one operable clip on pedal. On my way to the bike shop, I run into Johnie (Italian) whom I’ld met in Vietnam. It turns out that he rents bikes when he travels but carries his own clip on pedals to replace the local junk pedals. He’s going home tomorrow so he gives me his clip on pedals, he no longer needs them. 2 clip on pedals in a country and I find them. One in a million. Yeah, Yeah, we are getting older but we’re still lucky.

FREE LAUNDRY (MARCH 2009)

We went to Khong Island in southern Laos on the Mekong River. Following a path along the river on our way to a place we vaguely remembered from years before we started past a guesthouse, then stopped. Crisp white paint, neat landscaping with a row of purple orchids in front of the porch was too inviting. The owners were just getting out of their car. Mr said, “low season, $20, with breakfast and free laundry”. Free laundry were the operative words. It was very hot and we were sweaty filthy. Then Mrs. said,”We saw you on the road and wanted to stop but “- she pointed to the open back hatch of the wagon. It was full of small fruit trees. “Come look at a room. You prefer up or down?” I pointed up. “One or two beds?” I held up two fingers. (I wasn’t used to a Lao speaking such good English). She went on as we climbed the stairs, “We couples who have been married a long time prefer two beds.” There was a porch on the second floor with table, chairs and fan. A handsome couple were reading there. “Not like these young love birds who want one bed.” The couple looked up and smiled. The room was perfect, spotless, big, places for stuff, big bathroom, air-con, soft bed (beds here are like rocks) “We’re here” I said. As she showed me the kitchen where we make our own breakfast stocked with everything you can dream to eat in the morning. She told me Nigh will clean the dishes. Then gave me a basket for the laundry. She explained that she, Mali, and her husband, Talor, had immigrated to Ottawa Canada 30 years ago (hence the perfect English). We were both married in 1969. Our intention to stay one night led to three as we fell into a fast friendship with Mali, Talor, the couple from Austria and two girls from Ottawa traveling Asia (who knew Mali in Ottawa). Long breakfasts sharing travel stories, days sightseeing around the island. Then at 6PM Peter would head to the local watering hole. I would go to the kitchen with the Austrian couple and Mali would give us a Laos/Canadian cooking lesson. At 7PM, we would all eat dinner together at a table on the Mekong River under the stars with the perfect breeze and no bugs. Mali was the entertainment. She would regale us with stories of being an immigrant in Canada. We all said you do not act Lao. They are quiet and reserved. Mali said, “Me? I am Chinese and I have a Chinese mind.” Telor had been in the army and was sent for training (in those days) to the US. So when the Communist took over they had to leave Laos. They swam across the Mekong river to Thailand and immigrated to Canada. He can fix anything and opened an office equipment repair shop and she had a restaurant called “The Greasy Spoon.” (This name was very difficult to explain to our Austrian friends). Mali speaks fluent Chinese (3 dialects), Vietnamese, Lao, Thai and English. She never buys any of her 9 children a birthday gift. They give her a gift. “”I gave them life”, she says. “We adopted 2 of the kids from the refugee camp but they are all mine.” Peter asked her where he could get his ripped pannier fixed. She sewed it. She changed our excess Lao Kip back to Dollars. We did not know when we took the room that we would get: equipment repair, money exchange, cooking lessons, complimentary gourmet dinners, nightly entertainment and philosophical insight. All for the same price as the free laundry.

What does basic mean?

The Guest House in Moung Houn had the smallest of signs but we found it. The lady showed us the square room with no furniture. We slept on a floor mat that was rolled up in the corner. But, first things first: a shower or bath. They lady pointed across the road to the river we had been following. This was our bathing room. Private, it was not.

***

On our first trip, in 1995, we had been worried about possible danger in the highlands so we proceeded with our eyes open. At one point 4 AK47 toting tribesmen crossed our path. Overcoming our initial trepidation, we played it cool and tried not to draw their attention to us. At this point, one of the gunmen struck a pose and gesticulated that Sally should take their picture. Continuing to play it cool, she declined. We all moved on.

***

Biking is a quiet sport. I was climbing up another mountain in the highlands when I spotted a Hmong man bathing in the stream/ditch next to the road. This should definitely tell you about the traffic level on the road. In any case, I wasn’t sure how to announce my approach and when I startled the bather, he immediately reached for his pile of clothes. The thing is that he first reached for his long knife to defend himself. As soon as he realized that I presented no challenge to him, he put the knife back and continued his bath. I thought to myself, “This is a tough neighborhood.”

***

Luang Prabang is a really good reason to go to Laos.

It is hard to get to. There is air service or its a long road trip so it does take a commitment to get there. (Perfect for biking.) It offers a peaceful, leafy, culturally interesting and comfortable experience. Also, it offers very interesting fellow travelers.

We chilled for a few days here and from time to time we met other bikers and finally had a sunset gathering looking over the Mekong River with spring rolls and beer. Here was the guest list:

An Englishman who had traveled by bike around Asia for 7 years on and off. We first met him in Vientiane.

A New Zealand couple and their two children, who at the time taught school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Two Australian men who were biking around Luang Prabang on day trips.

An American women who was a bike tour guide in Vietnam: she had rented a one speed bike in Luang Prabang.

Two Australian men who had met the American women previously and also had rented bikes to get around Luang Prabang.

Being overwhelmed by our good fortune to have such a great chance gathering, I, from the heart, said to them, “I should be so lucky to be in the company of such interesting people at home.”

For What It’s Worth

  • Weather in the winter (November to March);
  • The mornings are foggy and cool until 10AM when the sun finally burns off the fog and starts to heat up the valley.
  • The burning season is March and April and the air is heavy with smoke to the point that you can’t see the sun.
  • There is river transportation from PakBeng either way: down river to Luang Prabang or up river to Huai Sai (Houay Xai) where you can cross into Thailand.
  • With bikes it is possible to take a long tail speed boat up the river in a very short time. Our long tail boat carried 4 passengers (the two us plus another couple) and our bikes with panniers on a fast, exciting noisy rush up the Mekong. We paid two extra fares for our bikes.
  • Hwy 2 to PakBeng is actually easier to bike than to drive in a vehicle since with two narrow wheels and better agility you can avoid most of the potholes.
  • Here are some distances on Hwy 13:
  • Vientiane to Phon Hong 70Ks
  • Vientiane to Hin Heup 94Ks
  • Vientiane to Narnone 147Ks
  • Vientiane to Vang Vieng 156Ks
  • Vientiane to Pha Tang 173Ks
  • Vientiane to Kasi 213Ks