Motorbike repair costs in Laos

Mike - 15 December 2016

I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to write this article, but when we were in Laos I crashed a motorbike. Travelling around South East Asia by public transport makes it easy to move between cities, but the only real way to get off the beaten track is to hire a motorbike. This can be very cheap and offers you complete flexibility to explore wherever you fancy at your own pace. However, don’t underestimate how hard riding a motorbike in Laos can be!

Not the bike I crashed, but a better bike from later in the trip!Not the bike I crashed, but a better bike from later in the trip!

We had a couple of days in Vang Vieng and after tubing down the river we wanted to get out and explore the area outside the incredibly touristy city. We were staying at Maylyn Guest House and just across the road was a bike rental company charging 50,000 Kip/day (£5) for manual bikes and 80,000 Kip/day (£8) for automatics. After looking at the bikes it turned out that the manual bikes were actually semi-automatic so we went for the cheaper option. In order to hire the bike we’d had to sign a disclaimer saying that if we damaged the bike beyond repair or it was stolen we’d pay 1000 USD. I’m fairly sure the bike didn’t cost that much new, but we took it as it had under 1000 kilometers on the clock and after a cosmetic check, all looked good.

The bike itself wasn’t that great. It was very new, but just a cheap Chinese branded bike which felt inferior to the others we’d ridden. The throttle had dead spots and was anything but smooth at low revs. Down-shifting from third to second also took some persuading.

We knew the ‘roads’ around Vang Vieng were pretty bad, but the plan was to take it nice and slowly and do a big loop. All was going according to plan for the first hour. I was riding the bike with Emma on the back and we were enjoying bouncing along the dirt roads.

An hour and a half into our journey was when I made a mistake. Shortly after overtaking a tractor I hit a couple of potholes and some loose gravel. Before I knew it the bike was going sideways. I had been travelling slowly, but we both went tumbling down to meet the ground along with the bike.

Luckily neither of us suffered any injuries aside from scrapes and bruises. Unfortunately, The same cannot be said for the bike. That morning the bike had looked brand new. It now had a missing wing mirror, broken front basket, smashed lights front and back, a broken footrest, scratched up exhaust and cosmetic scrapes all over. Oh dear…

I checked the bike was still rideable and it started first time. Phew. It wasn’t that easy to use the foot brake as I’d bent the footrest a long way back from where it should have been, but aside from that, no issues.

Relieved that we were okay (but somewhat grumpy I’d crashed the bike!), I drove the 45 minutes back to our guest house. We weren't sure whether to take the bike back and apologise profusely, or get it fixed at a mechanics to make sure we didn't get screwed over by a famously mercenary Vang Vieng motto hire shop.

Our guesthouse (Maylyn) was directly opposite the hire shop, but we desperately wanted to ask the friendly staff’s advice on what to do. When the owner next door wasn't there we clandestinely pulled the bike into the guesthouse and explained our story of woe to the concerned staff. The advice was just take it to the bike hire place and tell them what happened. His opinion was that the person across the road was honest, and would deal with us honestly. Plus the shop can get a better deal on parts than we would, as any repair shop will charge foreigners a huge premium.

And as it turns out, the women in the bike hire shop was lovely. She checked that we were both okay before surveying the damage on the bike.

“The wingmirrors are sold in packs of two so I’ll have to buy two of those...”

“The lights are broken on the back as well as the front? How!?”

By the time she went to get a pad of paper to tot up the repair costs I’d said sorry about 30 times and was becoming increasingly concerned as to the size of the extortionate bill I was going to get landed with.

  • Pair of new wing mirrors: 60,000 Kip
  • Front lights: 30,000 Kip
  • Front basket: 50,000 Kip
  • Footrest: 70,000 Kip
  • Rear lights: 100,000 Kip

After checking the numbers she’d written down and making sure I hadn’t miscalculated the exchange rate I realised that the repair bill was £30 for everything! I have no idea what the cost of bike parts are in Laos, but I didn’t feel she was being at all unreasonable. Paying the 310,000 Kip we walked back to our guesthouse and I could feel a weight lifted from my shoulders. It was only 10 minutes later I realised I still had the key to the bike in my pocket and had to wander back to return it!

£30 is a cost I can happily write off as one of those things which happens. Neither of us sustained any major injuries and the only real damage was to my pride. Oh, and my trousers which cost more than £30 back at home in the UK...

Don't underestimate riding motorbikes in LaosDon't underestimate riding motorbikes in Laos