Luang Prabang to Phoukoun
My bicycle adventures brought me twice on the road from Luang Prabang to Phoukoun and Vientiane. I had done the road also once by bus. Then the road was quite bad. The busses were likewise. I remember having a bus without windows and down the road busses had to stop for repairing. Those days are mostly over now.
Traveling from Luang Prabang to Phoukoun and Vientiane nowadays goes on a very good asphalt road for most of the distance. The old rotten busses are now replaced by good modern busses and minivans.
And what about Luang Prabang itself? It's still nice enough though nowadays more and more tourist visit this still sleepy town.
There are more then 100 guesthouses and hotels in almost all price ranges available. No need to recommend one, just check a few since many offer more or less the same value for money.
The main street has changed into a tourist market at night time. Some will regret it happened but when thinking about it, it's the tourist who spend money there and thus some of locals from Luang Prabang as from the surrounding areas are willing to make a few dollars. It's fair enough. And Luang Prabang is still a nice place, despite the heaps of tourists.
Between the villages there are still the old travelers vans
active but even these are in good condition. Those vans, a sort of pick
up truck with benches and a cover on the back are still a popular form
Reading these notes you may think the road between Luang Prabang and Vientiane is a busy road. You may find the Lao people telling you it's very busy now but when you're cycling on it, there's hardly traffic.
In the morning a few busses from Luang Prabang pass. Later in the afternoon a few busses from Vang Vieng and Vientiane pass. There's a few trucks once in awhile and some cars.
I have cycled this road both ways, once in 2002 from south to north, the second time in 2006 the other way. It doesn't seem to me the traffic in four years has much changed.
So most of the time I cycled in the middle of the road with the exception, of course, when I started to get near Vientiane.
Accommodation in Luang Prabang
I've created a page with some recommendations for cheap hostels and guesthouses. Only in high season you may have to book in advance though but it can't hurt to get an idea what is available:
Kiewkachan and Phoukoun
I left in 2006 Luang Prabang with the idea to cycle the 130 km or so to Phoukoun in one day. My advice is: DON'T DO THAT. In 2002 I cycled the same road the other way which was a lot easier. But there are two basic guesthouses in Kiewkachan (80 km from Luang Prabang) so there's no need to push it.
Let's look at the road between Luang Prabang and Phoukoun when cycling from Luang Prabang. Leaving Luang Prabang, the first town of any size is Xieng Nguen. If you haven't visit the waterfall when staying in Luang Prabang, you can do it now. There's a guesthouse too.
Directly after Xieng Nguen the first climb of the day starts. Before Xieng Nguen there are a few short, no more then 100 to 200 meters, climbs. It starts at 335 meter altitude and it will bring you to 1160. It's a slow 15 km climb, never difficult or steep. The views are on many places excellent though making pictures of it is difficult.
At the top there's a little village where you can refreshments and noodle soup. As cyclist regularly pass by, the villagers, as in many other villages too, are happy to see you.
Many children greet you with sabadee (hello) and bye bye. Compared to for example China, it all sounds nice and welcoming. It's nothing like the head voices and yelling the Chinese send you, preferably behind your back. In fact it's a very Lao thing: nice and mellow and I always great them back, unless I am complete out of breath.
After the first 15 km climbing (which actually is a great descending too, not every descending is great but this one is) a 16 km descending follows. This descending is fantastic.
The views are fine, a few villages here and there, all in all, a very pleasant and easy descending. By the time you're at the lowest point, it's time for the real deal: a 22 km climb to Kiewkachan.
It's maybe not the most difficult or steepest climb, but it's quite a long one. It's a good laid out climb. The road follows the mountain slope one by one.
And there's quite a few to pass before coming on top at 1420 meter. Kiewkachan is just a few kilometer after the top at a slightly lower altitude.
The town is located at a ridge so you will have views both ways. There are two basic guesthouses. If you're coming from Luang Prabang, I would recommend to stay there.
Phoukoun is the next town of any size. The town is a junction. If Phonsavan is your destination, here you have to go east. Vang Vieng and Vientiane are south.
Phoukoun is only 51 km from Kiewkachan. If you reach Kiewkachan before 2pm, you will be able to reach Phoukoun before sunset. If you're later then 2 pm, there's a good chance you will cycle the last kilometers in the dark (as I had in 2006).
From Kiewkachan to Phoukoun is a difficult road from the Kiewkachan direction. It's of course not the road condition. Kiewkachan is located at 1420 meter, Phoukoun at 1320 meter altitude.
But in no way what is between the two town is flat. In fact it is all the way up and down, sometimes steeper then other parts (mostly it's mild climbing) but it seems it never stops! By the way, Luang Prabang - Kiewkachan is 82 km)
Coming from Vientiane the situation is quite different. Since Phoukoun is already at 1320 meter, you will start the day with the ride to Kiewkachan. The are a few climbs in this first 51 kilometer, the longest, about 10 km is the last part. And there are a few tricky parts in the road.
A few times it seems you reach the highest point and you will go down a bit. And then another part climbing starts. Obviously, you can stay in Kiewkachan but you can also go straight to Luang Prabang.
Contrary to what I advice about Luang Prabang to Phoukoun, you can easily reach Luang Prabang in a day and have some time left in Luang Prabang. There's a descending of 22 kilometers from Kiewkacham with a climb to just over 1000 meter following which is 15 km.
16 kilometer descending follows but it's not an easy descending as there are hairpin curves From Xieng Nguen it is 24 km to Luang Prabang which can be done relatively easy. It's not flat with a few short hills which can be nasty after the climbs earlier the day as I found out twice now.
Other pages about Laos:
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Map of Laos
Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing
North Laos has a few gems to visit, especially Muang Sing with its over 20 different minorities is a must visit little village.