I didn’t have time to do the Ha Giang motorbike loop in Vietnam (and the weather was terrible), so I knew I had to do the Thakhek loop in Laos. Not only had I heard great stories about this 3-day motorbike loop, but I was missing riding a motorbike after my trip in Vietnam.
The Thakhek loop runs to and from the small town of Thakhek in central Laos and it can be done in 3 or 4 days (or even 2 if you’re in a big hurry). It runs through a variety of landscapes of karst mountains, ricefields, through hills and valleys. The road is lined with caves, waterfalls and other attractions that you can visit. In the past years, the roads have been improved a lot and it has become a staple for tourists traveling through Laos.
I loved every minute of it and can’t recommend it high enough. I rented a motorbike for 4 days as I didn’t want to rush, but ended up doing the loop in three days easy (and got my money back for the last day). I also met some really cool people along the way, although I generally prefer to drive by myself. The last part of the loop runs on the highway back to Thakhek, which is a dreadfully boring drive, so most people opt to drive the same way back as they came instead of doing a traditional loop.
Day 1: Thakhek to Thalang
Since I knew that the first stretch wouldn’t be that long, and I’m not much of a cave person, I decided to get going around noon. I rented a bike from Wang Wang rental, through my hostel KGB2, a pretty new and very comfy semi-automatic Yamaha.
But instead of hitting the road, I ended up driving around Thakhek for an hour trying to find an ATM that would accept my card, a problem I’ve had in Laos before. Thankfully I found one and was able to get on my way.
The road for the loop is very easy to find and follow, there are signs and you basically just following the ’12’ towards the border and then onto the ‘1E’. As soon as I drove out of Thakhek I got butterflies and remembered why I love riding motorbikes in South East Asia. The cool breeze as you’re flying down the road, taking smooth curves and that gorgeous landscape! Even the dust getting in my eyes couldn’t damper my happiness.
The first stretch was probably my favourite landscape wise, through stunning karst mountains. There are a few caves along there that you can visit, although I skipped all of them as I find caves rather boring. I did take a detour to see the Thad Song Souk waterfall, but because of the dry season it was little more than a trickle.
I arrived in Thalang around 3.30 pm after a very nice drive and checked into the Sabaidee Guesthouse and went down to the river to treat myself to a beer. In the evening a lot of other ‘loopers’ had arrived, and we all hung out around the fire, eating the delicious BBQ buffet.
That’s the beauty of backpacking solo in Southeast Asia, you’re never alone for long. Young people from all over world come here and you’re bound to make friends without even trying.
Day 2: Thalang to Kong Lor
Some people left early, around 7 am, but since I don’t like getting up early and I prefer driving by myself, I left Thalang around 9 am. I had about half a tank of fuel left, just enough to drive through the hills to the nearest gasstation in Lak Sao. Unfortunately, my phone was acting up so I couldn’t take any pictures. But I found a shop in Lak Sao where they fixed it for a measly 150.000 kip (about 15 euro).
I highly recommend keeping an eye on your fuel tank, because gasstation are few and far between on the loop. Definitely plan your route and don’t waste fuel. And gas up when you have the chance, because you don’t want to get stuck with an empty tank in the middle of nowhere.
From Lok Sao the road went mainly through valleys, down a lovely stretch of asfalt. I skipped the Dragon Cave and instead drove straight to the Cool Pool. The crystal clear was very cold, but refreshing and I lounged here for a couple of hours until the group that had left before me arrived.
I ended up giving up my solitude and drove with them all the way to Kong Lor. It was a fun drive through the mountains and ricefields, with a few challenging uphill stretches and gorgeous views. The last part to Kong Lor was terrible as the road turned into a gravel patch with potholes.
We checked into the very nice bungalows at Khoun Mee Guesthouse and played cardgames and drank beer all evening. Such a hard life as a backpacker 😉
Day 3: Kong Lor to Thalang
The next morning we were up at 7 am for breakfast to get to the Kong Lor Cave early since some people were rushing to do the loop in three days.
Now, I’m not a big fan of caves but this one was worth it. The Kong Lor Cave is huge! It runs all the way through the mountain and a boat takes you through this dark tunnel, which takes about an hour. They gave us headlamps as there is no other light in the cave, a really cool experience. On the other side we docked at the pier, had a little walk, a rest and a drink and then went back through the cave again. All in all, definitely much worth it!
It is even possible to take your bike through the cave and return to Thakhek from that side, but that costs 250.000 kip and takes a lot of effort. So instead, we decided to drive back the same way we came and avoid the highway. If you do a full loop, you’ll have to drive the last few hours on the highway back to Thakhek, which neither fun nor particularly safe.
As I don’t like driving in big groups and having to wait up for everyone, I tagged out and sat down somewhere for lunch. Here I cuaght up with two girls from the group who had the same idea. In the afternoon we leisurely drove back to Thalang, stopping for fuel, pictures and an icecream along the way. The drive was wonderfully smooth.
Since I enjoyed my stay at Sabaidee Guesthouse before, I decided to stay there again. It wasn’t quite as lively this time, which suited me fine since I was tired and opted to turn in early.
Day 4: Thalang to Thakhek
On my last day I needed to turn my bike in before noon, so I left Thalang around 9.30 am. I had a lovely 2 hour drive back to town by myself and turned my bike in promptly at 11.30, in time to catch a bus to Vientiane.
All in all the Thakhek loop wasn’t nearly as challenging or exciting as my 10 day motorbike drive through Vietnam, but still really, really fun. I met some cool people, saw some gorgeous landscapes and I really enjoyed the freedom of being back on a motorbike. It is definitely a highlight in Laos and I recommend it to anyone, even inexperienced motorbike drivers as it is a pretty easy loop with very little traffic.
Have you driven the loop? Or are you planning to do it? Let me know what you think or want to know in the comments.
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