Laos Loop Travel Story
Once In A Lifetime Adventure
Doing the Laos Loop is one of those once in a lifetime travel adventures. If you travel to Laos and got the chance to do the Loop and you feel up to it... do it. But only do it if you feel you are up to it and don't do it without doing your homework first.
What Is The Laos Loop?
The Loop in Laos is a roundtrip from of approximately 500 kilometers. The starting (and end) point is normally in the town of Thakhèk (Tha Khaek) in the Khammouane province (middle of Laos).
You can see the outline of the Loop in this Laos Map, i.e. take road from Thakhèk to 1E to Lak Sao, from there road 8 to Vieng Kham and then road 13 back to Thakhèk.
Some travelers do the Loop on bicycle but most prefer to do it on a small motorbike. Most people complete the Loop in 3 - 4 days on motorbike.
Our Laos Loop Adventure
The purpose of doing the famous Loop is to visit the famous Konglor cave. This is a long journey for visiting a cave, and like some things in life, the journey outweighs the destination.
Don't get us wrong, the Konglor cave is well worth visiting on its' own. The journey getting there is tough; bur for us it is what made the visit truly an unforgettable experience.
The Laos scenery
is just breathtaking
We had been travelling in the Luang Prabang area before heading to Thakhèk. We stayed in Tha Khek Travel Lodge, the place Lonely Planet recommends as the best place to get local information about the Laos Loop.
We rented a small motorbike (one 100cc for the two of us) just across the street from our guesthouse. The owner draw us a map of the Loop. Let's just say it was very basic, much more basic than this Laos Loop Map drawn up later for other travelers.
The guy wrote on our Laos Loop map the distance between the main places in kilometers, it was very rough approximate estimation! There was though one minor problem, the speedometer on our bike was not working. To add to the challenge none of the places of interest were signposted and the Laos people we met on the way spoke very little English.
Nevertheless, we managed to find our way around in the end, calculating roughly how many kilometers we travelled per minute based on certain speed (not too difficult as the bike did not go very fast).
We decided to take four days for our trip, allowing us to explore the beautiful Laos landscape at leisure pace... or so we thought.
According to our sophisticated Laos Loop map, there were five caves on the way on the first day. We managed to find three as well as few other interesting places on our own. The landscape was beautiful and we really enjoyed our first few hours.
After simple lunch in the small town of Mahaxai the fun really started. There was a major roadwork going on. One minute we were driving on relatively smooth gravel road and the next it was a construction side, with large heavy trucks driving in front of us.
Driving the Loop turns you orange
The drive took us much longer than anticipated and when we finally arrived at Nakai, our resting place for the night, we had both turned orange from all the dust.
At times like this, a good shower, good dinner, and good night sleep is all you need to get going again - but we got none of those.
The shower was a bucket of ice-cold water, the dinner was a noodle soup (again), and the night sleep was on a very thin mattress (makes you feel like sleeping on your dining table - we felt past that age)... and yes, of course there were roosters in the village.
After early rise we drove to Lak Sao on a very bumpy road. Lak Sao is in a beautiful setting and we enjoyed a lovely lunch in a local restaurant. There we had yet another first time experience, a chicken begging for food in a restaurant!
From Lak Sao the road was all sealed, good news for our sore behinds. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful as before. We stayed at Uncle Lee's place, small guesthouse located before you head on to the road to Konglor cave. Uncle Lee is actually British but married to a Laos lady.
After two days on the road, what a pleasure it was to get a real shower, air conditioned room and English food... we never expected to say this! But Uncle Lee bangers and mash tasted fantastic and his proper English breakfast set you up for the day.
Uncle Lee and his wife also knew the area very well and were of great assistance. They recommended taking a boat trip to the Konglor cave, i.e. instead of taking the motorbike, as the road was in very bad shape when we were there.
Just can not get enough of this view, can you?
We are so pleased we did the boat trip. We have done our fair share of boat trips in our lives but this has to be the most beautiful boat trip we have ever done.
The boat trip took 3.5 hour and the scenery was breathtaking all the way. The mountains engulfed us from both sides with vegetation high up.
There were buffalos bathing and walking in front of the boat, ducks swimming, large dragonflies of all sizes and colors flying low over the water, small fishes jumping out of the water, women attending to their vegetable gardens, men in their underpants fishing, kids jumping in and out of the river, shouting hello and jumping even more when we replied.
The water level in the river was at its' lowest so from time to time we had to walk because the boat stranded regularly (the water hardly went over our ankles). These riverboats are very narrow, and they do wobble seriously. In addition to that, they leak like nothing else, so the driver spends lot of time clearing the water from the boat with a bucket.
We would not have liked to miss this boat trip. The three and half hour went by like a dream.
When we arrived at our destination, we had to arrange another boat trip for the 7 km underground river that runs through the Konglor cave. It turned out to be somewhat of an adventure. The locals acted a little bit as if they had never seen a foreigner before in their live... even though taking tourist visiting the Konglor cave were one of the main sources of revenues for the village.
Inside the Konglor cave in Laos
It all worked out in the end and we started our journey through the cave. The sailing through the cave is very special experience. The cave is approximately 7 km long, carved out by the river through thousands of years. It is very wide and very high (over 100 feet at times).
Soon after you sail in to the cave, it gets pitch black and all you can see are the lights from the two boatmen, who use them to navigate the river. Few times, we had to get out of the boat and wade through the water while the boatmen dragged the boat over the rocks.
The sailing through the Konglor cave takes about an hour each way. It was already pitch dark when we got back to the village. You can stay in a home stay in the village but we felt we had done our share of home stay and opted for a small guesthouse close by.
After good night sleep, we had another wonderful boat journey back. It was so beautiful and tranquil. We can easily remember the peaceful feeling just thinking about it.
Our Laos Loop mission was now almost complete, the only thing left to do was to head back to Thakhèk and return the motorbike.
The way back took us only about 4 hours as the road was all sealed. We several pit stops on the way, to enjoy the scenery and the sandwiches we got from Uncle Lee when we returned his pillows (which saved our backside during the boat trip).
Riding these small motorbikes is not easy on your backside either, but we got there in the end with seriously tired behinds but big happy smiles on our face. The Loop was fantastic fun and truly one of those once in a lifetime adventures.
We understand that the roads have been improved great deal since we did the Loop in 2006. It should make the journey easier, faster and more accessible to more people, which is great. We are though very pleased that we managed to do the Laos Loop when we did, we enjoyed the whole experience so much.
Ps. we had to pack light for the Loop so we travelled with only a daypack and our Lowepro Camera Bag, it is far to say both took fair amount of beating but both did hold up extremely well.