Lao Roads and Maps

dsc_4232.jpgMost cyclists in Laos stick to the main Route 13, which runs the length of the country from south to north.

It’s paved, in good shape and traffic is light. The few cars and trucks on the road go relatively slow and give cyclists plenty of space when passing.

Go off the main road and it’s a different story. Your back road will almost certainly be dirt and little more than one big mud puddle in wet season. It may not even exist. Triple check with locals before heading off onto a road that looks promising on your map. Just because it’s marked as a big red line doesn’t mean it’s at all suitable to cover on a bicycle or that construction has even been finished.

As an example of how misleading maps can be, we were planning to cover Route 23 in southern Laos until we met someone who had just come from that road. She had to walk for two days because there was nothing more than a forest path and this was an allegedly major road on our map. We later saw pictures of the road and it was just a rocky, sandy track.

Maps of Laos are almost impossible to find in the country. Bring one from home or just wing it.

Comments

  1. Roel
    24th January 2011 at 10:26 am #

    I saw Monument Books in the centre of Vientiane sells the Reise-Know-How map (World Mapping Project) Laos map, as well as a map covering more of SE Asia.

    I would recommend going off Road 13 and try some smaller roads. Many roads have been improved lately and they offer more challenging cycling than the big roads.

    We cycled the road between Nong Khiaw and Sam Neua and then south to Phonsavan. It is well-paved, very quiet and has fantastic scenery. Accomodation is far between though, so prepare to do long distance or camp.

    Another nice stretch is from Phonsavan south to Paksan. Largely unpaved (for now at least, they are constructing a new road), but not too bad in the dry season.

    An excellent bike repair shop in Vientiane is ‘top-cycle-zone’. The owner by is French, a professional cyclist and an likely the best mechanic you will find in Laos.

    enjoy!

    • Amaya
      16th February 2012 at 2:54 am #

      Followed your suggested route from Nong Khiaw to Phonsavan (although we didn’t go to Sam Neua) and just loved it.

      Very little traffic, beautiful scenery and many friendly villages along the way.

      The Phonsavan-Paksan road is nearing completion but there are still a few rough, dusty sections and some river crossings on pretty precarious bamboo bridges.

      Not a big variety of food available along the way so stock up. Camping in villages is not a problem, and I wouldn’t do this stretch without a tent.

      Some photos of the route here: goo.gl/owpcn

    • Gennie
      18th April 2013 at 2:56 am #

      It looks like this email address doesn’t work anymore – does anyone know Willy’s updated contact information?

  2. francis leclerc
    30th October 2011 at 4:35 am #

    Hi,

    GT Riders publishes a pretty accurate Laos map. It’s intended for dirt bike riders but does pretty well for cyclist as well.

    http://www.gt-rider.com/maps-of-thailand-laos-maps/laos-guide-map

  3. jeffrey
    29th March 2013 at 7:15 am #

    if you have a tour bike forget Laos!

    I just tried 400 kilometers from Tek Sek to Vientaine – heading North on 13c from Nakhon Phanom

    I only made i it 352 kilometers asmy back wheel feel apart because road so very bad

    Now I stuck in Laos after hitching ride trying to get new back wheel

  4. Don
    18th September 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    If you are GPS enabled try the Laosgpsmap. Works great with Garmin Edge and handhelds.
    Lots of the local guys in the bike clubs use this map.

  5. benoit
    9th October 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Jeffrey said
    “if you have a tour bike forget Laos!”
    I cycled the road you did,a few months before on a aluminiun touring with 700C wheels and it was perfect. I loved it.
    All you need is a good wheel ….

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