LANG, THAILAND, JULY 1, 2019: A new road between Thailand’s Nan province and the world heritage town of Luang Prabang opened late last week. The report was updated on July 4th to add clearer route details.
This story was first published in the Bangkok Post last week. It noted that authorities in Laos opened a 114-kilometer road from Hun Saa to Luang Prabang.
The announcement was made by Perames Vudthitornetiraks, head of the Neighboring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency, who told the Post that the new 114-kilometer road runs from Hongsa district in northwestern Laos to Luang Prabang (about 11 kilometers from Hongsa town). This should reduce travel time from nine hours to about five hours, according to the Bangkok Post. It may refer to the travel time from Nan to Luang Prabang via Xaignabouli on Highway 4A using a Thai/Laos operated bus service. However, according to the timetable of the Land Transport Department, the time is slightly longer at 10 hours.
Passengers cross the Thai-Lao border at the Huai Kon-Mueng Ngeum checkpoint, about 132 kilometers north of Nan town.
After crossing the border, they usually take a bus or rent a commuter van for the 51km trip (highway 2W) to Pak Beng, where they join a riverboat and travel downriver to Luang Prabang. It requires an overnight stay at a small resort in Pak Beng.
However, the well-established daily bus from the south to Luang Prabang diverges from Highway 2W for about 3.5 kilometers along Highway 4A after leaving the small town of Mueng Ngeum on the Lao side of the border. From here, Highway 4A winds its way around the mountains to reach Luang Prabang in 10 hours.
Costing 1.98 billion baht, the new two-lane road starts at an intersection off Highway 4A in the small village of Don Mai, near Nabalone. The junction is approximately 49 kilometers south of the Huaikun border checkpoint. From Don Mai, the new road marked 4B on Google Maps goes through extremely mountainous terrain to Luang Prabang, eventually passing the Green Jungle Flight tourist attraction (Chomphet district), just before the Pak Long riverside village. The road ends at the vehicle ferry terminal on the north bank of the Mekong River facing Luang Prabang town.
There were two important issues to be resolved, one was the location of petrol and food stations along the 114 km route and the other was the overall safety of passengers.
Travel warnings remain in place for some stretches of the main Laos road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, dubbed Khasi’s “new road”. The original Highway 13 from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang is still popular because it is easier for trucks and buses to climb.
Technically, the new road from Luang Prabang to Nong Mai, where it joins Highway 4A, is probably a popular route for motorbike tours of Luang Prabang and then Northern Thailand. A road trip from the southern border to Chiang Rai will cover a distance of 351 km.
However, the Motorcycle Facebook group warned that the Nan border checkpoint was not suitable for motorcycles. In fact, they describe a near-impossible challenge resulting from past misunderstandings with local officials who effectively banned motorcycle traffic even though the law allowed it on paper.
The main purpose of the new road is to link local communities in and around Hun Saa district with Luang Prabang province to boost trade, but the development agency chairman told the Bangkok Post that the road will also connect Luang Prabang and Nan provinces. The increase in travel between 10 and 20 percent did not detail how this was achieved.
The best option for time-crunched travelers planning to visit northern Thailand and Laos is to fly to Chiang Rai, catch a bus to Chiang Hong Kong, and then take a lower Mekong river trip from Hoi Xai to Luang Prabang.
However, the road from Luang Prabang to Nan via Long Mai and Hong Saa has considerable potential for tourists who wish to return to northern Thailand and continue their holidays in Nan, possibly even extending to Chiang Mai. Whether international bus service will be established on the shorter 4A/4B routes remains to be seen.
(Source: Bangkok Post and other TTR weekly reports)
This report was updated on July 4, 2019 to provide more accurate information using Google Maps and reader feedback. Note that the latest Google Maps shows 4B as a 20km track or unpaved road extending from Don Mai. There is an estimated 25 to 30 kilometers of missing parts in the center of the mountain. The track then continues for 71 kilometers. It terminates at the car ferry pier on the north bank of the Mekong River facing Luang Prabang town. Let’s say this is the route the new 114km road will follow.