I have been living in Thailand for some time, and ride a 2012 Kawasaki Versys 650cc with a bunch of touring friendly accessories. Many trips have been made within Thailand, short camping in the jungle jaunts, and also long distance rides from the top to bottom of the country. There have even been a couple of rides over to islands just to mix things up a little.
My Visa was due for renewal so I saw this as an obvious opportunity to tackle the challenge of a boarder crossing on the bike and exploring a neighboring country for a few days. Laos was my obvious choice for this. To get from where I am living in Ban Pong Ratchaburi up to the boarder crossing into Vientiane from Nong Khai was done in a day, albeit a long day at nearly 10 hours of riding in the heat and wind.
A night in Nong Khai to relax after the long days ride was on the cards, with the intention of hitting the boarder early. Getting a hot shower unfortunately didn’t happen in the hotel I stayed in though. With me missing my alarm wake-up to be at the boarder when it opened at 6am, I actually arrived at 8am, and by that time there was plenty of foot traffic, particularly from Visa Run tour buses which slowed me down.
Again, running late, I arrived at 11am, which was just in time as they close off at 11.30am each day. I got my paperwork sorted, then was promptly told that I “must” return the next day to get my passport back or the application will be void.
I had not accounted for this, my intention had been to head north and return to retrieve my passport on the way back so an unscheduled night in Vientiane was needed.
The next day, I had the morning to kill as I couldn’t pick up my passport until 1.30pm so a bit of a ride around the city to see what was on offer. Checking out the Buddha Park is something that’s close by, but if you miss out on it no major loss. Man made to look old, it is interesting but definitely not authentic.
By the time I got to the embassy in the afternoon, my number was quite high for pickup so I wasn’t on the road north to Vang Vieng until closer to 3pm.
Hitting the road out of town you quickly get a taste of how bad the roads are. Within 10km of the city center, you are already dealing with dirt, mud, gravel, potholes plus all the mad mix of vehicles that seem to be on the road in Laos.
Google suggested the ride from Vientiane to Vang Vieng would be just under 2 hours. The reality is further from the truth, being closer to 4 hours when you have a couple of stops to hydrate and deal with the slow going on the unpredictable roads. From memory I think I did hit 100kmh a couple of times, but generally was more around 60kmh. The road between the two places is considered a highway by the locals, but it is anything but.
Arriving in Vang Vieng just before sunset, I rode off the main ‘highway’ onto the old airstrip and down a rough rocked soi to find my hotel. I had hit somewhere you will not find anything like in Thailand.
The next day my plans were to do some local exploring, with only 2 thing I really wanted to do while in this region, 1 was to hit up the tubing through the caves, and the 2nd was to ride the Kasi – Muang Nan road which is renowned for landslides.
My hotel had a local tour guide who was extremely helpful with information, so I jumped on the bike and decided to find my was across the small ‘farang toll’ bridge over the river and head for the Blue Lagoon first as it was only 7km away from where I was staying, and I figured a nice cold morning swim would wake up the body.
As my luck would have it, arriving at the lagoon early there were not many tourists, so I paid my entry fee, parked up the bike and stripped off into my board shorts ready for a swim.
Testing the water it was freezing, knowing I was not prepared to just slide it, I climbed the tree over the lagoon, straight up to the top jumping point some 12 meters above the water and threw myself into the icy cold with reckless abandon.
Yes, I was truly alive and awake now.
Around the Blue Lagoon are a handful of caves worthy of exploration, but venturing another 8km from the Blue Lagoon is a cave worthy of a look. You ride through a small village then out into rice fields.
An elderly local man will take great pride in showing you though the cave, and explaining all the ‘yellow’ and ‘white’ like a broken record but it’s all part of the experience.
Another cave worthy of checking out is the Elephant Cave at the other end of town.
The promise of climbing to 980mtrs above sea level and sections of road collapsing from land slides seemed extremely inviting to me. I was not disappointed, though a lot of road work had been done since the report I read on the road.
Don’t expect to be riding a mountain road where you will be dropping knees around the corners, this is Laos after all and coming around a perfect corner to find a soccer ball size rock on the road or a wheel swallowing pothole is ever pertinent.
One great point near the top is the water than is flowing through the rocks onto the side of the road, where locals have funneled it with bamboo allowing a fill up of your water bottles with fresh cold water, definitely worth doing.
I even bottled a few extra and brought back to Thailand it was that nice.
Taking an opportunity to do the cliche tubing while in Vang Vieng for me is a must, gone are the days of river bars dragging in drunk revelers, but you can still get a great taste for it in the river when the water level is up.
For me I wanted to pull myself through a pitch black cave in a tube, the photos I had seen of it inspired me to want to tick it off the bucket list and I was by no means disappointed.
How would I rate a ride into Laos? If you have the opportunity to do it, definitely do, the riding is so different to Thailand in contrast, and turning up in small Lao villages and meeting all the excited kids is something that will always stay with me.
Map of the Kasi – Muang Nan road in Laos. I am not sure if I would be keen riding this road in the wet season though.