I'm looking to travel to Laos with my packraft in May. Real preliminary research here, just wondering if anyone could point me in the right direction. I'm looking for a good river to float for 7-14 days. How high up the Nam Ou can you get to float down? Is May a bad time to float? I can handle some rapids, but flood stage could be dangerous! Trying to get out of the touristy areas.
Thank you very much!
#1 tikchikak has been a member since 17/2/2014. Posts: 5
You can go a long way up the Nam Ou quite easily by heading to Phongsali . Not sure it would take that long to float all the way to Luang Prabang though. You will definitely off the tourist trail as soon as you leave Phongsali heading down river. Even in that town you depart from you're unlikely to meet another tourist. The next major town that will have some tourist in it is Muang Khua, but it's very low key.
You could do the Mekong from somewhere like Xieng Kok for a much longer journey. Again, almost all is well off the tourist trail.
Thanks for the reply! Nam Ou is looking like the place to go. Looking at a map, it looks like there are a few places where Nam Ou crosses a road or close to it where we could hop in!
#3 tikchikak has been a member since 17/2/2014. Posts: 5
This guy used to run a kayak tour on the Nam Ou, starting from some way above Phongsaly/Hat Sa: http://www.stevevanbeek.com/trips.php
But I don't see that trip (think it's called Northern Wedge or something like that) is listed on his website anymore, maybe due to ongoing construction of (4-7) dams? Anyway my impression was that the trip started in a village somewhere north of Boun Neua. Really can't say for sure where they put it, but one possibility might be around Ban Tha where the Boun Neua-Ou Tai road crosses the Nam Ou (Ban Tha & this road is briefly described in reply #7 of this thread: https://www.travelfish.org/board/post/laos/9453_three-corners-of-north-laos-phongsali--sainyabuli--hua-phan). The Nam Ou is really shallow there, & flows east & then south well away from road access through an area with very few villages (not sure if the villages are still there as there has been a lot of relocation i.e. don't expect anyone & any supplies) until you get to Wa Tai (also spelt as Oa Tai)...think Steve's tour involved one night of camping on a sandbar along the way. Wa Tai seems to be about the furthest point upriver along the Nam Ou that trekking tours from Phongsaly ventured to, it used to be possible to charter a boat there from Hat Sa. Then further down the Nam Ou = Hat Sa, Muang Samphanh, Muang Khua , Muang Ngoi Neua, Nong Khiaw (aka. Muang Ngoi) & then Pak Ou. Muang Khua to Nong Khiaw is really beautiful. But seems that dam construction affected boat travel on the Nong Khiaw-Pak Ou sector late last year, don't know about the current situation.
Don't know how you're going to deal with local police/officials (there's a checkpoint on the road to Ban Tha & one on the Nam Ou downriver of Hat Sa) travelling on your own without a guide in the more remote areas...even if you speak Lao most of the villagers in that area of Phongsaly don't.
There is also the Nam Tha river. & the author of this blog has kayaked in southern Laos - check through his blog for the description: http://fullmoon.blogspot.com
#2: You could do the Mekong from somewhere like Xieng Kok for a much longer journey.
Wouldn't recommend this. Just to answer to what you posted on this thread: https://www.travelfish.org/board/post/laos/16826_ryan-chicovsky--missing-in-laos-since-2006 - do read a bit more about what has happened in this area:
somsai's post #2 here: https://www.travelfish.org/board/post/laos/3802_upriver-from-huay-xai-to-xieng-kok
& #1 here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2150488
You can Google for more.
Awesome, thanks Wandercat!
A lot of good things to look into there!
The biggest ? I have now is weather. I've read May can be wet. I'm not worried about rain in terms of comfort, but don't know if we'll run into monsoons etc. for massive river flooding. Common that time of year? Any ideas?
#5 tikchikak has been a member since 17/2/2014. Posts: 5
May is usually too early for big sustained monsoon rains that can result in floods and wild water. That's more possible July-Sep. May weather for the region is more like hot with perhaps the occasional thundershower which can be heavy but short-lived. Or it might just be hot and humid, then some of us are wishing for rain ;-)
No guarantees though - it's the tropics. Sounds like a great trip and you'll probably be glad you're on the river not in a baking hot city.
I had a friend who did this going from Nong Khai to Mukdahan, and you could easily keep going if you wanted to. Some rapids, but nothing to get in a twist about and you could always put ashore and skirt them. He entered on the Thai side and got off on the Thai side, which might be breaking the rules as technically the surface of the river belongs to Laos. The Laos military actually stopped him and checked his boat for contraband, but let him go on. The one big plus here is that while it won't be a touristed area, it will be a populated one (for the most part), reducing vulnerability to crime perhaps a touch and also easing communication issues.