Thakhek: The starting point of the ultimate highlight of Laos. Before this moment I was traveling but, I wasn’t reeeeaallly traveling. In other words I was not yet experiencing it fully. Then we went to Thakhek, the starting point of a fantastic journey through the pure limestone hills of Laos and picturesque villages in the middle of nowhere, and we found our travel. The experience will suck you completely into the traveling mood and you’ll forget everything for the next 4 days while driving from village to village.
Thakhek Travel Lodge: Before starting the journey head on over to this cozy lodge where you sit around a campfire while swapping travel stories with the people coming back from the loop together with a refreshing Beerlao. The owners are extremely friendly and you’ll find near the reception big bulky old journals filled with hand written stories and travel tips of other people who did the loop.
The rooms are ok, but you really choose this lodge because of its campfire hub and good motorbike service (when you rent your bikes at Wang Wang, you can leave them behind here). A good tip is to order a sandwich here to take away for your first ride down the road. Leave your big huge bulky heavy backpack in their safely protected storage room, where tons of other backpacks are lying waiting to be picked up at the end of the loop by their weathered returning owners. Seriously, you can trust them and nothing will be stolen, it is perfectly safe and really really really a must do because the road is long and bumpy so you don’t want to be carrying any extra wait.
Motorbike Loop: This will become an epic journey for you when you look back at your travel through Laos. This 3 to 4 day motorbike loop combines every natural highlight of Laos in one great big exciting ride of a lifetime. You’ll start in Thakhek and of course you’ll need to get a motorbike at one of the three shops here. I would recommend Wang Wang (in the centre of the village), especially when you sleep at the Thekhek Travel Lodge as you can drop off your bike there when you come back after the loop. We rented Honda Zoomers with 125cc (this really is the minimum cc as the roads are steep and muddy) and we payed 85,000 Kip per person. Make sure you check all the lights and make pictures of things that are already broken just to be sure that you wont end up paying for parts that are already scratched etc. You’ll get a map from Wang Wang which gives and ‘indication’ of the length of the road but don’t take it literally as there are a lot of mistakes. Many of the roads are longer than they say on the map or some roads are AFTER a bridge instead of before like it says on the map. It really is more of a guideline.
Here you can see how we did the loop. However, we didn’t do the loop in a loopy way because many accidents happen on the last part of the road, which is a highway. The cars and trucks drive like mad here and there isn’t much to see so we decided to take the scenic route back. Our loop took 4 days but we were really driving pretty fast so if you have time take it easy and allow yourself to see more. Some of the roads you can drive 40km or on the nicely paved highways 80 or 90km.
Watch out though for sudden potholes in the middle of the street or cows jumping randomly out of a bushes in front of you (this mainly happens near the villages so lay low when driving through here). We did the loop during the dry season which has it’s pro’s and con’s. To mention one of both: you won’t have slippery and muddy roads but you’ll have enormous dust clouds that are created when maniac truck drivers race past you.
Also be prepared for the worst… our tire was flat luckily the next morning when we woke up in Lak Sao. You would think that in a big town like this it would be fixed quick but we really really struggled. No one speaks English here so we tried using our translation book as much as we could. We were constantly shoed away from motorbike shop to motorbike shop and this went on for about 8 shops. Finally we bought a sim card and called Wang Wang and gave the telephone to a shop that we stopped by earlier and finally after 3 hours the tire was fixed: yikes! We still don’t know or understand why everyone sent us away. Luckily now we can look back and laugh about it and it added an extra something to the experience.
The Kong Lor Cave really was overwhelming and I wasn’t expecting the impact it left. The pitch black darkness with the cool damp air inside the cave hit my face and surprised me with its beauty and strength. In a small leaking wooden canoe propelled forth by a skimpy little motor, you’ll travel along a 7km river flowing underneath an immense cave and witness the impact of mother nature.
The flashlights of the tourist form a circling cat and mouse chase against the inner cave walls. Halfway through you’ll step out of the boat to view the beautiful glistening crystals that have been formed over the years.
Another highlight of the road aside of the limestones that burst straight up out of the ground (reminding me of Bart Simpsons hair) another beauty can be found here namely the miles of dead trees in rivers stretching out over the horizon and in between the valleys. The dead trees are like thin grey skeleton fingers reaching out of the watery grounds and give this road trip the full creme de la creme.
Top 10 Thakhek Loop Tips
1.Bring as little as possible
2.Bring something warm for when it cools down
3.(For the ladies) Bring a sports bra, the road is brutal and wobbly bobbly
4.Bring a flashlight for in the Kong Lor Cave
6.Prepare to get weathered and sunburned
7.Drive safe and take your time, so no stress
8.Always fuel up when you can
9.Cover your mouth & eyes for the dust clouds
10.Learn some Laos ‘cause you’ll need it
Best Hotels & Guesthouses on the Loop
Best Places to Eat & Drink
1.Sabaidee Guesthouse (Perfect view for every meal or drink during anytime of the day)
2.Sern Sap Restaurant (Great for breakfast with an amazing Australian host that has lived more than 10 years here and can tell you some inside details)
3.Khou Namphow (A must stop for a beer when the sun is low)
4. Near the Kong Lor Cave (A must eat is down in the valley near the Kong Lor Cave).
2.Dead Water Forest
3.Kong Lor Cave
That’s all folks, next stop: Savannahket Laos
For tips on other places I’ve visited check my older posts such as: Canggu, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok & More.
Keep you updated and posted, until then Korp Jai!