Tri Nations. Vietnam-Laos-Thailand
A Bicycle Exploration of Indochina
Three neighbouring nations, three written scripts, two and a half languages, two political systems, one major religion.
Not only is this tour a cycling odyssey through fascinating regions along a path less trodden, it is a journey of discovery through three lands that for all the world should be so alike, but in actuality are so very different. History, colonial powers, war, religion, extreme political struggles - all have left deep marks on these lands and their people. Even now these same forces are morphing and changing these countries as we cycle through, and it is passing through at a human pace, by bicycle, that allows us to meet the people, sample the food, smell the aromas, and hear the daily life exchanges that are what travels and exploration are all about.
At a Glance
Total Days: 16
Cycling Days: 11
Daily Average: 94km
Max. Alt.: 2000m
2019: 30 Nov - 15 Dec: $3150.00
2020: 06 Dec - 21 Dec: $3150.00
This is a wonderful tour that takes us three nations all with very distinct cultures, cuisine, peoples and traditions. As a way to experience the richness and variety of Indochina, this cycling holiday comes highly recommended.
Hanoi’s characterful and bustling Old Quarter, the wonderful laid back Laotian town of Luang Prabang, and then the contrast of the more Westernised Thailand. Waving children in roadside villages, a boat journey on the mighty Mekong river, the peoples of three fascinating lands. But perhaps above all is the wonderful rural cycling through remote villages and across jungle-covered hillsides. Riding on through fertile valleys of rice and grass where buffalo graze. And views of a pastoral spender, with Buddhist temples glitter and sparkle in the light of the tropical sun.
The inaugural Tri Nations tour appealed to me as it traverses three distant lands, combining adventure and mystique. And so for me it became my third Painted Roads tour. I find David Walker's tours so different in that his personal attention covers all the things you expect whilst also helping you take care of all the little things you forgot to bring This tour gives a taste of it all..from cycling in the high country and magical scenery with buddies for far afield that soon become friends..to super downhills, and snacks by a cool shady stream. The tour has hills, and more hills, but it also has long stretches of flat passing though remote villages where people's lives can be seen and experienced, cooking, working, and even rice whiskey distillation in the back shed. The tour is relaxed, but the attention to detail behind the scenes on this tour makes it all work like clockwork, just turn up, cycle, and have a fabulous time - and of course a cold beer always greets a weary traveller come day’s end...the David Walker way, you’ll just love it...I did."
Paul Glennon on Tri Nations. Vietnam-Laos-Thailand
You will be met on arrival at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport and driven to our joining hotel. The group will typically meet early evening for a pre-tour briefing. Full details will be sent with your final joining instructions.
ESSENTIAL - PLEASE NOTE: This tour begins in Vietnam and ends in Thailand. For most people, this will mean flying into Hanoi and home from Bangkok. From Chiang Rai to Bangkok there are many flights daily with ticket prices as low as £20 for the one-hour domestic flight. Please contact us if you need further information.
The tour has a little over 1000KMS of cycling spread across 11 riding days. With the longest day being 125KMS the distances are quite achievable by a reasonably fit cyclist. There are however plenty of long climbs on this tour, some of up to 20KMS in duration. On the final day in Lao, and on the Thai sections, there are some steep gradients well in excess of 10%, and at times nudging as much as 20%. Anyone considering this tour must, therefore, be a keen climber and happy in the hills. However, there is always a support vehicle to hand to carry both you and your bicycle if you feel the going is beyond what for you is enjoyable. This is, after all, a holiday. Please feel free to contact us if you wish to discuss the conditions of this tour.
The Tri-nations tour exceeded my expectations in all areas. The scenery was specular, like something out of a movie. As we moved from country to country through some very remote villages the locals and children all gave us a wave with a smile on their faces. I feel I have seen the country, not just the tourist hotspots. This trip was my first experience cycling mountains and I was apprehensive at first and fully prepared to use the support vehicle. I gave it my best shot and with the encouragement of David and his team I have come away with a sense of achievement, tackling far more mountain passes than I ever expected to on the trip. David is an excellent tour leader and uses excellent local guides and drivers who make you feel welcome in their country and help to give an insight to the local culture and cuisine. Excellent food, splendid company and awesome riding.
Caroline Gameson on Tri Nations. Vietnam-Laos-Thailand
Suitable Bicycle: MTB, Touring Bike, Cyclocross Bike, Gravel Bike.
At PaintedRoads we hold firmly to the opinion that using your own bike, the bike on which you feel at home and comfortable is the finest way to enjoy a cycling adventure. If you do wish to hire a bicycle we can arrange a rental bicycle. Typically these bikes are mountain bikes, often Trek 3 series or similar.
Most kinds of bicycle, except light-weight racing bikes, are suitable for this tour: touring bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids or cyclocross bikes are all fine. Road conditions vary from asphalt to some gravel tracks. Tyres from 35mm in width upwards will be fine but we recommend 40mm on 700c and 2” on 26” wheels as a minimum. With long climbs and some steep gradients, low gearing is advisable. Standard MTB gearing is fine, but for more road style bikes a cassette with 11-32 or even 11-36 is recommended. A 30/46 crankset is an excellent choice. If using a 34/50 rankest then the 11-36 cassette is a wise choice if possible.
Southeast Asia is generally a warm place so the ability to carry one or two water bottles is essential (either on your bike or in a backpack). Our back-up vehicle carries water and tools although for those competent with tools bringing your own pump, puncture kit, and multi took is recommended as it would speed up repairs and minor adjustments. If bringing your own bike please bring along a few spare spokes that fit your wheels (please note that different wheels have different size spokes). If your bike has disk brakes or hub gears please bring any components that you feel may be necessary. We carry some spares for our hire bikes but we cannot guarantee that we will have any tubes other than 26” car type valves. Tyres and tubes other than 26” can be difficult to come by in many parts of the world so please make sure you have spares. If in doubt please ask at your local bike shop.
A means of carrying your camera, sunblock etc is also useful – either an on-bike bag, handlebar or saddlebag for example or a lightweight day-pack.
Recommendation: Although our hire bikes come equipped with a saddle if you have a saddle you use and are happy with it is strongly recommended that you use it on tour. If you use SPD type shoes please bring your own matching pedals. We are happy to fit these for you. You may also like to bring bar ends if you use them at home.
ESSENTIAL! Please be sure that your bicycle is in perfect condition before you leave home. Again, if in doubt please consult your local bike shop.
Included in this tour: All accommodation, Western tour leader, local guide, support vehicles (1 or 2 depending on group size), breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on cycling days, drinking water whilst cycling.
Not Included: Flights, visas, bicycle (rental bicycles available), food and drinks on non-cycling days, alcoholic and soft drinks.
To say that I found the Tri-Nations tour the most challenging, but at the same the most enjoyable and satisfying of my twelve cycling tours to date is an understatement. I could continue in this testimonial by comparing the routes, culture, fantastic scenery, atmosphere and cycling through all three countries, but that would not emphasise what makes a PaintedRoads tour superior to all other tours. That superiority is simply the presence on all tours of David, who by living permanently in Asia is alert to all possible route and accommodation changes and can make alternative arrangements seamlessly.
Arthur Brittenden. on Tri Nations. Vietnam-Laos-Thailand
The accommodation on this tour is a mixed bag. In the bigger towns, we will stay in well appointed comfortable resorts. However, in some more remote areas, our accommodation may be more basic as we lodge in local guest-houses and eat in local restaurants. In these off the beaten track towns, we use the best accommodation available, and generally, this will include AC and ensuite hot shower bathrooms with a Western toilet. However, one must be prepared to occasionally stay in more basic accommodation.
Most of our hotels come equipped with a roof and walls.
(meals key: B = breakfast; L = lunch; D = dinner; S= snacks)
Day 1: Arrival: Hanoi.
You will be met on arrival at Hanoi’s International Airport and transferred to our hotel in the city's charismatic Old Quarter where you will be met by your tour leader. Your day is free to relax and rest after a long flight or explore this intriguing city. The group will meet early this evening for drinks, a briefing, and our first dinner together.
Day 2: Transfer to Sapa.
Today we take care of necessary preparations with our bicycles before boarding our AC minibus for the journey to the old French hill station of Sapa. Home to a mix of different ethnic groups Sapa always has plenty to stimulate the imagination as one wanders past markets where groups of mountain tribe people trade their wares.
Day 3: Sapa to Than Uyen.
And so it begins. After breakfast, we mount up and begin what is to be an epic journey of discovery. The day begins with 13kms of gentle climbing before a final stiff 3-kilometre climb takes us to the highest pass in Vietnam at 2000 metres. From here we begin a wonderful 25km descent, sweeping through curves on a well-sealed road with stunning mountain views. From the bottom of this descent, we turn south into a broad valley with ever-widening views as we head through an area of tea plantations. Here ladies in traditional conical hats work, and the aroma that always companies tea crops lends a distinct character to a beautiful first day’s ride.
Accumulated Ascent: 1500M
Day 4: Than Uyen to Quynh Nhai.
A beautiful and challenging day of adventure cycling lays ahead as we saddle up this morning. Soon we are following a small and little used byway with much beauty all around us. At around 15kms we reach the formidable Ban Chat Dam where a stiff climb leads us to the beautiful Ban Chat Lake. From here an undulating rural road provides stunning views, showing off fairytale vistas before the Black River looms dramatically into view. We now skirt this huge lake like river to our home for the night in the new town of Quynh Nhai.
Accumulated Ascent: 1600M
DAY 5: Quynh Nhai to Dien Bien Phu.
Events at Dien Bien Phu over 60 years ago had one of the most dramatic effects on Indo China in recent history when Vietnam’s Viet Minh forces defeated the French. This bloody defeat bought an end to colonial rule across the region and, ultimately, gave rise to the circumstance that would lead to the American War.
Happily, our journey here takes place in far more peaceful times, and our experience with the Vietnamese as we cycle through a scene of beautiful rural tranquillity today will be one of peace, friendship and harmony.
Accumulated Ascent: 2000M
DAY 6: Dien Bien Phu to Muang Khua.
We start early this morning, for an eventful day lays ahead. First, we must transfer the 40KMS to the remote international border with Laos where we bid our Vietnamese crew farewell and meet our Laotian guide and driver. From this hilltop border, we enter a different world where all is quiet and still, and even in this remote wilderness the laid back nature of Lao is evident as we cycle the hills and valleys on a beautiful, empty, and newly surfaced road leading us to the small riverside town of Muang Khua.
Accumulated Ascent: 2000
DAY 7: Muang Khua to Oudomxai.
Our first full day’s ride in Laos sees us on an undulating valley ride following two rivers. This leads to a final 30 km where the undulations grow a little harsher as we climb from 450 metres to 750 metres before the final drop into the dusty bustling streets of Oudomxai town.
Accumulated Ascent: 1000M
DAY 8: Oudomxai to Namtuam.
Forty-five challenging kilometres will occupy us this morning as we undertake two significant climbs. The scenery is oh so typically Laotian, mountainous, forested for much of the way, and ever beautiful. With the morning’s challenge out of the way, we can enjoy a wonderful 1100 metre descent over 20 splendid and exciting kilometres en route to the little community of Pak Mong, which gives a great feel for the middle of nowhere towns in Lao.
Accumulated Ascent: 1500M
Day 9: Namtuam to Luang Prabang.
Today’s ride is described by the locals as ‘Lao flat’, which translates to ‘free of long mountain climbs, but never short of undulations and the odd cheeky little climb to keep your legs warm’. The Nam Ou river leads us south for most of the day’s ride, but it is one of the world's most celebrated rivers, the mighty Mekong that we follow for the final twenty kilometres to our teak wood guesthouse in the delightful town of Luang Prabang.
Accumulated Ascent: 800M
DAY 10: Luang Prabang - Rest Day.
It is difficult to imagine a nicer town in which to while away a lazy rest day than the splendid World Heritage site of Luang Prabang. Beautifully preserved colonial architecture and delightful old temples and monasteries sit on a small strip of land between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. While away some pleasant hours wandering the streets and alleys, visiting the temples and meeting the monks. And once your legs are tired take a seat and an espresso in one of the many charming little cafés - and how better to finish a wonderful day that a glass of wine as the sun sets beyond the fast flowing water of the Mekong? Your only regret will be that you have to leave.
Accumulated Ascent: 0M
DAY 11: Luang Prabang to Pak Beng.
A relaxing day afloat today as we take a classic Asian river journey aboard our private boat on the mighty Mekong river. Cruising to our overnight destination of Pak Beng we see Laos from a different perspective as we watch riverside life passing by. We spend the evening overlooking the Mekong as we look forward to recommencing our cycling on the morrow.
Accumulated Ascent: 0M
Day 12: Pak Beng to Muang Ngeun.
It is hoped that you have rested well over the past two days and that your legs are keen for some action, for today you are introduced to hills Thai style. Although still a day’s ride from the Thailand border this road has all the hallmarks of how Thai road builders cross hills, and the evidence suggests they are not cyclists. As we mount up we have 55kms of beautiful rolling countryside ahead of us and three short but stiff climbs, the most challenging of which gains 350 metres in a little over 4KMS, with a maximum gradient of nearly 20%! remember, we have a support bus.
Accumulated Ascent: 1300M
Day 13: Muang Ngeun to Tha Wang Pha.
With a border crossing and some thirty kilometres of unmercifully steep gradients ahead of us we have a prudent start to the day with an early transfer in our support vehicle. With most of the day’s climbs and the border crossing behind us, we mount our machines and set out to ride the byways of our third country - Thailand.
For much of the ride, we will be following the valley of the Nan river, sometimes we are sheltered from the sun by high hedgerows of tropical trees, and sometimes we are treated to wide open vistas of bright green fields, speckled with glinting Buddhist temples. By the time we reach our lodgings for the night, there will be little doubt that Thailand is a land of grace and beauty.
Accumulated Ascent: 1400M
Day 14: Tha Wang Pha to Chiang Kham.
With arguably the toughest day of the tour ahead of us an early start to beat the heat is a wise move. The road today is well surfaced, and the vistas of rolling hills leading off into the distances are beautiful. With the majority of the climbing behind us after eighty kilometres, we can relax a little for the latter part of the tour’s longest day as we cruise towards the little town of Chiang Kham.
Accumulated Ascent: 2200M
Day 15: Chiang Kham to Chiang Rai.
The last day of the tour is far from the least as we explore a delightful region of Northern Thailand crossing hills and valleys via roads, tracks and trails. We pass fields of rice and plantations of rubber trees, water buffalo wallowing and monks wandering the byways as we head to the tour's ultimate destination, the provincial capital town of Chiang Rai.
Relaxing with a much-deserved beer beside our resort’s pool we can reflect on a journey that has taken us from the hectic and colourful communist capital of Vietnam, through laid back Laos with its lovely relaxing rest day town of Luang Prabang, and finally to the Westernised trappings of 21st century Thailand.
From this odyssey, we are now rich with a multitude of experiences of wonderful scenery, enchanting people, and adventurous cycling that will provide precious memories for many years to come.
Accumulated Ascent: 500M
Day 16: Finish.
The tour official finishes today after breakfast. For those heading home or further afield, we will provide transport to Chiang Rai international airport, or to the bus terminal.
Markers below are clickable as are the markers on the map itself.
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£ Pound Sterling Payment Option
Our prices are all in US dollars but we can offer you the option of paying in GBP (£) based on the exchange rate at the time of booking. You can choose on the booking form, adjusted prices will be shown there.
2019: 30 Nov - 15 Dec
2020: 06 Dec - 21 Dec
Rental bike price: US$250
The prices quoted above are for a twin room share basis. If you are travelling alone you will be paired up with another lone traveler of the same gender to share with. Single room occupancy can be arranged, the single supplement rate shown is per person.