Home A 240km flat to undulating ride due east on Hwy 9 across Laos. The first half of this leg is mainly sealed and in good condition, but the last half, just past Phalan, deteriorates into an annoying mix of rough gravel and oddly spaced sealed sections.
mysterious Laos & Vietnam!
The Ride: A 240km flat to undulating ride due east on Hwy 9 across Laos.
The first half of this leg is sealed and in good condition, but the last half deteriorates badly. Highway 9 gets cut up rather badly by the trucks going back and forth to Vietnam.
There are roadworks in progress (April 02).
The Road: HWY 9. Good to poor, in that order.
It's sealed, and beautifully smooth, for about 50 km out of Savan, and under construction up to about Phalan. After Phalan the road deteriorates into rough gravel with the odd sealed section all the way to the VN border.
General: A fascinating ride. The scenery gets more interesting the further one rides towards the mountains along the Vietnamese border and the (shudder!) HoChiMinh Trail. A lot of ethnic hills-tribe people and villages along the way for you to entertain. You're right in the thick of 'mysterious Laos' by now so keep going, it's worth the effort...
The ride: Highway 9 out of Savan heads due west. It's an easy enough 35 km into Xeno where there's a Guest House just north of the HWY 9 turnoff.
40 km east of Xeno you will arrive in PhongThong, (also called DongHen or DongKilo - I think. This got confusing, and not only for me).
There's a very comfortable unofficial Guest House here, used to house visiting party cadres, dignitaries and Westerners on bikes. It's a modern, white single story brick building directly below the big 30 metre (10 story) high TV aerial, on the south side of the highway.
Don't worry too much about the name of the town, just keep your eye out for the aerial - it's very tall and has a small satellite dish at the top. Ask anybody who looks semi-official to find the caretaker for you. Cost is 5,000 kip for the night. You might run into Comsee, a young local lad who speaks some English - he'll probably want some kip to further his English career.
There's no hotel at Phalan, but be sure to stop at the 'MuangPhin International' in MuangPhin. It's on the south side of town opposite the war memorial. For about 5,000 kip you get a bed, mosquito net, candle and a tub of water.
What you won't get for 5,000 kip is any windows, electricity or running water!
"Hey! We're cyclists, Feely!" said Mr Pumpy, "Who needs creature comforts!" The hotel's been burnt out at some point and not put back together again.
See the caretaker, a woman in the pharmacy next door (a small hut).
Despite its obvious failings, and a strong wind blowing in from Vietnam, Mr Pumpy had a very refreshing sleep.
There's a couple of new Guest Houses being built (April 02) and maybe they've even refurbished the International by now.
A good cafe in MuangPhin is the 'trucker's stop' on the north side of the highway just as you enter the town. Look out for the line of trucks. It serves up good cheap meals and there's plenty of friendly company.
The road is a lucky dip at this stage. It can be bumpy and hard going at times.
At Xepon there's a couple of Guest Houses and a cheap government Guest House fifty metres up the hill on the south side of the highway just as you enter the town. It's basic but very pleasant and costs around 5,000 kip.
Xepon also has a large market and is the jumping off point for trips into the HoChiMinhTrail.
I'm told there's a hotel at the Lao town on the Lao-VN border, but I didn't see it. The border town is not all that pleasant anyway, so it's best to cross into Vietnam and stay at LaoBao or better still, ride the the few kilometres up the hill to KheSan (see Leg 3).
The Vietnamese Border: These days the border crossing into Vietnam is a breeze as long as you have a Vietnam visa marked "Land crossing: Entry at LaoBao'. If not, the Viets will send you back to Savan to get one (the bus takes a day).
LaoBao is just a couple of kilometres on from the border (see Leg3).