A new road route between Nan in Thailand and the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang opened late last week.
The story was first published in the Bangkok Post, last Friday. It noted that authorities had opened a 114 km stretch of road in Laos from Hongsa to Luang Prabang.
The announcement was made by the Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency president, Perames Vudthitornetiraks, who told the Post the new 114 km road runs from Hongsa district in northwest Laos to Luang Prabang. It should reduce the travelling time from nine to around five hours.
Travellers cross the Thai-Laoas border at the Huai Kon- Muang Ngerm checkpoints around 132 km north of Nan town.
Once across the border they usually board a bus or hire a commuter van to drive 51 km to Pak Beng to join the riverboat for the downstream trip to Luang Prabang. It requires an overnight stay in the small resorts at Pak Beng.
Built at cost of THB1.98 billion funded by a grant and soft loan, the two-lane road branches off from road linking the Nan border to Pak Beng in Laos. It heads east across extremely mountainous terrain to Luang Prabang.
There are two vital questions that need to be addressed one on the positioning of gas stations and food stops on the 114 km route and the overall safety for travellers.
There are still travel alerts on some sections of the main roads in Laos between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang on what is called the “new road” from Kasi. The original highway no 13 to Luang Prabang from Vang Vieng is still popular as the climbs are easier for trucks and buses.
Technically, the new road to Nan should be a popular route for motorcycle tours that start in Vientiane the capital of Laos and visit Luang Prabang. They could then travel on the new road to Nan province in Thailand. From the border in Nan, the road trip to Chiang Rai would cover around 351km.
However, motorcycle Facebook groups warn that the Nan border checkpoint is not motorcycle friendly. In fact, they describe an almost impossible challenge caused by a past misunderstanding with local officials that virtually ban the passage of motorcycles despite what legislation allows on paper.
The main purpose of the road is to connect local communities with Luang Prabang and Nan province to generate trade, but the development agency president told the Bangkok Post that the road would boost travel by 10 to 20% without giving any details of how that would be achieved.
Potentially, the new road provides an alternative route to Luang Prabang from Nan instead of driving to Pak Beng to connect with the riverboat. But for most travellers, the riverboat experience is more likely to continue to be the more popular option.
For the time-starved traveller, the best option would be to fly to Chiang Rai transfer by bus to Chiang Kong and join the downstream river trip on the Mekong River from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang.
The road from Luang Prabang to Nan via Hongsa has considerable potential for travellers wishing to return to North Thailand to continue their holiday. But it would depend on having a safe international bus service that completed the trip comfortably in daylight.