Posted by Travelniels on 8/1/2015 at 23:44
In order to help out the people who are planning to travel from Vietnam into Laos, here's an extensive description of my trip, including route description and some tips about driving in Laos. I hope it helps convince those who are still in doubt, as it was simply an incredible experience for me.
My trip from Hanoi to Luang Prabang via the Na Meo bordercrossing.
Bike: Semi Automatic Honda Wing 110CC, in decent shape.
Baggage: 15 kg.
Change of oil: every 2 days.
Important things to bring: Bike's blue card (make sure you check if the serial numbers match the numbers on your bike), water and some snacks (if you get stuck in the Laos' mountains it may take some time before someone passes). a phone with GPS function, and most important; an MP3 player with shuffle function to give you those goosebumps the moment that you find yourself on the perfect road and your favorite song comes on (for me, the combination of Metallica's Enter Sandman combined with the Mau Chai mountain pass gave me the biggest adrenaline rush ever).
Make sure your bike is in good condition. Too many accidents occur due to silly kids on bikes with bad breaks or broken chains. I went to Hanoi Motorbikes (https://www.facebook.com/Hanoi.Motorbikes?fref=ts) before my departure and had them check my bike. You may pay a bit more then when you bring it to your local bikeshop, but they are very trustworthy and will not screw you over. And just to be sure: No, I don't work for them (as I know squat about bike repairs), but a good company deserves some advertisement from happy customers.
So, 6 days of driving, here we go:
Day 1. Drove from Hanoi to Mai Chau . Easy journey, beautiful roads. Mai Chau truly is a magical village. Make sure that you drive on to Lac Village, where there are some very good home stays.
Time: about 6 hours driving
Day 2. Planned to drive from Mai Chau to Na Meo. My Google maps application advised me the quickest way, which took me to a horrible road, definitely not suited for Honda Wings or anything under 250 CC with dirt bike tires. I first drove on the TL520, basically a muddy path filled with potholes and dead animals. Google Maps then told me to follow the Song Luong, a road which would give Colling McRae goosebumps but seemed impossible to drive with my Wing. After 15 miles I had to turn back, after which I drove another 20 miles on the QL 15A to a nearby village, had my bike repaired and crashed at the only Hotel I could find.
I would advise driving from Mai Chau to a town on the QL 15A for which i can't remember the name (but it is only a 100 km drive), as you do not want to reach the border too late and the drive from Mai Chau to Na Meo is simply too long in my opinion.
Time: It took me 8 hours+, but the one described above would take you less then 5.
Day 3. Followed the QL 15A to Ba Loc, and took the QL217 to Na Meo. The border crossing was a piece of cake. I made sure I got there just after lunch (border is closed between 11:30 and 13:00 if I am not mistaken), so that the border police would be nice and chilled (a old trick I once learned for when you negotiate something; always make sure that people just had lunch). I started talking about the recent Vietnam VS Malaysia football match, and within 10 minutes I had three very nice guys helping me out with my forms. I then drove to Vieng Xay via road 6. This was by far the most beautiful road I've driven in Laos and Vietnam. It took me cross an epic canyon while the sun was about to set: two of the best hours of my trip (which is the main reason I advise to take it easy on day 2, as you don't want to have to hurry on this road). In Vieng Xai , I stayed at a little floating hostel, where I received a very good home cooked meal and where the hosts spoke perfect english. Great people and a def. recommendation: (https://www.google.nl/maps/place/Viengxai+Hotelfirstname.lastname@example.org,104.2250096,17z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0000000000000000:0x0e1957a065893880)
Time: About 6 hours driving.
Day 4. Drove from Vieng Xai to Xieng Thong. From Vieng Xai to Luang Prabang you basically have two options; either take route 6 and 1C up north through the national park and across the mountain passes, or take route 7, where you will pass by the plain of jars. I decided to take the northern route, also because my host in Vieng Xai strongly recommended it. If you pick this road however, make sure that your bike is running smoothly. The roads are very good (Ho Chi Minh trail is nothing compared to the asphalt they used to cover this track), but you will only come across very poor villages, and Honda Wings are not very common here. On the other hand, tourists rarely visit this part of Laos, so prepare to be followed by packs of smiling kids, and being invited to lunch whenever you stop in a village. After a beautiful day driving, I eventually found a hotel at Xieng Thong, near the Nam Khan River.
Time: About 5,5 hours driving.
Day 5. Drove from Xieng Thong to Nong Khiaw. Road 1C is astonishing, and while driving through the parks (which includes a wild tiger population), I felt like I was driving across Jurassic Park. Then, after about 5 hours, I suddenly saw 2 blond girls driving mountain bikes, which made me realize that after 3 days of seeing no tourists what so ever, I was near a Lonely Planet mentioned location. Nhong Khiaw is beautiful though. Make sure that you cross the bridge with your bike and don't check in at the first hostel you see (like I did). There is a very cool backpacker hostel in this city (cross the bridge and take the first left, then look for the sign that says "fresh orange juice").
Time: About 6 hours driving.
Day 6. Drove from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang. This road is like the Nurburgring after days of good but very narrow and hilly roads: it's a broad, flat, very well asphalted road with perfect sight, so you can really go full speed here. After 4 hours, i drove into Luang Prabang.
Time: About 4,5 hours.
It was truly an incredible adventure and by far the coolest thing I've done so far on my trip. Make sure that your bike is in in good condition before you enter Laos at Na Meo, as bike shops are a bit more rare in the east of Laos. However, the roads are very good, the sights beat Vietnam (absolutely no contest), and the lack of tourists was (for me) just the thing I was looking for after 5 weeks of driving and backpacking in Vietnam.
In contrast to many posts I saw online and stories i heard, I only drove 150 km a day. I've met too many guys with horrible scars and broken engines during my trips, commonly due to driving 8 hours or more or driving 50 km an hour on mountain trails. The moment that I felt tired, I stopped my bike and sat down for a bit of resting. If there is any advice I can give it's this: never, ever, rush. Rushing is for people in suits. You can do that when you get back home again.
Last tip, about cops. Even though I have not seen a single one during my trip, expats here told me that the rules that apply to driving in Vietnam also apply to Laos: never stop at a police checkpoint, just smile, wave and drive on, and if they do stop you immediately take the keys out your bike and pretend you don't speak English until they let you go. Just make sure you don't give them a reason to stop you: wear a helmet (seriously, you are an absolute idiot if you don't), and have working mirrors and lights.
Good luck on your trip, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
#1 Travelniels has been a member since 15/12/2014. Posts: 3