The Thakhek Loop
The Thakhek Loop will take you through breathtaking landscapes. Towering karst rock formations, huge water reservoirs and you will pass a variety of caves ready to be explored. The cave at Konglor is among the most impressive I have seen in Southeast Asia and the biggest highlight of the tour. The riding was pretty difficult due to the road conditions and construction works along the way. This might have changed by now though.
Distance: 465 kilometers
Max. per day: 185 kilometers
Highlights: Konglor Cave, amazing scenery, the riding itself
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Recommended Bike: 125cc semi-automatic, can be done with an automatic (I heard)
Accommodation: Guesthouses. About 35.000 LAK p. night
Preparations for the Thakhek Loop are pretty much straight forward since it is not a long as the Mae Hong Song Loop for example. You will have to first base yourself in the town of Thakhek which is the start and end of the loop. Since most travelers stop here to do the loop, you might be able to join others if you are by yourself. Rental shops can be found around the city center and I rented a new 125CC Zongshen, which is basically a replica of a Honda Wave. Sceptical at first, the bike was fast, reliable and worked like a charm. The price was 45.000 LAK per day.
It’s good to shop around a bit as different rental shops have different bikes and of course different prices. Maybe even your hotels offer bikes for rent. Let them know you will rent for three days and try to haggle.
The rental places will usually provide a map of the loop which will be sufficient. There is a German guidebook of Laos available (Stefan Loose) which features a very thorough description of the loop including a proper map.
The Thakhek Loop is more about the actual riding and the enchanting scenery than discovering local villages. But exactly that makes the tour a highlight of every Laos trip. Once you have left the sleepy town of Thakhek, you will be right in the Laotian countryside. You will pass huge and towering rock formations and along the loop you will discover a range of caves which you will probably have all for yourselves when you get there. The terrain you will drive through is as diverse as Laos itself. Arid and dusty plains, steep and rocky hills, lush green forests, lakes and rivers. You will pass quaint little villages where you can stop for a hearty noodle soup or some snacks and wait out the hot midday sun. It’s really the riding that makes the Thakhek loop so special. Especially when riding in a group, you tend to get that easy rider feeling, even with just a small 125cc machine. The steep and pointy karst rocks passing by, the cooling wind in your face and the setting sun painting large shadows onto the tarmac. Riding can’t get much better than this.
The highlight of the tour is Tham Konglor, a huge karst limestone cave about 130 km north of Thakhek. The cave, about 7 km long and in some parts as high as 90 meters, can be explored by motor boat which you can charter at the entrance. It will take 30 minutes to make it to the other end of the cave. It’s a very impressive sight and the cave alone was worth doing the trip.
Tourism is growing in the area so accommodation in the small village of Ban Konglor is actually not a problem. We stayed at a small homestay and had a great time with the family that ran the place. The name homestay was really appropriate as we gathered with the family at night, played with the kids and watched TV together. For a short moment we really felt at home.
The last stretch, back to Thakhek, is pretty boring as it is mostly straight without much to see. That makes riding pretty difficult and exhausting. Make sure to take enough breaks.
| Tips and Advice
When we did the Thakhek Loop, part of it was in really bad condition. Rough dirt tracks, some of it just being constructed. I haven’t heard of people having done the loop lately, but I am sure these construction works must be finished by now. The riding should hence be much easier now. When we did it, going slow was mandatory and having a scarf or balaclava for protection against all that dust from trucks passing by just as well.
Some side roads which will lead you to hidden caves are also just dirt tracks. These are definitely doable but be careful. Sliding and skidding can happen so quickly and did it happen to Chris, one of the two guys I was riding with.
Accommodation is really no problem as the places you will visit are not that frequented. So don’t worry about booking ahead. My main advice is to take an extra day and make it a 4 day tour. We did it in 3 days, which was doable, but we had some long days riding, arriving in the dark more than once. That’s actually something you want to avoid in Laos as people tend to drive recklessly and sometimes drunk at night.