3 days, 2 people and 1 motorbike: we have just completed the famous Thakhek motorbike loop and I must say it exceeded all my expectations. Bear in mind that that is coming from a person who is sometimes difficult to impress, even at the sight of endless natural beauty. Don’t get me wrong. I love the outdoors and enjoy spending time in nature like nothing else. But it’s not like watching the sunset from the umptieth viewpoint is likely to make my blood flow faster or touch me emotionally.
The Thakhek motorbike loop was different. Perhaps it was the adrenaline from driving this powerful vehicle on the dusty and often unpaved roads of the Laotian countryside, but there were just so many points on the route that gave me goose bumps and made the hairs on my arms stand up.
Finding a motorbike rental in Thakhek
In Thakhek, we stayed at the Villa Thakhek. There is a motorbike rental (PokemonGo) on site, but we decided to walk 40 minutes to the center of Thakhek where we heard there should be two cheaper rental places. Unfortunately all of their motorbikes were rented out, so we walked back 40 minutes to our hotel to find all the motorbikes rented except one. So we had little choice but to take it.
In the end I must admit I was quite happy with PokemonGo. We paid a whopping 120.000 KIP (or 14,50 USD) per day for the motorbike (including two helmets), but we did get a fully automatic and powerful Honda 125cc for that money which had no trouble carrying us over the steeper parts of the route and showed no signs of any technical issues.
The owner also allowed us to deposit 1 million KIP or 120 USD instead of our passport when I told him my passport was at the Vietnamese embassy in Vientiane. A lie, of course, but I find that this lie usually works quite well in Laos where almost all of the rental places demand you leave your passport with them for the duration of your rental.
Day 1: Thakhek to Thalang
The first day took us to Thalang. The road was not very impressive but there were a couple of sights on the way, including two caves. Laos is quite typical in the sense that you will soon find yourself having to pay small amounts of money for the most ridiculous reasons. For example, most caves and waterfalls in Laos have an entry fee of anywhere between $0.50 and $5, which is sometimes used to help maintain the sight, but sometimes just seems to pass to the guy in the hammock hanging around all day collecting the fees. At the first cave, they had even invented a rule that my girlfriend had to wear a traditional Lao skirt in the cave, which she had to rent for 3000 KIP or $0.40.
Day 2: Thalang to Konglor
The second day of our Thakhek motorbike loop started with a 15 kilometer stretch back where we came from. I had slipped the day before on some stones besides the road and we realised in the evening that we had lost the spring that keeps in place the standard of the bike. So we drove back for a bit and found the spring along the road and fixed it back into place with the help of two lovely around-the-world-cyclists we met along the way (check out their blog here)!
Armed with the excitement of having fixed our motorbike by ourselves, the second day turned out to be absolutely fabulous. First, meandering through the mountains, we were surprised by several small pools of water with trees growing out of them, which looked like landscapes from another planet. Later, the road became ever more quiet, the Vietnamese and Thai trucks which had dominated the road on day one disappeared and the landscape surrounding the road changed to long stretches of red clay and sand bordered by tall rocky mountains.
We decided to drive to the cool pool, on what was one of the most impressive roads I’ve ever seen, a long red stretch of sand with motorbikes going back and forth, leading to a mountain range which seemed to be appearing out of nothing. The cool pool itself was a beautiful, still, green-blue pool.
We finished our day by driving to Konglor Village where we quickly found a cheap guesthouse and met the two cyclists again who had helped us in the morning and took the shorter but much more difficult road to reach Konglor from the other side.
Day 3: the beautiful Konglor Cave
On the third day of our Thakhek motorbike loop, we got up early to be at the famous Konglor Cave shortly after it opens at 7.30 am. I would really recommend anyone to go and see the Konglor Cave and especially early in the morning. Some people say it’s not worth visiting or nothing special, but for me it was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. The Konglor Cave is about 7,5 km long and it’s very wide and high. A trip through the cave to the other side of the mountain takes about 45 minutes. The cave is completely dark as there seems to be no power in the village between 6 am and 6 pm. Our boat was the first one in on the day and I must say the drive through the cave was one of the first times in my life that I was just lost for words. The ancient Greeks apparently based their myth of their underworld on a cave, and going into the Konglor Cave I could see why: it is truly like entering into another world, void of light and sound (except for the loud motor of our boat).
The remainder of the Thakhek motorbike loop was slightly disappointing, the viewpoint near the limestone peaks on route 8 towards route 13 being the absolute and beautiful highlight. The rest of route 8 was being repaved, the smell of warm and fresh tar continuously in our faces. Route 13 was perhaps even worse, and I spent the last 100 km going 60-70 km/h between trucks and other cars to make it back to Thakhek before 6pm, since we figured out the light on our bike didn’t work.
Just before Thakhek we were stopped by the corrupt Lao police trying to make an extra couple of bucks off tourists doing the loop. It was easy enough to get out of that one though. He demanded 50000 KIP (6 USD) for not having an international drivers license and we pretended we only had 24500 KIP. He gave us back the 4500 KIP, put the 20000 in his pocket and told us next time this wouldn’t suffice!