Sunday, January 19, 2014


1. Nong Khai (Thailand) – Luang Prabang (Laos)

365 km, 10.5 hours, including 1 hour border formalities, 1 hour breakfast in Vientiane (Laos), no lunch.

This is an unforgettable ride through the mountains of northern Laos.

From the small capital of Vientiane Highway 13N starts out relatively unspectacular, surprisingly easy to ride, average to good road conditions, cautious and predictable Laotian drivers, a relief from the chaos in Cambodia. Traffic moves rather slow here which is good.

It is fair to say that if Cambodia is like Thailand some 20 years ago, Laos is like Cambodia 20 years ago. People in the countryside are desperately poor. 

But maybe you are interested to read this article:

Motivational poster in town.

Quiz: On which side of the road does one drives in Laos?

Welcome to Vang Vieng.
Mountain ranges between me and my destination in the background.

Vang Vieng: From here the road climbs into the spectacular pountains

In the Vang Vieng area

My concern was always that the roads here in Laos are mostly unpaved; I remember how the BMW couple from Malaysia looked like when I met them shortly after they crossed the border into Thailand: Covered in dirt, man and machine. They also commented on the selection of my CONTINENTAL dirt tires saying that I would need them in Laos. But the first leg of today’s ride from Vientiane to Vang Vieng is entirely easy to ride. There are sections of gravel and compacted dirt, some areas with potholes in the asphalted stretches of the road too, but nothing of any concern.

Typically people make an overnight stop in Vang Vieng, the infamous western backpacker heaven from years back, when many drunken young folks lost their lives tubing in the river. Some locals even don’t want to go near the Nam Song river any longer, since too many ghosts haunt the area, they say.

The town was also in the news before and during the Vietnam war since it hosted an airstrip called LIMA Site #6 for the CIA’s covered “Air America” operations in Southeast Asia ( Also a movie (1990):

Today Vang Vieng is still a party town for Western teenagers, however the military cleaned up the worst excesses of the alcohol-laden high-times a few years back.
When I approached Vang Vieng at around 3.00 p.m. I decided to press on and do the ride in one day. Well, that was a courageous decision which I will revise when I have to ride the same road back in a few days. On my return ride There will be a overnight stop in Vang Vieng, no doubt.

From Vang Vieng the fun begins. The road climbs from 170 meters MSL/565 ft MSL (Vientiane) to more than 1600 meters when crossing the multiple mountain passes before reaching Luang Prabang. Serpentine after serpentine leads through the spectacular karst limestone mountains, almost a little comparable to the mountains on the Phuket peninsular in Thailand. Traffic is rather light however you need to stay fully awake. Some big trucks move up the passes in snail’s speed and one could just be behind the next curve, invisible. Nobody counted the curves on this road, but my guess is that it EASILY beats the 1,864 curves of the famous Mae Hong Son Loop I rode a few months ago in northern Thailand.
The roads leads through numerous small mountain villages where the thatched roof shacks are clinging to the cliffs and the side of the road in single-file. Some of the houses are constructed of concrete masonry units but the majority is made of bamboo and wood. Every third shack has a full-size satellite dish, maybe some 6 feet across.
It is cold up here, on my temperature gauge it reads between the lower and upper 50s F. Since people’s shacks are flammable cooking takes place throughout the village directly at the edge of the narrow road. A couple of branches are laid on top of each other supporting a big pot of boiling something and people squat around it. It is also noticeable how many kids live here. They equally play directly in the shadow of the passing tanker trucks and busses; the hills are steep not much real estate is left as front yard for the houses.
When I passed though the villages at around 5.00 p.m. it was obviously everybody’s time to take a bath. Women and girls gather around the village bath place which is marked by a fresh-water filled drum and clean themselves out in the open. There are no internal bathrooms in the houses. The entire procedure is accomplished by washing underneath the Laotian sarong, or here: Phaa Nung. Women help themselves by washing each other’s long hair with water buckets. Remember the temperatures are low up here! Men have their own cleaning station, although I didn’t see many men washing themselves. Each village has one or more communal toilets, around six in one row. On some of them I saw a fee being noted: 2000 Kip, about 25 cents.

Besides the trucks, cars, scooters busses, children of all ages and the adults the road is populated by goats, cats, dogs, very skinny cows, and little black pigs. They are the best! When they leisurely cross the road and hear me coming they speed up to make it in time to the other side. This looks like they are wearing high heels, very funny.

I had to stop in one of the villages to open my aluminum panniers and grab another sweatshirt since it became pretty chilly towards the evening. A touching scene happened: A little boy came out of the shacks towards me, unsmiling, just staring at me, and slowly touching the motorcycle, my arm, my chest and my hand. He didn't want stop touching and shaking my hand, without any smile or other facial reaction. But I had to move on and he went back into the shack.

Since there are no street signs providing any directions I took a wrong turn in a village (GPS map not reliable, and my good German road-map wasn't consulted early enough); the detour cost me about one hour of the already tight schedule. I didn't make it to Luang Prabang in daylight, which was not my plan at all. Night riding is not what I want to do, but today there wasn't any choice. I made it to Luang Prabang in one piece, pretty tired.

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