Luang Prabang to Muang Khoua to Nong Khiaw - dirt and water


Junior Member
Aug 31, 2012
This is my first attempt at a trip report, in order to give something back for all the amazing help I got on my trip from Phil and Rider's Corner. If you are just interested in some info on doing this route, skip past my attempt at colourful commentary to the end for some point-form tips.

After a very enjoyable ride on the Hongsa - Luang Prabang route, I ended up "stuck" in LP as a result of forgetting to get third-party insurance at the border near Hongsa - although I'm not certain there was an option at that border. Had to wait until Monday for the AGL offices to open, so I had to suffer through several days of great food and coffee. By the time the paperwork was done, I felt like I needed a bit more dirt riding, so I decided to attempt the Nam Bak - Muang Khoua route, and then see if I could get my bike on a boat for the trip down the Nam Ou back to Nong Khiaw.

I got started later then I intended, around noon, due to paperwork and some issues with getting money. The 120km ride to Nam Bak was straightforward and quick, good road with no issues other then the usual traffic you need to be alert for.

The turnoff was 2.4km from Nam Bak towards Nong Khiaw, a wide track through a village, I don't think there was anything marking it so you need to be aware of where you are going. I was fortunate enough to have a GPS track of the route, although I lost them due to my GPS picking up a virus (TIP: be careful when you plug your GPS into a public computer, do Panda Virus scan first).

The first 20km or so was a recently-graded wide dirt track that you could comfortably travel at 50km/h over. After that, I passed the parked grading equipment, and the road started to degrade. I assume that the older this article gets, the more of the road will be graded and easily ridable.

The road was quite passable on my KLR650, turning to reasonably tight dual-track for the last 15km or so, although slow going for most of the way. There were a few uncertain forks that my GPS helped me with, although most of them were within an area of a village so if you don't mind going the wrong way a bit and had lots of time, you could do it by asking locals for the destination 'Muang Khoua' to confirm you are on the right track. I remember one foot-deep river crossing, but this was dry season so YMMV. There is a climb to a pretty high peak, followed by a pretty steep descent over the last 12km. The track took me approximately 4 hours riding time in total, although I'm by no means an expert off-road rider, so I imagine others could do it quicker.


One final adventure for me as I was nearing the end. I Had just finished the large descent and was within 2km of the finish when I came across the largest mud pit I had seen up until now, a 30m lake of mud with no track to go around. Not having much time, as it was after sunset and the light was fading, I gunned it and hoped for the best. The bike fish-trailed in the mud, but kept barrelling straight thanks to my reasonably-new Dunlop D606s. With the finsish in sight, I believed I was going to make it, at which point of course my front wheel caught something, yanked my handlebars, and launched me and the bike unceremoniously into a 6-inch deep pool of orange mud. At least it was a soft landing. After extricating my boot from under the bike, I managed to lift the bike out of its muddy bath, but I could feel the pounds of mud stuck to my gear and inside my gloves. I rode into town covered on one side with the stuff, to the amusement of the locals and tourists, and spend about 3 hours hosing off and cleaning all my gear.


I stayed at a place down near the dock for 50,000 kip, which was very basic but served my needs (as they had a hose), and was told most of the places were about the same, although I didn't check myself. Dinner and breakfast was at the restaurant also on the road to the dock, pretty decent as well, although not extraordinary.

The next morning, I was hoping to get to float down the Nam Ou back to Nong Khiaw on a boat, although in my discussions with another motorbiker working for the German government, he figured that I would have to rent my own boat and it would cost between 1,300,000-1,500,000 kip, something way over my budget. I went down to the ticket office in the morning, as I heard there was a regular 9:30am 'tourist boat', and to my surprise I was quoted 300,000 kip for myself and the motorbike. I think they may have second-guessed that quote when I arrived with my 400lb KLR instead of a Honda Wave, but the ticket had already been bought. A group of about 8 friendly locals and tourists had to be organized to heave the bike onto the boat and 'secure' it down with a few pieces of rope. If you are concerned about your bike, I suggest you bring some of your own tie-downs, and make sure they place the motorbike at the bottom of the boat, not on the wooden slats. Most of the other tourists were quite amused at the display of human creativity and will in lieu of heavy machinery, and a 20,000 kip 'beer tip' seemed to satisfy my local helpers.


The 5-hour boat ride down the river was very enjoyable, with several stops at small villages to pick up or drop off people and supplies, including a full-size chest of drawers that had been strapped to the top of the boat.


The scenery was stunning for most of the way, especially the last third. I highly recommend this part of the trip, with or without your motorbike strapped precariously to the back.


One stop along the way was Muang Ngoy, which looked like a very nice place, but considering it has no roads and the only access is by boat, maybe not the most practical for a motorbiker. I suppose you could leave your bike at the bottom of the stairs during your visit.


Shortly after we arrived at Nong Khiaw, and after surveying the shoreline, he concluded that the only place we could unload the bike would be at the bottom of a hundred or so stairs. Even though this seemed hardly ideal, I had a feeling a solution could be found.


After negotiating a set price of 80,000 kip with a guy who seemed to have the personality to be in charge, he rounded up around a dozen people, including some fellow tourists from the boat. The next 20 minutes had some challenges in coordination due to lack of common language, but after a lot of heaving and pointing, we got the bike up the escarpment without any real drama.

Nong Khiaw tends to be popular and some guesthouses were fully booked, but I decided to treat myself to the excellent bungalows with a view at Sunset Guesthouse for 120,000 kip - well worth it to sit in your hammock, drinking a Beerlao and watching the sun set over the mountains.


Overall, a great experience and whatever way you get to Muang Khoua, I highly recommend taking a float down the Nam Ou.

- Dirt road from Nam Bak to Muang Khoua - 80km - 3-5 hours
- Turn left 2.4km after bridge at Nam Bak heading East on 1C
- First 20km well graded (Dec 2012) but being expanded, degrades into dual track
- GPS track recommended but not essential if you check with locals
- Last 15km drops about 800m
- Ends up at big highway being built in Muang Khoua
- Accommodation reasonable and affordable in Muang Khoua
- Regular ferry leaves to Nong Khiaw at 9:30am each day
- Passenger to Nong Khiaw 120,000 kip, passenger and motorbike 300,000 kip
- Most likely only one bike will fit, so arrive early
- Recommend not showing up with big bike to buy ticket - just in case ;-)
- Recommend bringing own tie-downs
- Locals will help load and unload motorbike for negotiable price
- Lots of cool villages along the way
- Floating down the Nam Ou is a great way to see and enjoy Laos
Thanks for the write up, the nice pictures (liked the one of the bike after its encounter with the mud) and the Notes which will be of help to those who want to do the same or something similar.
Hey Techdomi, thanks for that.
I know that mud puddle you're talking about. I'm impressed you did that down hill into MK as it was getting dark too. We did it on the XR250 & it was a hoot & a holler then. Not all of us got through that puddle clean either.

I think I've asked this before, but on the GPS B. Muangngoy has a "trail" leaving it heading east to B. Phon. Does anyone know if you could navigate this on a bike?
Jesus Dom, I didn't realize your mud experience was this bad!


Love the color tones in your photo's & thanks for the report - a very entertaining read.
Excellent and insightful report with useful tips. We don't see enough KLR 650s in this part of the world!
I think I've asked this before, but on the GPS B. Muangngoy has a "trail" leaving it heading east to B. Phon. Does anyone know if you could navigate this on a bike?

As far as I know this is a walking trail and not doable by bike - think that Don replied to your question quite sometime ago.

However, things change very quickly and what this year might not be possible, you never know about the future. Road 3203 from Xam Neua to the west via Phu Phati (Lima 85) was almost impassable and that now seems to be possible to do it by car as the road has been upgraded.
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Tremendous first report Techdomi; well done.
Many of us here are pissed off that the KLR, although made here in Thailand, is not sold here in Thailand "(because it is too dirty").
Send Kawa this pic and they'll understand what a 'dirty' KLR really looks like!

Same on and off boat trip from 2010, hard to haggle when there is only one option up those stairs

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