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Motorcycling the Bolaven Plateau in August...Am I Crazy???

  • googdot

    Joined Travelfish
    20th March, 2007
    Posts: 6

    I am seriously considering motorcycling the Bolaven Plateau area in late August this year for around 1-2 weeks. I plan to start in Pakse, and do the loop around including Tad Lo, Salavan, Sekong, Attepeu, Paksong. Maybe head over to Champasak and even Don Dhet/Khon as well.

    I have some experience riding as I currently use a 125cc scooter on a daily basis, but the weather at that time makes me think that the trip might turn into a complete mud bath.

    Am I crazy to even consider this trip in the middle of the wet season?

    #1 Posted: 31/7/2009 - 18:00

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  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    I think you would need a dirt bike.

    #2 Posted: 31/7/2009 - 18:02

  • rideLARA

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    Hi goog...

    Rufus is right, a Baja or XR 250 is prolly best.

    There are sealed routes to take on most of your itenerary, so that you will have to decide..On road or off road....if you aren't an experienced dirtbiker, then don't go it alone.

    Also, buy the GT Rider map. Join the GT rider forum and post here
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/laos---any-message-f35.html

    The best quality bikes are here: http://www.bike-rental-laos.com/aboutus.htm Pricey, but you get what you pay for....

    Second choice for rentals should be Jimoi, through Fuark's Big bike. Find him on GT Rider.

    LAstly, the cheapest option is PVO here: http://www.laopvo-bikerental.co.cc/ Inspect carefully and ride it first around town.

    In all, I'd sat go for it...it'll be an adventure no matter what...bring rain gear or waterproof stuff. Or just buy a cheap plastic poncho here, they are cheap and everywhere.

    Anything else send me PM here or on GT Rider. I am hsracer369 there.

    Good luck

    #3 Posted: 1/8/2009 - 13:48

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Good advice here. Those crappy little 125 cc bikes are OK for around town, but that's where'd I'd leave it.

    #4 Posted: 1/8/2009 - 14:29

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United States
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    Something to consider, thousands and thousands of Lao people drive in all areas you've described on a daily basis year long, often on cheap Chinese bikes and they seem to do just fine.

    Many people do this loop on any clunker they rent out of Pakse, but I'd suggest the Lankam Hotel as they are the source of many of the other rentals in town anyway. If you tell them what you are after I'm sure they'd set you up with what you are looking for. Last winter prices were around $25 for a 250cc dirt bike, or $10 for a made in Thailand 125 Suzuki. The bikes were all new and kept clean.

    The road itself in general was in very good condition and could be done with a skateboard. Two short sections Salavan to Sekong and from Atapue back up on to the plateau at Paxon were dirt but all weather improved dirt. The kind that sees truck traffic.

    I'd say a dirt bike or dressing up in a motorcyle outfit to look like a Power Ranger is stricktly optional. In all I saw maybe 8 or 10 other foreigners at various places on the loop and only one had a larger bike than the 125. Distances between towns are relatively short, usually a couple three hours at 80 km an hour.

    If I could have done things differently, I would have taken more time. Perhaps the rain will help you out in those regards. Pretty views and stuff but by seeing mostly road for 3 days I suspect I was missing out a lot on what the 4 provinces had to offer.

    #5 Posted: 1/8/2009 - 19:39

  • rideLARA

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
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    Hmm... I never realized the power rangers dressed like bikers....

    "Pretty views and stuff but by seeing mostly road for 3 days I suspect I was missing out a lot on what the 4 provinces had to offer."

    That's why having the option to go off road, by taking a dirtbike, may be better/easier.

    And yes, dressing up like a power ranger IS optional. For when you go to Comic-con. Not Laos.

    #6 Posted: 2/8/2009 - 11:08

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    "Something to consider, thousands and thousands of Lao people drive in all areas you've described on a daily basis year long, often on cheap Chinese bikes and they seem to do just fine."

    People do this because they have to, not because they want to. They don't have the money for anything else.

    Most 125cc bikes are not a comfortable ride and lack the weight and tire wide to be very stable. They are inferior bikes. Locals would be riding bigger bikes if they had the money to do so.

    The "power ranger" look is also a safety issue. The leather suits help protect you if you go down. Same with high quality helmuts (as oppossed to the crappy things worn here by most people).

    Just because "the locals do it that way" doesn't make it smart. The locals here drive like crap - they don't know what right looks like. And their road mortality rates reflect this.

    #7 Posted: 2/8/2009 - 13:18

  • somtam2000

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    I've riden all over Bolaven on a Honda Dream 100cc (with two on the bike + packs) -- unless you're doing a lot of off-the-trail stuff eg the volcano lake in Attapeu, striking north from Salavan past the broken bridge or north from Sekong to Kaleum -- you don't need a dirt bike.

    The main roads (ie those between the provincial capitals) are mostly sealed and don't see heavy traffic.

    However if you're going off road a lot, then some of the alternative advice above is good.

    #8 Posted: 2/8/2009 - 17:47

  • BruceMoon

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    somsai


    You wrote ...at 80 km an hour.

    Are you serious?

    Other than Chinese funded hot asphalt, IMHO travelling at 80kph in the landscape AND road-scape of Laos is way way way too fast.

    Jeez, my better half tells me I go like a bull at a gate, I'll now suggest to her my max 50kph is deemed slow by others' standards.

    Cheers

    #9 Posted: 2/8/2009 - 18:44

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United States
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    A lot of that road is relatively flat and straight or with gentle curves with fairly good asphalt. "The loop" actually is mostly below the plateau, you go around it. Nice views from Atapue and the road from there up to Paxon is twisty and dirt for a little while, after that washboard forever.

    I go extremely slow in towns, that's where most of the problems come up. Having ridden and driven bikes and 4 wheelers (and 6) on and off road most of my life I find I enjoy the stopping most. I like talking to people, eating food, walking, swimming, etc, more. Bikes are just a way for me to get there, not an end in themselves.

    Can't believe grown men dress up in those costumes. Multi colored snug fitting striped leather, good gosh. My six year old has moved on to Star Wars.

    http://www.costumzee.com/how-to-costumes/view/4356/

    #10 Posted: 2/8/2009 - 19:17

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  • nathandjen

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posted from within Vietnam.

    We just did this a 3 days ago on 100cc bikes.

    Everyone on here has a point.....

    Yes it can be done. Is it fun? NO.

    The sealed roads are fine. The dirt roads are not.

    The dirt road between Ban Beng and Tha Theng is terrible. We didn't get over 20KM/H for the whole trip and came off our bikes. Thick mud. Even trucks were getting stuck, locals on bikes too but not going much quicker than us..NOT RECOMENDED unless you like adventure biking in which case get a dirt bike for these sections.

    The dirt road from Attapeau to Paksong is apparantly better but we missed it out as our experience of the 30KM dirt road was enough to last a life time.

    Note. The Boloven Plateau is 'IN A CLOUD' at the moment, so as soon as you pass about 600M above sea level is rains constantly and is very cold. I got flu from being on the bike in cold rain for 2 consecutive days.

    Cheers

    Nath

    #11 Posted: 2/8/2009 - 19:50

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Gentlemen
    I ride every day. I own two bikes: A Honda Phantom with a 200 cc engine, and a Honda Wave, with a 125 cc engine. I have driven a host of bikes since I have been here. The small, lightweight bikes are poor performers. They simply lack stability. I will not drive the Wave from my province to the next one. When I drive for outside of town I always take the Phantom - and even that bike is on the small side. I also have a high quality helmet for highway driving. The seats on the Wave and like bikes are not comfortable after about half an hour on them. A saddle type seat is MUCH better.

    The bottom line is this: Bikes in the 200-750 cc range are safer than smaller bikes. They handle better, have the power to keep up with traffic on the highway, and are more stable on the road because they have more weight to keep you there and better tire width.

    #12 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 02:18

  • rideLARA

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
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    "The bottom line is this: Bikes in the 200-750 cc range are safer than smaller bikes. They handle better, have the power to keep up with traffic on the highway, and are more stable on the road because they have more weight to keep you there and better tire width."

    Exactly agree 100%...I'm surprised anyone with any time on a bike would (counter)steer you otherwise...I've got at least 200,000k on all types of bikes, in alot of places, and in this case, bigger is better. Handling, braking, power, and comfort. The vibration from more than an hour on a small step thru is enough to jade the beginner and curse the experienced. At the least you will need dental work at the end of your trip!!

    #13 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 10:44

  • pabloeskimo

    Joined Travelfish
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    We did Champasak & Tad fan with one of those scooter motorbikes, no problem at all.
    A Canadian fellow told us the route to Attapeu, Sekong etc... was close to impossible even with a dirt bike.

    #14 Posted: 4/8/2009 - 03:25

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    "We did Champasak & Tad fan with one of those scooter motorbikes, no problem at all."

    You can ride those crappy bikes over any hard ball surface... but the fact remains they are more dangerous and less reliable and less comfortable than a heavier bike. Anyone with serious riding experience can tell you this.

    #15 Posted: 4/8/2009 - 12:09

  • googdot

    Joined Travelfish
    20th March, 2007
    Posts: 6

    Hi Everyone,

    Many thanks for the information and opinions on this. There is some great stuff on this thread :)

    Cheers!

    #16 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 07:25

  • somsai

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    You're welcome googdot. Hope we informed and even entertained some, in Lao the word for 5 is ha, so in instances like this they'd type "5 5 5".

    Worth taking note of Nathan's unfunness on dirt during the rainy season. I remember that part as being full of holes, probably small lakes in the rain, ok for locals who are used to it but hell for someone who isn't. Apart from the dirt beyong Ban Beng I thought the part from Atapeau to Paxsong had the most untraveled dirt. Improved dirt for a mine or something for halfway then not too much traffic for most of the side over by Attapue. I think it was a shortcut and there's a hard surface option by backtracking most of the way to Sekong . Road Sekong to Atapeau and Atapeau to Vietnamese border was the best all around, and would be good in any weather. Beautiful over by Vietnam.

    "You can ride those crappy blah blah blah" Come on now Madmac, go ahead and admit you've never been to any of these provinces let alone ridden a bike there. tsk tsk There is no traffic to keep up with or highways.

    #17 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 11:07

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    '"You can ride those crappy blah blah blah" Come on now Madmac, go ahead and admit you've never been to any of these provinces let alone ridden a bike there. tsk tsk There is no traffic to keep up with or highways."

    Somsai
    In general, the points I made apply no matter where on the planet you drive. OK, so keeping up with the traffic is not an issue - all the other issues still apply.

    The small bikes are not as safe as the larger bikes - whether you drive in Italy or Russia or Laos. The laws of physics remain the same in all of those places. Bikes with more weight, wider tire width, more power are safer. It's that simple.

    #18 Posted: 7/8/2009 - 07:59

  • somtam2000

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    As risk of reviving this thread...

    Just had a bike accident today, me on the trusty Honda Dream other local dude on the same.

    He was at fault, came out of a side road, down wrong side of the road, wearing helmet cocked backwards with a dog in his lap.

    Ran into me, hitting my leg, nothing too serious -- as they say in Monty Python, just a flesh wound -- the dog did fly halfway across the road though (but will survive).

    Can't help but think if we'd both been on bigger bikes, we'd both be a bit more injured, instead of both sitting on the curb laughing at a very confused pooch.

    #19 Posted: 15/9/2009 - 18:50

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
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    Glad you're ok, or nearly ok. At least you didn't have a small passenger.

    #20 Posted: 15/9/2009 - 19:52

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    "Can't help but think if we'd both been on bigger bikes, we'd both be a bit more injured, instead of both sitting on the curb laughing at a very confused pooch"

    And if he were driving a pickup you'd be dead. But in both cases, the end result was tied to what HE, not YOU, were driving. Bigger bikes are safer, and anyone with serious bike experience will tell you that. Small bike lack the weight, power and tire width for stability, especially on long trips. This just isn't debateable.

    #21 Posted: 16/9/2009 - 00:34

  • rosscoact

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 9

    I love it when tourist bike types bag out real riders who wear safety gear. Chicks dig scars.

    Me, I'll ride in my gear, fall off, get up, ride on. I have nothing to prove and know the risks.

    good luck

    #22 Posted: 1/10/2009 - 18:59

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Ross
    Bingo.

    #23 Posted: 1/10/2009 - 19:43

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
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    "tourist bike types"

    Welcome to the forum rosscoact, I assume you must be a Laotian, I must say your English is great, or are you too a tourist bike type? If so then perhaps take up tubing or temple watching, someone who makes a habbit of continuously falling off their bike probably needs a new diversion.

    #24 Posted: 1/10/2009 - 20:01

  • MADMAC

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    Somsai
    If you ride hard off road, then you will come off the bike sometimes. Even if you don't, lots of my Thai friends have bike accidents. People here can't ride worth a crap, and a lot of the kids think they just got a pocket rocket when they turned ten. I can't believe you are trying to make an arguement against safety equipment or safe bikes. WTF?

    #25 Posted: 1/10/2009 - 22:06

  • somsai

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    Actually I'm argueing against making a practice of falling off your motorcyle in Laos. All the gear and helmets aren't going to do much for a broken neck.

    I know you've never been there Mac but the far side of the Plateau is no place to be laying down your bike. Hospitals are few and far in between, no one has heard of travel insurance and they don't take Visa. Medical care would be what most people call scary, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, then sulfa powder. Xray slides and anti biotics can be in short supply.

    Like most things a competent safe rider is much safer than all the equipment in the world. Safety equipment is only there to reduce the damage after you have already messed up. The idea that because you are driving a big bike, dressed like power ranger somehow you are safe when you tip over your bike is what's messed up.

    My fender bender was almost identical to Somtam's, but it was at night and he had no lights, I've laid it down a couple times when I was very young. Now I know not to exceed my own and the bikes limitations. I don't drive at night, and avoid late afternons especially Sat and Sunday when there are apt to be drunks out.

    Rule #1 which superseeds all other rules, don't get in any accidents or fall down, ever ever. If you are the type to fall off your bike regularly, then maybe consider taking up tubing or temple watching, it's safer.

    Pink or yellow

    #26 Posted: 2/10/2009 - 00:05

  • rosscoact

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    Posts: 9

    As Madmac says, if you ride hard you fall over. Dirt riding is about riding hard and having fun. Safety gear does stop small offs from becoming a big deal. I've been riding dirt bikes for 35 years and have seen enough little mishaps end up in trips to the hospital to know that the minor discomfort of wearing riding gear is the price you pay.

    The suggestion that "Rule #1 which superseeds all other rules, don't get in any accidents or fall down, ever ever" is ludicrous. If you are riding motorcycles and especially on the dirt, sooner or later you will fall down. This is what you don't seem to understand, gravity is a constant. If you are not prepared to fall over when riding then good luck.

    As for tubing, yeah if I want to get drunk and stoned I do it on dry land.

    #27 Posted: 2/10/2009 - 04:07

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Somsai
    I do believe you are talking out your ass. If you ride a vehicle, there is potential for an accident. The arguement that you shouldn't have accidents because quality medical care is in short supply is a fallacious one if I ever heard one. If you ride in or on a vehicle of any type, there is potential for an accident. Wearing my seat belt doesn't mean I'm going to drive more dangerously.

    Now, if you wanted to say "when riding a bike on the Bolovens, be very careful as quality medical care is in short supply up there" that would be good advice. But "don't wear safety equipment and don't ride a quality bike if you can find one because you don't want to have an accident" is bad advice.

    Just because a lot of Laotians do it doesn't mean you should emulate it. They ride cheap bikes because they don't have the money for quality bikes. They ride around without helmuts because they haven't been educated as to why wearing a helmut is REALLY a good idea (a 15 km fall from a bike without a helmut can be lethal if you land on your head - and it happens every year enough times to make it a real risk). The "power ranger" look isn't for styling. The clothing isn't all that comfortable. But if you are riding off road, it's a big advantage from a safety point of view.

    Frankly, there is no intelligent arguement that can be made for doing without safety equipment when riding bikes. If you want to make the arguement that you prefer to take the risk because it's not comfortable, that's a reasonable arguement. You've weighed pros and cons and decided you'd rather do without. But to make the arguement that you just shouldn't have an accident so you don't need safety equipment is moronic.

    #28 Posted: 2/10/2009 - 11:54

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
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    yo H N, I'm not argueing against safety equipment or oversized bikes at all. But I do think grown men dressing up in funny looking color coordinated tight leather pants tops and helmets is a little peculiar. Especially to putter around the empty back roads of Laos. I mean there are ten gap year backpackers doing the same thing on mopeds every day, many of whom have never ridden before. And to glorify dumping one's bike as in, "I'll ride in my gear, fall off, get up, ride on" doesn't seem to sane. How many times can you fall off your bike drunk and still keep getting up?

    I know you've never even ridden a bike in Laos or been anywhere in Laos other than visa runs to Savanaket. You should go on down to Pakse sometime and maybe rent something to drive around the back side of the plateau. Trade that beer bottle for a strong coffee lao, bring flip flops and a smile.

    I think it's about time for a different motorcyle Laos thread. Pensioner tourists out of Thailand gets old.


    [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTe8XiI-F4k]OGLC

    #29 Posted: 2/10/2009 - 20:08

  • rosscoact

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    I think we're talking at cross purposes here.

    I'm not talking about the knobs in leather tights

    I'm one of the knobs with the jerseys and the boots

    #30 Posted: 2/10/2009 - 21:43

  • somtam2000

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    Well, I dunno about the knobs in leather tights -- at least they break up the scenery somewhat... but I didn't realise we were talking about off-road/hard biking. If we are, then I more lean towards rossoact/MM in that if you're going to do that, then a bigger bike, (hot pants optional) is a better idea.

    However, all the main legs through the Bolavan are sealed (Pakse->Tad Lo->Salavan->Sekong->Attapeu) and it is not difficult riding, and for an inexperienced rider, who is happy to put along at 30km/h a Honda Dream etc is more than adequate.

    However, if you're looking at heading north on the back blocks over the Broken Bridge or Kaleum etc, then a bigger bike is a better idea -- as would be a considerable dose of extra motorbiking experience.

    I've had a few prangs over the years, but the only serious one was on a bigger bike and I was the passenger (driver went under a moving car and lost most of his hand, I just landed on the bonnet of another car).

    As I mentioned earlier, on a little bike, you're probably (or at least should be) riding slower and the impact (assuming you're not hit by the #42 bus) is going to be less than if you're doing 100km/h on a chopper.

    Wear a helmet, don't motorbike in a bikini - go for cargopants and sleeves at least, don't have 60 beers before riding home and drive at a safe speed -- not difficult rules to follow. Somsai's #1 rule is great -- but only practical if there is nobody else on the road...

    #31 Posted: 3/10/2009 - 08:19

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Somsai
    If they ever allow me to ride my bike across Frienship Bridge II then I will take it from there to Vientiane to visit my cousin Carol. Then I'll let you know how it was.

    #32 Posted: 3/10/2009 - 12:09

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