Exploring the heartland of Laos by motorbike

If you drive along Laos’s Road No13 South between Borikhamxay and Khammuan provinces you’re likely to encounter groups of tourists riding motorbikes, an increasingly popular way of exploring Laos among those looking for adventure amid stunning landscapes. Vientiane Times
If you drive along Laos’s Road No13 South between Borikhamxay and Khammuan provinces you’re likely to encounter groups of tourists riding motorbikes, an increasingly popular way of exploring Laos among those looking for adventure amid stunning landscapes. Vientiane Times

ANN /Vientiane Times - Tourists often make their way to central Laos to rent a motorbike in Thakhaek district, the capital of Khammuan province, to hit “The Loop”, a 450-kilometre circular route passing through the two provinces and featuring an abundance of scenic and other attractions.

The Loop has been on the itineraries of travellers since 2006 but became better known after 2013, when it received support from New Zealand.

Deputy Head of the Information, Culture and Tourism Department in Khammuan province, Panya Chanthalath, said more than 100 people visit sights in the two provinces each day as they travel The Loop.
“Foreign tourists enjoying travelling by motorbike, which they rent locally,” he said.

“We ask bike rental outlets to test their customers’ riding skills and to ask for their driving licence before allowing them to rent a bike. We also give them some important information on traffic regulations.

“But sometimes there are accidents and most of them involve tourists who come from countries where they drive on the left. Many trucks and buses also use this route on their way to various districts and to the Vietnamese border,” he added.

“So it’s not really safe for bikers, especially as some parts of the route are mountainous and narrow.”

Authorities have teamed up with the police to order all bike rental outlets in the province to register the bikes so that it’s easy to find out where the motorcycle came from if it is involved in an accident, Panya said.

The police and authorities have also tried to urge shop owners to get insurance for their bikes because officials have to handle problems relating to accidents and all too often complications arise.

Nga, who has been renting out bikes in Thakhaek district for over nine years, said, “Before signing a rental agreement, we ask for a driving licence, and we also ask riders to hand over their passport until they return the bike. Our prices run from 70,000 kip [$8.40] to over 200,000 kip a day, with Japanese bikes being the most expensive.”

She said Japanese bikes were better and stronger, and posed fewer problems for her customers. In the past she rented out cheaper bikes, but there were always problems when they were damaged, which happened frequently because of bad road conditions in some areas.

Customers would call her to ask her to pick up a damaged motorbike, which would waste a lot of time and then she would have to give a refund.

Nga then switched to Japanese motorcycles, which her customers preferred. She has also linked up with repair shops along the route and can call on them to help if any of her customers have a problem.

“We have 50 bikes and usually rent out eight each day in the dry season and three each day during the rainy season. The peak season is January and February, when we rent out about 20 bikes a day. Most of our customers are foreigners, and they usually take them for four days, which is the length of time it takes to complete The Loop,” she said.

Frenchman Craules Rousseau, who travelled on a rented motorcycle, said, “This is my first visit to Laos and also my first time riding a motorbike here, and I loved it very much. The bike helped me travel easily to tourist sites along The Loop. It also helped me to explore the countryside, as I love the natural environment in this area.”

Rousseau and a new friend from the US rented motorcycles from Khammuan and travelled along The Loop for four days.

Both of them fell in love with the beautiful landscapes of the two central provinces and they promised to return to Laos. “If possible, I’d like to stay in Laos for the rest of my life,” Rousseau said with a laugh.

“Riding a bike is a very good way for visitors to explore Laos, as it is an easy way to travel and get a real feel of this peaceful country while being in touch with the beauty of nature.”

Some highlights of The Loop are Phou Hin Nam Nor (Stone Forest) in Khammuan province, a striking rocky outcrop that has been submitted to Unesco for possible listing as a World Heritage Site, and Tha Bak village in Khamkeuth district, Borikhamxay province, where local residents have found an ingenious use for fuel tanks discarded by B52 bombers during the Indochina War.

It also includes Vang Nam Yen (Blue Lagoon) in Napavan village, Khamkeuth district, which has a stunning mountain range nearby, Nang Aen cave in Khammuan, and Thampha (Buddha Image Cave) where there are 229 Buddha statues.

Another attraction is Konglor Cave in Natan village, Khounkham district. There is also the enticingly named Dragon Cave in Khamkeuth district, the Elephant Cave in Thakhaek district, and the so-called giant wall and Khoun Kong Leng (Blue Pool) in Thakhaek district.

These are all good reasons to get out of Vientiane and make a trip that’s somewhat off the beaten track.