As we continued our journey through Laos we decided to stop by a town called Thakhek. Located along the Mekong River and known for its colonial architecture it is also the starting point of another famous Laotian motorcylce loop. After having succesfully passed our first loop adventure in Pakse we really felt like going for another round. While the Pakse loop is famous for its beautiful waterfalls and the majestic Bolaven Plateau the Thakek loop is particularly known for its caves. The route supposedly is picked with loads of different caves – concluding in one of the world’s largest and most impressive one: the Konglor Cave!
We obviously wanted to see for ourselves and set out to do this loop as well. The Thakek loop is not particularly well-known for tourists and backpackers which made us want to discover it even more!
The stats: Around 450 kilometers in total. Depending on how much you want to see and how fast you go you will spend between 3 and 5 days on the road. We opted for 3 but decided to stay longer in case we feel like it.
As far as we could see there are only 3 motorcycle rentals in town: Mad Monkey, Mr Ku and Wang Wang. Not so easy to get a bike, even though we did not see many travellers around. Eventually we got a nice semi-automatic Honda (better than the chinese versions) scooter from Wang Wang and made our way into the loop.
We decided to head east and set the town of Thalong to be our ending point for the first day’s trip. The first stretch of the ride is full of smaller caves and creeks/rivers, almost too many to visit for one day. We actually just stopped at a small cave a bit out of town named Tham Pha Fa. The road leading there is very bumpy and dusty and not a fun ride at all. The cave itself is tiny with a few buddhas inside – cute but not really worth the long dirt-ride to get there. We stayed for a short while and continued the ride – it was the joy to be back on the road again which gave us a feeling of freedom and pleasure. We passed by large, karst mountains which peaked out of this rather dry and rigid landscape. It was terribly hot but the cool wind gave us comfort as we firmly headed up towards Thalong.
The landscape started to change as we were now surrounded by large areas covered with water. What made this scenery so unique was that there we hundreds and thousands of dead trees that stood out of these waters. This was caused by a nearby reservoir dam which flooded the entire area and destroyed large parts of the forest. The water basically drowned the trees and all that was left were the dead trunks. A very surreal yet fascinating setting.
By dusk we finally reached the town of Thalong where we parked our bikes, got some food and slept for the night. We stayed at the Sabaidee Guesthouse – a very nice and comfortable place offering different sorts of accomodation for every kind of traveller.
After a good rest we woke up early, had a nice breakfast and continued our ride. The next final stop for this day was to reach the Konglor cave.
We heard that there was a hot and cool spring along this stretch of the road. Since it was a very hot day we opted to go for the cool spring and perhaps even manage to get a nice dip into it. A small sign indicated the entrance of the spring and after another 15 minute ride we still could not see any sign of a cool spring. The dirt road led us straight towards the mountains and we could not imagine that we were going the right way. Yet, after another 10 minute ride we finally reached a small spring of water infront of the mountains. It was incredibly clear and it looked very beautiful. The spring was no more than 30 meters wide, surrounded by large limestone rocks. After a long ride on the bike it was a great relief to jump into the water and cool down – a true gift from above!
Feeling fresh again we packed our stuff and hit the road, knowing that we still a bit of ride to go until Konglor. As the conglor cave is located in the center of the loop you can either chose to stay overnight along the main road and discover the cave in a day and continue or decide to go straight to the town of Konglor and stay there. We went for the second option and rode directly to the village of Konglor.
We left the main road and headed down a smaller road leading to the village and same-named cave. Dodging cats, dogs and pigs along the way we realized how we slowly were surrounded by karst mountain stretches. The large and dry plains slowly made way for lush green fields of tobacco which accompanied us all the way to town. I dont think we have ever seen tobacco plantations before and, along with the mountains behind, it was a beautiful scene to see and take pictures of.
We stayed at a little place called Enjoy Boy Guesthouse which was located on the back side of the village facing the river. They had a small restaurant along where you could enjoy a beer and have some homemade food. Along with some great company we concluded this day and had a nice rest to be ready for the visit to the cave the next day.
Our third day was dedicated to visiting the cave which is just a walk down the road. You can drive down with your bike as well but we felt like walking a bit for a change. Before that we enjoyed a nice coffee at the restaurant along with a nice view across the river.
The entrance to the area where the cave its located is encircled by a gate from which you enter the main area. The cave has a river running through it and is so large that you cannot simply walk or swim in order to reach the other side. You will have to hire a boat along with a boatman to float you through the 7 kilometer (!) long cave. Each boats fits around 3 people along with one boatman. Make sure to have the entrance of the cave included in the price which is around 7-8 dollars per person. Also make sure to wear some water-resistent shoes (slippers) and rent a small LED lamp at the entrance so you can see inside the cave (or bring your own). The small and narrow boats are a bit tricky to balance so make sure to shift around as little as possible once you are inside.
We passed by the huge entrance of the cave as we followed our boatman to the boat. You can already see the darkness and it felt a bit strange to get on a tiny boat and drive through a 7 kilometer long cave. We started to drive and you could only hear the sound of the engines echoing along the steep walls of the cave, nothing else to see but the small spots of light from the LED light. A very scary but fascinating experience! At times the water was a bit low (this depends on the season) and so we had to even drag the boat for a few meters in between. There also is a stop after a few minutes of riding the boat where some lights have been installed to display the beauty of the stalactites inside.
Once your reach the other side there is a small village where you can buy some drinks and relax before heading back into the dark. The magnitude of this cave is simply impressive! The width of the river which runs through it is around 20 meters and the hight reaches up to 50 meters inside. It really is immense!
Once you return to the main entrance you can relax along the water a bit and even take a nice swim. We took our time and decided to stay the night rather than riding back all the way to Thakhek on the same day. We loved the small village and had a great day swimming, relaxing and walking around.
Day 4 was basically just getting back to Thakhek. The road is quite nice for around 40 kilometers from where you can have a nice view across the plains and forests around. After having a lunch break along he road we continued to drive all the way back to Thakhek. There actually is an highway which brings to directly to town making it a very easy but also boring ride back.
We absolutely loved the Thakhek loop and would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to see another beautiful side of Laos. The ride is nice (most of the time), the landscape is impressive and the adventures and impressions along the way simply great. The Konglor cave was definitely a highlight of this loop and quite an impressive one along. From rivers, cool springs, impressive mountain ranges to caves and cute villages this trip was really picked with a lot of interesting things to see and do.