The Thakhek motorbike loop is cheap, multi-day adventure activity to do in Laos. Riding through the open country with beautiful limestone mountains, vast rice paddies, and lush vegetation is always a good idea. I completed the loop from July 16-18th in 2016 with two friends, and we had all sunshine and no rain for the entire three days of our journey. You can see a short video from my trip below:
This post will focus mainly on information and facts about the Thakhek motorbike loop. If you want to read about the string of bad luck I had on the trip, check out my guest post on The Lost Passport Blog called Surviving the Thakhek Loop by Motorbike.
Thakhek Loop Overview
Starting counter-clockwise, the loop goes from Thakhek to Thalang to Kong Lor and back to Thakhek. The total distance for the loop is 275 miles (445 kilometers). Most of the people in the area recommend doing the loop in four days. I did it in three days, which was manageable, but I think doing four days would have been better. It will give you more time to stop at caves, waterfalls, or scenic lookouts and really enjoy the journey.
Renting a Motorbike in Thakhek and Pricing
I stayed at Villa Thakhek when I arrived in town, which is located right next to Mr. Ku Motorbike Rental. I can’t think of a more convenient way to rent a bike for the loop, store your bag, and not have to commute from you hostel. My 110cc semi-automatic bike cost 80,000 kip/day ($10), plus I purchased insurance for another 80,000 kip ($10). This covers any repairs, flat tires, accidents, etc. In addition, they do keep your passport until you return. I had never driven a semi-automatic bike, but it only took five minutes to learn how and Mr. Ku’s staff showed me step by step.
Total Cost of the Loop
The total cost of the 3-day journey ran me 420,000 Kip ($52). This includes the bike rental, gas, and entry fees for Kong Lor Cave, Xieng Liap Cave, and Nam Sanam Waterfall. It does not include any food or accommodations.
Day 1: Thakhek to Thalang (65 miles/105 kilometers)
Starting counterclockwise, the first day of the loops goes through nicely paved roads surrounded by limestone mountains. It is a short day of only 65 miles, which takes around 2-3 hours. I was never driving faster than 55 kph the entire trip.
One third of the way into the ride, you can stop and do a short boat tour of Xieng Liap Cave. It costs 20,000 Kip ($2.50) and takes around 30 minutes. A guide will take you down to the stream near the road and into a small motorboat. A short 5-minute ride leads to a cave beneath the karst formations. This tour is definitely worth the $2 and breaks up the ride.
Back on the road, I stopped for lunch when I got hungry and still made it to Thalong in the early afternoon. I stayed at Sabaidee Guesthouse, where everyone doing the loops stays. It has private rooms and dorms with a large restaurant area overlooking the surrounding waters.
Day 2: Thalang to Kong Lor (91 miles/147 kilometers)
Breakout your GoPro for the second day of the loop because it is the most beautiful by far. The landscape changes with every hour from swampy wastelands to lush mountains to rice paddy valleys.
If you leave Sabaidee Guesthouse early enough in the morning, a detour to Nam Sanam Waterfall is easy to do. Directly off of the main road, it is a 3 kilometer trek to a series of waterfalls in the forest/jungle. It starts out flat, but gets extremely steep and difficult the higher it goes. Be prepared to break a sweat. The round trip should take roughly 90 minutes, depending on how long you swim or hang out at the falls. If you are trying to do the Kong Lor Cave tour the same day, you need to get to the cave BEFORE 4 PM, so plan accordingly.
Kong Lor Cave
The last 60 kilometers or so to Kong Lor is on to a dirt road that has rice fields on either side and limestone mountains ranges on either side of those. It’s epic. As scenic as the drive is, this is also the most dangerous part of the loop. The dirt road is riddled with deep, giant potholes. Don’t look up at the mountains and rice paddies for too long or you will risk a very bumpy ride.
When you reach Kong Lor, you will need to pay to park your bike and for entry into the park. Through the park gates, a 5-minute walk among the trees takes you to the tour office. The price of the Kong Lor Cave tour was 42,000 Kip ($5) per person. A guide will take you 7 kilometers through the pitch black of the cave, stopping for 15 minutes in the middle to walk along the stalagmite and stalactite formations. It is a massive cave. There were one or two boats with tourists stuck in the depths of the cave that we blew right past. Hopefully your guide knows the ins and outs of the cave as well as mine did.
I stayed at SpringRiver Resort after Kong Lor Cave. The food and the staff there are amazing. Located on a river between rice paddies 1 kilometer off of the main road, I highly recommend this hotel as a great place to unwind after a long ride.
Day 3: Kong Lor to Thakhek (113 miles/182 kilometers)
Unfortunately, the best part about the ride back to Thakhek is backtracking on the shitty, dirt road out to the highway. Soak in the rice fields and mountain ranges while you can; the last three hours of the drive are on a straight highway with nothing to see.
There are couple of cool viewpoints to stop at before you hit the straightaway, including the image above. These should be easily found on maps.me or the navigation application you use.
Final Notes for the Thakhek Loop
If you have time to take an extra day, do the four day loop. Spend an extra night halfway between Thalong and Kong Lor. This way, you can enjoy the best part of the loop at a leisurely pace. It will also be nice not to have back-to-back 100 mile days.
Make sure to pack sunscreen, a poncho, bandanna or mask, and sunglasses for the ride. You don’t want to have intense sun burns or bugs slamming into your face for 3-4 days in a row. If you have any questions or more info on the loop, please comment below! I always appreciate other peoples’ insights.
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