How To Best Explore Laos by Bicycle
With less traffic and an increase in paved roads, exploring Laos by bicycle has never been easier or more enjoyable.
With cycling comes many benefits for your health, the environment, and your wallet by saving money on transportation. Whether you’re zipping around town on a cruiser or planning a weeks-long bikepacking tour of the countryside, Laos is the perfect country to get around on bike.
Renting a bicycle
If you’re looking to explore one of Laos’ major tourist destinations such as Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Pakse or Si Phan Don, you’ll have no trouble finding a bicycle to rent for the day. Rental costs for a low-end cruiser can be as low as $1.25 for the day. Prices go up if you’re looking for a higher performance road or mountain bike. If you’re particularly tall, be aware that Lao bike frames run quite small. Ask for a lock, although some rental bikes come with a built in rear wheel hobble. Ride with traffic in the street and check the tire pressure before you head out.
Bringing your own bicycle
Bringing your bicycle to Laos is fairly easy. Cyclists can ride over the Thai-Lao friendship bridge in Vientiane or through any of the border crossings with Vietnam or Cambodia. The other Thai-Lao friendship bridges require cyclists to put their bikes on a bus to cross. Lao Airlines permits bikes either in bike boxes or wrapped at the airport in plastic wrap. Register online for their free frequent flyer program to get an increase in baggage allowance. If you’re interested in cycling different parts of Laos, it only costs a few dollars to put your bike on top of a sleeping bus or day bus so you have two-wheeled transportation when you arrive.
Don’t expect bike lanes in Laos and don’t be surprised if cars don’t signal or even stop at traffic lights. In Laos, road laws are more of a suggestion and everyone keeps it moving at a slow pace. Be patient and as visible as possible. There are lots of fast trucks and buses on the two-lane Route 13, which is the main thoroughfare between Vientiane and Pakse. Don’t be intimidated, they will honk and give cyclists a wide berth.
While many roads have been paved in recent years, there are still plenty on Google Maps and applications like OsmAnd (which runs Maps.me) that are little more than dirt cow paths, so stick to the main roads if you don’t want to cycle on dirt or gravel. Lao people navigate largely by landmarks and many cannot read a map so try not to get frustrated if you show someone a map to ask for directions and they shrug or point you the wrong way. If you buy a Lao SIM card, internet service is widely available but to avoid slow downloads, have your maps ready to go before you set off.
Wear a helmet to protect your head in case of a crash as the hospitals in Laos are often lacking in modern care and can be difficult to get to. Some bicycle rental companies can supply helmets upon request but if you’re heading out for any length of time, consider bringing one from home. It’s very unlikely your bike will be stolen as Lao people are particularly honest, but hobbling your bike by locking the back wheel to the frame will ensure it’s safe. It will not, however, ensure your bike is exactly where you left it as parked bicycles and motorbikes are often moved around to make more parking available.
While motorbike repair shops are everywhere in Laos, mechanics specializing in bicycle repair are few and far between. While most motorbike mechanics can fix a flat, if you’re planning on cycle touring, bringing a patch kit, pump, extra spokes and a multi-tool will save a lot of headache if you break down. If you’re in Vientiane, Top Cycle Zone is run by an incredibly knowledgable French mechanic. Outside of Vientiane you might need to resort to travelers charades and MacGyvered fixes.