We have just over a week in Laos at the start of November and were wondering whether renting mopeds is plausible to travel independently between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, spending a night in Vang Vieng and maybe somewhere else en route. Neither of us are overly experienced on mopeds other than casual holiday use - though both are experienced car drivers and sensible road users. Would be grateful for any advice on whether this is a realistic idea or not! Any recommendations on what to see/do in Laos in general also gratefully received!
#1 kbr2009 has been a member since 17/8/2009. Posts: 3
Other discussions here on Travelfish suggest it's probably not a great idea. Not because you won't enjoy yourself, etc. Rather, that the distance is long, the road condition makes for slow travel, and you'd probably not be able to manage where you finished each evening for accommodation nor handle the situation if you had a breakdown (quite possible).
As for what to see/do, well there's so much: but, an idea of what you enjoy could limit the suggestions.
Thanks BruceMoon. Travel logistics aside, on this trip we are going to focus on the areas around and between Vientiane and Luang Prabang so any information on places accessible as day trips from those would be great. Interested in the local scenery, being able to meet the people and see what daily life is like rather than ticking off a list of guide book recommendations. I'd like to get to see some elephants if possible though - have been looking into the watch tower at Ban Na but not quite sure whether I am that keen to stay there overnight! I can never see enough Buddhas and we plan to go to Pak Ou cave. We were in Cambodia earlier this year and what really made that trip very special were the local people we met. I am very interested in literacy also and have started looking at what Big Brother Mouse do.
#3 kbr2009 has been a member since 17/8/2009. Posts: 3
VTE-LPB is relatively good road. Rte 13 is the main artery through Laos so road crew + villagers response to clear rainy season mudslides is pretty quick. though potholes take longer.
many cyclists pound this route, so a lot of info on where to find accomm along the way outside of the usual Vang Vieng stop is found on cycling forums/journals like crazyguyonabike. there's even one guy who attempted to walk this route:
VTE-VV section relatively flat. there's the busier main Rte 13, & an alternative (for most part of the way) route via Tha Ngon that prob sees less of the big truck traffic - quite a few cyclists opt for this alternative, guess it might be better road safety-wise? blog i linked above has details on route & accomm.
north of VV traffic really thins out, & those travelling northwards slow down as they lumber upslope. a year ago i spent a whole afternoon walking along Rte 13 southwards from Phou Khoun & encountered a vehicle maybe once every half hour or so, usually one of the VTE-LPB buses.
can only rem details for the VV-LPB section, which most cyclists tackle over 2 days cos of the steep climbs. accomm can be found in:
Vang Vieng > Kasi > Bor Nam Oon > Phou Khoun > Kiew Kacham > LPB
(Kiew Kacham options are limited & basic)
(Bor Nam Oon - post #15 here)
alternative is, rent mopeds out of VV & explore surroundings. some have done that in order to explore the karst scenery north of Kasi, best views around the village right smack on the border demarcating VTE & LPB provinces (marked by a blue & white Welcome to Vientiane province signboard).
if you can never see enough Buddhas, spend time at Wat Sisaket in VTE.
literacy - BBM is just the most well-publicised among literacy programmes in Laos...look at The Language Project & also the National Library of Laos' Book Box project as well.
As everyone here knows, although I own one, I am not a fan of the 100 and 125 cc little bikes. The wheel base is narrow - they're just not as stable as larger bikes. People think they're safer because they're smaller, but it's just not true. Or they want to immitate the locals... bad reasoning.
If you have no experience on bikes, a tour in southeast Asia is not the way to get it. Driving here can be difficult and dangerous. Driving intstruction is not very good - a lot of road fatalities for various reasons. I would recommend getting some experience before hitting the road here unless you are a wild man (read risk taker).
#5 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Minor quibble here, but a Honda Dream with one pax and one pack runs very comfortable at about 40-60km/ph on a sealed road (ok I've had one up to 130km, but it certainly felt like terminal velocity) -- as long as traffic is light and you're wearing a helmet, it's a pretttty low risk environment. On the otherhand, if you're riding a "real" bike, then a complete novice can sit on 100km/h+ (with pack LOL) and that can very quickly become dangerous if not lethal.
My point is, while I agree with MM that the bigger bikes are "safer" a scooter, when driven as a scooter is a pretty damned safe set of wheels... just take it easy, don't drink a hundred lagers and wear a helmet.
I drove my rented clunker, and I adamantly mean clunker, from Vientiane up to Lak ha sip song (town called kilometer 52). Traffic was fairly busy on a Sunday morning and the town wasn't that great. It's a Hmong town (not village) and the ride wasn't that great.
Another day I took a newer Chinese bike from Vientiane up to Phou Koun which is at the junction to Ponsavan. The ride was beautiful without much traffic. Mostly I went about 45 with helmet off. I was going pretty slow. Most roads in Laos should be driven on very slowly, different traffic rules aren't made to go fast.
I always tell the person I'm renting from where I'm intent on going and they make sure I have a bike equal to the road. The Kolao brand is better than the Chinese and a Honda or Suzuki from Thailand the best.
I'd suggest renting out of Vang Vien. Most competitive prices.
PS Most those on big bikes are pensioners better off on golf carts, for safety.
"Notice no other replies are from anyone who has actually driven the roads involved."
I get the feeling that they are not travelled so much by the tourist crowd on bikes...
I actually would be interested in taking my bike over and driving down through Lont Tieng and back to Savanakhet - but not this year. Too much on the plate right now.
#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Thanks to all for the very helpful advice!
#10 kbr2009 has been a member since 17/8/2009. Posts: 3
Sorry, I overlooked your second request "any information on places accessible as day trips from those would be great. Interested in the local scenery, being able to meet the people and see what daily life is like rather than ticking off a list of guide book recommendations. I'd like to get to see some elephants if possible though".
Given that no-one appears confident about the actual moped experience along that route (as a travel medium), my earlier suggestion that you may be biting off more than you can chew to rent from Vientiane and travel to Luang Prabang still holds true.
As is widely noted here (and elsewhere) you can rent in Viang Vien. LP as a rent location is possible, but you really have to organise from Vientiane (check here and look for Jules' details).
Despite the water 'sport' focus, VV has really pretty countryside and day trips in the region can be easily undertaken (either on hire bike or on tours). You'll see on Lonely Planet Laos (6th Ed) at pp. 125 a description of what's in the area as far as moto riding & village contact. Clearly, you wont be the first whitey to visit that region, but it'll still be enjoyable.
In Luang Prabang, look at the elephant option (go here to see more), and also - if interested - some of the tours focussing on ethnic activities (there are several good operators, one being this mob ).
Another option is the boat trip to Nong Khiaw (a full day), an overnight there or nearby, and a return via boat or road.
Just a few ideas.