The Thakhek Loop, also known as the Kong Lor Loop, is one of the best things to do in Laos.
I was in Laos for one month and this loop was definitely the highlight of my trip.
It was the perfect mixture of freedom, adventure, and fun.
On my bus from Vientiane I met a handful of travelers all headed to Thakhek as well.
We were all driving the loop the next day, so we decided to join forces.
Also we all had reservations at KGB Hostel, which was even better.
Once we arrived at the hostel we met other travelers that wanted to do the loop the next morning as well.
By the end of the night we had a group of 11 people that were ready to tackle the Thakhek Loop.
Some of our group had never driven a motorbike and some of us had been on them for months.
We had a great variety of people and the next few days were beginning to sound like a lot of fun.
BASIC INFO ABOUT THE THAKHEK LOOP.
TIME IT TAKES.
The whole loop is around 450 km.
The most popular option is to drive the loop over a 4 day period.
It can be done in 3, but you’d be rushing through a lot or completely skipping stuff.
Plus you might be driving during the night and you want to avoid that as much as possible.
You can also really take your time and extend the trip to 5-6 days.
But most people usually choose 4 days.
The main roads along the loop are all in excellent condition.
They might get a little worn down near major towns but nothing incredibly bad.
I drove the loop in May 2018 and the roads were excellent.
Any websites that says there’s long stretches of dirt road are not up to date.
There’s only a few shitty spots and those mostly appear when you explore sites off the main road.
The roads to swimming holes and caves are usually dirt.
During the dry season they’re good to drive on.
But in the wet season some of them might be extremely difficult or impossible to get through.
The road from Nahin to Kong Lor cave has the worst conditions of the entire loop.
Near the beginning of that drive there’s a section of road that’s covered in pot holes and cows.
Once you get past those… and the freaky looking bridge the rest of the drive is fine.
I drove the loop near the end of May, which is part of the dry season.
On the first day we had some rain after visiting Tham Ene Cave, but it disappeared within 30 minutes.
Then we didn’t see rain again until the beginning of our 4th(last) day.
But that didn’t last long either.
The bottom floor of the KGB Guesthouse is a motorbike rental named Wang Wang.
We heard that the mornings could get hectic with people renting bikes.
So the first thing I did when I woke was go down there and start testing out bikes.
I tested 3 of them before I found one that I liked.
I wanted to make sure I had both side mirrors, the brakes were good, and the steering was aligned.
The bikes weren’t in the worst conditions but I’ve rented better.
An Automatic was 100,000 Kip($11.56) per day.
Not too far from Wang Wang is another place named Mad Monkey Motorbike.
Two people from our group rented from there.
Those bikes are a little bit more in price but they’re maintained better and nicer looking.
As far as gas goes, I was averaging anywhere between 17,000 – 30,000 Kip each time we stopped.
And now for the daily adventures of the Thakhek Loop.
Thakhek to Thalang = 102km.
Most people drive the loop counter clockwise.
That way you start off seeing cool stuff right away.
If you drive clockwise you drive the longest on the first day and there’s fewer sites to see.
So we drove east towards “Cave Alley”.
This area is called cave alley because… you guessed it, there’s a whole bunch of caves in this area.
We were told if we wanted to explore all the caves in the area it would take most of the day.
If that’s something you want to do you can save it for after the loop.
You can spend a whole day checking those out because they’re not very far from Thakhek.
We all wanted to go swimming and only see the biggest cave in this area before heading north.
So our first stop was at the…
THA FALANG SWIMMING HOLE.
Leading to Tha Falang was a nice dirt path, but that didn’t last for long.
The path slowly turned into an incredibly muddy path before going back to dirt again.
We were determined to get through.
After I got my bike stuck so deep it took 3 of us to pull it out, we saw another path that went around the mud.
It was a great start to our adventure because some people had never driven motorbikes before.
So we had some muddy people by the time we got to the swimming hole.
The swimming hole was nice and relaxing even though it was a little warm.
We also had the entire place to ourselves.
After Tha Falang it was only 7 km up the road until we arrived at…
THAM ENE CAVE.
Tham Ene Cave is the largest cave in “Cave Alley”.
It’s also a good place to stop if you’re hungry, as they have a restaurant on-site.
Cave Entry: 30,000 Kip.
Boat Ride: 50,000 Kip.
None of us took part in the boat ride through the cave due to time constraints.
Plus we figured we’d save the boat ride for Kong Lor.
Tham Ene Cave is full of multi-colored lights and awesome rock formations.
If you’ve never been in a large cave before this one will impress you.
Continuing to Thalang.
After Tham Ene Cave we took our time driving the rest of the way to Thalang.
As you drive north, Gnommalat will be the last petrol stop before the switchback incline to Nakai.
(Gnommalat is 65 km from Thakhek and 38 km to Thalang).
One place you might want to stop at to give your butt a rest is…
NAM THEUN 2 VISITOR CENTER.
It’s just a dam, and honestly it doesn’t look too special.
When we arrived it was already closed.
So we just parked for a bit and gave our butts a rest.
Immediately after the dam are some of the funnest roads to drive.
Switchbacks that keep climbing higher and higher until you arrive in Nakai.
We drove right past Nakai, but it’s a place to stop for food and fuel if you need it.
You’ll notice you’re arriving in Thalang once you start to see dead trees rising out of ponds and lakes.
It’s a very cool sight and you’ll constantly be pulling over to take photos.
STAYING IN THALANG.
The 2 guesthouses most people stay at are Phosy Thalang and Sabaidee.
We chose Sabaidee Guesthouse because it was the cheaper of the 2 options.
Plus we were able to book out their 8-bed dorm while the other 3 from our group took a bungalow.
The 8-bed dorm only cost 30,000 Kip and was a mixture of single beds and bunks.
Sabaidee has a great BBQ every night that costs 50,000 Kip per person.
The food was delicious and there was so much you could return for seconds or thirds.
They also had plenty of beers for us to guzzle after our long day on the road.
Phosy Guesthouse looks like a nice place too.
And their website shows a few tours they offer if you plan to extend your time in Thalang.
Both Guesthouses are on Booking.com or you can check out their official sites below:
Phosy Thalang Guesthouse.
Thalang to Nahin = 106km.
52 km north of Thalang is when you’ll arrive in Lak Sao.
Lak Sao has petrol, banks, restaurants, and a mechanic.
When you arrive at the main intersection of Lak Sao you’ll continue west.
Lak Sao to Nahin is the most scenic part of the drive.
But before you arrive in Nahin you’ll want to make a stop at…
DRAGON CAVE(Mangkone Cave).
During our ride to Dragon Cave we were driving through so many butterflies it was ridiculous.
Our helmet visors looked like a massacre.
Even though the butterflies were small it was still an annoyance trying to dodge them.
Dragon Cave Entry: 10,000 Kip.
Not as impressive as Tham Ene Cave, but still a good place to check out and give your butt a rest from sitting.
There’s also a newly built cafe where you can grab some snacks and drinks.
Dragon Cave is only 36 km away from Nahin.
As you get closer to Nahin you’ll start seeing a bunch of good lookout points to pullover.
One of them is not very far from Nahin and it overlooks the whole village.
It’s a good place to return to for sunset or the sunrise the next morning.
STAYING IN NAHIN.
The main place most backpackers stay in Nahin is at Sanhak Guesthouse 2.
The 5-bed dorms were 40,000 Kip with fans, or 50,000 if you wanted air conditioning.
All the beds were twin sized too.
The restaurant/common area was really nice, with good views.
The food was delicious, cheap, and they had a large variety as well.
Sanhak also has information and tours for some of the other attractions around the area.
Some of our group managed to find a bar not too far down the road.
It looked like it might be a school during the day, but becomes a karaoke bar at night.
I don’t recall if the place had a name.
So just drive up the nearby streets and keep your ears open for music.
That’ll probably be the spot.
Nahin to Kong Lor Cave = 86 km round-trip.
Nahin to Kong Lor is the shortest drive of the entire trip.
But it’s also the drive with the worst section of road.
Luckily it doesn’t last very long.
As you head south from the Sanhak Guesthouse you’ll be driving along a fenced in building and lake.
Once you get past that the road becomes dirt and you’ll probably have to maneuver past some cows.
Then the road gets ridiculous with potholes.
Like REALLY ridiculous.
That should take about 15 minutes until you’re back on a paved road.
Then you’ll have to cross a bridge that doesn’t look like it’ll hold.
But believe me, it’ll hold.
After the bridge it’s smooth driving the rest of the way to…
KONG LOR CAVE.
Kong Lor Park Entry: 2,000 Kip.
Parking: 5,000 Kip.
Cave Entry: 10,000 Kip.
Round-trip boat ride through cave: 100,000 Kip.
Once you arrive you should give yourself about 2.5 – 3 hours for the whole adventure.
The boat ride through the cave is 7.5 km.
Most of it is pitch black, but you’re given head lamps.
Constantly look up, because that’s when you realize how massive this cave really is.
A few times during the ride you’ll get out and walk along the well-lit stalactites and stalagmites.
And then you’ll meet back up with your boat driver.
At the end of the cave you can walk or rent a bicycle and cruise through the Kong Lor Village nearby.
When you’re done doing that you meet up with your driver and go right back in the way you came.
Kong Lor Cave is definitely one of the most impressive caves I have ever seen.
It’s totally understandable why people make the drive to see it.
After Kong Lor Cave we made our way back to Nahin and relaxed the rest of the day.
Near Sanhak Guesthouse is a trail head to Nasanam Waterfall.
Some of us debated doing it the next morning.
But the guesthouse owner told us it takes much longer than expected.
And the waterfall might not be too impressive during the dry season.
So we skipped it.
Nahin to Thakhek = 146 km.
Day 4 of the Thakhek Loop was the least eventful of the days.
We knew about the Khoun Kong Leng Lake(aka: Blue Lagoon) that was near Thakhek.
But it was an additional 21 km off the main road and we decided to figure it out once we got closer.
10 km from Sanhak Guesthouse is a great lookout named Limestone Peaks Lookout.
Hanging out at that lookout was the only attraction we ended up doing that day.
Another 32 km west of the lookout you’ll arrive in Vieng Khan.
A small village with a gas station and some banks.
From here you’ll go south along the busiest road on the entire loop.
Don’t worry it’s not “major city busy”, but it’s busy enough.
This drive is a straight shot right into Thakhek.
30 km outside of Vieng Khan a member of our group got a flat tire.
Luckily we found a local with a truck that took him a few kilometers back to Ban Laokha.
(On Maps Me the mechanic should be named Ban Laokha Mechanic.)
Across the street from the mechanic is a restaurant where we all enjoyed soup while the tire was fixed.
During that time we decided not to go to Khoun Kong Leng Lake and just drive straight to Thakhek.
A member of our group was having a birthday that night so we all wanted to shower, have a big dinner, and start drinking.
And that’s exactly what we did.
But then we bought chili powder, restrained the birthday boy, and poured it into his shorts.
Because we’re nice like that.
Finished 4 awesome days around the Thakhek Loop.
Have you ever driven the Thakhek Loop?
What was your favorite part?
Do you agree that it’s one of the best things to do in Laos?
Let me know in the comments below.