Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw by bicycle - 145km
Brief: highway 13 is single laned with an inconsistent quality. The gradient is less challenging than other sections of Laos and allows a good average speed.
We divided this into an afternoon cycle of 45km and then a full 100km the following day.
Late to leave Luang Prabang due to repairs (tigertrail), but keen to make progress on the next journey, we depart Luang Prabang at 15.00
This being our first mistake. This was our first proper day of riding in Laos, and we hadn't yet come to understand the geographic differences in this country, nor the fact that there is a lot less options for sleeping.
Taking the road 13 north east out of Luang Prabang, it's a simple road, not much traffic and very easy to follow. There is the possibility to do a detour to see the Pak-Ou caves en route. See map.
The road 13 is pretty and a fantastic view is offered over a bridge, 32km in on your journey(Hatgna). At the crossing there is also the opportunity to eat and sleep with the last guesthouse for 60 km. We didn't fancy the grotty guesthouse and even though the sun was setting, we fancied our chances by pushing on. After this junction the climb becomes harder and the road also starts to deteriorate.
Before long we were cycling in the pitch black dark, our lights able to only give 5-10 metres notice of the next pothole. With occasional spills of gravel, turning in the descents also became a danger and we realised we needed to stop for the night.
We carried on until we saw a signed restaurant. We ordered some food, played some cards and chilled out over a BeerLao, considering our options.
The friendly family seem to understand our situation and with the presentation of our letter explaining that we haven't made it to our destination. We were shown into a small shed were we could rest for the night. We were offered a shower (actually just a large bucket), some bedding and a mosquito net.
Carry on on route 13. We start tackling the hills that carve through this magnificent part of the world. The cycle is definitely harder than the previous day but still manageable. We stop for breakfast a few hours in and the warm soup is rehydrating and filling. There is small villages, generally every 10km along the way and offers chances to replenish water and fill the belly.
We run into problems when the hard pushing eventually takes its toll on Cynthia's crank. Another tool we will definitely be carrying next time as we were unable to get the chunky pliers into the small area to tighten the bolt. However we try our luck in the next shop on the road and somehow the owner has the right tool. We take this opportunity to then tighten the cranks on both bikes.
Checkpoint PakMong. At the T junction, there is two options, turning left carrying on with the hwy 13 direction Luang Nam Tha. Or turning right on the road 1c, to Nong Khiaw. We had another break in Pak Mong over the river.
PakMong has little to offer in terms of any charm, limited accommodation and places to eat. It really is just a junction town. However for accommodation, the town 10km south of PakMong, offers a better range of options to eat and sleep.
The road from Pak Mong to Nong Khiaw is beautiful. The sights and people present in the route create a fantastic riding atmosphere. All was going well until Cynthia's tyre blew up. The tyre had given way to the heat of the day and to a few rougher roads. Leaving us only 20km short of our destination. The news was devastating to our morale, after the journey had thrown every problem possible at us. We pushed our bikes back to the closest town... the chance of finding a 28" tyre was slim and by shortly proving this, we had to take a ride in a minibus to Nong Khiaw.
If you are to do this route we highly recommend sleeping in the town 10km south of PakMong named Nam Nga. This will then break the two day ride into 84km day and a 58km day. Allowing you to arrive in Nong Khiaw earlier in the day to find sleeping options and to do the sunset hike.
From this incident we were unable to get a new tyre until Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam.
We were able to take a boat from Nong Khiaw to Muang Khua, and then from there we took a bus to Dien Bien Phu.
It was a shame to miss out riding through the landscape of northern Laos and to be crossing another border by bike.
However the road from Muang Khua to Dien Bien Phu is extremely steep with a rough terrain again. We advise being well prepared and equipped to do this road.
Prices for transportation
Nong Khiaw to Muang Khua --- Boat trip with bicycle 200 000
Muang Khua to Dien Bien Phu --- 60 000 for ticket + 40 000 for bicycle