The most com­mon ques­tions I’ve heard or seen asked about the Thakhek Motor­bike Loop. A 450-kilo­me­ter motor­cy­cle adven­ture through the heart of Laos. If you have a ques­tion that isn’t list­ed here please ask in the com­ments. I will try to incor­po­rate every­thing into this page. 

I wrote up a com­plete guide to the Thakhek Loop includ­ing infor­ma­tion about the caves and swim­ming holes, a sug­gest­ed itin­er­ary for The Loop as well as accom­mo­da­tion options along the Thakhel Loop. The guide I wish I’d had. Check it out here.

Thakhek Loop – The Com­plete Guide

Thakhek Loop FAQs:

 

What is the Thakhek Loop?

The Thakhek Motor­bike Loop is one of the more adven­tures attrac­tions of Laos. It’s a 450-kilo­me­ter motor­bike loop through the heart of Laos in the Kham­mouane Province. Tow­er­ing karst peaks, the 7.5-kilometer Kon­glor Cave, indige­nous vil­lages, lush forests, water­falls and count­less caves and swim­ming holes. All explored at your pace, from a motor­bike.

With mul­ti­ple motor­cy­cle and scoot­er rental options, guest­hous­es and places to eat through­out the 450 km loop it is a well estab­lished and high­ly rec­om­mend­ed part of a more adven­tur­ous trip to Laos. It might just be the high­light of your whole trip!

(Also called Tha Khaek Loop, The Loop, and Kong Lor Loop)

Won­der­ing about Kong Lor Cave (Tham Kong Lo)? Check out the guide for Kong Lor Cave here.

Kong Lor Cave – Com­plete Guide

Where is the Thakhek Loop?

The Thakhek Loop is in the Province of Kham­mouane in Cen­tral Laos. It’s one of the best places to see the caves of Laos. From Vien­tiane, it’s about a 7-hour bus ride South. If you are going to South­ern Laos from Vien­tiane, Luang Pra­bang or Vang Vieng it’s a good place to stop before Pakse or the 4,000 Islands.

How do I do the Thakhek Loop if I’m in Vientiane?

Bus­es leave the South Bus Sta­tion in Vien­tiane every hour or two in the morn­ing. For logis­tics check out the Wik­i­trav­el arti­cle. You can buy a bus tick­et direct­ly from your hos­tel or hotel in Vien­tiane but there will be a markup.

I’ve never driven a motorcycle before. Can I still drive the Thakhek Loop?

The short answer from me would be “Prob­a­bly”, with some notes of caution/qualifiers, but it depends on your lev­el of com­fort and adven­ture. Here are some tips if it’s your first time dri­ving a motor­cy­cle.

1. Rent an auto­mat­ic.

2. Don’t dri­ve fast or at night.

3. Real­ize that there prob­a­bly isn’t any trav­el insur­ance that will cov­er you.

4. Ride the motor­bike first a bit around town to get a feel for it.

5. If you can, go with friends, espe­cial­ly friends who have dri­ven motor­bikes before.

6. Wear pro­tec­tive cloth­ing, long pants, long sleeve shirt, and gloves min­i­mal­ly (I think there is a slid­ing scale, with in-expe­ri­ence and road rash on one end and expe­ri­ence and no road rash on the oth­er). I per­son­al­ly have a full face hel­met and a safe­ty cer­ti­fied motor­cy­cle jack­et and gloves.

7. Don’t dri­ve with some­one on the back, if this is real­ly your first time or you feel uncom­fort­able. Rent sep­a­rate bikes. It’s actu­al­ly much more fun hav­ing your own motor­bike any­way.

8. Dri­ve slow. Did I say that already? Well, it’s worth repeat­ing. Dri­ving slow will give you time to stop if you see some­thing like a pot­hole, cow, pup­py (these last 2 caused me two small acci­dents) or anoth­er motor­bike. You’ll enjoy your sur­round­ings more as well. Hey! Eyes on the road!

Of course, it’s all up to you and what you’re com­fort­able with and your life is 100% in your hands. And as a final note, I’ve seen a num­ber of crash­es on the road and a num­ber of for­eign­ers with road rash.

 

Can I still drive The Loop in Laos’ Rainy Season? Rainy Season vs Dry Season.

I’ve done both. The rainy sea­son was quite a bit more beau­ti­ful as every­thing is green and lush (August). The sky was also much clear­er. Some­times they will burn crops in North­ern Thai­land and Laos in the dry sea­son cre­at­ing an ugly haze (March). We got lucky dur­ing the wet sea­son and had 5 days with just a lit­tle rain. It can be very wet which isn’t too fun and more dan­ger­ous to dri­ve in. Both sea­sons have pros and cons. I would just rec­om­mend that if you’re in Laos (no mat­ter what the sea­son is) just do it if there isn’t heavy rain in the fore­cast.

Rainy Season (May to October):

The Good:

 1. The land­scape is GREEN, so green and lush (Rice fields and foliage).

2. Water­falls are flow­ing.

3. Not as many peo­ple.

4. Air is clear­er.

The Bad and the Ugly:

1. It could be rain­ing, hard! And who likes dri­ving in the rain?

2. Your trip might be delayed if it’s rain­ing too much

3. Some caves will be flood­ed and not acces­si­ble (Drag­on Cave). But unless it’s huge flood­ing Kong Lor Cave should be open.

4. Dirt roads will be mud­dy mak­ing some places hard­er to reach or inac­ces­si­ble.

If you do go dur­ing the rainy sea­son def­i­nite­ly bring good rain gear for your­self and your bag and try to sched­ule in a flex­i­ble day or two in case it’s rain­ing heav­i­ly and you can’t dri­ve as far.

I have a large backpack or suitcase, can I leave it?

Don’t wor­ry, any of the Guest­hous­es should be able to store your stuff for free while you dri­ve The Loop. Or the shop where you rent the motor­cy­cles will do it. Just bring a small­er bag of the things you will need for the loop and leave your big­ger bag behind.

 

Should I be worried about Police on the Thakhek Loop?

I’ve only heard of police being a prob­lem in Thakhek itself and not else­where on The Loop. In Thakhek the police have been known to stop lots of for­eign­ers charg­ing fees of 50,000 kip (About $6 US).

At the KGB Guest­house (Wang Wang) they have a map of where the police are sta­tioned. I took a pic­ture of it here and col­ored it in. The blue line is the sug­gest­ed route. The Thakhek police have sta­tions in the red cir­cles. Feel free to down­load the map of the Thakhek Police.

Police in Thakhek - Map

Police in Thakhek — Map

Want some inspi­ra­tion? Check out this post of just pic­tures along the Thakhek Loop includ­ing Kong Lor Cave, as well as the oth­er caves along The Loop.

Thakhek Loop – In Pic­tures

What items should I pack for The Loop?

Don’t pack too much! A large day­pack is suf­fi­cient. If you can fig­ure out how to attach your back­pack to the back of your bike it will be more enjoy­able than dri­ving with it on your back the entire time.

1. Real shoes (not flip-flops)

2. Flip flops or san­dals (rugged are bet­ter as you can use for climb­ing rocks)

3. Clothes for 3–4 days (who are we kid­ding, you’re going to reuse clothes so you don’t have to have a dif­fer­ent set for each day). I per­son­al­ly rec­om­mend wear­ing long sleeves and pants, in case you fall off the bike as well as for sun pro­tec­tion. I’ve seen lots of road rash and sun­burns.

4. Shorts for swim­ming (or do as I do and swim in your quick dry under­wear)

5. Sun­screen

6. Hat

7. Sun­glass­es

8. Phone & Charg­er

9. Hygiene Sup­plies. Tooth­brush, tooth­paste, deodor­ant etc.

10. Water bot­tle (you can fill up at the guest­hous­es. Use less dis­pos­able bot­tles.

11. Paper map of the loop (avail­able when you rent your motor­cy­cle)

12. Maps.me with the Laos maps loaded (offline)

13. Enough cash = 1,000,000 LAK (detailed in the next ques­tion).

14. Cam­era & Extra bat­ter­ies, cam­era charg­er, extra lens­es etc.

15. Hel­met. Ide­al­ly, one that cov­ers your ears and the best case is actu­al­ly a full face hel­met that is prop­er­ly safe­ty rat­ed. Short of that def­i­nite­ly make sure it has a work­ing and adjustable chin strap.

16. Rid­ing gloves (pro­tect your hands from sun­burn, road rash and (if they’re real rid­ing gloves) mit­i­gates vibra­tion and hand blis­ters.

17. Clear visor for hel­met or clear sun­glass­es (oth­er­wise bugs make it near impos­si­ble to dri­ve at night). Even if you don’t plan on dri­ving at night, be pre­pared.

18. Rain Gear. Rain Coat and Rain Pants.

19. Dust mask or ban­dan­na (option­al).

20. Head­lamp for caves. Some caves are light. If you have a bright head­lamp then bring it (option­al).

 

How much money should I bring? How much does The Loop Cost?

Bring at least 1,000,000 (1 mil­lion LAK) cash for 4 days on The Loop (does not include the motor­bike rental fee which is paid when you return to Thakhek. It’s bet­ter to return with a bit too much mon­ey than run out. I’ve round­ed up a lit­tle.

Cost breakdown:

Lodg­ing: 90,000 — 30,000 a night x3 nights = 90,000

Food:400,000 100,000/day

Fuel: 240,000 60,000/day (return the bike emp­ty or close to it if that’s how you got it)

Entrance Fees: 150,000 (Kong Lor, Tham Nang Aen, var­i­ous oth­er caves, swim­ming areas)

Safe­ty fund: 150,000 (Repairs, More Beer Lao etc.)

Motor­cy­cle Rental Fees: 320,000 LAK (almost $40) (paid when you return. NOT includ­ed in the 1,000,000 cash to bring with you.)

The dai­ly cost of a scoot­er or motor­bike rental ranges from about 60,000 to 150,000. A semi-auto­mat­ic scoot­er is the cheap­est. Wang Wang being the cheap­est option. Per­haps you don’t want to pay the absolute cheap­est so let’s say 80,000 ($10) a day x 4 days = 320,000 LAK (almost $40).

 

Are there ATMs?

Yes, there are ATMs. Try and start with all the mon­ey that you need, but if you do need to get mon­ey while on the trip there are a few places. The first is at the junc­tion to Mahax­ay. There’s a gas sta­tion then police check­point and a road on the right to Mahax­ay. The ATM is on the left-hand side at this junc­tion.

ATMs are locat­ed in the major towns along the route. Although it’s always pos­si­ble some aren’t work­ing. The major towns are Mahax­ay, Gnom­malath, Nakai, Na Hin, Lak Xao and Vieng Kham. They are marked on the maps.me app which you should def­i­nite­ly have for The Loop.

 

I have Travel Insurance but no Motorcycle License, will my insurance still cover me?

Prob­a­bly not. Even if you have a motor­cy­cle license in your home coun­try, it’s a good idea to check with your insur­ance com­pa­ny ahead of time to see if they will cov­er you. Some com­pa­nies will cov­er you if you’re dri­ving a small­er bike and have a motor­cy­cle license back home.

 

Thakhek Loop vs Pakse Loop (Bolaven Loop). Wich one should I do?

 

Thakhek Loop

Kong Lor Cave, Thakhek Loop

Kong Lor Cave, Thakhek Loop


The Thakhek loop is more about caves. There are some water­falls but they aren’t that great in the dry sea­son and don’t com­pare to the water­falls on the Pakse Loop.

Pakse Loop (Bolaven Loop)

Tad Fane Waterfalls - Pakse Loop

Tad Fane Water­fall, Pakse Loop

 

The high­light on the Pakse Loop is def­i­nite­ly its water­falls, espe­cial­ly Tad Fane, the high­est water­fall in Laos, and this pic­ture is from the “Dry Sea­son”.

I would prob­a­bly rec­om­mend doing the Thakhek loop over the Pakse Loop if I had to choose one. I love water­falls and caves, but caves offer some­thing a lit­tle more adven­tur­ous and as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, they are more fun to shoot. The Thakhek Loop is also more rur­al and has beau­ti­ful karst moun­tains that don’t exist on the Bolaven Plateau. Though the Bolaven Plateau Pakse Loop have cof­fee plan­ta­tions and I love cof­fee. You can’t go wrong with either choice.

Clockwise or Counter-Clockwise?

Most peo­ple do The Loop Counter-clock­wise, head­ing East on Route 12 out of Thakhek. This puts you right into Cave Alley with­in just min­utes of leav­ing Thakhek. It also leaves Kong Lor Cave to the end of The Loop. You save the long straight 100 km sec­tion of High­way 13 until the last day.

But some peo­ple opt to do it clock­wise and dri­ve the 100 km “bor­ing” sec­tion on the first day. The ben­e­fit of this might be that this “bor­ing” sec­tion might actu­al­ly be a bit excit­ing if you haven’t dri­ven a motor­bike in a while (if ever).

One oth­er option is to avoid the 100 km sec­tion on Hwy 13 alto­geth­er by dri­ving the “inter­est­ing” or “beau­ti­ful” por­tion of The Loop twice. To do it this way, after see­ing Kong Lor Cave dri­ve up to the Lime­stone For­est View­point then head back East on Rte 8 then South on Rte 1E at Lak Sao, retrac­ing the way you’ve been dri­ving over the pre­vi­ous days.

 

Should I be worried about running out of fuel?

Not real­ly, there are lots of gas sta­tions along the route. But be wise and fill up before every 150 km. A tank of gas will prob­a­bly last you from 150 to 200 kilo­me­ters depend­ing on your motor­bike and how you dri­ve it. A safe bet is to fill up after every 100 km which is easy to do. If you hap­pen to get very low or run out of fuel you can buy water-bot­tles filled with fuel at most stores in small towns where there isn’t a gas sta­tion.

You should know that most motor­cy­cle rental shops will give you the motor­bike emp­ty, so fill up on your way out of Thakhek. Fill up in Nakai, on your way to Lak Sao. Fill up in Ban Nahin before your dri­ve to Kong Lor Cave, fill up again in Ban Nahin as you leave.

 

Is there still a dirt road portion of The Loop?

There is no longer a long unpaved sec­tion on the Nakai Plateau, or any­where. There are how­ev­er some rough patch­es of road. Leav­ing Thakhek there are pot­holes on route 13 (This is a busy sec­tion with big semis as it’s the pri­ma­ry road to Viet­nam for this region).

The last kilo­me­ters on the road out to Kong Lor are a bit rough with dirt and pot­holes and there’s a rough sec­tion of dirt road head­ing out to Kong Lor at the start of the dri­ve. In the hills before and after Kong Lor, there are also some rough patch­es. 

There are fix­es and more pot­holes get­ting cre­at­ed all the time. Always be on the look­out.

 

What is The Extended Loop? (Extended Thakhek Loop)

 The Extend­ed Thakhek Loop usu­al­ly refers to includ­ing a dri­ve out to Xe Bang Fai Riv­er Cave. It’s a beau­ti­ful addi­tion that adds at least 2 days to the trip on most­ly dirt roads. You won’t see many for­eign­ers here. A guide to Xe Bang Fai is in the works.

 

Why do so many of the villages start with Ban?

Sim­ple.

Ban = Vil­lage

Tham = Cave

So Ban Nahin = Nahin Vil­lage and Tham Kong Lor is Kong Lor Cave 

Ban Tham thank you, Ma’am! I just thought of that.

 

Why are there 10 different ways to spell everything?

Okay that’s a lit­tle exag­ger­a­tion but you will find mul­ti­ple spellings for caves and towns includ­ing Thakhek, I mean Tha Khaek I mean… Well, you get the point. And don’t get me start­ed on all the dif­fer­ent ways to spell the cave names. Gave me a headache when I’m writ­ing about them and the Kong Lor Loop, or is it the Tha Khaek Loop? (Face-palm

I’ve tried to use the most com­mon names for the places on The Loop in my guide and save you the headache.

 

Can I camp or sleep in a hammock the whole time?

Cer­tain­ly. If you like to wild camp just start look­ing for places well before dark. It’s a pret­ty rur­al area and I don’t think there will be any prob­lem find­ing some­where to set up for the night. The oth­er option is to set up at a guest­house where you can get access to a toi­let, show­er, and the on-site restau­rant. I’ve talked to var­i­ous peo­ple camp­ing and they say they usu­al­ly pay 10,000 kip (~$1.20) when using a guest­house for hammocks/camping. 

You can stay at the “Cool Pool” on your sec­ond night. A beau­ti­ful swim­ming hole. Costs 10,000 kip per per­son.

 

Can I do the Thakhek Loop on a Bicycle?

 Yes! def­i­nite­ly. Depend­ing on your fit­ness lev­el you might set aside a bit more than the nor­mal 4 days. Most towns along the way have Guest­hous­es if you need to stop ear­ly. Camp­ing or sleep­ing in a ham­mock is anoth­er option. Food is avail­able reg­u­lar­ly as well as fuel….oh yeah for­get that last one.

That being said, I haven’t actu­al­ly done it. But heck, you could even Hitch­hike The Loop or walk it if you want­ed to. Just be flex­i­ble with time and the world is your oys­ter. Hitch­hik­ing the Thakhek Loop! Sounds like an adven­ture. I’d love to hear from any­one who’s done this or plans to.
 

I’d still like to do The Loop but don’t want to ride a motorbike. What are my options?

Are there any Thakhek Loop Tour com­pa­nies?

Green Dis­cov­ery in Laos does trips to the caves, most notably their Kong Lor Cave Tour and can prob­a­bly do a tour of the entire Loop

https://www.greendiscoverylaos.com/

Mad Mon­key in Thakhek might offer tours by car. Check them out on Face­book here

https://www.facebook.com/madmonkeymotorbike/

Or you can check with these guys

https://www.insideasiatours.com/insidevietnam/about-us/contact-us/

 

I think caves are boring. Should I still do The Loop?

No. Just go home.

 

More Questions?

Have a ques­tion that hasn’t been answered here? Ask in the com­ments. 

And don’t for­get to check out the com­plete guide to the Kong Lor Loop.…I mean the Thakhek Loop. Who calls it the Kong Lor Loop any­way?

Thakhek Loop – The Com­plete Guide

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