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 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.
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):
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.
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.
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)
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.
Lodging: 90,000 — 30,000 a night x3 nights = 90,000
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?
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)
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?
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
Mad Monkey in Thakhek might offer tours by car. Check them out on Facebook here
Or you can check with these guys
I think caves are boring. Should I still do The Loop?
No. Just go home.
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?