Trying my hardest to get off of the typical backpacker trail and see more of rural Laos, I decided to ride the Thakhek Loop which was probably the best experience during my month long stay in Laos!
I arrived in the town of Thakhek via bus from Vientiane (well actually from Kong Lor due to being put on the wrong bus by the DRIVER but that’s another story) and went to the Thakhek Travel Lodge which was suggested by several other travelers. I arrived 11:30 am and quickly rented a motorbike from Mr. Ku’s Bike Rentals in Thakhek, which is right outside of the Thakhek Travel Lodge. Luckily, there was a group of Aussies heading out at about the same time, so I joined them for the adventure.
Riding the Thakhek Loop in Laos
The first day on the Thakhek Loop was approximately 100km of riding on paved roads with several caves to stop at along the way. Since we set out at about 1pm, we had to skip the caves outside of Thakhek and ride straight to Thalang Village, the first overnight town. Skipping the caves was not much of a disappointment because the views from the road were stunning. Riding into the mountains and up to the Thalang Plateau offered a variety of rice fields, mountains, and the final stretch is along the Nam Theun River.
In Thalang Village, we stayed at the Sabaidee Guest House which again was highly recommended. The Sabaidee Guest house in Thalang Village was one of the highlights of the trip really. The owners are incredibly nice and welcoming. For dinner they prepared a buffet style bbq with fresh salad, four types of kebabs including chicken, beef, pork and fish, pizza, bread, sticky rice and finally a piece of pie for dessert. All of that while sitting around a nice fire with some ice cold BeerLao and great company made for perfect night!
Day two of motorbiking the Thakhek Loop began with a cool ride through the plateau and across the man-made lake. Before long, the pavement ended and we entered a road construction area. The road was quite bumpy but not I did not have any difficulty riding on it. Some areas had loose sand, soil, and rocks so we kept a slower pace otherwise I don’t think the imitation 110cc Wave could have handled it. After passing through a couple of small villages, we arrived in Laksao where we had lunch at the Only One Restaurant. The restaurant was closed at the time but they opened it up just for us!
After lunch, we continued up the road on our way to Kuon Kharn. On the way, we took a side trip to the Cool Springs, an attraction listed on our maps that were provided by Mr. Ku’s Bike Rental. The 2km ride was an adventure going down rough roads and through farm fields but after arriving, they wanted 10,000 kip just to look at the springs. Since it was getting a little chilly and near sunset, we decided to pass on the swim and proceed to Koun Kham.
Exploring The Kong Lor Caves
Day three of the Thakhek Loop adventure was only a short 41km to the Kong Lor Caves, the ultimate highlight of the trip. The ride down to Kong Lor may have been some of the best views as well. The maintains tower above on both sides of the road with rice fields in all directions. Hardly any traffic is on the road with more animals than cars and the nice condition of the road made the ride even more enjoyable.
At the Kong Lor Caves, we hired a guide and boat to take us through the cave. The Kong Lor Cave is a massive 7km long and has cathedral-like ceiling sometimes 25 meters high! The only way through the cave is to take a guided boat tour through the cave that is operated by locals. It is a great way to view the inside of the caves and support the locals in the area that work to preserve this beautiful natural wonder.
After the caves, we made our way to a guesthouse on the main road. We had dinner and a few BeerLao before heading down to a local festival that we could hear nearly 1km away. When we arrived, we were the only westerners in sight. Immediately the kids welcomed us and were very curious. We played a couple of the local games and did some gambling with some help from the children.
The fourth and final day of riding the Thakhek Loop is from Kong Lor to Thakhek and is a long 180km day, with most of it on a busy highway. We stopped for lunch in Vieng Kham, near the junction, before finishing up the final 100km of the trip.
The cost riding a motorcycle on the Thakhek Loop:
Bike/scooter from Mr. Ku’s Bike Rental:
- Zongshen semiautomatic 110cc imitation Wave: 80,000 kip with insurance. If anything was to happen on the ride, the insurance would cover it and Mr. Ku would send out help. Even though repairs are cheap, it’s nice to know you have his support and a local to negotiate in the case of accident or repair. I spent about 80,000 kip on fuel for the whole trip.
- Tha Lang Village
Sabaidee Guesthouse Dorm: 25,000 kip
Make sure you check this one out, we all really enjoyed our stay!
- Koun Kharn
Xokxayhah Guesthouse Dorm: 40,000 kip
A quiet hotel that only had a couple of guests but it was cheaper than some of the other offerings. I would suggest somewhere else if you are looking for more backpackers.
- Kong Lor
Xok Xay Guesthouse Private Room: 50,000 kip
Small quiet and local with great food and some harsh homemade ‘Laos Loas’ whiskey.
Food and drinks were about the same price as other locations in Laos even with the remote locations.
- Kong Lor Cave:
2,000 kip entry
5,000 kip for motorbike entry (park outside and walk in)
110,000 kip per boat with two people and one guide
Packing List for the Thakhek Loop:
- 3 days clothes, one pair that you can wear while riding to stay protected from the sun and keep the dust off of you. I brought a bandanna to cover my mouth which was a life saver on the dusty roads
- Sturdy shoes or boots, never ride a motorbike in flip flops
- Water bottle
- Plenty of cash for the trip as ATMs are rare or possibly unreliable
- Phone and offline maps
- Map from motorbike rental
- Basic translation sheet as they don’t speak much English
Tips for renting and riding a motorcycle/scooter in Laos:
- Make sure you get a helmet with your motorbike rental!
- Get travel insurance if you don’t have it already!
- Leave early so you have plenty of time to check out all of the caves and pay close attention to the signs, they are easy to miss!
- I used the free app Maps.Me for offline maps and route information. It’s a lifesaver when you lose cell service!
- Both times I stayed in the dorm, I was the only one! Most are traveling in a group and sharing a double is cheaper than dorms so I had the dorm all to myself for less!
- Fuel from the small stores is quite a bit more expensive than from the fuel station so top up when possible.