Thakhek Loop

Motorcycle loops are quite popular in Southeast Asia. They take you through some of the most remote places in the country. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best ways to explore the rural life style of any country.  There are two amazing bike loops in Laos – Thakhek and Pakse loop. From magnificent waterfalls to deep secluded caves and idyllic villages, the trail takes you through some very interesting landscapes filled with Karsts. Here is my guide to one of the most popular motorcycle loops of Laos – The Thakhek Loop.


Thakhek loop or Pakse Loop? 

Most travellers tend to ignore Laos while traveling through SE Asia. With the limited time that they allocate for the country, they struggle to decide which loop to fit in. If you are one of them. Here is my advice.

 

I would highly recommend you to do both the loops as they have distinct features. However, if time is a constraint and you can do only one, I shall pick Thakhek loop. While both these loops have interesting attractions, I think the landscape that Thakhek loop offers is unique. All through your journey you shall find karsts that hide deep caves within them. Also, the rural life is much more authentic and untouched than that you shall find on Pakse loop. For these two reasons, I feel that Thakhek loop has a tiny advantage over the other.  



3-Day or 4-Day Loop?

 

You can choose to do the loop in 3 or 4 days. 3 days (Thakhek –> Thalang –> Konglar –> Thakhek) is enough to complete this loop. But since the last stretch of the loop is a highway, which is less interesting, most people decide to return the way they came. Therefore, you will need an extra day to trace your path back through same villages and route.

 

The idyllic setting of the villages may motivate you to return the same way and stay an extra day at a village that you found interesting on your onward journey. For example, most people love to return back to Thalang on the third day. It is undoubtedly one of the most peaceful villages I have been to.  



When is the best time to go there? 


You can travel in SE Asia at any time of the year. However, the rainy season (July-August-Sep) may cause some discomfort. However, each season has its own advantages and disadvantages. Post rains, the entire landscape turns green. However, you might find it hard to access some of the caves. On the other hand, during dry season, the landscape has a rustic feel and you can access the caves easily. Since caves are the main attraction in this loop, I would highly recommend the dry season (Dec-April).


On The Way To Cool Pool (Day 2)


How to Get to Thakhek? 


The loop begins at Thakhek, a small town in Central Laos. You have to board an Overnight bus that ply between Pakse and Vientiane. The buses stop 5km outside of town, at around midnight. Wang Wang motor rental runs a shuttle service to town for a nominal price(10,000 Kip). If you choose to stay there, the ride to town would be free.


Thakhek Town



Where do I rent the bike?

 

There are very few bike renting shops in Thahkek. Bike and Bed hostel, Wang Wang Motor Rental and Mizay motorbike rental are three main options in town to rent motorbikes. Also, some hostels might have motor bikes for rent. As there are limited options, it would be advisable to reach there a little early and book a motorbike. 

 

You can rent a Semi automatic for around 70,000 Kip, automatic for 90,000 Kip. Bikes upto 250 CC are also available for a higher price (120,000 + Kip). I would highly recommend a Semi automatic if you know how to, or can learn how to, switch gears. 


You can also choose to do the Thakhek loop on bicycle. It will obviously take more time. While doing the Thakhek loop by bicycle, it is better to avoid the last stretch of the loop that is on a busy highway.



Is it Safe? 


It is perfectly safe to travel in Laos. In fact, I must say that Laos is one of the safest countries I have been to. The people are super nice and always ready to greet you with a smile. 


Riding on the loop is safe.  The roads are mostly flat and there are less vehicles on the road. However, the last stretch of the loop is a Highway that can get a bit crowded with heavy vehicles.



The Route and Attractions



Day01 – Thakhek to Thalang (107 km)


As soon as you exit the town and ride towards the countryside you are welcomed by a series of amazing karsts which hide interesting caves within them. There are several caves along this route. It might be difficult to visit all of them if you are doing a 3-Day loop. So, make sure to read up or ask opinions so that you visit the caves you really want to see. Here are all the caves on this route – Elphant cave, Xieng Liab Cave, Tha Falang, Pha Nya In Cave, Nong Aen Cave, Nong Phieng Xang Cave and Cool Breeze Cave. You can also visit Song Sou Waterfall on your way. I would highly recommend the Pha Nya Cave which has a beautiful pool hidden under the krasts. 


Pha Nya Cave
Pha Nya Cave


Even if you are not visiting all the caves, it is simply amazing to ride on this stretch of the loop. Stop at small villages and observe the lifestyle there. Thalang is one of the most beautiful villages I have been to. You can walk around and observe the village life style. Walk to the bridge for sunset and have a relaxed evening at the guesthouse. There only two guesthouses here, so make sure to be there early to find a space. 


Day02 – Thalang to Konglor (148 km)


Make sure to wake up early and watch sunrise by the Thalang lake. It would be one of the best things you would have done on this loop. Enjoy the idyllic setting of this village for a while before getting back on the loop. 


Sunrise at Thalang Lake

Next, drive to Dragon cave. Dragon cave is an interesting place. If you are the adventurous type, take the jungle trek route out of the cave rather than retuning back the same way. 


Dragon Cave

A few kilometers further from here, take a deviation to Cool pool. It is a nice place to relax for a while and take a swim in the pool or enjoy the spectacular views  the place provides. 


Then, continue your journey to Konglor. This is one of the best stretches fo the route. You take a left deviation to reach konglar, passing through beautiful fields and small villages. Spend the night at Konglor. Walk by the tobacco fields and grab some nice dinner at any of the village restaurants. 


Konglor


Day03 –Konglor to Thakhek (187km)


Next morning, ride to the Konglor caves and take a boat ride (7.5km one way) through this massive cave to reach Natan village. This is a must-do on the loop. You can explore the village on foot or by bicycle or even chose to stay here if you have extra days in hand. 


Konglor Cave


By noon, ride back to Thakhek. On the way, stop at Limestone Forest viewpoint. The adventurous types can try some zip-lining here. 


The final stretch of this loop is on a Highway which can get sometimes busy with semi trucks. However, that’s the fastest route back to complete this loop. 


As an alternative, many chose to return back the same way they took to Konglor. Because the last stretch of the loop is a busy highway and has not much attractions. If you have enough time in hand, that would be a great idea. On your way back, you can choose to stay at Thalang again or at any other small towns or villages. 


Day 04 (Optional) – Thalang to Thakhek


Instead of taking the Highway back to Thakhek, if you have chosen to return the same way back, then you probably would have stayed at Thalang. You complete the loop as you began. Checkout the caves you might have missed earlier. 



Where do I stay?


I did not book any place in advance. You can just reach your destination and hunt for a place. Here are some recommendations. 


Thakhek – KGB Guesthouse, Bike and Bed Hostel

Thalang (Thakhek loop) – Phosy Thalang guesthouse (Dorm bed and cabins) is amazing with its idyllic setting. A bridge built across a small stream doubles as dining area. 

 

The only other option here is Sabidee guesthouse. It’s a nice hostel by the lake. It has a party vibe with music and barbeque in the night. To socialise, this would be a nice place. But if you like a quiet place, then go for the former. 


Kong Lor (Thakhek Loop) – There are a couple of options here. You can walk up and down the main road to find a descent accommodation. However, I simply loved this brand new place called Phounsouk Guesthouse. 



My Experience 


Dragon Cave

Thakhek loop was undoubtedly one of the best things I have done in Laos. I teamed up with three other travellers at the hostel and we explored the loop together. My best moments include, walking down the Tha Falang cave to reach a natural skylight and watching a beautiful sunrise at Thalang village, a place I absolutely loved. At Dragon caves, when we reached a dead end, we tried to find a way out. Since there are no directions, we had to climb a stair and exit the cave through a kilometre long trek route through the forest. I also enjoyed sketching by the cool pool which seems to be a popular picnic sight for locals. Finally, Konglar caves was the star attraction of this route. It is massive and so long that the boat ride through it can be a real adventure. 

Konglor Cave

In the end, what is travel without making new friends and speaking with locals? I met some amazing people on this loop who made this journey even more special. 

By the way, to plan your trip to Laos, checkout my Laos Travel Guide.


Thakhek Loop Video 

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