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The Laos Motorcycle Adventure – The Start Of Something Big
We didn’t really expect to purchase motorcycles. To start with, we didn’t even really know how to ride them! But despite this minor obstacle we went ahead bought two cheap Honda Wins. It was to be the start of our Laos motorcycle adventure that will hopefully take us all around South East Asia. We started off in Northern Laos and here is where we rode to and some information about our Laos motorcycle adventure.
Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw – 140km
Moderate traffic leads you the way out of Luang Prabang. This drive boasts somewhat-appealing views but lacks anything that would make your jaw drop. The road stays straight for quite a while, with farmland greeting you on either side. When you reach the town of Ka Deun you veer east and here the scenery picks up. You are offered glimpses of the Nam Ou River and the villages become more pleasant and quaint. Enjoyable, and a good start-up ride to get you ready for the rest of the loop.
Road Conditions: Good, but a little busy to start with.
Weather: Sunny until the last 45 minutes and a storm came through with heavy rain
What we saw: Lots of chickens
Corners: A few
Rest stops: 5 times – there were lots of photos taken.
Bridges Crossed: 2
Hours riding: 4 Hours
– Luang Prabang,
– Nong Khiaw
– Many manual pumps at villages or selling on the road side in bottles.
Nong Khiaw to Vieng Thong – 168km (Plus 40km In The Wrong Direction)
This passage started out with locals pointing us in the wrong direction by 20km, until we met a lovely Austrian couple who directed us back the right way. Still it was a beautiful journey. Once we started in the right direction south east, the road was in good condition
Riding past large limestone cliffs and forested mountains, the route steadily gains in elevation, eventually going through numerous mountain passes. Pleasant, rustic villages line the road every 10km or so, most no more than a few bamboo houses and the odd concrete building. Friendly locals wave and smile from the roadside. You are offered majestic views down valleys and over peaks on both sides of the road as it winds its way between high-points. Once you reach the town of Vieng Kham, the road becomes less hilly but maintains its curves. Here you can pick up your speed. You start to wind your way over small rivers and past small farmland terraces. The stunning scenery never gives up and at times you are completely engulfed by the lush flora. For a few sections you ride alongside some sheer cliffs. Eventually you start a final descent towards to town of Vieng Thong, passing over the river once more to find yourself in town for the night.
Road Conditions: Good. A few potholes
Weather: Sunny, Humid, Wet, Overcast
What we saw: Lots of cows, buffalo, chickens, pigs, goats, dogs and gorgeous villages with very friendly people. A lot of animals running out in front of Lesh.
Corners: A lot, too many to count. Thank goodness we weren’t on a bus.
Rest stops: 6 (Our backsides were sore)
Bridges Crossed: 5
Hours riding: 6 hours (8 including the wrong turn and the chat with the Austrian couple)
– Nong Khiaw,
– Viang Kham,
– Vieng Thong
Vieng Thong to Phonsavan – 208km
Exiting the town of Vieng Thong, we had two options: the scenic (long) route or the short (dusty) route. Of course, we opted for the scenic route. As soon as you left the town you began a long, steady climb on a very narrow winding road. For most of the first 20km the road was only really wide enough for one vehicle. Made for interesting moments when trucks came down the other direction! The gorgeous views began almost instantly and remained with us again for the entire trip. Approaching the village of Phoulao 60km away at the top of a mountain ridge, we veered to the right and immediately began descending towards the next town of Sop Lao. More climbing to come, but at least the road is wider. Before too long the scenery changes into what can only be described as jungle. Denser, lusher and greener than what we had encountered so far, the high altitude road weaves and bends its way around cliffs and mountainsides. At points we were completely surrounded by vegetation.
Reaching the larger town of Muang Kham, the terrain flattens out and is dominated by farmland with peaks forming the backdrop. Heading towards Phonsavan the road actually straightens out and you can really gain some speed. Little elevation gain and beautiful landscapes.
Road Conditions: Fair. Road was very narrow in some sections.
Weather: Sunny, overcast, cooler temperatures, light rain
What we saw: Lots of cows, buffalo, chickens, pigs, goats, dogs and gorgeous villages with very friendly people, even inviting us in for some Lao whiskey. A lot of animals running out in front of Lesh again.
Corners: A lot at the beginning with the thin road winding up and down valleys
Rest stops: 6 times, our bottoms were sore again. Lunch at Muang Kham
Bridges Crossed: 16
Hours riding: 6 hours
– Vieng Thong (on the road out to Phoulao),
– Muang Kham
– More at little villages with manual pumps
Phonsavan to Vang Vieng – 240km
The road out of Phonsavan is relatively straight, compared to the previous few days riding. Good surface means you can really pick your speed up. Rolling green hills is reminiscent of Europe, except for the typical Asian giveaways such as buffalo roaming the streets and bamboo buildings. Some amazing chicanes adds to the fun. The road remains wide, but starts to rise in elevation and the curves become sharper. The best riding we have had so far! High-speed (for our 110cc bikes) and nice banked curves alongside gorgeous scenery. Reaching the town of Phou Khoung, you veer left towards Vientiane and begin to descend through changing terrain. Large limestone cliffs jut out into the sky as you wind your way to the valley floor. At the bottom the road straightens out and you drive though some more flat farmlands and small villages. Approaching Vang Vieng the imposing limestone is all around you and provides great views.
Road Conditions: Very good between Phonsavan to Phoukhoun. After the turn off a few pot holes. Roads were wide and in good condition.
Weather: Overcast, cooler temperatures, light rain on the last 10km
What we saw: The typical buffaloes and cows, a few pigs and nice farmland outside of Phonsavan. No wildlife once we got into the mountains.
Corners: Many fun corners
Bridges Crossed: 21
Rest stops: A lot. This was another scenic ride, Lots of photos. Lunch at Phoukhoun.
Hours riding: 8 hours
– Phonsavan (4 on the main street)
– Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng to Vientiane – 160km
This was a pretty straight forward ride, literally straight. The scenery remained beautiful just outside of Vang Vieng before becoming a little more mundane. The ride into the city slowly built up traffic and the farmlands were replaced with more and more dwellings built closer together until the land was completely consumed by structures. Unfortunately this road is necessary should you want to visit the capital.
Road Conditions: Very good. This is a main road. There were a few pot holes and little construction.
Weather: Sunny and hot
What we saw: Not much. Lots of vehicles going up to Luang Prabang
Corners: Pretty straight road, maybe a few corners.
Bridges Crossed: 32
Rest stops: Not much at all.
Hours riding: 4 hours
– Vang Vieng
– Phon Hong
15 thoughts on “Laos Motorcycle Adventure – The North”
I am planning to do a 3 week trip to Laos, starting in Luang Prabang, head out to the Plain of Jars, then go down through Vang Vieng and Vientiane before doing some loops in the south by Pakse. Buying/reselling seems to be a better option than renting for me (probably won’t be ending where I started, don’t want to leave my passport at the rental agenc for 3 weeks). How rigorous is the paperwork for buying a bike, and how easy did you find it to resell at the end?
Hi Catherine, definitely travelling by motorbike is a fun way to see the country. If you do buy a bike, make sure it is sold with the registration form. This will make it much easier to resell as it is able to cross borders, When it’s time to sell, advertise the bike in hostels or on sites like Craig’s list. That’s where we found our bikes. You never know the time frame for reselling. Could be sold in a day or a week. Advertise before you finish your trip and say you will be in this place on this date so buyers know. All the best
Thank you for the great description of the routes and pictures!
I am planning a motorbike trip through North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia or Thailand starting in October. I have approx. 2 months time (even a bit more). I am getting inspiration from your routes.
What would you suggest as a possible best route?
Reading on line it looks like starting in Vietnam (Hanoi) would be a good idea as it is easier to cross the border to other countries with your Viet bike, plus the northern part is beautiful. I would then go into Laos and drive down to Cambodia. Does it seem reasonable based on your experience? Any place\road trait you would recommend not to be missed? Best places to cross borders?
Hi Matteo, what an adventure. Your route sounds great. There is just one thing, we have heard the border is not the best between Laos and Cambodia. They try to tell you, you can not bring the bike in and when you try to go back the other border rejects you. Someone will show up and buy your motorbike for a cheap price to get you out of the situation. We have also heard that you can transport you bike over from Laos to Cambodia through 4000 islands. You go by land and get your bike on the other side. Vietnam is an amazing country to motorbike around. You have the mountains, ocean and amazing landscape. Just be careful the roads are crazy. Check out our other posts on motorbiking. There is a border crossing post too where people have been posting about their crossings. Have a great trip
My girlfriend and I are about 2 days ride from the laos border and about to embark on this journey (though in reverse order). Was hoping to get an idea as to how long this took you guys.
Love the break down of road conditions at each place, great idea. Our 6 months in SEA starts at the end of September! Really looking forward to it, and have been considering getting some bikes. Were yours new or second hand?
Cheers, Sarah and Laura
Ours were second hand, and we got lucky and had no major problems with them. Definitely recommend buying some bikes for the adventure! Happy travels 🙂
Beautiful photographs…sounds like an amazing ride! We were just in Thailand cruising about on motorbikes for a few days, and I am now convinced that it is really the only way to get out and about in SE Asia. The freedom to explore is unmatched! Hope to be heading to Laos this autumn, will definitely be looking into hooking up with motorbikes again…your blog post completely ‘twisted my arm.’
Having motorbikes is definitely a game-changer for SE Asia. Glad we could help twist your arm, Lara 😉
AH Laos! I called it 50 shades of green! I think it’s got the best scenery in SE Asia second would be Vietnam! Did you guys make it up to Luang Namtha?
Haha, 50 Shades Of Green! We love it! Didn’t make it to Luang Namtha unfortunately. Gives us another reason to go back! Thanks for reading Nigel.
We loved the hills and villages of Northern Laos, though doing them on a motorbike sounds a lot more sensible than on a bicycle! That picture of Jazza in the rain is fantastic.
We met a couple who were riding bicycles around Northern Laos. They looked absolutely shattered in the village of Phou Khoun. You guys are machines for being able to tackle some of those hills and roads on bikes! Definitely earned your beers at the end of every day!
I am so jalouse that sounds amazing.
Thanks Wesley. It was a pretty fun adventure. You’ll have to come back to SE Asia and do something similar one day!