If you’ve ever dreamed about taking a hard-core motorcycle journey into a rarely visited part of the world, this is the tour.
Each ride into Laos is unique–every one filled with new sights and experiences. A motorcycle tour in Laos is a drive back through time, observing a way of human existence that has nearly disappeared from the face of the earth.
Only recently has Laos been reopened to outsiders after 300 years of nearly continuous warfare. But the country is becoming increasingly popular with tourists because of its pure and undiluted culture, pristine nature, and outstanding natural beauty. But still the numbers of people who visit Laos is actually quite small, and they can only reach a selected few destinations because of the decrepit transportation infrastructure in place.
None of these visitors can stop in the small and isolated villages that are off the beaten track like we can do on a whim, thanks to our motorcycles. This keeps the countryside nice and empty for our forays. A support vehicle carries all our belonging, so your motorcycle stays light and nimble. A local tour guide will explain all he knows about the culture and history of this region and will help you to understand the hilltribes’ remarkable relationship with their land.
Only hardy souls who can tolerate rough riding and Spartan living conditions should consider participating on this LAOS MOTORCYCLE TOUR. As Laos develops, sections of roadway are currently undergoing improvement and many are being sealed. But major portions still remain jungle trails that cross rivers and climb mountains that aren’t even named. I will venture a guess that in five years’ time, regular road bikes will be able to tour through significent parts of the country. So if you want to experience Laos before these improvements take place, I would suggest riding with us sooner rather than later.
All participants must be in decent physical condition and have a moderate amount of off-road motorcycle riding experience. Novices might find themselves in over their heads, so if you want to come, better start practicing. Pillion riders are not permitted on this trip, but there might be an extra seat or two in our support vehicle for a non-riding travel mate.
All participants who sign up for this Laos Tour should be accustomed to “roughing it”, have a spirit of adventure, and everyone must have a tolerance for minor snafus, because for sure we will have to deal with unexpected and unforseen occurances as we travel around the countryside.
Sleeping accommodations are sometimes basic at best. Some lodgings have neither electricity nor plumbing. But there are a few gems along the route of this motorcycle tour where your stay will become most memorable.
Food will be plentiful and nutritious, and at most occasions we will dine quite well. However, we may sometimes be forced to settle for some unimaginative meals in the remotest regions. But on those occasions, you will never have eaten food that is fresher–just picked produce, mountain-grown rice, wild plants, seasonings picked from the forest, and chicken, pork, and fish that moments before were still alive.
What a world we will enter after we cross the Mekong and drive a few miles into the hills. Immediately centuries will be erased from the calendar.
This tropical, land locked country is around the size of England. 80% of their 4.7 million population survive on what the jungle provides or on what they can grow. Laos is at the bottom rung of economic development.
According to their latest statistics of 2000, per capita income was US$260. Total national exports amounted to US$ 336 million, or barely enough to cover Tiger Wood’s annual endorsement contract. Twenty-six percent of their people survive on less than $1 per day. Not a single mile of railroad track exists in the country. Skyscrapers in Laos are four-story buildings. A life expectancy of 53.5 years is among the lowest in the world for any country not suffering through a protracted war. Their major cash crop, until very recently, was listed as Papaver somniferum, or the opium poppy.
But progress is coming. Telephone numbers have expanded to six digits, up from four only recently. And their postage stamps now have glue on their backs.
The LAOS MOTORCYCLE TOUR stays in the mountainous and cooler nothern regions and takes us right up to the borders of Burma, China, and Vietnam, an extremely remote area sparsely populated by tribal people living in the mountains.
The total tour distance of around 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) is more than sufficient because of the hard road conditions and because of the vagaries of traveling in such a wild and raw place. Many unexpected things happen so we have to keep our itinerary flexible. We are sure to stumble across seldom-witnessed hilltribe rituals that must not be missed, even if this means readjusting our schedule. These once in a lifetime events, such as the Hmong courtship ceremony, are the primary reason for coming here in the first place.
This tour departs from CHIANG MAI. The first day features some enjoyable driving across North Thailand’s Golden Triangle area, and we stop for photos at the exact point where Thailand, Laos, and Burma meet. The quiet town of CHIANG KONG is our first destination. We cross the mighty Mekong River and enter Laos in HUAY XAI.
An old French Legionaire fort sits atop a promontory whose cannons once controlled all the river traffic passing by. Just watching river life on the Mekong floating slowly downstream is entertainment enough. You will never forget this scene.
There is but a single road that bisects the entire province of Huay Xai. We take it north into the jungle and mountains and have our first encounters with the Lau Soong ethnic group, who are as curious about us as we are about them. Foreigners stopping in their village are as rare as snowflakes. Never have they seen motorcycles like ours, and never have you imagined a village such as theirs.
We pass through several hilltribe settlements every day on this tour. One Kamu village tradition forbids the use of metal. Other hilltribes you will become familiar with are Lahu, Akha, LaHoy, Lamet, Lu, and Meo. Montagnards also dwell in this area. They were once feared warriors and were hired as mercenaries by the French, and later by the Americans, when war ravaged this region. Today all the hilltribes have reverted to being peaceful farmers once again.
NAMTHA, MUANG SING, PAK BENG, AND UDOM XAI, are names of places that certainly have no meaning for you now. But you may be rest assured each of them will stay vivid in your mind way into the future.
Then, after five days of tough but thrilling biking and touching encounters with alien cultures, we return to a civilization of an entirely different sort, LUANG PRABANG. This beautiful but isolated city, once so difficult to reach (but which now handles several flights per day), was once a royal capital in the dominant ancient Lanna kingdom which once spread into parts of Thailand, Burma, and China. Luang Prabang is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historical and social importance for the entire human race. Many fine examples of old French colonial architecture survive, and this compact town on a spit of land at the confluence of two rivers is filled to overflowing with dazzling Buddhist temples and soaring stupas.
The food in Luang Prabang is supurb, and is fused together wonderfully with classic French cuisine. The most delicious dining experiences on this trip awaits us here. The handicraft market in Luang Prabang is vibrant and no visitor can possibly walk away empty-handed.
After two delightful nights in Luang Prabang we turn around and head back to Thailand, stopping off at some of the villages we passed by on the way into the interior. By this time in the tour, everyone’s off-road riding skills should be significantly improved, and the ride back to Chiang Mai will be even more fun than on the way in.
Back to ASIAN MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURES HOME PAGE.
Questions / requests / feedback: Send us an email.
Click to view LAOS map.