New Years in Laos



Date: 23 Dec 06 through 6 Jan 07
Riders: Silverhawk & Thim, Yamaha TDM850- Davidfl, Honda Africa Twin 750 (at least part way).
Route: Chiang Mai-Loei-Khon Khaen-Vientiane-Vang Viang,-Phonsovan-LPB and return.
Total: 3,904 Kilometers:…(All Lao references are on the Gt-Rider Lao Map)..

The new word from Vientiene was “No Thai registered motorcycles allowed into Laos unless in an organized tour of 5 or more motorcycles”. So, Davidfl and I decided to try and get in quick before enforcement spread to all border crossings (if it happens (it didn't)). I had already planned on going over for New Year’s but this jumped the date up and I had a last minute scramble getting a new rear tire and an oil change for the TDM and of course packing.

The predictions were for weather much colder than normal. Schools were being closed in Northern Laos. Thim decided she would pack accordingly.

We had a nice ride, with cool but not cold weather, to Loei where we spent the first night. The King’s Hotel is a good buy for the money. They are just finishing renovation of most of the rooms and they are 450baht a night. {N17 29.279 E101 43.768}.

The next morning we split up and Davidfl headed for Nong Khai and we went to Khon Khaen. The plan was that we cross at Bueng Kan/Pakxan which is about 133km east of Nong Khai. David had a visa and I would attempt to get a visa at the Laos Consulate in Khon Khaen. After spending the night in KK we grabbed a tuk-tuk who took us to the consulate as 3 different people had given us 3 conflicting directions. The consulate had opened at 8:00am and we had no problem getting the paperwork and visa completed in about 15 minutes. Back to the hotel, a quick breakfast and then blasted for Nong Khai and Bueng Kan.

This was Christmas day and although not an official holiday, traffic was fairly heavy on Hwy 2. We soon found at least 3 police checkpoints that were using radar for speed infractions. The first one didn’t see me, the second one I hid behind a truck as we approached and the boys in brown didn’t turn around fast enough to stop me, although I saw a lot of dirty looks in the mirror. The 3rd one got me. He was friendly enough and could only say that we were doing “more than 100” and “200bt please”. After some smiling and gesturing and showing of id cards, I got a pat on the shoulder, no fine, and a sawasdee.

I soon got an sms message from David that he was through customs and “no problems”. The road from Nong Khai to Buang Kan was great. Traffic was light, but had many villages. Smooth asphalt following the Mekong all the way. We arrived Bueng Kan and found the Customs House which is back up the river east about a couple kilometers. Polite processing of the paperwork and a walk over to the adjoining immigration office and we were good to go. (Note: Usually I just carry copies of my “Green Book”. This time they wanted to see the original book. Fortunately, due to the current situation I had it with me this time).

We had to continue a short way up river to where the ferry crossing is and soon to be new offices which are almost finished. We first went too far (don’t know how we missed it) and again received confusing directions. One group of guys argued about where we had to go when they suddenly realized it was just across the road.

David was delayed at Laos Customs by their lunch break and impatiently hung around until we got across. The Laos Customs guy was a little rattled by our rushing but David pushed the customs papers through while we cleared immigration. (Note: insurance wasn’t available so we picked it up at the bridge in Vte the next day}. It was late afternoon and doubtful we could make Vte before dark. All the Laos customs and Immigration staff came outside and looked at the bikes and waved goodbye as we left. David decided to make it a blast down the road as he was having headlight/electrical problems, we continued a little more leisurely and arrived Vte shortly after dark.

In case you don’t want to read the rest of this I’ll do a quick skip to our discovery on the way out,. If you turn right as you leave the ferry crossing on Hwy 13 South, about 1.5 Km you will come to the new Paksan Hotel.{ N18 23.790 E103 39.361} Its a huge 36 room hotel just opened in May 06. There were no cars out front and we weren’t sure if they were open or not. $12 US for a great, clean room. Next time we will plan to cross and stay there instead of doing the 147 km run back to Vte.

Paksan Hotel

Christmas Eve and the Christmas Day we spent in Vientiane. A trip out to the “Buddha Park”{ N17 54.772 E102 45.869} which is 7km past the friendship bridge is not well visited and is worth the trip, despite the rough rd after the bridge.

No, this photo is not more “Buddha Park” but is Davidfl and I solving the world’s problem as we watched the sunset from the 3rd floor of the Bor Pen Nyang restaurant, Vte.

Next day Thim and I left David in Vte and headed north. Traffic was not heavy, driving on Hwy 13, as you could stay spaced out, but the popular rest stops like Phou Khoun and Kiew Kachan were jammed with vans and tour busses. Hwy 13 is still a great scenic and fun ride, but it certainly is not the “adventure” with guerillas and threatening situations of a number of years past. For those that keep asking if this route is safe, forget about any worries. It is now a popular tourist transit route.

Note the map

A great surprise was this sign south of Vang Vieng;

Third hand information is that you can follow this dirt road as far as Xaysomboune where you are stopped due to heavy road construction. Interesting to check it out.

In Vang Vieng we found the popular guesthouses full so we decided to treat ourselves. This is the new Vansana Hotel on the river {N18 55.483 E102 26.789}. A bit pricey but it is a treat after a long ride. Swimming pool, UBC, and western style rooms and amenities. $40 US. (On our way back we ran into DavidCK and Mai in Vang Vien who were staying at a nice, comfortable 150baht guest house. So the choices are still there when it is not too busy)..

Vansana Hotel

In contrast, across the river;

The next mornings run to Phonsovan was cold and with a strong cross wind. The road is great and I don’t know how many curves, but it far surpasses the MHS Loop’s claimed 1,864 I am sure.

Did I say it was cold??

We stayed at the Maly Hotel on the back side of town {N19 26.765 E103 12.424}. I believe it was around $20 US. It is one of the best in town and has a dining room with a weapons display and the owner has plenty of local knowledge. He does tours and also appeared in a Discovery Channel documentary which shows him taking the “Ravens” on a reunion tour a few years back. Don’t worry he is not shy to show you the tape, (I think he does it nightly).

Maly Hotel (see who has the 1st comment on this one).

We of course came here to see the Plain of Jars. I had not been to Site 3 before which is the furthest from town. It is small in comparison to the others but quite scenic and more remote. The road is rough rock for a couple of kms and then it is smooth dirt and dust. It looks as if it was freshly graded and there may be plans to pave it soon.

Plain of Jars Site 3

There had been fresh brush burning at Site 1 and pretty well spoiled the view.

After two days in Phonsovan it was off to Luang Phrabang.

Along the road there were many villages celebrating the New Year’s Festival where the boys and girls put on their best clothes and line up across from each other. They toss a ball back and forth and talk and sing songs to become acquainted. When a boy makes his choice of a girl he must then approach the father and family and declare his interest. The family is usually near by watching as the ball is tossed and no other shenanigans are allowed. I was asked to join in, but between the fathers and the girlfriend I decided to give it a pass.

New Year’s Festival

Just one comment; All along the roads in Laos, the children just love to wave and shout "Hello,Goodbye or Sabadee". They literally fall down sometimes running so fast from their home to make sure they are seen. I have no idea what drives them to do this as it is infants, and preschool on up who do this. If you stop you are usually swarmed by curious children and adults both. It is sometimes hard to wave back as you ride through a village, but I hate to disappoint these kids as they seem to love it so much. Someone made a comment in a post once that they were “beyond waving and stopping for attention” (or something to that effect). I have traveled thousands of kilometers in Laos and I sure hope I am never “beyond” waving back and interacting with the children……

We arrived in Luang Phrabong and fortunately had made reservations ahead of time. Well almost fortunately. We stayed at the Sousanavan guesthouse where Davidfl and others have made a regular hangout. I believed we paid somewhere between $20-$30 US in the past. Now it is under the management of the daughter who is running it like a general. In fairness she has freshly painted it and fixed up the rooms, although someone needs to tell her to take the plastic off the mattresses. The rate is now $40 US a night. I didn’t mind this for one night splurging in VV but this was a little outlandish for here. I soon found that tourists were stumbling around the streets of LPB like zombies, with guidebooks in hand, trying to find ANYTHING available. Some rooms were going for $50-$65. Rooms, when they could be found, with Asian toilets and cold water showers were going for $15 a night. Take it or leave it!

And soon it was New Year’s Eve. Much more low key than I expected considering the abundance of tourists. The big party was at the Governor’s Residence where one could buy tickets for tables and buffet food. They had a stage show of local dancers and local style fashion show. Very slow Lao dancing was allowed and the dancers from the audience went up on stage and “pranced” around. Tourists started arriving as the clock approached midnight and just took standing room only or grabbed tables that had been vacated. At the stroke of midnight they announced they would play a couple more songs and then do a countdown. Midnight had now passed and the music continued. There never was a countdown. They did have a fireworks display and then after midnight the live band started playing western style music and the dancing on stage livened up as foreigners took to the stage. All in all, it was a pretty good show and evening if you don’t mind them a little slower than our usual western pace.

The trip home was uneventful. As we neared Vte we were actually running ahead of schedule so I decided to swing over to Nam Ngeum Dam north of town and have lunch. I had missed the main turn-off so I had to improvise and find a different route over.

Motorcycle Ferry {N18 25.788 E102 32.258}

Nam Ngeum Dam {N18 31.375 E102 33.346}

We also did a trip through the “Limestone Forest” all the way out to Lak Xao which is a beautiful ride on a brand new road surface. I won’t cover it here, but it is definitely worth doing. (Hwy 8 between Pakxan and Tahkek).

On Friday we again exited at Pakxan. We cleared customs quickly and grabbed the first ferry. As the ferry docks are not directly across from each other it actually took about 30 minutes to get across, against the current and with a slight wait for the ferry on the Thai side to load up.

The ramp is not quite long enough at low water, oops!

A great ride back along the Mekong through Chang Khan to Loei will be covered in a later report. This one’s too long already.

So, “been there, got the t-shirt”, and the Beer Lao for “Paw”, the purse for “sister”, the shirts for “brother” and of course the coffee for Bull-dust Bob. We didn't get the emailed request list from The Kafe until we had left Laos.

Oh yeah, we also had to buy a new pillow to prevent “monkey butt” as Pikey was in England and we couldn’t borrow his.


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