Crusty Quinns

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Laos, Dec 2011. Been there...
Date 25/Dec/11
1 Rider Pounce
Rider of the day Pounce
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The plan for this year was to go with another group of guys.
As usual, nothing works out the way you plan, so I ended up heading off to Laos on my own.

Day 1 - 18/12/2011
Chiang Mai

Arrived in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand the night before so today I went to get the bike sorted.
Headed down to C&P Service to rent the Kawazaki KLX250. Lan has a range of bikes for hire & would be one of the better shops in CNX to rent from. His bikes are de restricted, meticulously maintained & well looked after.
Because I was taking it over the border to Laos, the cost was slightly higher at 1000 Bht/day plus a deposit of 50,000 Bht. He supplied me with spare front & back tubes & levers. You only pay for these if you use them. go back to the guest house & prepare the bike by loading up the cable ties, GPS mount, Camera mount & AirHawk Seat & duct tape the spares to any free area on the bike.

Day 2 - 19/12/2011
Chiang Mai Chiang Khong
I get up early & load everything I'll be needing into the drysack then head down to Riders Corner for a full breaky.
Phil has helped me out with some good info & was going to come for the ride but other commitments put a damper on this.

Time to head off to the border. I have decide to cross at the Chiang Khong/Houay Sai crossing on the morning of the 20th as the plan is to head to Northern Laos. I get into Chiang Khong aroung 4pm & get a room at the hotel we stayed in last year. Well the manager recognises me so all is good.
I go to swap the GPS SD card maps over for Laos & discover that I have left the Laos map back in CNX. Fuck! A quick call to Phil who does a search of my bag & finds the SD card. He goes out of his way to help me by putting the card on the bus that arrives in Chiang Khong at 3pm on the 20th & tells me that a german named Kevin will be coming up & wants to ride with me over to Laos. Oh well, a day behind schedule won't make much of a difference.

Day 3 - 20/12/2011
Chiang Khong Houay Sai

As I have to hang around here for a day I decide to go for a short ride anyway. As I'm getting ready, I hear a brass band outside. There is a school parade on with around 40 odd bands of all descriptions coming down the road.

I watch this for a while as the road out is blocked by them then jump on the bike. I have a few hours to kill, & I don't know where I'm going but there's a road north westish so I go for a look.

Time to head to the bus station to get my CPS SD card. Fantastic, it arrives at 3pm as told, so now I have to find Kevin. We meet up then head down to the ferry to cross over into Laos. Immigration sorted, customs for the bike sorted then onto the ferry.

We get into Houay Sai but it's too late to get the bikes sorted so we head the kilometre into town to do the immigration side of it. Ride on the right, RIDE ON THE RIGHT! Next we find a cheap guest house & get some food in us. Kevin is travelling on his own on a BMW 650GS through Asia. Pretty laid back dude.

Day 4 21/12/2011
Houay Sai Muang Sing
272klm 6h 55 moving 2h 30 stopped 40kph moving average

Today the ride starts proper, if I havent stuffed up again.
Im up early for a wander through town & try to find a coffee. We get breakfast then head on down to where we crossed to get the bikes side of things done at customs. We get shunted from window to window until we find the right on then get our insurance. Its getting late & we dont get on the road until about 10am. Im thinking this wont be a problem as its only about a 270klm ride today. Doesnt that come back & bite me on the arse!
Todays plan is to follow the Mekong River north up stream to a town called Mueng Sing. We follow the road up to the Golden Triangle where the borders of Laos Thailand Burma meet. Its a great concrete road as theyre building a Casino area at the GT. I was here last year but on the Thai side.

Once past this, the road turns to dirt, then track, then single track as we head north following the river.
Ill let the picture tell the story from here for a while. (Hint, Kevin struggles a bit on the BMW with the panniers)

Now we arrive at our first deep creek crossing. Its not too deep to cross, about 2 feet deep & I don't want wet boots on the first day, so as theyve built a bridge, we may as well try that.

It looks a little rickety to ride over, so I walk my bike over then Kevin has a go.

The road starts getting to be more fun with some water, lots of crossing & some dodgy bridges where I pull Kevin out of the shit again.

Its getting on in the day as its taking longer than planned to travel the distance. We pull up for a rest & to top my fuel up when these villagers come for a look at us.

We come across a river feeding into the Mekong, its a great view & even though the sun is starting to go down & we still have around 100klms to go, I have to get a pic.

We finally get off the river track around 5.30pm at a village called Xiangkok at sunset. That leaves us 70klms to go, in the dark on a very dusty dirt road. Now one thing I didnt check on the bike was where the headlight pointed. Loaded up with me & the gear, it sort of pointed up. Goggles off (mine were tinted), low beam, starting to get cold too, we finally make it into Muang Sing around 7pm I think with numb fingers & toes.

For a first day ride in Laos, Im loving it. Kevin has never done a track like this & hes the first German I have ever seen smile. We find a great guest hose for about $12; get food & a beer into us then Im off to bed.

Kevin is going his own way tomorrow as he needs to be in Cambodia in a week. Great to meet him & I was so glad I had someone to ride with on the first day.

Day 5 - 22/12/2011
Muang Sing Oudom Xai
295klm 7h 18 moving 2h 11 stopped 40kph moving average

Its an extremely foggy morning with heavy mist & low cloud. I dont get moving until around 9am as you cant see & its wet with all the mist.
Im looking through the GPS to find a back way to Nale. It says theres a track called the 1052 heading over the mountains south through the Nam Ha Protected Area. Looks good so I head off to find it. Nope, not there. Ive been pissing about for half an hour through corn fields looking for it, crossing over the GPS track a few times & cant find it. Shit. Its getting late in the morning so I decide to head down the main route 17 to Luang Namtha.

I get there & have a bite for lunch then decide to carry on to Nale down the 1501 & see where to next after I get there. Theyre starting to improve the road at the start of the 1501 but that lasts about 5klms before it turns back into the standard rutted main dirt road.

I get to Nale around 1.30pm & find a track heading east towards Oudom Xai. Its the 2555, so off I go.

I get only about 12klms along here when I come to the village Ban Phouchale. Theres a river here I need to cross. Well its about 2.30pm, its too deep for me on my own & it looks like theres more of the same to come.

I decide to take a longer route via M Namo so I backtrack to another road heading east. Its like all the dirt roads here, rough, rutted & winding. Im enjoying the ride but time is slipping away from me again as its getting late. Along the way are 2 toll bridges that cost 5,000 kip (65 cents) each to cross.

I get to M Namo just as the sun is setting. Damn. It looks like a 50klm run over a high mountain on a very windy road in the dark to get to Oudom Xai. Just what I need with the headlight the way it is. Time & distance in Laos are starting to seem like theyre totally unrelated.
Well Im freezing cold again travelling at 20-30kph behind stinking Chinese diesel trucks trying to use their headlights. Every now & then a car will come past so I try chasing them to get a move on but its scary at night so I always end up behind a truck again.
Finally, get into town about 8pm & just go straight into the first hotel I come across. This one is full of pseudo Chinese mafia wannabes but the bed is comfy & they put the bike inside for me. Sleep!

Day 6 23/12/2011
Oudom Xai Luang Probang
186klm 6h 28 moving 2h 30 stopped 28.7kph moving average

I might take it easy today & follow a well marked road on the GPS. Im on my way to Luang Probang south via the 2W then head south east onto the 1801. Well I think Im heading to the village of Pak Ou as the GPS is hard to read & the map I have is a bit confusing.. This is where a companion paper map of the GPS tracks would come in handy.
Now the 1801 is a good road with only minor ruts & potholes all the way to Muang Nga.

From there it gets a bit worse but is still a good road until I get to the village of Ban Keo where theres another toll bridge. This one is quite impressive though.

I pay my 5,000 kip & over I go.

There are some stunning views along this road but its starting to get a bit narrower.

I keep following it until I notice on the GPS as I get to the village of Ban Senchot that in very small writing it says Start Big Road Great I think, its going to get easier. Wrong!, it seems Im going the other way & the road turns into single trail immediately.
No worries, it carries onto what I think is Ban Pak Ou, Ill keep going.
The road has washed away? Well this is the only track on the GPS so I decide to get across the creek.

Well, it cant get any worse, right? I pull this down, get the bike through then rebuild it.

Then this The track is impassable. Shit bollocking bastard!

What to do now? I dont want to have to backtrack all the way Ive come today. I channel Bear Grylls, stay calm, get back through the fence & across the creek then ride back to a small village I passed (on video). In stunted hand signals with a forlorn look on my face & pointing at the map asking to get to the Mekong, this lovely lady gestures I go back a short way & take the fork to the right (look on video again, youll see I passed 2 just before the village)
Woohoo, theres a way through (I hope)
In a straight line, Im only 13klms from where I want to be.
Ill let the video & pics show you what comes next.

OMG, I made it! What was 13klms in a straight line ended up be 35klms of single trail. One section of which I rode for 9 minutes & dropped a height of 420 odd metres in altitude.
Now remember I think Im in Pak Ou when actually Im in Ban Lathane, a village 10klms further up river.

Its about 4pm I think by now & I want to get to Luang Probang tonight. I make a deal with a boat owner who agrees to take me there along the Mekong for about $80-$90. As theres no roads its my only choice & Im not going to haggle with him as hell need to spend the night on his boat after he drops me off.

This is Pak Ou, where I thought I was headed.

As the sun is setting the boat man drops me of about 5 klms out of Luang Probang. Its a short ride into town where I find a great guest house with secure parking for the bike as tomorrow will be an arse resting day. You wouldnt believe how sore it gets bouncing around the Laos roads.

Day 7 24/12/2011
Luang Probang Rest Day

Today I take it easy & have a wander through town, eat some good food & have a few really good beers. Beer Lao goes down really well & tastes good too.
I also study the map & GPS some more & after the first 3 days when I was sort of lost, not knowing the language, no riding buddies, freezing cold (totally unprepared for the cold!) & not really set up with the right gear for the remoteness of some of the areas Ive been I decide that Ill chicken out of the trails & take the more high travelled roads. It got a bit scary at times not knowing where I was or how long it would take to get anywhere. Time to slow down, take it easy, do shorter days & start heading back to the border.

Day 8 25/12/2011
Luang Probang Luang Probang
302klm 6h 25 moving 1h 51 stopped 47kph moving average

It didnt start out as a round trip back to where I spent last night, but thats part of the experience. I planned to head south to Kasi via Route 4 & Road 4529
Jesus, Ive never been on such a shitty main road in my life. Deep ruts & potholes & bull dust 2 inches deep with lots of traffic. You think riding in Aus with the dust is bad, well you havent seen dust yet. This is what route 4 is like.
I finally get onto Road 4529 & its a lot better in places. Theyre doing major construction on the road & in some parts its like a farm track while in others its 4 lanes wide sometimes with, sometimes without bitumen. The Laos method of road building seems to be Blow the whole path through the mountains with dynamite first then produce sections of the road piecemeal

Other than that, this is a good road to ride. The scenery is excellent & at one stage I pass over 1835m above sea level. Damn its cold though. The terrain & vegetation changes once you pass above about 1650m too. What were once bamboo & banana trees turns to a sort of alpine tundra.

I start heading down the other side into Kasi & here the road seems to be almost finished & is so smooth I cant believe it.

Into Kasi at noon, actually made good time today so I shout myself to a sumptuous Christmas Lunch.
Omelette on Steamed Rice with a bowl of clear soup.

The scenery down here is spectacular but there is a lot of smoke haze around so you cant really see far or that much of it.

From Kasi I was hoping to head west & try to get to Xayabouri. I came across a local whose English was pretty good, so we have a chat & hes adamant that theres no direct route west. Looking at the map & GPS, it seems hes right.. Oh well, Its still early so I decide to head back to Luang Probang via the main highway 13N
As it was an extremely wet season this year, there are a lot of landslides, washed away parts of the road & every pothole seemed to be on the apex of the corners, right on your line. I even had to ride over a landslide they were removing with front end loaders. The locals all waited as they werent riding a mighty KLX250!
After doing both options, I still prefer route 4 & 4529 over the 13N.

Day 9 26/12/2011
Luang Probang Pak Beng
287klm 5h 25 moving 2h 9 stopped 53kph moving average

Today I decide to start heading back to the Thailand border. I figure if I can get to Pak Beng today, I can spend a day riding around & having a look at that area, so away I go back onto the god awful Route 4 through Muang Nam to Xayabouri.
Fuel stop on the 4

I passed this truck yesterday on the 13N out of Luang Probang. He must be having fun on the steep winding roads.

On the way I have to cross the Mekong River again at Ban Pakkon but this is a main route so there is a proper ferry here.

Do I get to use it? Nope, its over the other side of the river so I get persuaded to throw the bike on a small boat. Man, I wanted to relax.

Just covered in a bit of dust.

I get into Xayabouri in time for lunch & have a bowl of what I was told was chinese soup. Very tasty too.
I dont hang around too long as I want to get to Pak Beng early & as mentioned, time doesnt relate to distance as were used to.
I now switch to the 4A heading north. This road has its moments, changing between tarred switchbacks to the ubiquitous shitty dirt. Have I mentioned the patches of 3 inch deep bulldust yet? Thats fun to ride through especially when its on a steep downhill section on a corner.

I finally rejoin the 2-W road & its a god send. As this is the main road heading to the Nan Nguen border crossing (not the one Im going to) its being upgraded & is sooooo smooth.
I push on to Pak Beng & have to cross the Mekong one more time, & yes, this time I get a proper ferry so I can rest for all of the 3 minutes it takes to cross.

With that over with, its just a short 10klm run on a tar road, with lots of land slides along it that always seem to be on the other side of the corner youre hooking around, into Pak Beng.

I get into the village around 4pm & find a nice guesthouse for 75,000 kip ($10) then sit down for a well deserved beer.

The owners son sits down with me to eat his bowl of noodles. Poor thing had a tumble a couple of days ago & has some bark off his noggin.

See the problem is we use fuel, not fuwl

I end up at the table with the owner (the one with the thumb up) an Italian guys whos been there for 5 days building a bamboo raft to float down the Mekong to Luang Probang (crazy) & a few other locals. Well the beer is flowing & I break one of the cardinal rules.

Dont eat from the communal bowl!
A few more beers then I hit the sack as I want a good day tomorrow having a look around.

Day 10 27/12/2011
Pak Beng - Toilet
20m 30 moving 23h 30 stopped crawling speed.
Dont eat from the communal bowl!
This is all I saw today.

The cramps started about 6am. I knew what was coming & had prepared before leaving Thailand.
Pills & water, lots of pills & water.
Buscopan for the cramps, some other pill to stop the crap falling out of me & Norfloxacin antibiotics to kill the bugs. I was almost passing out from the cramps at one stage they were so bad. I slept most of the day when I could.
Best day of the trip.

Day 11 28/12/2011
Pak Beng Huay Sai
211klm 5h 18 moving 1h 53 stopped 39.7kph moving average

After yesterday I was totally knackered & drained. I felt a bit woozy still but farted without following through which is always a good sign. I got some coffee & food in me & decided today would be my last day in Laos.
Its only a short ride back to the border so I backtrack along the 2-W having to cross back over the Mekong. I head down to the 3603 then turn west.

Then I turn west onto the 3603. This turns out to be another main road but the same as all the others, steep winding dirt with potholes, ruts & bulldust. The smoky haze has cleared abit & there are some good views along here.

I get to Xianhong & must have looked a bit lost again. A friendly local with excellent English helps me out by pointing me in the right direction for Pakop
Now today, I know Im going to have to put the bike on a boat to cross the Mekong (again) & go upstream to a village where the road continues.
I get into Pakop on the river which basically looks like a bus stop but for boats. Theres shops built on stilts a little way into the river.
I stand there with a lost & bemused look on my dial wondering when the next big boat will be along when someone comes up & asks if I need a boat. I point at the map & ask to go to Hatsa which is about 16klms up river. Some old guy straight away says 1000 baht. I dont speak Lao but I do know that he was really saying this bloke looks lost, tired, stupid & out of his depth so tell him its 1000 & see what he does
Again, I couldnt be arsed haggling so I pull out a fresh, crisp 1000 baht note. They all jump into it then loading the bike onto a bloody speedboat! Well heres a new one for me. Ive seen pics of others whove done this & they lay the bike on its side. Not these blokes. I ask them to & they wave me away, strap it down standing up better than Ive seen blokes strap their bike to trailers then were away.

That was fun, different when we hit the wake of other boats, fast but fun.
Now its just a nice 70klm cruise along one of the best tracks into Houay Sai & the border.

Then its on the ferry back to Thailand.

Would I ride in Laos again?
Yep, I have too. I totally changed my planned route & where I wanted to go. There were so many tracks & trails I could have done & wanted to do, so next time it would be done with a lot more preparation as now I have an idea what it entails. Overall I wasnt prepared for the cold or some of the remote areas. I had my Dryrider but left the thermal inner at home. Ild take more warm clothes, a hammock or small tent, water purifier & dehydrated food in case I got stuck somewhere over night, but most of all & this is a personal thing, I would like to go with friends for the camaraderie & support you need in a place like Laos.
I seriously enjoyed the mini adventure I had even though I did get worried a few times, got horribly sick & even a bit lonely during the long hours on the bike.

A special thanks to Phil at Riders Corner. If it wasnt for his help getting the GPS sim card to me, I would have been even more in the dark & lost than I was.

Google Earth files for anyone that wants a close up look at the roads & areas travelled.

Crusty Quinns® - born in WA in 2000 - V1.3.0-17/Apr/13