Photo: Pak Ou caves.

The Chomphet Loop

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Looking for a scenic motorbike or challenging cycling trip in Luang Prabang? Just across the Mekong River from town is Chomphet District with a 23 kilometre dirt road loop that will take you through the countryside, past small villages, beautiful rice paddies and mountains. It’s bumpy and hilly with some very steep sections. The experience is like stepping back in time.

Typical scenery in the Chomphet Distrcit.

Typical scenery in the Chomphet Distrcit.

To do the loop with a sturdy motorbike or mountain bike, head to the passenger/vehicle ferry at the main boat landing on the Mekong behind the Royal Palace Museum. There are usually two ferries running so it should take no more than 15 minutes to board one. The trip across takes five minutes and one person with a motorbike (one-way) should cost 10,000 kip.

Ensure you have everything you may need with you for the trip. Of course, wear a helmet, and we’d also suggest plenty of water, drinks and snacks, sunscreen, a spare tube if you’re on a bike, or a full tank if you’re on a motorbike, “Luang Prabang Area Map” by Hobo Maps and kip. You’ll soon realise how remote and relatively undeveloped this area is.

The ferry across the Mekong takes all sorts of passengers.

The ferry across the Mekong takes all sorts of passengers.

The ferry drops you at Ban Xieng Man. You’ll notice how rough around the edges this village is compared to prosperous Luang Prabang. In contrast, on the other side of the Mekong, Chomphet district is poorer. Head up the steep ramp. Keep left at the first fork in the road (as you will see, the right leads into a village). Pass the petrol station. At the second fork keep right (the left will lead downriver to “the pottery village” Ban Chan).

Keep oriented.

Keep oriented.

After that it is fairly straightforward. The loop is clockwise so keep going right wherever it makes sense (while obviously trying to keep on the main road). Hobo Map’s “Luang Prabang Area Map” is extremely helpful as it indicates minor landmarks such as wats and radio towers that will keep you oriented. Another clue is the power lines – they often run adjacent with the main road. Be aware that there will be several stream crossings.

When passing through villages, a smile, wave and friendly “Sabaidee!” will be met with much fanfare.

The loop as shown on the Hobo Map.

The loop as shown on the Hobo Map.

The most beautiful time to do this loop is during rainy season (approximately July to September) when the rice is growing and the mountains will be incredibly lush and green – but timing is everything. You will need two solid days without rain for the road to be dried out.

Weather is very pleasant from November onward and as things dry out, it will become increasingly dusty. Dust masks are advisable and sunglasses may help keep some of the dirt out of your eyes.

You’d be crazy to do this loop on a bicycle from March to June when temperatures soar. It’s called “hot dry season” for a reason. Also, farmers burn their fields from February to April and the air quality is extremely poor. For those on a motorbike, set out early, slap on sunscreen and cover up.

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Location map for The Chomphet Loop

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Luang Prabang.
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