Laos is another Adventure Motorcycling Must (sorry Chris I haven't bought the book). The country should be visited as soon as possible due to the invasion of the Lonley Planetites and a whole country road improvement scheme. Here you will find some excellent dirt, with great scenery and NO traffic. Do not travel in the monsoon, even mid Feb onwards is tricky.
The following information is probably only of interest if you are about to take your bike into the country and I have only included roads that we travelled in February 2000 plus a small amount of info. gleaned first hand from other bikers.
We entered the country near Pakse, the border crossing took about one hour. Lao customs didn't know how to use the Carnet and stamped us out of the country!
The road to Pakse is new asphalt . The ferry over the Mekong will only run for a few more months until the bridge is finished.
P. to Saravan south route is all new asphalt. The north route is the same except for approx 20 kms of graded dirt.
Saravan to Route 9 is impossible due to uncrossable river (not marked on the map). Beware you could waste 10 or so hours bum sore riding.
Saravan to Route 13 is graded dirt.
Route 13 to Savannakhet is graded dirt mostly good. But with many detours and rough bits as the whole road is being upgraded and some 30 bridges being constructed. S to S ten hours and sore at the end.
Savannakhet to Vientienne good asphalt.
Vientienne to Louang Phrabang good asphalt (watch out for Kamikaze chickens and smiling and waving kids). We were told that the road from LP to the Chinese border is the same (by Peter on BMW and five or six Thai mates - they had been turned back having tried all the tricks).
They also told us that the Chy Rai/Huayxay border crossing from Thailand linking to Route 13 is very difficult due to Bull dust and with large loose stone hidden beneath.
Route 7 from Route 13, Phom Khoun east to Phonsavan is not as good as we were informed by several people.
The road is under improvement and is good graded dirt for only 10 kms. The rest that we covered was little better than a cart track. We turned back after 50 kms due to earth moving works blocking the road (they should be finished soon?? I doubt it) and the presence of armed mine clearing teams.
The Vientienne Friendship Bridge back into Thailand is closed to bikes and they should be loaded onto a pickup. We were allowed to cross with special permission as there was no transport available and we were exiting Laos. The Thai side I guess would be less flexible.
We never had to collect Chops although I understand that in the far north the police still fine you without them. Also do not go for a ramble anywhere without relyable info., too much UXO (ordinance). British FO is still scared of bits of Laos but up to date information in the major towns is the best source of comfort.
The south is as good as the north, maybe developing at a slower rate. So far Laos rates in the top two or three countries visited. Draw a zigzag line from UK for the list of those covered to date. Incidentally Pakistan is the other of the two.