are you referring to the road that passes through Boun Tai & Boun Neua, marked as 1B & then 19 on this map: http://www.ecotourismlaos.com/images/map/laos/laos_bg.jpg ?
if yes, between Muang Khua & the first junction (leading to Udomxai) is decent paved road. from the junction northwards to Phongsaly, parts here & there are paved but mostly like this: http://laomeow.blogspot.com/2007/05/211206-udomxai-to-phongsaly-part-3.html, so can get pretty crap in rainy season (i.e. Sept), be prepared for delays if 2009's rainy season is going to be like 2008's for that area. last part Phongsaly to Hat Sa unpaved.
best to ask on GTrider forum?
Thank you very much for the valuable information, but that is not the road to which I am referring. It is not shown on the map you mention, but is clearly shown on the Nelles map. It is to the east of the main road, and goes through Ban Khang and Ban Hat Sa, which is to the East of Phong Sali. Perhaps I should explain that I am a dirt bike rider, and was a little disappointed by the good condition of the roads around Tha Kaek when I was there last year (although the fabulous scenery more than made up for it!).
On this trip I am torn between the desire to boldly go where no tourist has gone before, and the feeling that this road probably doesn't exist in the wet.
#3 BigRoss has been a member since 17/2/2007. Posts: 19
sorry, don't have the Nelles map. in the map i linked, Hat Sa is where the minor road leading east out of Phongsaly town meets the Nam Ou. best map i can access: http://www.moe.gov.la/gis/phongsaly/gis_phongsaly.htm
(click on district names for detailed maps)
also heard of a road going east from Boun Tai to Ban Samphan Xai & beyond to the Nam Ou (ending somewhere upriver of Muang Khua).
The more I look, the more I'm thinking this road is only a bullock track. As a fall back position, has anybody been up the Nam Ou to Hat Sa on the slow boat, and if they have, do you think the liberal application of kip would persuade the boat crew to transport a Honda 250 trail bike lashed to the deck?
Just for the record, the back roads of Laos are dirt bike Heaven!
#5 BigRoss has been a member since 17/2/2007. Posts: 19
I was in Muang Khua in January and there were several tourists that came down from Hatsa on the slow boat. In fact, based on my 4 trips to Muang Khua, it's easier going north from there than south. Going south, you always have to charter the whole boat.
It should be much easier going north to Hatsa and paying extra for the bike will make it that much easier to "fill" the boat.
#6 eljefe has been a member since 16/11/2008. Posts: 25
Thank you very much. You have in fact anticipated my next question, which was going to be: "Can you put a motorbike on the boat to Hat Sa?"
If I had to charter the whole boat, is $60US still roughly the going rate?
#7 BigRoss has been a member since 17/2/2007. Posts: 19
$60 would seem fair, but I'm not the one with the boat!
I've paid $70 & $80 to charter the whole boat going south on my two trips, but it's a longer trip than HatSa.
You can also negotiate a small discount if you allow your "charter boat" to make stops to pick up passengers along the way. Well worth it as it makes for a more interesting trip.
#8 eljefe has been a member since 16/11/2008. Posts: 25
Thanks again! Very helpful.
#9 BigRoss has been a member since 17/2/2007. Posts: 19
$70-80 sounds like a steal, most reports i've seen over past 2 years are in the range of $100 per boat...anyway it fluctuates with fuel prices.
some have suggested paying part of the agreed amount first, & the remainder at the end of the journey.
I've just managed to get hold of the Freytag and Berndt 1:1,000,000 map, and it refers to the "road" as a "track", and the last time I followed one of them, I finished rubber side up near Pa Am. I think repeating that might require a little more suppleness and courage than I possess nowadays, so the river option looks good! (Sings: "Jolly boating weather...")
Thanks for all the help.
#11 BigRoss has been a member since 17/2/2007. Posts: 19
Cat, you got me this time.
I always negotiate in Kip. I shouldn't expect the rest of the world to do dollar conversions.
I was there in Jan 05, Feb 06, and Jan 07. All 3 times I was able to negotiate the price down to 700,000 kip. (The exchange rate then was 9,200 - 10,300 kip/$.) And that was all the way to Nong Khiaw, not just Muang Ngoi.
Only once did I have a big enough group to make the trip worthwhile. the other times we went back to Oudom Xai.
I was there most recently in Jan 09 and got the price down to 700,000 kip again. But this time with the exchange rate down to 8450, it came to $82.84. I was with a group of 4 that really wanted to go so we paid it. I probably could have negotiated it down a little further. I know the Lao pay a lot less but everyone needs to make a living. I can afford it much better than they could. btw, that was for a non-private boat. We made 4 stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers, none of whom paid as much as 10,000 kip for their part of the trip.
You can also negotiate with private boat owners in addition to the harbormaster, but I've never gotten a better price that way.
As for paying part at the start and the balance at the end of the trip, I don't think that's possible. I've always bought my tix from the harbormaster (yes, I actually get a formal receipt with # of passengers and amount paid) and it's not possible that way. The only reason to do that is if you don't trust them. I don't think that's an issue. Has anyone ever tried doing that on a bus or plane? This is no different
#12 eljefe has been a member since 16/11/2008. Posts: 25
"I know the Lao pay a lot less". I don't know about that, I only took the boat Hat Sa to Muang Khua once but the price was the same for all. Fixed price no negotiating. Just went along with the locals.
The people jumping in and out at the local stops also paid when they got out, seemed to know the regular price already.
took the slowboat from Hat Sa to Muang Khua . everyone else who got on at Hat Sa (all locals) paid the same fixed price as i did (80,000kip to Muang Khua back then, less if getting off earlier at Samphanh, etc) & got an individual ticket.
other travellers have reported paying part at the start & the balance at the end of the trip in the past - something to do with chartering the entire boat with an agreement not to take on extra passengers along the way. maybe it's no longer possible now, i don't know.