Tourism Gems on BikingMan Laos Race Route

Tourism Gems on BikingMan Laos Race Route

Bernie Rosenbloom

 

Bikepackers have something BikingMan Laos entrants don’t...time to enjoy the tourism gems along the race route.

Hitting the BikingMan Laos circuit

The world’s top ultracyclers will start the race at Sanctuary Luang Prabang Hotel on 20 May. Frontrunners aim to pump over some 320 km of rolling hills with a few mountain climbs to reach Pakbeng and Checkpoint 1 by day’s end. Click here for an elevation map of the BikingMan circuit

For holidaying bikepackers, “Destination Pakbeng: A Mekong Oasis” is days away, and tour operators are starting to eyeball the opportunity in the BikingMan Laos circuit.

Leg 1: Luang Prabang to Nong Kiew (140 km)

The start of Leg 1 

Early risers kick off their BikingMan Laos starts with a “warm up” leg, according to BikingMan Founder Axel Carion. They’ll follow the Mekong on Route 13 North and see rice farmers beating the sun.

Pak Ou Caves

After 20 km, racers break from the Mekong, while bikepackers follow the river on a 10-km sidestep at Sang Ha to Pak Ou Caves. The riverside cliff caves house countless small Buddha images dating back 400 years. A stop at Sang Ha (Whiskey Village) presents a maze of shops selling rice moonshine mixed with snakes, scorpions, animal parts, and twigs, thought to be medicinal cures or “Give you power”.     

But don’t turn up the volume too soon, as Indigo Farms is less than 1 km on left after re-entering Route 13. Indigo Farm has developed 27 hectares, where cyclers can learn about organic farming, ecology, the local environment, and the importance of natural resources.  

Harvest time

Rice paddies straddle the next 15 km before reaching the Nam Ou River at Hatgna and crossing to the western bank. The road hugs the Nam Ou, making the pedalling easy amidst a green mountain backdrop and river life.

The circuit veers away from the Nam Ou at Pak Nga, and begins following the smaller Nga River on the run up to Pak Mong, the 110-km mark on the BikingMan Laos route. Stop and munch on boiled chicken, fresh garden vegetables, deep-fried grasshoppers, fresh-water shrimp, and sundried pork strips with the Lao staple, high-carb sticky rice.

Cycling along the river

Things to do in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang’s Top Attractions

Break a Leg 1: Banlue & Nong Khiaw (30 km)  

Route 13 and the BikingMan Laos circuit veers left at Pak Mong and heads due west, but bikepackers can take bumpy Road 1C to a cultural experience or natural adventure.

Time to make up your mind at Pak Mong

A10-km ride to Nam Bak leads to the turnoff to Banlue Handicraft Centre & Homestay, where visitors can dive into a life of weaving cotton and bamboo. Banlue takes you through hand dyeing and spinning threads to sitting at a traditional loom to create a scarf. 

Maybe you’re into basket weaving. Banlue’s bamboo masters can show you how to make a basket or toy. Learn to produce sa paper from tree bark and then craft a bag or work of art. You’ll share a large room for the night and dine on local foods.  

Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi

Looking for action? Continue past Nam Bok on 1C for 20 km to Nong Khiaw. Guesthouses, restaurants, bars, and travel agents spot the street along the Nam Ou River. Some cyclers stay the night before embarking on Leg 2. Others take a 30-minute boat ride between steep mountains to Muang Ngoi for kayaking, caving and trekking.     

Leg 2: Pak Mong to Muang Xai (83 km)

Leg 2: Time to climb

Back on the BikingMan Laos circuit, get ready for the first big climb. Just past Pak Mong, Route 13 traverses up more than 700 metres in a span of 21 km. Besides the panoramic view of raw nature from the peak, villagers at Xong Ja, on the Luang Prabang-Oudomxay border, are ready to greet you. The Hmong community mostly raises livestock, though they also grow mountain rice.

Hmong villagers

A descent lands in Nam Nga town with shops and small restaurants, before a final climb. Then it’s mostly a winding downhill run to Muang Xay, the provincial capital, and another reason for a break, while the BikingMan competitors whiz by.

Break a Leg 2: Muang Xay & Nam Kat

Lazy Muang Xay presents a peaceful overnight with several attractions. You can cycle up Phou Sebey Hill to the Oudomxay Museum, and climb Phouxay Hill to 14th -century Phou That stupa. The Productivity & Marketing Centre offers provincial specialties like sesame and essence oils, bamboo and banana paper products, embroidery, and cotton products.

Zipping at Nam Kat Yorla Pa

Stay a bit longer and ride 23 km to the top natural attraction, Nam Kat Waterfall, a 20-metre-high, boulder-filled cascade emptying into a swimming hole. For a fully blown adventure, head to Nam Kat Yorla Pa that offers some 30 tour combinations including zip-lines, rock climbing, trekking, biking, a tree canopy cable bridge, tree house stay, camping, and ATVs.

Things to do in Oudomxay

Oudomxay’s Top Attractions

Leg 3: Muang Xay to Pakbeng (140 km)

On to Pakbeng

The BikingMan Laos route turns south at Muang Xay and onto Route 2W. After a short hump, it’s downhill between mountains to Pakbeng, the races first checkpoint. Towns and ethnic villages dot the route, offering plenty of noodle shops and cultural encounters.

The road through Oudomxay

With just 30 km to Pakbeng, the road reaches Ban Thameun, the gateway to the 1,000-year-old Tai Lue village of Ban Nyor. Pottery is the locals’ forte, and they continue using their ancestors’ traditional methods.

Ban Nyor potters

They offer homestays with full-day pottery workshops. You’ll learn the different clay types and collect it for throwing your own pot. Ban Nyor’s Tai Lue have mastered cotton production, and taken natural dyes to a new level, mixing more than 10 colours using forest plants. 

Talae Waterfall in the Candle Tree Forest

Continue 10 km towards Pakbeng, and turn at Ban Talae for the climb to Talae Waterfall in “The Candle Tree Forest”. Enter a picture of a 600-metre-high waterfall tumbling over seven levels through the woods. Then it’s a short hop to BikingMan Laos Checkpoint 1 at Pakbeng.

Break a Leg 3: Destination Pakbeng…A Mekong Oasis

The Sanctuary Pakbeng Lodge will be a hive of activity during the race. For bikepackers, it offers a relaxing Mekong Riverside starting point to explore.

Elephants love that Mekong.

The Mekong Elephant Park sits across the Mekong from the Lodge, and it presents a non-riding preservation sanctuary in natural surroundings. Open daily from 11:00 to 16.30, visitors can trek with a friendly giant on a forest trail that ends at the Mekong, where the elephants dive in and play.

Ban Kham...the last stop on The Khmu Trail

For an authentic cultural experience, bikepackers can split from the tourist path and hit The Khmu Trail. Le Grand Pakbeng Resort offers a cycling tour that stops at four Khmu villages along a 17-km packed dirt road just outside town. Each village takes you deeper into the past until you reach Ban Kham, and experience the villagers’ subsistence lifestyle. Help plant or harvest mountain rice, see roaming livestock, and sample local dishes in stilted houses. 

For details, read “Pakbeng: A Mekong Oasis”

Leg 4: Pakbeng to Sayabouly Town (170 km)

For BikingMan Laos competitors, this run over gentler mountains is just a prelude to the daunting “Kasi Climb” to Checkpoint 2. For un-rushed bikepackers, loads of hidden tourism gems in northern Sayabouly await. 

Continue on Route 2W south across the Mekong to Sayabouly Province and Ngeun on the Thai border. Here, you’ll pick up Route 4A East and find Si Boun Yeun Temple covered with murals. Inside, patterned toung (flags) hang from the rafters. Inspect the booth used as a Viceroy’s office. Outside stands a stupa honouring the temple’s builder, Khou Ba Khamsaen.

Ride 3 km north to Ban Don Keo and the Golden Flea Stupa. Historians suggest migrating Burmese built the stupa in 1576. The name comes from a legend in which villagers tried to dig an elephant out of a sinkhole, only to uncover a swarm of golden fleas. They filled in the hole, and built the stupa to cover it.

The unexplainable Earth Pillars

At Ban Sang, take a 45-minute hike to the Earth Pillars, a group of tall soil spikes that geologists have yet to explain. Some suggest bizarre erosion, as they rise next to an earthen cliff. Guess for yourself, while enjoying a valley view. 

A short ride northwest of town arrives at Ban Bi Mi, a cotton production hub. You can watch, learn about, and participate in the entire multi-step process from picking and pounding cotton to spinning, dyeing, and weaving on a traditional loom.

Learn the whole cotton process at Ban Bi Mi

Continue some 25 km east on 4A, over two peaks and down to Hongsa Town. For a view overlooking Hongsa’s rice fields, climb a hill just 1 km from town to That Lak Mueang Stupa, built in 1572. Just 8 km away, Inteam Waterfall cascades down forested Nongchong Mountain.

Leaving Hongsa Town requires a short uphill battle, but after a sharp drop, the rest of the 70-km ride to Sayabouly Town cruises along a soft slope.

Things to do in Sayabouly

Sayabouly’s Top Attractions

Break a Leg 4: The Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC)

Immerse yourself in a world of elephants while helping conserve Asia's most iconic species at the ECC. Located just outside Sayabouly Town on a lake in a protected area, ECC offers a 2-day package with forest walks and encounters with elephants and mahouts, nursery and hospital visits, elephant baths, and an overnight in a bamboo bungalow.

Getting a herd together to head back into the wild

The 3-day Exploration adds training with playtime. The 7-day Eco Volunteering extends the experience into ECCs projects, such as recording elephant behaviour, and producing elephant dung paper.

Visit ECC

Leg 5: Sayabouly to Luang Prabang (80 km)

The BikingMan Laos racers may miss the ECC, but they’ll continue to enjoy a level playing field on Route 4 North to Tha Deua Pier on the Mekong, as will bikepackers. After a ferry crossing and an easy 10-km ride, it’s decision time at Muang Nang.

Time to decide

While BikingMan Laos turns for the tortuous Kasi Climb, and Checkpoint 2, bikepackers have two other choices for the ride to Luang Prabang. Take a left onto Route 1 - the low road - follow the Mekong, and enjoy smooth sailing while absorbing river life at villages along the way.

High Road viewpoint

The high road continues on Route 4 into the mountains. You’ll hit switchbacks on the climbs and descents, but take time to suck in a scene of forested mountains without a soul in sight. At Xieng Ngeun, the road reconnects with the BikingMan Laos circuit for the final flat run to Luang Prabang.

Break a Leg 5: Luang Prabang

Bikingman Laos finishes in Luang Prabang, where there is still plenty of day-cycling routes.

Check out what’s New & Cool in Luang Prabang.

The Mekong’s Other Side

The Road to Kuang Si Falls

BikingMan Laos entrants may have time to enjoy Luang Prabang’s tourism gems, or return on holiday to see what they missed during the race.

Meanwhile, bikepackers are already starting to hit the circuit, and Lao tour operators are setting their sights on offering similar BikingMan Laos itineraries, either by cycle, motorbike, or van.

 

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