Thakhek Loop Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Thakhek Loop Guide – Everything You Need to Know

The Thakhek Loop is a 476km motorbike journey across beautiful Laos countryside. Every stretch reveals colossal karst mountains, lush green rice fields and deep dark caves. For travellers intrepid enough to venture to Laos, The Thakhek Loop is a perfect way to get even further off the beaten track.

Most people will spend either three or four days on The Thakhek Loop.  One of the incredible things about this journey is that the route isn’t prescriptive. Sure you’re following a large, roughly circular route, but there’s so many places to divert and explore, the experience can be unique to you.

Thakhek Loop Motorbike Hire

In this post I’m going to give you an ultimate guide to the Thakhek Loop and tell you all that you need to know. I’ll start by sharing our experience, then let you know where to rent a motorbike, costs, where to stay and most importantly, how to stay safe. Here we go, now hold on tight…

Thakhek Loop Itinerary

Thakhek Loop Map
This Thakhek Loop map was a useful addition to the Maps.Me app

Day One

Getting out of Thakhek

Renting a motorbike in Laos without a license isn’t illegal. In fact, most people in the country drive without a license. That doesn’t mean you should avoid carrying yours though. The police are sometimes out to catch travellers off guard. Should I encounter a problem, I felt having an International Drivers License might go some way to help.

In Thakhek town there’s a police skam running and I was relieved when ‘Bird’ at the Bike & Bed hostel gave me a tip off about it. On the main street with the Thakhek City Shrine, the police hang out to randomly fine Westerners 50,000 Kip ($6 USD) for using a motorbike. Albeit a small fee, it’s still a street to avoid. ‘Escape’ town on a back street. The adventure had only just started and we were already dodging the cops!

Thakhek City Shrine
Thakhek City Shrine

This was of course, not without its own joys. The streets were recently tarmacked. As we raced past locals, the hot black tar kicked up and stuck to our boots…and motorbike!

Not wanting a fine at the end of the loop, we quickly cleaned it all off, picking little black nuggets of grit from the wheel’s rims. A good start to day one.

Once out of Thakhek, the roads mellow. Traffic certainly isn’t a problem in this part of the world. The hot sun beat down and my hair whipped Rose in the face as she sat astride the passenger seat. (Note to long haired riders; tie your hair up).

Buddha Cave

The first stop was Buddha Cave, known to locals as Tham Pha Fa Cave. On approach we could see a wooden staircase leading to a hole in the mountain. It looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

What awaited inside was actually a disappointment!

The name gave a sense of mystery, but it was a fairly standard cave with some Buddha statues inside. Oh!

Mountain on a dirt road
The entrance to the Buddha Cave sits on the side of this mountain

Xieng Liap Cave

I had read that outside Xieng Liap Cave, the Laotian Rock Rat was recently discovered. Well aware sightings are rare, we set off anyway to look for a new long tailed friend. (We used to have a rodent family ourselves; of seven rats and two hamsters, but that’s another story). On the path through the forest, we sighted no end of their holes in the dirt. We also sighted a snake!!

Xieng Liap Cave usually offers the chance to walk underground through one side and exit the other. We were sadly there during the rainy season, so the cave was flooded, making a trip inside impossible.

Cave adventure
If it wasn’t rainy season I would have jumped in the Xieng Liap Cave

Tha Falang

This was one of the stranger stops en route. Not well signposted and with Maps.Me diverting us off course, two local children in Iron Maiden T-shirts had to point us in the right direction.

Umbrella Display
A pleasant umbrella display at Tha Falang

Tha Falang had been described as a beautiful blue swimming hole. It definitely wasn’t blue and it certainly wasn’t a hole. It is in fact a stretch of the blue brown Nam Done river with a few wooden huts to change and then swim. If you miss this stop entirely, you won’t be missing out.

River for swimming in a valley
Tha Falang wasn’t what we expected

Tad Song Souk Waterfall

By the time we reached Tad Song Souk Waterfall, the sun was slowly starting to descend. This gave light relief from the heat and was the perfect setting to relax and watch the water flow through the base of the valley.

River flowing through valley
The river flowing through the valley

Crossing a bridge, we walked up the hill to find numerous swimming holes. REAL swimming holes this time. Just be careful which ones you choose. The current from the waterfalls can get strong in places.

Waterfall and river in the jungle
Tad Song Souk Waterfall


Tad Song Souk was the last stop for day one and we had an hour to reach the settlement of Thalang before nightfall.

Approaching Thalang, the scenery suddenly changed. Riding through the mountains, to our left were wild jungle and towering trees. To our right were deep valleys and fields as far as the eye could see. Pure natural beauty!

Day One Hotel on the Thakhek Loop

We decided to stay at Phosy Thalang Guesthouse. It was a perfect choice. The bungalows sit on the Nam Theun River, with its reflection projecting high definition visions of the trees back at you. Bliss.

Lake reflecting tress and clouds
Thalang Lake as seen from the guesthouse

There’s also an extensive food menu with delicious portions big enough for two. It’s a perfect place to wind down by the river at the end of a long day.

Phosy Thalang Guesthouse on the Thakhek Loop
Phosy Thalang Guesthouse

Day Two

Our jaws dropped shortly after leaving Phosy Thalang Guesthouse. All around dead trees twist and bend out from the river like some sort of post apocalyptic scene. Beautiful as they may be, a post apocalyptic scene is exactly what they are. When the Nam Theun dam was built it flooded the valleys. Wildlife was crushed and families had to be relocated. All that remains are these bare trees. A stark reminder of the constant destruction to Laos’ nature.

Dead Trees on the Nam Theun River Thakhek Loop
The beautifully eerie scene of destruction on the Nam Theun River

The Cool Springs

With the 36oC sun beating us into submission, it was time to cool down. A treat of nature called The Cool Springs was a couple of hours ahead and we couldn’t wait to jump in.

Although that didn’t happen.

Maps.Me told us where to turn off the road and all appeared well. That was until we approached a muddy field. Rose got off the motorbike with our backpack to lighten the load.

Stuck in a muddy field
Rose got stuck in the mud too!

Looking at the upcoming puddle, there was a Mexican standoff between us. Would I going to be able to get through it? Or was it going to swallow me and the motorbike? I eyed the horizon and kicked it into first gear. Shifting into second I hit the water. Mud splashed up and wet my boots.

I made it.

Puddle in a muddy field
Man vs. Puddle

Mentally rejoicing, I called Rose over to come back and join me. But it was too soon. As I crawled forwards on to dry land, it turned out to be far from dry. The ground was yet to harden and the motorbike sunk.


Motorbike stuck in the mud on the Thakhek Loop
A motorbike suddenly seems a lot heavier when you have to dig it out of the mud

I’m no weakling, but I’m not going to be winning strong man competitions anytime soon either. For 15 minutes I pushed, pulled and yanked the motorbike every way I could. Eventually I was back on the path and ready to return. The puddle and I played out a second round. I was again victorious.

Dirt track in a field with mountains in the background
Despite the problems, the views are gorgeous

Deciding it would be best to forget the Cool Springs, we opted to stop at a roadside cafe for cool water and coconut smoothies. Loop Cafe & Restaurant was a hidden gem. Adorning the walls were war remnants from the American conflict of the 50-70’s. There’s parts of fighter planes, bombs (yes bombs), guns, munitions boxes, helmets and telecommunications equipment. Bizarre indeed.

Bomb Boats

Approaching the Ban Thank Bridge, we peered down to see the Bomb Boats. During the conflict America spent $2 million every day for nine years bombing Laos. The destruction was staggering. As well as unexploded bombs and landmines, there are remnants of war across all Laos. Not wasting resources, some innovative Laos people found fuel tanks from B-52 Bombers and turned them into ‘bomb boats’. We were starting to lose time so didn’t stop to ride in them. Although it’s possible to find a local and discuss a fee.

Bomb Boat on the river Thakhek Loop in Laos
This ‘Bomb Boat’ is made from a the fuel tank of a B52 bomber plane


Shortly before reaching Khoun Kham, we stopped to admire the viewpoint. It’s a tranquil setting, tarnished only by the graffiti covered shack and litter at the side of the road.

View across fields in Laos
What a view!!

Limestone Peaks Lookout

One of my favourite stops along The Thakhek Loop. This is a spot that can be saved for the third day, but we chose to visit it before heading back in the direction of Kong Lor. Through winding mountain roads we reached a summit which took my breath away. Not since visiting Dimmu Borgir in Iceland have I seen such magnificent jagged black peaks. Cutting into the horizon, this setting could have provided a backdrop for a scene in Lord of the Rings.

Kong Lor

The final stretch of day two proved to be eventful. Turning off Route 8 and towards Kong Lor, there was a sense of excitement in the air. The sun was setting and the scenery changed once again. We sped past rice fields and rural villages consisting of wooden shack houses on stilts.

At one point we stopped to enjoy the sight of seven water buffalo playing in a tiny water hole. (I don’t know how they all squeezed in either). With the sun setting, a farmer appeared and herded them out the water. After some effort, he managed to get them under a tree where they were due to spend the night. The water buffalo reluctantly played along and stood under the tree. When the farmer left, the water buffalo looked on eagerly and bided their time for a couple of minutes. With the farmer out of sight, the water buffalo all ran back into their hole to play in the water some more. It was a joyous sight.

Grazing Water Buffalo in a puddle
We saw so many water buffalo in Laos

No so joyous was the position we found ourselves in when we tried to start the motorbike. There was a rev and splutter, then nothing.

We were out of fuel and it was starting to get dark. At the time of hiring the motorbike I gave it a thorough check. The empty fuel gauge indicated that it needed refuelling. After filling the motorbike some miles outside of Thakhek, I established that the fuel gauge was actually broken. Throughout the trip I had been mentally calculating the mpg between refuelling. For whatever reason, my calculations had clearly failed.

There was no other choice but to stick the cheap Kolao bike in neutral and push on. Kong Lor was still another 13km away, so things were about to get interesting. With nothing in the way of development, shops or fuel stations, we hoped an affable local might stop and assist us. One stopped, but decided to laugh at us instead of help.

Luckily for us, much of South East Asia has something you’ll never see back home. People selling plastic bottles of fuel outside the front of their houses! I spotted some one litre bottles of red liquid up ahead, so with a little of the good stuff in the tank, we were finally on our way.

Beautiful orange sunset in Laos
The gorgeous sunset

Despite a full moon and the motorbike’s headlights on full beam, it was hard to see the road up ahead. Rose even had to hold her phone’s torch over my shoulder for extra visibility. We really needed every bit of light we could get. Speeding on, insects kamikazed into my face and we sustained what felt like back breaking injuries from the hundreds of potholes. Tired and weary, we eventually reached the end of the road and our destination for the night; Kong Lor and the Kong Klor Guesthouse.

Day Two Hotel on The Thakhek Loop

I really can’t say enough good things about Kong Klor Guesthouse, nor give any good reason why you would want to stay anywhere else. Not only is there a tasty range of food and comfortable clean rooms, but it’s the closest accommodation to Kong Lor Cave. You can literally walk there in two minutes. This is time well saved for a long day of exploring ahead. Book the Kong Klor Guesthouse here.

Day Three

Kong Lor Cave

The pinnacle of the Thakhek Loop for many is Kong Lor Cave. A deep dark place that was bizarrely only discovered in 2004. A village sits at either side of the mountain, so to reach each other, residents would trek over the top. They were aware that a cave existed, but had no idea that it could be navigated from one side to the other. The discovery revealed a seven kilometre waterway waterway snaking through Kong Lor Cave.

With the discovery came locals and their long tail boats, willing to take travellers through the darkness from one side to the other. It’s a surreal experience and one that was an absolute highlight of our time in Laos.

Walking through the forest we came to the river bank and jumped in a boat to enter the dark mouth of Kong Lor Cave. Off we went.

Rowing a boat

It’s thrilling and disorientating at the same time. Within seconds all natural light fades and you’re in total darkness. The boat speeds along and you all you can hear is the water gushing and bats circling in the air.

At one point it was possible to exit the boat and explore an illuminated section of stalagmites, stalactites and crazy rock formations. The lights projecting incredible shadows on the walls.

Stalagmites in a cave
The stalagmites in Kong Lor Cave

After re boarding the boat we hit a problem up ahead. With water flowing rapidly around us, the boat was struggling to go up a steep bank in the middle of the river. In broken English our ‘Captain’ asked us to get out. Shining a light, we found a small rock to stand on. The Captain then sped off, back the way we’d come.

At that moment, we felt abandoned. Perhaps if we wanted to ever see daylight again, he was going to return and ask for an extra large tip. We stood there alone and confused.

Boat in a dark cave
The only light in Kong Lor Cave comes from your torch

Suddenly we heard an engine roar and the boat re-appeared, shooting towards the rocks. The Captain decided he was going to hit the bank head on and had taken a run up to launch the boat at the rocks. I guess he wanted to shed some weight from the boat, but it looked like a crazy destined to fail.

Thankfully, he was a true professional and successfully made the leap. But only just!

Boat and Mountains
The views when you exit Kong Lor Cave

At the other side of the cave is a small local village where ladies weave traditional blankets and traders sell small crafts. It was pleasant to see and there was no sales pressure, so we took a casual look around.

Kong Lor River
Rose was excited to be exploring the local village

To return, we once again travelled through Kong Lor Cave.

When we left Kong Lor, the majority of day three was spent driving back to Thakhek. If you have enough time, it’s possible to return the way you came, rather than completing a full loop. Day three is mostly spent on a straight highway, but it’s still a beautifully scenic journey. We admired the views and avoided the cows, dogs, ducks and chickens on the roads.

Cows on road in Laos

Finally reaching Thakhek, we once again avoided the crafty cops waiting to fine people and retired to Bed & Bike Hostel. A high five between us, completing The Thakhek Loop felt like a huge achievement.

An Essential Checklist to Rent a Motorbike for The Thakhek Loop

Look over the bike for any marks from previous accidents. Take photos or better still a video. Ensure to document every little mark.

To ensure you stay safe, check the following:

  • Lights: main beam, dipped beam and brakes.
  • Indicators: left and right.
  • Suspension: push the bike down at the front and back to ensure it bounces back.
  • Lock: check for a bike lock and that it opens and closes easily with the key (ours actually broke en route).
  • Test drive: go up and down the street on the bike and familiarise yourself with the gears.
  • Fuel gauge: if the tank shows as empty, ask for it to be checked as empty. A broken fuel gauge could really ruin your trip. Check how much fuel needs to be in the motorbike when you return it.
  • Tyres: check the tyre tread and make sure they are in good condition.
  • Foot stirrups: you and any passengers want to be comfy. Make sure the foot stirrups are still attached to the motorbike and not hanging off.

Where to Rent a Motorbike for the Thakhek Loop

We rented our motorbike through Bike & Bed Hostel. The staff there are friendly and were so helpful in explaining the route before we left. Bike & Bed Hostel work in partnership with Mixay Motorbike Rental, so the motorbike is actually provided by them. This is good news. Mixay have the best overall reviews for Thakhek Loop motorbike rental. Overall we were happy, but some points are lost for providing a motorbike with a faulty fuel gauge.

Wang Wang is another option. There’s generally good feedback on them, so could be worth visiting if you’re shopping around.

Mad Monkey is the final option. Although we didn’t rent from them, internet comments suggest they used to be good, but now the staff are rude and prices too high. Doing a quick Trip Advisor search will show you the latest feedback.

Semi automatic and fully automatic motorbikes can be rented by all the above places. In Laos, motorbikes over 250cc are banned, so you’re never going to be riding an absolute beast of a machine that’s beyond your control. A scooter is suitable for The Thakhek Loop and roads in Laos are generally in quite good condition. Sure, there’s the odd section of dirt track with potholes, but they’re nowhere near as bad when compared to other more developed countries (I’m looking at you Costa Rica!).

The Cost of Renting a Motorbike for the Thakhek Loop

Renting through Bike & Bed Hostel / Mixay Motorbike Rental we paid 60,000 Kip ($6.75) per day for a semi automatic motorbike. An automatic motorbike would have cost 90,000 Kip ($10 USD). I don’t feel we’d have benefited from the higher priced automatic motorbike.

Mad Monkey charges nearly double that price.

How Many Days Does The Thakhek Loop Take?

The short answer is The Thakhek Loop takes three or four days. We decided to do it in three. If you have time, four days gives a little more time to stop, explore and take things at a slower pace. If you decide to take four days, I was given some interesting advice. After you visit Kong Lor Cave, return the way you came. This would mean you don’t do a full loop, but the scenery and options for side visits is greater. After the Limestone Peaks viewpoint there is little else in the way of excursions, just the 200km highway route back to Thakhek.

Personally, I really enjoyed the final stretch of highway on The Thakhek Loop. It gave a chance to ride full throttle and the scenery was still gorgeous. If doing the loop in three days and returning the way you came, even without stopping, there’s no way you would make it back to Thakhek until late evening.

Where to Stay on the Thakhek Loop

As you know, I loved Bike & Bed Hostel. They were helpful with motorbike hire, the rooms are clean and there’s a free breakfast.

Day One – Phosy Thalang Guesthouse

Day Two – Kong Klor Guesthouse

Day Three – Bike & Bed Hostel

How to get to Thakhek

Thakhek can be reached by bus from Pakse (335km, eight hours, 90,000 Kip / $10 USD) or Vientiane (340km, seven hours, 95,000 Kip / $10.50).

Upon arrival at Thakhek bus station you will need to get a ‘Jumbo’ (three wheel styled tuk tuk) to the town, which is 5km away. The cost should be 30,000 Kip ($3.40 USD), but if there’s no one else to share with, you will have to hire the whole Jumbo for 45,000 Kip ($5 USD).

Essential Items for Your Thakhek Loop Adventure

It’s always useful to have a guide that helps you plan your travels. The Lonely Planet Guide to Laos is ideal. Also available as Kindle.

The Rough Guide to Laos is also an exceptional travel planner. Also available as Kindle.

I have taken one of these across the world. This power strip is essential for international travel. It charges multiple items at once and takes any kind of international plug. Perfect if you’re in a hostel dorm with limited plug sockets or have a lot of tech to charge.

You’ll need sun cream to fight against Laos’ scorching sun. I recommend an eco friendly reef sun cream. This means if you also use it to go swimming, you won’t be harming the underwater environment and animals. You won’t get burned either!

Save the environment and stay hydrated with a bottle that filters your water. This is ideal for travelling overseas where people don’t have the luxury of potable tap water. It will mean you don’t get sick or use a lot of non-recyclable plastic.

Get the best value accommodation in Laos here:


Thakhek Loop Guide Laos

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