Muang Sing or Bust. (Crossing the Thai border and riding into Laos)
I had a last minute offer from my friend David to join in on a ride to Laos. He planned on heading to Muang Sing, for a festival that was being held there (the Boun That Xieng Teung festival). Given that I had been wanting the experience of taking my motorbike across into Laos and riding there for some time, plus the fact that David already knew the ropes so well, it was an opportunity I had to take.
Just one snag. I only had one day to prepare myself!
So was a bit of a mad last minute rush. Anyway, here is my trip report. Hope you enjoy!
P.s: Big Bad Ass Photo album and compilation video link…all at the bottom of the trip report.
(Google map link – full trip)
Day 1: Chiang Mai to Huay Xai (google map link)
Meeting at the PTT on the 118 we left at approximately 9:30am.
After a quick stop in at Charin Pie for a coffee and cake, we headed directly to Chiang Khong where we met friends for lunch at Him Doi Restaurant.
Crossing the border into Laos.
To make this easier I decided to make a video guide on the crossing procedure.
In the video I forgot to mention there was also a 500 baht fee for the (compulsory) police escort over the bridge to the Laos side.
The fees that you will be presented apparently can vary, so play it by ear.
Bikes that are registered under a different name (such as a friends bike or rental) are permitted to cross, as long as you have a letter of permission from the owner.
Only 150cc and above are permitted to cross over.
Bike Registration Book (with tax / registration etc, up to date)
(2x photocopies of the owner info page of the registration book and 2x photocopies of passport info page).
After around an hour of processing, we were finally on the Laos side, where we headed straight to our guesthouse (The Riverside) in Huay Xai, to stop for the night.
Had a great first night in Huay Xai. Initially we met up for a beer at Sabaydee Restaurant to watch the sun go down over the Mekong.
Then we headed to meet K.Pheng, a friend of David’s, who runs Mekong River tours. We were kindly given a home cooked meal. A Laos dish of fish curry. Very delicious!
I stayed for about an hour, then left David to enjoy the company of his old friend whilst I headed back to my room to rest for the night.
Day 2: Huay Xai to Muang Sing (google map link)
After an early breakfast we were on the bikes by around 9am and ready to head to Muang Sing. As we rode out of the city we noticed what seemed to be a big community clean up of the area. Interesting to see and a great idea.
Initially I had to keep reminding myself to ride on the right hand side of the road, but with David in front, I could at least keep track by following his lead.
The road was scenic but was surprised to see some intermittent significant grooves in the road, caused by heavy lorries. I had seen road grooves before, but not to this degree. Was a little surreal riding through this and felt like an optical illusion.
At around 60km into the trip we stopped in at a small roadside store in Don Chai for a cold drink. Whilst sipping on our drinks we noticed a small school opposite. It seemed we had attracted a small crowd of children who were watching us. We exchanged waves and giggles erupted. I wondered if we might be able to go over, say hello, and get a photo with them. David suggested instead that we just ride right into the school! I was a little apprehensive about riding straight into the school grounds without permission, but went with it, and was actually so glad I did. Turned out to be a fantastic idea with lots of really happy children greeting us!
We left a small donation for treats for the school children with the staff and waved our goodbyes.
Arriving at Luang Namtha we stopped in at the Manychan Restaurant for lunch.
After lunch it was back on the bikes for the last 65km to Muang Sing. On this route the the road became steadily more broken up in sections. Beautiful scenery though and the Laos pace just felt more mellow in general.
Half way into the ride we had one quick stop in at a local roadside store for a cool drink and munched on some weird chemical pink snacks that made my teeth feel like they were going to drop out of my mouth.
At this stop I also had to ask to use the bathroom and the lady directed me to a toilet facility some distance behind the shop. This bathroom turned out to be a communal bathroom for all who resided in this area. I was grateful to be given the opportunity to use a bathroom, but lets just say it was an “experience” and leave it at that. Hah!
On the last section of road to Muang Sing the roads were intermittently broken up with large gravel areas and large pot holes.
Traffic was generally slow paced, with a few big trucks bustling through steadily. Had a bit of a moment when at one blind corner a large truck traveling at a bit of speed careered through the curve. Was a little close for comfort.
Anyway, no dramas and after a photo op or two we eventually arrived in Muang Sing.
Initially we had a drive around the town and I was taken aback by how broken up the roads were and how dusty everything was. David, who had been to Muang Sing on several occasions, told me later that he was sad to see the town so broken up. It had changed. It had been neglected.
After the ride we headed to our accommodation, which didn’t disappoint. Phou Iu II Bungalows. (Video of the accommodation is in my main video at the bottom of this trip report). The bungalows were pretty. A little oasis of greenery in a town which was a sea of dust. David knew the owners, which helped to make it more personal too.
After we checked in and cleaned up we then took a ride around the area again to see if we could find a nice venue with a view, to enjoy the sunset.
Sadly all the local places around the rice fields we not yet open, so after a while we gave up and headed back to the bungalows where we enjoyed a beer and dinner.
Was an early night that night as we had a 6am start the next morning.
The plan was to be up and early for the Boun That Xieng Teung festival, which was the main purpose of the trip.
Day 3: Boun That Xieng Teung Festival
At around 4:30am I was awake with the roosters, so I pretty much just pottered about in my room for a while. By 5:50am I was at the bungalow restaurant waiting for David to join, and by 6am we were on the bikes again and heading to Nam Kea Luang temple. As we headed up the mountain it came as a bit of a surprise to both of us that the only way to the parking spot was via a pretty muddy path, especially as we were both on road tires.
None-the-less it wasn’t too bad and the view at the top was worth it.
We found a decent parking spot and headed towards the temple.
There were lots of food stalls and simple fun activities dotted around the temple grounds, which appealed to all ages.
As it approached mid day we ate a simple meal at a local stall (i had grilled fish and david ate grilled chicken. Along with sticky rice). As we were finishing up an Akha Hilltribe lady approached us asking if she could take our leftovers. She gathered up the remains of the chicken and sat near the side of the stall to pick at the remains with her young daughter. David and I decided we would just order another round of chicken and invite her over to join us.
When the chicken arrived I approached her and asked her to join our table. Initially she refused and I was worried I had bruised her pride. I gave her a big smile and gently insisted. She came over and although initially reserved, soon began to relax and smile when we chatted with her. She spotted some friends and so called them over to join also. Before we knew it we had a small group of local Akha ladies and their children all happily eating at our table.
David mentioned about getting this on film, but as soon as i pressed the record button i regretted it and switched the camera off again. Some moments should be recorded in memory only.
A little later we made our way to where dancing performances were going to take place. In truth it turned out to be a bit of a let down. David had told me that in previous years there were many local Hilltribes people who would come to dance for the community. This year, however, there seemed to be more focus on a lottery and lots of talking, with very little dancing and performances going on. You can check out how the event looked in 2012, when David had last visited the festival, here. (Quite different)
Some local Hmong girls did put on a great show though (video at the bottom of the write up).
We headed back down a dirt track out of the temple and back to the bungalows.
When we arrived at the bungalows the initial plan was to share one bottle of beer together then meet up later to try find a place to see a sunset view over the rice paddies. However, that didn’t go to plan. Instead, we noticed a small party was taking place in the restaurant. The owner of the bungalows was celebrating her husband being home so she and friends were getting merry. She invited us to join them and insisted on feeding us (the hospitality we had enjoyed so far from local people was truly touching).
The food was delicious and the Beer Lao kept flowing.
Before I knew it we were all pretty merry and dancing away. The owner decided we should head to a local club later, but by then it was only 6pm and I was pretty sure at the rate everyone was drinking that the clubbing wouldn’t happen. I was right. By around 8pm (and after David had introduced his Jameson Whisky into the mix), the party was wiped out!
Headed off to bed with a light head and a smile on my face. 😀
Day 4: Muang Sing to Luang Namtha (Via Panghai border crossing) (google map link)
By some miracles of miracles I awoke early with the roosters again, feeling on top of the world. Not a hangover in sight. I wondered if i might still be under the effects of the beer, but no. For the rest of the day I was fine. I really think there must be less chemicals in Beer Laos to be able to wake up from a big night of drinking, hangover free. Quite amazing really. I messaged David around 8am and he was feeling fine too. So, we were good to go at about 9am.
We geared up, gave many thanks to the bungalow owners, and headed off for a short ride up to Panghai border crossing, the Laos/China border checkpoint.
On route to Luang Namtha we spotted some local children at the side of the road attempting to sell a bamboo rat for food. We did a U-turn to take a look.
Feeling sorry for the rat I decided to try buy the rats freedom, despite knowing they will likely just catch it again. I paid the boys and watched them let the rat go (which in the end didn’t even run away!). I am sure they boys had a laugh at the silly gullible foreigner woman, but either way it is win-win in my mind. My sentimental side gave the rat a fighting chance and the boys got some easy cash. If they catch it again, then it is the rats fault. I did what I felt good doing.
Next, as we were riding along, we spotted some cute children waving at us from a small roadside village. We decided to pull over at the local village shop and get a cool drink. The children were shy, but came over and joined us. We ended up buying them some drinks and some soap and shampoo. It certainly puts things in perspective when children can be in awe at receiving a simple gift of soap. Humbling, to say the least.
Riding on I spotted another group of children, happily playing in the mud by the side of the road. Pulled over for a quick hello. They were adorable.
By lunchtime we were already in Luang Namtha, so after a quick bite to eat at the Marychan we checked in at the Dokchampa hotel. Had a quick cleaned up then headed back out on the bikes. Initially headed up to Samakkhixay Stupa where we bumped into a local man who was visiting the temple with his three lovely children.
We took a few photos in the temple grounds, then headed back down into the city to the local market. Bought some great looking mandarins and then headed back again to the hotel to rest up for a bit.
That evening I decided to remain in the hotel and try back up all my SD card data. I had taken so much video by this point, that I had used up all my SD card memory. I wanted to try free up some memory for the ride back.
David headed out again to Manycham and we planned to meet early in the morning for the morning market in town.
Day 5: Luang Namtha to Chiang Khong (google map link)
I had hoped to get an early nights rest but my brain just wouldn’t wind down. Ended up with a few hours sleep regrettably. However, I knew I would make up the lost sleep on my return. I met up with David at 6am and we headed to the market.
The market was already in full swing and had some interesting and unusual items for sale, including pig dung and squirrel meat. Not exactly my personal cup of tea, but interesting to see.
After the market we had coffee at Bamboo Lounge followed by breakfast at the Manycham.
We returned to the hotel and packed up, ready to head back to Thailand.
Back on the bikes, we set off for Huay Xai. Was a short ride but with lots of stops for photos. Stopped at a viewpoint area where there were several cows grazing. Had a heart stopping moment when they ran onto the road, in direct line of a truck.
The sun was out and the temperature warmed up. On seeing a beautiful stream I took the opportunity for a quick cool down. I do this often on rides, as my gear is mesh and dries out fast. A easy way to refresh when feeling hot and sleepy.
We also stopped back in at the store in Don Chai to say hello to the owner and buy another cool drink. It was a Sunday, so the local school was closed, but a couple of children did stop by to say hello.
Also spotted a lady working driving a Lomyai sorting machine. Interesting looking vehicle.
Arriving at Huay Xai in good time, we stopped in at the duty free shop in town, then headed to immigration to get back over onto Thai soil.
The process was much quicker coming back over as we just needed to hand over our paperwork and documents.
All done and dusted we made our way to Tammila guesthouse/resort for an overnight stay. David choose the bigger room at 700 baht a night, whilst i was content with a 350 baht a night room.
As we were checking in David mentioned that he cant believe how smooth everything had gone. A truly trouble-free trip. We parted way and would meet a little later for dinner. Haha…famous last words!
However, within a short time of sorting out my stuff in the room I got a knock on the door. Turned out to be a stressed David. Apparently he couldn’t find any of his important documents (passport, insurance, bike registration etc, which were all together in a folder)! He suspected that he had left them on the table at immigration. So, he needed to head back in the hope to retrieve them. Thankfully he returned having successfully retrieved all the documents, which he found on the table. Lucky!
Around an hour later we met up and headed to Bamboo Mexican House for dinner. I am generally not a huge fan of Mexican food, but this food was excellent!
After dinner I headed back to the guesthouse and David headed to the bar opposite.
Lack of sleep was catching up on me. I hit my pillow and was out like a light.
Day 6: Chiang Khong to Chiang Mai (via Phu Chi Fa and Phayao) (google map link)
I woke bright and fresh by an early 5:30am. I was fully awake and feeling good, so decided I may as well pack up and head to Phu Chi Fa. David had planned to ride direct to Chiang Mai on the main 118 highway later in the morning, so i figured he wouldn’t mind if I messaged to say I’m heading the longer route home. I wanted to see if i could get a view over Laos from Phu Chi Fa mountain viewpoint. (Last time i went to Phu Chi Fa was during the rainy season, so all i got to see was mist. Although was still very beautiful).
I arrived at the peak of the mountain by around 9am and was greeted to a beautiful view of Laos, just as the mist was clearing.
Was interesting to be in one country, overlooking the the other country I was riding in, just the day before. I enjoyed the view for a bit then walked back down the mountain and bought an instant coffee from one of the local ladies at the base of the mountain.
I headed along the 1093 border road, enjoying the amazing views over Thailand.
There were several landslide areas.
Decided to ride to Phayao for lunch where I enjoyed a fresh fish and some sticky rice.
I was making good time. That is, until i arrived in the outer city area of Chiang Mai, and into a FLOOD of traffic and jams. I wondered what on earth must have been going on, as it wasn’t yet peak hour traffic (was around 2:40pm). However, the traffic was worse than I had seen it at any peak hour. Turned out that royalty was in town for University graduation awards, so there were lots of backed up traffic. Took me almost an hour to get home and by this point i was weary and my bike was not running so good (filter change needed and maybe more I recon). I ended up thumping someones car wing mirror by mistake and apologizing. I figured if I didn’t get out of the traffic soon I may actually get myself into some accident. I really was riding that badly.
Anyway, I pulled into my parking spot by 3:35pm feeling a sense of achievement. Unloaded my gear and lugged it to my apartment.
Was happy to be home, and back to my cat (who my neighbours kindly take care of when I am away), who seemed happy to have me back also.
All in all a great trip and one for the memory banks!
For a full BAD ASS photo album of this trip go HERE
..and here is a compilation video, showing the main highlights:
Hope you enjoyed.
Thanks for reading!
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