Not really charmed by the festive atmosphere that reigned in Vang Vieng, we did not linger and preferred to go to central Laos, near the Thai border, in Thakhek precisely. For the little anecdote, the Mekong river is the natural border between Laos and Thailand! So, why go there? To tell the truth, there is not much to see in the city itself. In fact, it’s the ideal starting point to do the Thakhek Loop by motorbike! The program: 500 km of road swallowed in 3 or 5 days in the region with as Highlight (with a big H) the Konglor Cave and its 7,5 km long! Put on your helmet and let’s go!
- How to reach Thakhek
- Hotels in Thakhek
- Rent a motorbike for the Thakhek Loop
- Map of the Thakhek Loop and itinerary
- Day 1: from Thakhek to Thalang (107 km)
- Day 2: from Thalang to Konglor (150 km)
- Day 3: visit of Konglor
- Day 4: from Konglor to Thakhek (190 km)
- Useful info to read before doing the Thakhek Loop.
- The Bolaven Plateau Loop or the Thakhek Loop?
We took this trip in 2014, but the article was completely revised and updated in January 2023. If you see any price changes or have additional information that might be relevant, please feel free to leave us a comment!
How to reach Thakhek
From northern Laos
So, we did not do well to reach Thakhek by bus from Vang Vieng. We said to ourselves that it was better to take a night bus just to save a night in a hotel. What we had not seen, it is that the bus arrived at 2 a.m. in Thakhek. We admit to having taken this ticket in a hurry! So, we found ourselves wandering in the middle of the night trying not to be bitten by dogs while waiting for daybreak…
If you don’t want to sleep in the street or end up like us playing cards under a bus shelter, we advise you to check your arrival time. Or you can sleep in the capital of Laos, Vientiane, and the next morning, you will take a bus to Thakhek.
The bus ride from Vang Vieng to Thakhek takes 8 hours and tickets cost around 420 000 kips. If you want to cut the road by stopping in Vientiane (just for one night, the town is really not amazing…), know that:
If you leave from Pakse, the only way to get there is by bus. The trip takes at least 6 hrs for prices starting around 350 000 kips per person.
This article contains affiliate links to partner sites. When you use our links to book accommodation, a car, or an activity, you don’t pay anything extra, but we get a small commission. This helps us to offer you free, independent, and ad-free content. Thank you for your support!
Hotels in Thakhek
On the internet, one of the best places to stay in the town would be the Thakhek Travel Lodge, located 300 m south of the roundabout at the entrance of the city. After one night, we’ll tell you that it’s the best place to find fresh information about the famous Thakhek Loop! Most of the riders stay here and the terrace lends itself well to the exchange of tips.
We also met Marion and Mikael, a very nice couple from Brittany, also on a world tour. It is Marion who recognized us because she is a regular reader of our travel blog!
At the Thakhek Travel Lodge, you’ll find a big notebook full of tips from all the former loopers (meaning people who have done the loop). Believe us, this notebook justifies in itself a small passage in this hotel.
Otherwise, the Travel Lodge is rather basic. The food is not great and as it is quite out of the way, you will not have much choice to eat there… OK, they also rent motorbikes but twice as expensive as elsewhere… So we would rather advise you to come and have a drink here and to find a nicer place to stay in town.
To sleep, we advise you to go to the Naga Hostel & Café, an excellent hostel in the center of the city with an unbeatable quality/price ratio! Moreover, you will be close to Wang Wang Motor Rental which we will talk about later.
Rent a motorbike for the Thakhek Loop
To rent a motorbike, we advise you to go to Wang Wang, in downtown Thakhek. This is where you will find the cheapest scooters around: 90 000 kips/day for a semi-automatic. We recommend this type of motorbike, you will have more control over the few dirt roads that lead to the points of interest. On the other hand, we really advise you not to rent a new and expensive scooter… You may have less chance to have a mechanical problem, but be aware that most of the repairs in Laos cost maximum 20 000 kips.
If you don’t want to carry your big backpacks on the Loop, the store will keep them for you for free! As a bonus, if you have any laundry, give it to them and they will do it for you while you ride your motorbike.
Map of the Thakhek Loop and itinerary
To help you find your way around, we created an interactive map with all the accommodations and points of interest not to miss during your road trip!
FYI, we did the Thakhek Loop counterclockwise. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t matter! The only reason to do it clockwise would be to get rid of the national highway right away by doing the Thakhek-Konglor section on the first day!
At that time, the condition of the roads was clearly poor in places! Today, the road is finished and the whole route is now tarred. This makes this loop much safer and more practicable! Moreover, this route is not very frequented, so you will cross a few trucks or pick-ups…
The loop we did is the small one and you also have the big loop of Thakhek. What’s the difference? The latter makes a detour by the Xe Bang Fai (or Tham Khoun Xe) cave, one of the biggest caves in Asia! Well, it is a big detour of 250 km in total… But it seems that it is worth it all the same! The entrance fee is 95 000 kips per person.
Day 1: from Thakhek to Thalang (107 km)
This first day of the Thakhek Loop was a perfect warm-up for those who have not driven a motorbike for some time! The landscapes are very nice, we are again in a karst region with all these characteristic small hills.
For this first step, we made you a list of all the points of interest that you can meet on the road.
- Tham Xang or Xang Cave: we don’t recommend it simply because there is not much to see. The entrance fee is 5000 kips for a 30-minute visit.
- Tham Nong Pa Fa or Buddha Cave: this small cave is accessible by boat, but be aware that it is not the prettiest of this stage. The parking is 3000 kips, the entrance 5000 kips, plus 10 000 kips per person to take the boat… In short, that’s a lot for a “more than passable” cave, isn’t it? Prefer Tham Pa Sueam if you come there!
- Tham Pa Sueam: from the parking of Tham Nong Pa Fa, take the path behind the stores on the right, then the wooden bridge. You will arrive at the viewpoint of the lake. You can stop there or continue to visit the cave if you are equipped (headlamp and swimsuit). You can swim in crystal clear water under the stalactites of the cave! The entrance is free.
- Xieng Liap Cave: this pretty and little-known cave will delight the most adventurous during the dry season. To get there, park before the bridge and cross the fields. There, climb the rocks until you find the entrance or cross the water on the left to reach a small path. You can cross it completely. The entrance is free and you may be alone during the visit…
- Thafalang springs: today, a tourist complex surrounds these springs… If you want to rest for half an hour on the heights, it is the ideal place! Otherwise, go the other way.
- Tham Pha In Cave (or Tham Pha Nya In Cave): we particularly liked this submerged cave, it offers nice reflections in the water thanks to the important openings in the walls. Its name comes from the archangel Pha Nya In and the Laotians come to pray in front of the statue of Buddha. Bathing is forbidden because of the sacred nature of the water. It is free in principle.
- Tham Nang Aen ou Nang Aen Cave: if you are looking for a cave that has gone through the kaleidoscope, this is it! As much as the previous ones are not developed, this one has been thought only for tourists… The prices are a bit steep: the entrance is 30 000 kips per person and add 100 000 kips more per person for a 2-hour boat ride… Skip it, your retinas will thank you!
- Song Sa waterfalls: if the Laotian heat gets the better of you, take the opportunity to refresh yourself in these small waterfalls! To go there, take the small track just on the right after the bridge. The access is free in principle.
To sleep in Thalang, 2 possibilities are offered to you. You can’t miss them, they are the only lodgings in this hamlet! You have on one side the Phosy Garden Resort (very cute bungalows with a small terrace and hammocks oriented to contemplate the sunset) and on the other side the Sabaidee Guesthouse (a super welcoming owner, a famous barbecue in the evening and pains au chocolat for breakfast but no online reservation). So, we slept at the Phosy Garden for the sunset and had breakfast at the Sabaidee for pains au chocolat. The winning combo we tell you!
Day 2: from Thalang to Konglor (150 km)
Around Thalang, you will notice a rather strange landscape made of dead trees planted in the middle of the water. This gives a rather particular atmosphere, as mystical, although dramatic… Indeed, this is not the work of Mother Nature but of the Human being… A dam (Nam Theun 2) was built which generated an artificial lake, then engulfed the thousands of trees on the plateau of Nakai and left these trunks as the only remains. Thousands of Laotians had to be dislodged from their habitat…
Further on, you will see along the road sculptures of Buddha, carved in the rock. Well, you can just drive past without stopping, it is clearly not the star attraction of the Thakhek Loop.
Then, you will pass through the town of Lak Sao, ideal to stop for lunch. Otherwise, you can visit two temples: the colorful Vat Oudom at the entrance of the town and the Wat Pa Pha Nang Rong, at the exit of the town. Both are free of charge and are a nice change from the caves, no? Moreover, shortly after leaving the city, you will have the Dragon Cave on the road. Another cave you might say… Nevertheless, here you can cross the cave and take a little walk to get a nice view of the surroundings. The entrance fee is 20 000 kips.
34 km after Laksao, there are apparently some nice springs to find to cool off: the Cool Springs (or Cool Pool or Cool Pond). Apparently… At the time, we just couldn’t find them! Now, a sign tells you when to turn right, just before the town of Phontan, with the mention “Cool Pond”. Then, the track continues for 3-4 km. The water of this magnificent natural swimming pool has the particularity to be fresh, turquoise, and crystal clear! In short, we are a little bit sad to have passed by… A piece of advice: avoid the Cool Springs at midday, it is a place rather popular with the locals.
We give you some advice to sleep in Konglor (also called Kong Lor, Ban O, or Ban Gnang): spend the night near the cave to be on the ball as soon as it opens (8 a.m.). There are several guesthouses and you can book directly on the spot or by Booking. If you stay around Nahin, the town just before turning to reach the cave and the village, you will have to drive more than 40 km… So you might as well stay close to the cave to save time.
Another possibility if you want to treat yourself is to stay at the Spring River Resort. A little out of the way, the bungalows overlook the karsts and the surrounding nature and promise a nice sunrise. You also have the opportunity to rent a kayak to discover a hidden Blue Lagoon. The hotel also offers a water cab service to explore the Konglor cave: you will sail up the Nam Hinboun river for 40 minutes and visit the cave before returning to the accommodation. The price of the crossing is 250 000 kips all included and the double room is 15 $…
Day 3: visit of Konglor
We loved the area around Konglor, in the heart of the Phu Hin Bun National Park. We had read in the famous booklet that it was worth staying a whole day to visit the cave and we could finally easily stay 3-4 days!
The Konglor Cave
After paying the entrance fee of 110 000 kips, we take life jackets and headlamps (all free of charge) and embark to be engulfed by the darkness. After 10 minutes, the boat disembarks us in a lighted (and colored) space that we can explore on foot. This small walk makes us really become aware of the immensity and the beauty of the cave. It can measure up to 100 meters high!
We leave again in the dark, with only the beam of our headlamps, attentive to all the noises which surround us… The end of the cave appears in the distance and we take advantage of the stalls a little further to settle down a little before making the opposite way.
Count on a good half-day to visit the Konglor cave, it is 7,5 km long and the visit lasts about 3 hours!
- Bring flip-flops. If the water level is too low, your driver will ask you to go down at certain times to be able to push the boat.
- If you have a headlamp, bring it! It will probably be more powerful than the one they will lend you.
- You can swim at the entrance of the cave, in the Nam Hinboun River.
- Schedule your visit early to be quieter on the river. Moreover, it will leave you time to discover the surroundings.
From the stalls at the end of the cave, you can rent a bike or walk a bit to go on an adventure to Ban Na Tan (or Natane), a small village located 2 km away. Just be careful with the time, agree with the driver on the time you have before turning back!
Be careful! You will read that it is possible to take a shortcut back to Nakai town with your scooter on the boat and avoid the last section of the Thakhek Loop. Then, yes it is possible to bring it but we strongly advise you not to drive there. The road is in bad condition and unless you are a real expert in two-wheels (and still!), you might not get out unscathed…
After visiting the Konglor cave, you can continue to explore the surroundings and get lost in the rice fields and tobacco plantations. Whether you ride a motorbike or a bike (they also rent them at the Konglor counter for 50 000 kips/day), it’s definitely worth it to get the most out of this area. We give you some ideas to enjoy again the national park of Phu Hin Bun:
- visit Tham Nam Non Cave, located on the road up to Na Hin from Konglor village. This magnificent cave is still unknown to most tourists and is much longer than Konglor. No one has been able to map it yet but it is at least 16 km long! To get there, after passing the village of Ban Muang, you will enter a small hamlet, Ban Phon-Gneng, and see a bridge. Turn right and walk along the dirt road to the cliff. The entrance is free. Tip: bring your headlamp 😉.
- trek through the jungle to Nam Sanam waterfalls (about 2 hours and 6 km round trip). Beware the path is not well marked and not well maintained! If you are a bit adventurous and have the time, go for it! To do so, park next to the temple and follow the black marks on the tree trunks. To give you an idea of the hike and to find your way, here is the route to Nam Sanam.
- enjoy the viewpoint, The Rock (formerly Limestone Forest viewpoint): the spot is known to admire the sublime sunset on the peaks, and the access is free. For thrill-seekers, the place also has an infrastructure to do zip-lining, via ferrata and some hiking. Rates start at $30 for 2 hours of activity, half day is $60 and full day is $90. This can be another good way to admire the karst reliefs! We recommend at least the viewpoint if you are in a hurry!
With hindsight, the whole area around Konglor is clearly the most beautiful place in the Thakhek Loop! If we had to do it again, we would stay there for a few days. But that’s only our opinion!
For this third night, you have the choice between sleeping a second night in Konglor or sleeping in Na Hin, 40 km away. It depends if you want to enjoy the atmosphere of Konglor, do other activities the next day or move up a bit to do less driving on the last day.
Day 4: from Konglor to Thakhek (190 km)
We admit nothing is amazing to report on this stretch of the Thakhek Loop once you exit Phu Hin Bun National Park… Unless you turn back, you have no choice but to ride on this national highway. In fact, the two stops that would be worthwhile on the road would be the Tham Heup Cave and the Khoun Kong Leng Lake (Blue Lagoon).
The Tham Heup Cave is accessible from the village of Ban Nakhok. Its particularity? As in Konglor, you can cross it to get to the other side. Moreover, it is not very well known by tourists… To reach Ban Nakhok, first, cross the village of Vieng Thong, continue for 3,5 km and turn left towards Na Nhang and drive for 14 km. We warn you, this is a track!
Khoun Kong Leng Lake (Blue Lagoon) is located at the end of another 20 km trail from Houay Aek on the main road. Although it looks a lot like Cool Springs, we were told that this turquoise-blue lake was not to be missed. But, like most of the travelers who make the loop in this direction, we didn’t dare to do another 40 km of track to reach it… If you want to go there, we advise you to do it one day from Thakhek, which is only 50 km from the town. In short, it’s not worth breaking your face after the accumulated fatigue of 4 days on a motorbike! Tip: make sure it’s open on Google Maps 😉.
Useful info to read before doing the Thakhek Loop.
- Prefer the dry season to do the loop, which is between November and March. It can also be done the rest of the year but there are chances that most of the caves are flooded.
- Allow at least 3 days to do the loop of Thakhek. We did it in 4, but it is possible to do it in 3 if you are short on time.
- If you do the whole loop, bring long clothes. It will protect you in case of fall (it happens unfortunately often), of the sun which hits hard in the area, and of the cold which can reign in the caves.
- Bring sun cream and mosquito repellent. Also, a small first aid kit can always be useful…
- Don’t forget your bathing suit and flip-flops (or water shoes) for the springs and the caves! For women, don’t forget to wear a sarong or something that covers you, because bikinis are not very accepted.
- Be very careful with the pick-up trucks that drive like crazy on the road. Since they are bigger, they don’t care about motorbikes… So it’s up to you to push yourself. To tell you the truth, we almost had an accident!
- Have a spare bottle of gas with you. On some sections of the Thakhek Loop, there are very few gas stations and it could get you out of a jam. We needed it once and it helped us a lot! We also met a couple who had their gasoline pumped by children while they were visiting a cave… They would have liked to have a spare bottle for that!
- Baksheesh is very present in Laos. If you see policemen waving to you to stop, continue your way, that will dissuade them!
The Bolaven Plateau Loop or the Thakhek Loop?
Argh, this question is quite difficult! The two loops complement each other well: on one side, an orgy of waterfalls in the middle of a luxuriant jungle and on the other, breathtaking karst landscapes and caves… Well, OK, if we really had to choose, we would choose the Thakhek Loop rather than the Bolaven Plateau. We loved Konglor so… Basically, choosing is losing so do both 😉.
So here we are, we have come full circle! It was not easy, we had one or two scares but overall, it went well and we came back with beautiful images in our heads 😉.
Don’t really miss the Thakhek Loop, this is a must-see and quite an experience for travelers in Laos in our opinion! So, does this little road trip through the Lao nature tempt you 😉? Anyway, after a few days of rest (for the buttocks!) in the 4000 islands, another one is waiting for us, it’s the Pakse Loop on the Bolaven plateau!