Photo: On the road to Banlung.

Motorbiking in Asia forum

Scooters for Newbies on the Bolaven Plateau?

Posted by phishsticks on 26/10/2011 at 21:10

I would love to check out the Bolaven Plateau on my upcoming SE Asia trip. When we get to Laos it will be Feb. I am going with my girlfriend, and neither of us have rode a scooter before. I am kind of nervous about the idea of getting on a motorbike never having rode one, but I'm really excited to see the Plateau. How are the road conditions in the area? How dangerous is it with zero experience? I'm very cautious, won't speed, will always wear a helmet, take a 10 minute crash course from the bike rental shop etc. etc. Whats the deal? Am I gonna be coming home in stretcher? Does anyone advice against it? or shouldn't doubt it for a second?

Any and all opinions would be greatly appreciated.

#1 phishsticks has been a member since 10/10/2011. Posts: 32

Posted by sayadian on 26/10/2011 at 22:30

Did this 2 years ago and apart from there being a lot of traffic coming out of Pakse the roads were pretty quiet and in good repair.I found the Laos people probably the most courteous road users in S.E.Asia and they will always beep the horn before overtaking you and give you plenty of space. I was surprised how much of a climb it is to get up to the plateau and if you are there early February be prepared for it to be a bit chilly in the early morning and late afternoon on a motorbike. Any guesthouse or moto renter will give you a simple map and away you go. I'm sure you'll enjoy the amazing scenery and the spectacular waterfalls.

#2 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557


Posted by caseyprich on 27/10/2011 at 07:23

I'd never done a motorscooter before in my life and a buddy and I had a fantastic time with this one. Best to get the semi-automatic (shift but no clutch). Also, try starting the bike in second gear rather than first and you won't get popped forward as much.

The Lankham hotel offers great advice, large backpack storage, and good bikes. You'll want to have a small travel bag and if you bring bungee cords you can strap it to the back part of the bike so you aren't ridding all day with a bag on your soldiers (that's if you don't go two on a bike). The stretch out to Tad Lo is really easy so long as you catch the turn off which is not that well marked, just a T-intersectoin with some fruit stands and wooden shops. After Tad Lo it is easy to take the short route around to Paksong if you don't have much time, and that route isn' t much of a challenge etiher. It only gets a little windy between Sekong and Attepeau and then the dirt rode between that road adn Paksong (if you're doing the big loop) was a little slippery at points - we all spilled once - and there was heavy construction work half-way to Paksong that continued until just before arrival, I'd expec that to still be happening (We were there February 2011).

One of the best times I've had - Laos drivers will give you a wide birth and the only real traffic as Sayadian said was on the road out of Pakse. It's also fun when you get back from the plateau to keep the bikes an extra day or two and go down to Champaskae (Wat Phu) - you'll need to ferry them across the river, but that wasn't a big problem, and then you hav motorbikes to beat all the cyclists out to the Wat in the morning, have it almost all to yourself for a couple of hours.
P.s. - so long as I'm not held liable for this comment - don't doubt it for a second!

#3 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by busylizzy on 27/10/2011 at 07:51

I did this trip in the last month, and support the comments above. I had ridden a scooter 2-3 times (for the first time) 2 years ago in Lembongan, but this was my first time for an extended period.

The one thing that I would recommend is to maybe do a basic Motobike Skills Handling course for a few hours before you leave home. You will learn some of the basics and some good tips. I did this a few months before heading to Laos, then rented a scooter for a day in a relatively quiet area at home to get in some more practice just before we left. It just gave me that much more experience.

Be sure to check the bike out as much as you can do first, and take photos of any existing damage, etc. Be sure to get a helmet - and to wear it! Also wear closed in shoes - if you comne off, you don't want to lose your toes.
I would never hire a scooter/motorbike in places like Bali, but felt completely safe in the Plateau because traffic was reasonably light. Your biggest danger will be the cows, chickens, goats and pigs that either lay on the road and create an obstacle course for you, or dart out unexpectedly. But keep to a cruising pace and you will be fine. Getting out of Pakse was the only minor issue as traffic was much heavier, but the good thing is you head straight out from Lankham and don't need to deal with anynavigation issues until you are well out of the busy area.

I took a small daypack plus one other small bag. I strapped the small bag onto the bike in between my legs, and just carried the daypack on my back. (I probably should have strapped this down too... )

Our only issue was the weather (in October). We ended up getting quite a bit of rain which meant it was difficult/impossible for us to get to some of the waterfall areas - not to mention it was downright unpleasant at times! I guess if we had dirtbikes, and the confidence to go with it, we could have made it to some places that we ended up missing out, But you should be fine as far as weather goes in Feb.

PS - Thanks for all your advice to me earlier, caseyprich. It was very helpful and reassuring as we went around!

#4 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by sayadian on 27/10/2011 at 12:36

'down to Champaskae (Wat Phu) - you'll need to ferry them across the river'
That's a lovely trip too but should warn you; do it when you've got a little bit used to the bikes as you have to drive/manouevre them on to the ferry which I recall was only a few planks tied to the top of a couple of small boats.Fun but there wasn't much room for error as 2 or 3 bikes fills the ferry. Wat Phu is incredibly beautiful with stunning views of the surrounding countryside so don't forget a camera.

#5 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557

Posted by phishsticks on 28/10/2011 at 12:03

Thanks for all the advice. I'm really looking forward to it. You all settled my worries. Defiantly gonna go to Wat Phu, will take your advice saydian and do it after the Plateau. Busy Lizzy doing a motor lessons is a great idea, but I am currently teaching in Korea and the motorists are pretty crazy here. The bikers drive on the sidewalk, run red lights, and occasionally dodge oncoming traffic. Taking a course here would be detrimental plus I don't think I could find one in English. I was thinking of doing a day trip from Krabi town to Tiger Cave Temple first, its only 8 km each way and it might help get us used to scooters. What do think? Anyone know how the driving on Route 4 around Krabi is? has anyone done this day trip before?

#6 phishsticks has been a member since 10/10/2011. Posts: 32

Posted by busylizzy on 28/10/2011 at 14:43

I don't know the roads around Krabi area so can't comment on that but maybe someone else can.

Just so you are aware, when you pick up the bikes in Pakse you really won't get much of a lesson - and there probably won't be much of an area to practice in before you hit the road. You're pretty much on the main road amongst it all! If I were you I would plan to leave as early as possible to avoid the worst of the traffic (not that it's THAT bad, but if you're learning, lighter traffic is good). Not trying to put you off, of course, but just trying to give you a realistic picture.

#7 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by phishsticks on 31/10/2011 at 09:10

Thanks and I agree, probably will wake up at the crack of dawn. I'm still gonna go, and super excited, but I'm not putting it past myself that I'm getting on a motor vehicle that I don't know how to drive, and that I can very easily injure myself. Wow that sounds bad. But, who ever had any fun in life always playing it safe. All of the advice I'm getting is reassuring me that it can be done with good fun and some cautiousness.

#8 phishsticks has been a member since 10/10/2011. Posts: 32

Posted by tinoh on 31/10/2011 at 17:04

I did the trip 2 years ago and here are my 2 cents.
Leave early every day as it seems that it rains often in the afternoon.
When driving a semi-automatic never start in first gear, second or even third gear is much easier.
I think it's better to do the long loop counterclockwise because than you go uphill on the better roads and down hill on the unpaved roads. .

#9 tinoh has been a member since 13/2/2010. Posts: 40

Posted by MADMAC on 1/11/2011 at 21:59

"When driving a semi-automatic never start in first gear, second or even third gear is much easier."

I've been riding out here for four years and that's the first time I ever heard that. Not true on my wife's Honda Wave.

#10 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by caseyprich on 2/11/2011 at 09:06

I actually also said above, "Also, try starting the bike in second gear rather than first and you won't get popped forward as much."

It was some advice I got that helped me when I first started riding - otherwise I would often pop off the start and feel a little unsteady.

#11 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by phishsticks on 2/11/2011 at 14:06

Madmac your an experienced rider, and dont need any help on a bike, but ive never been on a bike before, it sounds like a helpful tip.

#12 phishsticks has been a member since 10/10/2011. Posts: 32

Posted by tinoh on 2/11/2011 at 18:08

@ Madmac: the power of a bike can be to much for a newbie when starting in first gear. I had never driven a bike before and when starting in first gear the first time I felt kind of not in control of the bike anymore.. Starting in second or third gear was more relaxt.

#13 tinoh has been a member since 13/2/2010. Posts: 40


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