Cycling Laos

Closeup of the basket ladyLaos is an incredibly popular cycling destination in southeast Asia.

Its varied and beautiful landscape, laid back people, light traffic and low cost of living all win rave reviews. The UNESCO world heritage city Luang Prabang is the top ‘must see’ destination but the coffee plantations and waterfalls around the Bolaven Plateau and the Si Phan Don islands in the very south of the country also merit a few days.

Keep reading for more information on bike touring in Laos, including specific route details…

Cycle this…

There’s easily enough cycling to keep you busy for a month or six weeks if you want to do a comprehensive tour from north to south. Most cyclists will use buses to hop between the best spots or choose a portion of the country to explore. Two popular options are to ride north from Vientiane to Luang Prabang or across central Laos from Thailand to Vietnam.

Buddha's golden faceIt’s hard to find much negative to say about Laos. The hot and humid weather can make cycling uncomfortable if you’re not used to the tropics. Early starts and long lunchbreaks help with this. Rocketing numbers of tourists are also taking their toll on the country and sometimes things aren’t as laidback as older travel reports lead you to believe. You do have to keep an eye on the bill as overcharging is not uncommon, even in small towns.

Riding off the main roads in the wet season (June to September) can also be a muddy affair and you have to do some serious research before heading off the beaten track. What is marked as a main road on your map may be barely more than a forest track! Route 23 running north from Salavan is a case in point, with washed out bridges and a large section that’s just a sandy, rocky trail through the jungle.

Comments

  1. Simon
    8th November 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Dear Laos bikers, I am planning a 4 or 6 weeks trip to Laos next year and I am wondering, if it is better to bring my own bike with me from Italy or rather buy one in Laos. Any experience or deliberations on that? Advice? I have not the time for a 3-months tour through Asia – in that case I would of course bring my own for sure.
    ciao, Simon

    • friedel
      9th November 2011 at 9:39 pm #

      I think you might struggle to find any kind of decent bike in Laos. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember seeing any bike shops in Laos, let alone a half decent one. I’m guessing that finding something better than a “$100 supermarket special” would be tough, but I’m ready for someone to correct me if they have more recent info 🙂

      • Simon
        10th November 2011 at 5:52 pm #

        thanks, Friedel, so will carry my bike with me – asked only since lonely planet says it is easy to buy a $100 bike. tks again, Si

      • Bob Adair
        6th December 2014 at 8:42 am #

        I tend to agree :). I was in SE Asia in 2013 and decided to do another ‘buy a local bike’ adventure. I bought a new 5 speed in Savannakhet in southern Laos (no used bikes were available), pedalled across Laos into Vietnam, and down to Hue (about 6 days). It was the largest bike I could find, with the tallest seat tube, but it was still painfully small (and I’m only 5′-9″ / 175 cm).

        I toughed it out for a week, learning how not to put any pressure on my knees. I suppose I adjusted to it, but it’s a warning that bike shops in smaller towns have little to offer! Vientiane would likely likely have more choice, but even Vientiane isn’t really a big city. On the plus side, they may have more used bikes for sale there.

    • Heather Wickham
      24th October 2012 at 6:18 am #

      Hi Simon
      I’m probably a bit late for this, only just read this article. I lived in Vientianne for 2 years back in 2006 – 2008 and yes they had a great bike shop there run by a French guy and can’t think of his name at the moment, but sure if you ask someone they will tell you. He’s great for repairs also his shop was on Don Palan road.

      look forward to hearing about your trip. We also did lots of cycling adventures particularly in south of Laos, fabulous.
      regards Heather

      • Simon
        24th October 2012 at 3:09 pm #

        Thanks Heather – I am still grounded in office work, so had to move the cycle trip to next year and therefore your comment is not too late! Will let you know once I manage to get off!
        Simon

    • Heather Wickham
      28th October 2012 at 9:01 pm #

      Hi Simon
      I remember the bike shop owner’s name in Vientiane, Willie and sure the bike shop name is Willie’s bike shop or something similar. Thailand is a great place to buy MTBs, not sure your plans where you intend to enter Laos. What we found when cycling in remote areas, there was always a shop of some kind and food available for purchase – might be tinned and always bottled water. Keep me informed of your adventure if possible. Cheerz Heather 🙂

  2. David
    9th May 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Hi, great in depth review. Does anyone know about route 23 from muang phin to salavan ie how bad it is & in which parts (percentage), what surface, passable or unpasswble and anything else I should know before settin off on my 135 16″ wheels Nouvo? Thanks in advance

    • Heather Wickham
      24th October 2012 at 6:26 am #

      Hi, yes have cycled that route, certainly different and really interesting, many little villages and dirt tracks all rideable,and crossing rivers in a variety of boats. A great adventure, we had our own tents and food, but did buy whatever we needed along the way. Have fun and let me know how you get on. regards Heather

  3. David
    29th October 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    I decided to go to Salavan to gather some more information about route via road no 23 leading to a bombed bridge by the US in order to cut off Viet Nam supplies.
    Just before setting off I got a message from a local agent that it’s not passable between May-Nov. Though, my mates didn’t know this and crossed on a 135cc motorbike. They said it was a little too adventures, very exhausting & would not do it again. They were stuggling to guess directions in the jungle where there is only unmarked paths. They had to cross deep rivers (should be easier for bicycles), very muddy/slippery rocks/roads, spend one night in the jungle where run out of water before reaching muang phin. You’d be going the other way around so the closer to Salavan you get the more shops are along road 23. It should be a lot easier by bicycle too cause you can always carry it back.
    It’s wise to set off very early mornings, with enough water / food, compass/gps with offline maps (paper one won’t work in the jungle), torch, matches, bike fix-kit and preferably with a company cause no mobile phone coverage in certain parts.

    Local people are usually unable to advise on current conditions.

    See my blog for photos if you are interested in different locations. Cheers, David

  4. Skypirate
    21st January 2013 at 5:53 am #

    Willie still in same place at mid point DonPalan rd. Giant, Specialized, Trek and others. Prices start about $400 and up.

    Great guy. Honest.

  5. chris Gruar
    14th August 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Hello TravellingTwo and friends,

    At the moment I’m cycling down China, and desperately need a new rear wheel rim (48 inch, 36 spokes), as well as two new ‘Swalbe Marathon Plus’ tires (700c, 32 or 35mm). I plan to ride like mad to the Laos border (you can no longer extend Chinese visas more than once!), then get these components in Laos. So my question is, does anyone know a bike shop in LP or Vientiane that would have these parts, or of an email contact of these bike shops so that I can get them ordered in? Cheers

    Any help will be greatly appreciated; and thanks again TravellingTwo for maintaining such a great online resource!

    Chris.

  6. David
    14th August 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Hi, There is a French guy that owns a bike shop in Vientiane. I do not know exactly which one it is but try these:

    Chongchareon Bicycle Shop
    337 Dongpalan Road
    +85 621 285 187

    Sonboon Bicycle Shop
    +85 621 453 038

    If phones are incorrect just google or ask locals.

    Cheers, David

  7. Heather Wickham
    15th August 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Agree with above, Willie great guy to deal with, don’t go to his shop early in the morning!
    Happy and safe cycling
    Heather

  8. Rob
    23rd March 2014 at 2:31 am #

    I had my front derailer replaced for a Trek 7.5 yesterday, which I had done at Chongcharoen Bike. It was near closing but they stayed late to fix it and I was happy they had exactly the parts needed. I had a small accident and bent the derailer, and as I live here with no auto, I was a bit desperate. The owner was unbelievably helpful and knew his stuff, and had all the right tools and parts.

    The price for the derailer, cable and labor was about US$35. The phone from the other comment is still correct, and apparently they have a facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/laobicyclevientiane. No email on his card.

  9. Manon
    16th August 2015 at 10:03 am #

    Thank you so much for your blog that is full of resources and very well written and organized, it’s truly a pleasure to peruse it !
    I am going on a 30 days cycling trip in south east Asia with approx 80kms average per day and I have no idea what to include in my trip !
    I’d love to see most of the wonders of south east Asia.
    Do you have any sort of basic itinerary recommendation ?
    It would help me greatly !!!

    Thank you in advance and I wish you a nice day !

    Manon

  10. amit
    11th April 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    we are planning Cambodia to HongKong , this June to Sep…I am planning is go 1×9 (32 Front, 11 to 34rear) for the first time..you think is a good idea?? Specially in Laos..
    we (me n wife) going ultralight..no panniers, no racks, no nothing..just handle bar bags..
    we did Sinagapore to Bangkok last year…
    you can see our last set up here..i was on a 29ner then! 3X8

    https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?doc_id=17107

  11. Andrzej Brandt
    24th May 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    Wonderful piece of informations here! Right now we are approaching Vientiane, and we are figuring out the road we want to go.

    And most important – thanks for the info in comments section. Our bikes, after 10000 km need a solid check and repair, and now – in Vientiane – we know where to go!

    Cheers

  12. eliza
    8th August 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    if you only had ten days to bike in Laos with 12 year olds from where to where would you cycle ….

  13. Nicola
    12th September 2017 at 2:07 pm #

    Hello, I’m thinking of cycling in Laos this winter. I might be a solo woman. Is that safe?

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