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Cycling to Singapore: Luang Prabang to Vientiane

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The team in Vientiane
The team in Vientiane

Editor's note: American Jesse Millett is cycling from Kunming to Singapore as part of a group led by explorer Jin Feibao that will deliver letters of friendship from Kunming Mayor Zhang Zulin to mayors around Southeast Asia. Millett will be sending us dispatches from the road to share with GoKunming readers as the cyclists make their way to Singapore. More of Jesse's writing about the journey is available on his personal blog, which requires a proxy or VPN connection to visit in China.

Day 17: Luang Prabang – Phou Khoun – 125km, more than 8 hours of riding

The ride out of Luang Prabang, following Highway 13 South, is no joke and many people choose to take a minivan or bus to Vang Vieng or straight through to Vientiane. The ones who are brave enough to face the mountains will not be disappointed. The road starts climbing soon after leaving Luang Prabang, and the busy tourist filled city is immediately left behind.

Monkeying around at Kuang Si Waterfall
Monkeying around at Kuang Si Waterfall

At about 25km follow the main road left up the hill instead of straight to Kuang Si Waterfall, which is another 18km out of the way and worth a day trip on its own. Soon the road climbs 700 meters in elevation in less than 10 kilometers, giving breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. After reaching the top, the road that winds down the other side is equally as steep and impressive – just beware of oncoming trucks and buses.

Village near Phou Khoun
Village near Phou Khoun

At kilometer 55 you reach the town of Nam Ming, a wonderful stopping point to refuel and rest briefly. After lunch, the road shoots back up another mountain climbing for 17 km, this time rising over 1000 meters. This is the biggest climb of the day, if not of all of Laos, and once you reach the top it's a "breezy" 50 km up and down all the way to Phou Khoun.

Day 18: Phou Khoun – Vang Vieng - 105km, under 6 hours of riding

What goes up must come down. Make sure your brakes are tuned, as today the road drops almost 1,200 meters. The majority of the descent is in the morning, and by the time you get to Kasi (50km), you have already descended 1,000 meters. Kasi is a big town and a great place to stop for lunch with quite a few options.

After Kasi you begin to realize the difference in climate and geography as most of the mountains are behind you and the weather is considerably warmer.

Chilling with a Beerlao in Vang Vieng
Chilling with a Beerlao in Vang Vieng

The rest of the day is pretty mild with only one small mountain soon after Kasi. Vang Vieng is set on the Nam Xong River, and if you can get away from the obnoxious and honestly embarrassing backpackers and enjoy the local people, the scenery, and the sunset, you will really enjoy it.

Day 19: Vang Vieng – Phonhong - 85km, 5.5 hours of riding

The countryside around Vang Vieng is really beautiful and very bike-able. There are even some great caves just west of the town. Leaving Vang Vieng a bit later than usual, Tha Heua (about 28km from Vang Vieng) is a nice stopping point for lunch right on the beginning of a large reservoir.

Barbecued goat at a roadside restaurant
Barbecued goat at a roadside restaurant

From there it is 57 kilometers with a few small rolling hills to Phonhong where there is a nice "resort" to stay at, as long as any Western standards are left at the gate.

Day 20: Phonhong – Vientiane - 70km, 4.5 hours of riding

Teammate Hai Dong in Vientiane traffic
Teammate Hai Dong in Vientiane traffic

A very quick day today, but still not quite an easy one. The traffic on Highway 13 hadn't been too bad up until here, but it starts getting very heavy the closer you get to Vientiane. There are plenty of restaurants and shops along the way but there aren't very many views to brag about on this flat day.

Highway 13 runs all the way to the square just west of the city, so hang a left and you go straight to the center. It was definitely a relief, arriving in Vientiane, and to our surprise we were met graciously with a police escort clearing the way.

After passing off our letters of friendship from Kunming's Mayor Zhang Zulin to the Director of Foreign Affairs in Vientiane we headed back to our hotel to rest and prepare for our long trek down southern Laos to Cambodia.

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