Bike Touring Laos
Laos or The Peoples Republic of Laos as it is officially known is perhaps one of the last frontiers of bike exploring for us. The country is more exclusive and less-travelled than Thailand or even more distant Cambodia. Where Cambodia is more open and driven by money, Laos is a degree more selective and choosy in how it allows the foreign riders inside it's borders. Lacking the hedonistic nightlife of Thailand and Cambodia's overt 'bachelor's paradise' on a budget, Laos seems to do things it's own way, partly to do with it being a quasi-communist country.
Bringing your own bike into Laos is doable, but doing so at the Friendship Bridge border crossing is difficult. The border system isn't set up for bikers. Mounting your bike on a pick-up and strapping it down is one way. The other is to use on of the ferry crossings further up / down the mekhong river. Actually buying/owning a bike in Laos is also a problem unless you have a work visa.
Where to go in Laos
You have four key locations for traveling to:
Vietiane - Laos' capital city. Located just over the border from Nong Khai it is considered a border capital.
Vang Vienne - A provincial city three hours from the capital.
Phonsavanh - A provincial city three hours from the capital.
Xam Neua - A remote tiny city near the border with China in north-east Laos. Chinese/Laos influence. Many hours from the capital.
Road Directions in Laos
We have very little information to go on. From Nong Khai's Friendship bridge the highway is fairly straightforward. Head north and it'll take you into Vietiane. From the capital there are some other highways running deeper into the country's jungle-filled interior.
Laos Road Conditions
Little is know about the roads outside of Vietiane, from Nong Khai to the capital they are said to be in good condition, outside of this area expect rough road conditions.
Hazards and Dangers
Outside these areas you're on your own and need to be extra-wary. If you ride off the beaten track be wary of robbers and poor roads. Be wary of the border areas neighbouring Cambodia; there will be minefields laced around here.
Temper going off the beaten track with your own mortality, if you crash and break a leg the infra-structure and 3rd world nature means it could be along time before help arrives.
Expat Scene in Laos
Few expats are known to live permanently in Laos. Outside of Vientiane, unless you seriously like to go native, the infra-structure will be lacking for the typical westerner. The Cities are small and quaint, but staying long-term will, unless you're seriously into the slow pace of things, may start to grind.
Things aren't so bad in Vientiane though, ATMs are pretty much everywhere, internet speeds are not as bad (although slower than Thailands) and the people are considered friendly.
Visas in Laos
Laos Tourist Visa - Upon arrival in Laos you can get 30 day tourist visa's for $35. You can get a 3 month extension for $70. You'll need a middle-man (a travel agency in this case) to take care of the red-tape, unless you speak and write fluent Laotion!
Laos Business Visa - In Laos these visas run for 12 months with extensions of 24 months. You must be sponsored by a Laos company for this one.
Laos Residency - For the elusive residency here you must be married to a Laos National and complete a grimoire of a document (in Laos!) and submit fifteen photographs. The document costs about 10,000 kip.
Founded: pre 1000s A.D
Population: 3,600,000 (Approx)
Size (Metropolitan): 91,000 Sq. Miles
Distance from Bangkok by Air (to Vientienne): 320 miles
Distance from Bangkok by Road (to Vientienne): 390 miles
Legal Tender: Kip (US $ also accepted)