Most people visiting Laos focus in the South and in the North. But Laos is a long country and travelling all the way from North to South takes many hours (days even). Luckily, Thakhek is just in the middle of the country and it’s a nice town to stop for a while. The town itself is quite small, but it’s the base for doing the so called “Thakhek loop”. This is a route with a scenic view along the mountains that leads all the way up to the Kong Lor cave. Normally, it takes 3-4 days to complete it.
Renting a motorbike in Thakhek
As usual in Asia, renting a bike in Thakhek is very simple. The prices go from 60.000 kip per day for a semi automatic motorbike, to 100.000 kip. We found Wang Wang to be the cheapest in town, yet a fair quality and service. We rent our motorbike here and didn’t have any issues other than a flat tyre. But flat tyres are common no matter where you rent it and it can easily be fixed everywhere for a couple euros in no time.
You can also rent a bike at the accommodation The travel lodge, or at Mad Monkey motorbike. Most accommodations will let you store your luggage for a few days while you do the loop.
The Thakhek loop
The route normally takes 3-4 days depending on how relaxed you want to drive it. The roads until Na Hin are in good condition, there’s many gas stations on the way, and little shops selling one litter bottles of petrol, as well as food and anything you may need.
The loop is called like that because it’s supposed to start and end in Thakhek closing as a loop. However, doing it this way the last day you will be riding on a highway full of trucks. It is faster and shorter, but less fun and safe. Instead, you can do as most of us did: drive all the way to Kong Lor cave and then back the same way.
During the first part, it’s an easy road where you will see lagoons that have covered the land where there used to be trees. The next part starts to be a bit trickier, uphill and with some curves, and the views get much better. The last part you are higher, so the temperature is lower and you can focus more on enjoying the environment. From Na Hin to Kong Lor is around 36 km and this road is the part in worse condition of the whole loop, but still completely manageable for everyone. The last 10km are full of potholes, so just watch out and drive slowly.
Where to stay during the Thakhek loop
Anywhere around the loop you can find homestays between 6-10€. The most popular villages to sleep are Nakai, Thalang and Kong Lor. Most homestays are not listed online on booking, but every village has a few and you can just book it when you arrive. Here are some of the accomodation that you can book online in advance:
- Nakai resort. We stayed in this place just a bit out of the village. The price, 7.000kip (7’5€) for a private double room, was more than fair. The rooms were big and all had air conditioning (much needed!).
- Thalang Poshy hostel. We didn’t stay here but we had breakfast on their restaurant overlooking the river. It was really nice at a standard price. We met a lot of people that stayed there and had no complaints about it. It was recommended by many travellers.
- Spring River resort (Kong Lor). This resort is a bit over the average price (15€ private room) but well worth it. We exceeded a bit our usual daily budget and enjoyed every minute of our stay. The restaurant and some of the rooms have views to the river. All rooms are traditional huts surrounded by beautiful plants and jungle vegetation, kept absolutely clean and tidy. The toilets and showers here were the cleanest we’ve seen in whole Asia! If you want a little treat, really book a night here!
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What to do and visit during the Thakhek loop
- Elephant cave: a few minutes after leaving Thakhek you can find the first spot to visit. This cave costs 5.000kip (0’5€) per person. There’s quite some steps to go up and see plenty of Buddha statues and offerings. Luckily, you can store your luggage at the bottom so you don’t have to carry it all the way up.
- Some other cave: A bit after the elephant cave there’s a sign announcing another cave. A small path brings you to some trees where there’s a sign that says “parking 5.000kip (0’5€)”. There wasn’t anybody around, nor a clear entrance. We walked forward and found the cave just a couple hundred meters further.
- Xieng Liap cave: to get there you actually have to go through the Green climbers home, which is an awesome place for rock climbing. We stayed there and it was amazing! From their cam to the cave it’s just a short walk, you can ask anyone around for directions if you can’t find it.
- Thalang river: a place to cool down going for a swim. A lot of locals come here to spend the day eating, swimming and playing music. A nice atmosphere!
- Cool springs: A nice natural pool to cool down. You can swim here but if you go in the afternoon you will probably share the space with a lot of locals and tourists. There are toilets and food shops in the area. It costs 2.000kip to park the motorbike.
- Kong Lor cave: this is the highlight of the loop, an amazing 7km long cave. You can travel through it by boat, it will take about one hour to get to the other side where you can chill for a while before the boat takes you back. The boat trip costs 65.000kip per person (7€) and it can take up to 3 people. For us, it was quite pricey compared to our daily budget and the prices in Laos, but it’s one of those things you can’t miss and it was worth it.
Going to Kong Lor cave and NOT doing the Thakhek loop
If you’re not into riding a bike or you simply don’t have too much time to spend getting to Kong Lor but you don’t want to miss this cool place, there are other options for you. Most accomodations can arrange a bus that takes you to Kong Lor village. From there to the cave is a few minutes walk. There’s restaurants and accommodations on the village so you don’t need to have your own transport. Also, from Kong Lor you can book bus tickets for going further North of the country, so you don’t need to go back to Thakhek.
Enjoy your trip around Thakhek!