- +121km (commuting)
- Jar valley 21km
- Vientiane 100km
- +0km (car)
- +6km (bus)
- +0km (train)
- +0m (boat)
- +0km (plane)
- 1 puncture
I’ve spent 2 months in Laos but only 3 weeks travelling through the country as I’ve been remotely working from Luang Namtha and Vientiane during 4 weeks in total. Communicating with Laos people is not something easy as nearly no one speak english. That certainly my fault because I did not try to learn much of the language as my stay was too short. Sometimes, even getting food was difficult. It was there, on the table, but the owner would not let me eat something. Too early? Too late? Lack of understanding? I don’t really know… Loas as not the most varied food. 80% of the time I would eat “Noodle soup”. They don’t have anything else. The price being more expensive than Thailand or any other asian countries I’ve been to, I started cooking again like when I was in New Zealand or Australia. The kids are incredibly friendly in this country. They always shout from where they are a loud “Sabaidee”, “Hello”, “Good morning” (even during afternoon :-), or even “thank you”. Sometimes they even run next to the rode and give a hand. I felt like a pro during a competition haha. The mountain area was pretty hard. The road are steep and storms hit almost every night during the period I was there (April and May).
This website contains most of the informations about all the different visa you can get. I will focus only on the VOA (Visa On Arrival) as a french citizen. You’ve got plenty of point od entry around Laos, which makes it easy to plan your route. A visa on Arrival cost me $30USD + one ID photo. If you pay in Baht it’s more expensive (something like $42USD after conversion). It’s quite straight forward. At the Northern west border it took me 20 minutes to go through the Laos immigration.
You can extend your stay in Laos by paying $2 per extra day. If you plan to stay more than 15 days, then it’s better to go out and come back to get another 30 days for $30USD. I did that when I got to Vientiane. There is a friendly bridge with Thailand about 20km from the capitale city centre. It’s took a total of 3 hours, roughly to go to Thailand, have my breakfast and come back to Laos with a new VOA 30 days visa. Easy :-)
As I mentioned before, food is more expensive compared to Thailand. The ratio is about 1/3 to 2 times more expensive in certain case. Here some example:
- Bananas is 4000 to 10.000kip
- Noodle soup is 15.000kip
- Fried rice is about 25.000kip
- Can of coke is 5.000kip (22baht)
- 1.5l soda bottle is 8000 to 10.000kip
- Sticky rice is 5000kip
Of course, I target the cheapest food. The price can easily reach 60.000 for a meal and even more of course. My food budget for a day was 60.000 ($10AUD, 6€50). By cooking at least once per day, I could make it. If I would buy 3 meals per days plus some extra, I would be easily over.
Guesthouse are worth it in Laos. That’s the other way around this time compared with Thailand. In Luang Namtha, I had a very nice Bungalow with bathroom at 70.000kip per night ($12AUD, ~9€). Of course I was working so I could treat myself a bit :-) If you look for a dorm, the price are something between 35.000 and 50.000kip per night.
I did not use any transportation in Laos so I don’t have any overview on this. I know there is night buses where you can choose to have a bed. There is also the VIP buses that I’ve seen many times on the road. I Laos, the bigger vehicle is mainly the fastest and the one you should let go first. If you are big you have the priority. This is how I felt when I was cycling around Laos. Mainly, every one respect cyclists. I’ve never have any bad experience during my trip.
Internet / phone provider
There is four main provider in Laos. Beeline, ETL, Lao Telecom and Unitel. When I arrived in Laos, the only provider I could find was Unitel so I chose this one. During all my trip from north to south it did work very well except on the northern side of Phonsavan where the connection was pretty bad. The data is really cheap in Laos: 5GB for 1 month at 50.000kip ($9AUD, 5.5€). I was really happy with Unitel and you can buy recharge everywhere.
Well, what can I say here? In the mountains, the weather is very different than in the plains. Well, this is not something new but after 6 month of flat road across malaysia and Thailand I was a bit surprised. Storms can be very strong so make sure you tighten everything well before you go to sleep in your tent or hammock. The best spots where to sleep for free are on the edges of the villages. Mainly, inside there is too much people and along the road, it’s quite difficult to find nice spots.
Laos shops never show the price so make sure you ask before if you don’t want any bad surprise. Sometimes you know that because you are a tourist, they give you the tourist price. Fortunately, in small villages, people are mostly very kind.
As I mentioned before I did not learn much of the language except the very basic. That’s it! It’s a shame I know but it’s better than nothing…
- Few words
- Sabaidee : Hello
- Kop Chai : Thank you
- Nit noï : A little
- Khaw : Rice
- Me : Noodle
Step by step
Cycling from Huay Xai to Luang Namtha (195km, 3 days)
What a change! I always thought Northern Thailand was the hard part but I was wrong. The first two days in Laos was so hilly that I had to push my bike several times. At that time I thought: “Was it a good idea to get here?”. Fortunately, I met some other cyclists travelling the opposite way so I didn’t felt alone. It gave me motivation to make it! Bloody hills!
Cycling from Luang Namtha to Phonsavan (600km, 8 days)
This has been the hardest step I’ve done since I’ve started cycling from New Zealand. I’ve never had to push that often. They were lost of slopes with more than 10% grade and nearly everyday the total ascend surpassed 1000m. I was really happy to arrive in a valley after those 8 days travelling in the mountains, northern side of Laos.
Cycling from Phonsavan to Vientiane (386km, 5 days)
Except one or two big hills, that third part got easier. In fact, closer I got to the capital, flatter the road became. The thing is, I was pretty tired from what I’ve done previously. One day off with Stephane was clearly not enough to rest completely. I did not have too much choice except keep on going because my visa would end in a week. On the way, I met Bright from China, another touring cyclist. We arrived in Vientiane together and spent some time around. I stayed in Vientiane for nearly 3 weeks finally.
Cycling from Vientiane to Lao Friendship bridge 3 (349km, 4 days)
The fourth and last step of my trip in Laos. This time the road was barely flat and I enjoyed it! The weather tended to turn to rain but I managed to stay dry every night as there was no wind like in the mountains. Contrary of what I heard from Stéphane, the people on this area were very friendly with me. The kids, as always, said “hello”, “good morning” or even “thank you” when I passed them. At the beginning I thought about cycling until Savannakhet to apply for a “2 month Thai visa” but I realised I did not need 2 months. A VOA (Visa On Arrival) of 28 days for free will be enough. On the way, I came across the friendly bridge number 3 and decided to shorten slightly my stay in Laos.