Bicycling in Laos - Routes? Buy bike?
Replies: 17 - Last Post: Nov 22, 2012 5:34 AM Last Post By: man_from_Oz
Nov 18, 2012 6:01 AM
Bicycling in Laos - Routes? Buy bike?Hi
We are 2 girls who is going to bicycle in Laos for 4 weeks in Jan/Feb 2013. We would like to get off the beaten track. Any recomandations?
We plan to bring a tent so we´re not dependent af guesthouses.
We are thinking to buy bicycles in Bangkok and take them to Laos. Anybody knows the pricerange on a decent bike not to expensive?
Anybody who wants to sell their bikes in Bangkok/Laos between 4th and 24th og January??
Nov 18, 2012 6:50 AM
1Online map here
Just a few warnings about tent camping, especially for two girls on their own. There are virtually no "campgrounds" in Laos so you would likely be squatting on someone's land who might be shocked and/or not appreciate what you are doing. It can raise suspicion and result in people coming to stare at you, interfere with your "camp" or maybe worse. This is not Switzerland or New Zealand. Sleeping rough on the ground like that is comparable to daily life for locals in villages, but foreign white girls doing this can be considered weird or even offensive. If you want to "camp" maybe go trekking with a local guide who can help ensure you are welcome and safe, and otherwise stay in guesthouses from place to place (even in remote towns there may be basic homestays).
Bicycle touring is increasingly popular in northern Laos, especially the scenic/hilly way between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, but most people stick to the main routes; Huay Xai - Vieng Phoukha - Luang Namtha - Oudomxai - Nong Khiaw - Luang Prabang - Phou Khoun - Kasi - Vang Vieng - Phonhong - Vientiane. Mostly good roadways and places to stay every 50-100km and relatively light traffic away from the main towns.
If you're heading to Laos from the north there are many good bike shops in Chiang Mai. New bikes start around 6000 baht or closer to 9000+ baht for something semi-serious. Or buy a crappy Thai-made bike for 3000b or less.
Photo here of two Japanese guys I met at the Laos/China border who bought old bikes in Luang Prabang and were riding home (?) Hope that gives you some inspiration ;-)
Get a GT-Rider Laos map at bookshops in tourist spots in Laos and Thailand. Happy riding!
Nov 18, 2012 10:10 AM
Nov 18, 2012 4:06 PM
Nov 18, 2012 8:59 PM
4I think the above advice is rather mis-leading. I've never personally camped in Laos, but I've met cyclists in Laos who have, and it seems to be one of the easier parts of the world for cycle tourism (apart from the hills of course...). As anywhere, you're best off being discrete about where you camp, but people in Laos tend to be very friendly and hospitable, and are far more likely to be helpful towards you than angry or aggressive if they find you cycling around their village or land.
Having said that, one thing you might want to take advantage of is the custom in Laos villages of putting up passers-by in their houses. In my experience (which it has to be said, is limited to only certain parts of the country) it's very straight-forward to find accommodation in people's houses in villages where there are no guesthouses or hotels. If people see you cycling through their village in the late afternoon, and you look like you need somewhere to spend the night, you're likely to have offers to spend the night in someone's house. This is a great way to experience rural Laos life, and you'll also get some home cooked food. I've always found it appropriate to offer a donation whenever I've been invited into someone's house this way.
As for routes, I'm only really familiar with Northern Laos. Cycling there is not easy (it's very hilly, and the roads aren't great), but a big loop out towards Sam Neua will take you through some beautiful scenery. Phongsaly province in the north sees few tourists and has some very friendly people and very traditional villages. Even the main roads in Laos have fairly little traffic on them, and as long as you avoid the main towns on them where the vast majority of tourists head, you'll be off the beaten track.
Nov 19, 2012 12:00 AM
5" I've never personally camped in Laos, but I've met cyclists in Laos who have. Having said that, one thing you might want to take advantage of is the custom in Laos villages of putting up passers-by in their houses."
This is very poor advice. Firstly this is not the Lao custom; secondly if you just turned up in a remote village it is quite possible that you would be viewed with great suspicion and the Naiban or local police notified. There are homestays, but you must book and pay for these.
I also qualify my previous post "there is no legal camping in Lao" unless it is organised beforehand through a tour operator.
Nov 19, 2012 5:14 AM
6by all means cycle, but...
Phongsaly province in the north sees few tourists and has some very friendly people and very traditional villages.
Phongsaly is also where this happened: http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/laos/9746_warning-for-cyclists-and-motorcyclists-on-the-phongsali
two white girls would really stick out in such areas.
go check crazyguyonabike.com for ideas on cycle touring routes in Laos & accommodation tips. even if you travel along the main tourist routes like HWY 13, just being on a bicycle will let you see a lot more than most tourists who whizz by on a bus/minivan/plane & skip the little villages along the way. stay in Lao family-owned guesthouses & the experience can be close to that of a homestay if you make the effort to interact with the owners & their family.
there's also Samlaan Cycling in Oudomxay if you want something guided, their website will also give you some ideas.
Nov 19, 2012 1:37 PM
7"one thing you might want to take advantage of is the custom in Laos villages of putting up passers-by in their houses"
This advice is so absolutely wrong, and this from someone who has traveled many times and extensively through-out Laos over the last 10 years. Of course kind strangers will put you up, often at the expense of having enough food for blankets for themselves. To expect hospitality upon arrival is rude, and this is not appropriate to expect to stay anywhere other than a guesthouse unless pre-arrangements have been made (as through a guide, or the off-handed and unexpected personal invitation). And getting "off the beaten track" means a lot of different things. Other than the few strands of sealed roads that interconnect most of the provincial capital,s roads get rugged, and you will find virtually no services for accommodation or food.
I recommend these two "girls" read up a bit on travel in Laos - customs and culture, geography, and othe tourist information. I think your vision of cycling is still in the "fantasy" stage; I'll recommend a reality-check.
Nov 20, 2012 12:40 AM
8There are 2 good but small bikeshops in Vientiane where you can get a bottom end (but quality)Trek or Specialised MTB for about $3-400. This is what you need to pay for a half decent bike. You can get Chinese ones for a little over $100 but I wouldn't trust them for touring.
I've cycle toured a lot and now use a set-up that cost closer to $1500 based on past experiences of failures in remote areas - good puncture-proofed tyres alone cost about $80 each, and a good comfy durable touring saddle like a good old sprung Brooks leather one about $150.
However - just re-reading your post - if it is only 4 weeks it doesnt matter too much, a $400 bike will be fine.
I travel all over rural laos with my job and there are guesthouses literally everywhere - you will rarely be over 20km from one, even in villages down dirt roads. Some I've stayed in for 25,000kip don't even have signs up but have half a dozen small rooms with bamboo 3/4 height walls for rent.
A good route for a month would be to start at Vang Vieng, to Phou Khoun, Phonsavanh, up to Sam Neua on rte 6B,then west to M.Ngoi, Nambak and down to Luang Prabang. Not particularly off the beaten track but great cycling and scenery.
Nov 20, 2012 2:29 AM
9My comments are made from personal experience: I've walked through fairly remote areas of Laos and slept in people's houses in the villages, and the folks I met always seemed just as happy to put me up for the night as I was to receive their hospitality. I met a man from Vientiene whose work takes him all over the country, and he told me it's standard custom that if he finds himself needing to spend the night in a village which has no guesthouse, there's always someone in the village willing to put him up for the night. As it happens, the two of us ended up spending the night in the same village, a couple of nights apart.
"secondly if you just turned up in a remote village it is quite possible that you would be viewed with great suspicion and the Naiban or local police notified"
Has this ever happened to you? I've just turned up in many villages in Laos - it has to be said, only in the north of the country; I've never been to southern Laos - and have received a number of different reactions, but never suspicion and certainly never a threat from anyone to call the police. Laos has a tourist culture of people taking guides to visit villages, and I think that culture is what's driving some of the posts here. Laos is a very friendly, easy-going place: step out into the countryside, and that doesn't change, and the rules of the countryside - in most parts of the world - are that people travelling through are given access to shelter at night.
The incident linked in #6 sounds rather harrowing, but as the guy who experienced it said, "All that said, I think this may be a one-off aberation and it shouldn't deter people from travelling here. "
It certainly seems like a one-off incident to me. Boun Neua is a remarkably friendly town, and no-one I spoke to there - which was a fair number of people, including one man involved in tourism - gave me any inclination that there was a danger to tourists in the area.
Nov 20, 2012 4:07 PM
Nov 21, 2012 4:24 AM
Nov 21, 2012 5:44 AM
no-one I spoke to there - which was a fair number of people, including one man involved in tourism - gave me any inclination that there was a danger to tourists in the area.
what language did you speak to them in? also, many who have dealt/worked/lived with Lao people before will know that there's a tendency for them not to talk 'directly' about such things until they become more familiar/comfortable with you.
for the incident in #6, he later talked to others who told him that he wasn't the only case there in Phongsaly province.
curious, where exactly did you walk around in Boun Neua? & where have you explored in Phongsaly province? how were you treated at the checkpoints? once saw a lone foreigner stopped for less-than-friendly questioning at the checkpoint north of Boun Neua. (similar happened to 3 foreigners ordered off my bus by soldiers in Sayabouly province...they didn't realise i was a foreigner cos i had written my name in Lao script on the passenger list.) & know of someone who has walked alone in Phongsaly & also in Houa Phanh, & in certain districts of the latter he had a less-than-friendly welcome from the military/police.
AFAIK, it was (still is?) required for the naibaan to be notified if any strangers want to stay overnight in any village.
anyway, think the regulars here just don't wish to see another of this happen: http://ryanchicovsky.blogspot.com
btw around the middle of this year, there were 'incidents' in Phonsavan & Houa Phanh, one of which reportedly led to NGOs withdrawing their foreign staff for safety reasons.
Nov 21, 2012 6:40 AM
13"what language did you speak to them in?"
English and Chinese. There aren't that many English speakers in rural Phongsali Province, but a fair number of people speak good Chinese, and in some villages virtually everyone can manage at least basic conversation in Chinese. I don't speak any Laos.
I walked from Boun Neua to Ou Tai (93km). I walked alone, and if there were tourist-seeking bandits around, I would have been an obvious target. I heard not a word of warning from anyone: if there was a feeling locally that tourists wandering around the countryside by themselves were in notable danger, I suspect that at least one person would have piped up and mentioned something to me. I received a fair amount of kudos for walking so far and some fascination as to why on earth someone would want to walk (there is a daily bus along the route), but no warnings and no one suggesting that I shouldn't keep walking. I received a friendly welcome from nearly everyone I met. In the odd village I would have passed some less-than-friendly faces, but no one was ever hostile to me, and I felt like a welcome attraction in the villages I spent the night in.
There were no checkpoints along that road when I was there. Off the top of my head, the only checkpoint I can ever remember passing through in Laos is on the Luang Namtha-Muang Sing road, and the police there completely ignored me when they checked the bus I was on. Apart from at borders and when getting a visa extension, I never had any interaction with the military or police in Laos. I got the impression that the impact of the state in rural Laos was very little, though to be fair my natural comparison at the moment is China.
I met a number of cycle tourists when I was in Laos recently, including one man who'd cycled there all the way from Europe. The impression I got from them (and my own personal travels) are that Laos is one of the most-straightforward places for cycle-tourism in Asia (assuming you have the legs to get up the hills...).
Nov 21, 2012 8:34 AM
14that's one v beautiful route esp with the morning fog! (the attack was on another road though.) did you write about or post any photos of that walk? when was it? & where did you stay at in Ou Tai? wondering how Boun Neua is changing now that they are 'building it up' to replace Phongsaly as the province capital.
there was/is a checkpoint along that route at Ban Ngay Neua where one of the fortnightly markets is held, bus got held up a bit there on the way to Ou Tai, that's when i saw the lone foreigner with a motorbike - he was stopped before my bus arrived, & still stuck there after we left. though the GT Rider guys have travelled on this road with their motorbikes with no problem. another checkpoint in that province is downriver from Hat Sa on the left bank (can't remember the village name, maybe Ban Khana). many soldiers & police along HWY 13 between Kasi & Phou Khoun, with a police checkpoint at Bor Nam Oun, though most don't notice their presence at all unless they walk/cycle along that section. but they were friendly.
I got the impression that the impact of the state in rural Laos was very little
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