Touching down in Laos after a 14 hour journey from Bangkok, we were in two (very tired) minds about where to start with this pretty non-touristic country; the stunning 4000 islands in the South or the adventurous motorcycle loop which starts in central Thakhek?
We’d seen a lot of sun & sand in Thailand, and the loop was a must-do for Ben after hearing about it. Soo, because our time is limited in Laos (we only have two weeks before we plan to go through northern Thailand), we listened to the adrenaline junkie in ourselves… and what a great decision that was!
We met two Dutch girls, Romy & Anouk, in our cattle cart from the bus station to The Thakhek Travel Lodge and were pleased to discover that they had similar biking plans🏍️👌.
After completing the trip, we all agreed that it was a nice number of us, for we now have lifelong memories with new friends andddd if you get ‘stuck in the mud’, you can help to bail each other out 🙄 but more on that later….
Lets get down to sorting the scooters! I would highly recommend the Thakek Travel Lodge because the guy at reception was super helpful and sorted our bikes out the evening we arrived (even though it was 9.30 pm). He gave me his new addition; a Yamaha X-Bix (sorry Moana, but it was the best bike I’ve ever ridden) and he took the others downtown to Wang Wang’s to get the same models. The bikes costed 12,000K a day (£10.65/$14.40) and we rented them for three days which was a very comfortable amount of time to complete the loop in! You can get them for cheaper (around 80,000K/£7.10/$10) but I personally would rather the reliability of a sturdy bike with a good reputation 👍!
Day 1: Thakhek to Nakai
Whilst eating breakfast on the first morning of our adventure, typically, the heavens opened up. After hitting the end of the monsoon whilst biking through Vietnam, I knew exactly what this could mean 😬 buuut we remained positive when we saw the sunshine peeping through the clouds.
So around 10am, we set off on our merry way full of eggs and excitement for what the trip had to offer…
The air was heavy with moisture and the roads were mischievous causing us to miss a few of the brown road signs which lead to the caves we wanted to visit; apparently the Xang cave and the Than Pha Fa caves are the most beautiful.
But with so much to see on this loop, we continued on until we reached the Buddha cave and off we went to explore.
TOP TIP: Women, have a Laos skirt, sari or scarf with you for even if you have trousers on, they’ll demand that you need to rent one of theirs to enter 🙄. Being the 21st century girl that I am, I was having none of it and resorted to wearing my luminous green travel towel around my waist over my striped navy trousers, making a new fashion trend for 2018! 💁
The inside of the cave was very homely for the number of gold Buddha’s that sat between the crystalized stalics – but its main function is that of religion and the combination of artificial lighting and local worshippers mid-prayer made it all a little uncomfortable for me. However when heading to the toilet, we discovered a sign-post pointing towards a hidden cave…
Embarking on a mini hike in the humidity wearing bloody trousers for no reason caused sweat to drench me. The others felt it too – but we all continued on dreaming about our next stop of the journey – a refreshing dip in the Nong Luang Lake. The thought alone was absolute bliss😍!
The second cave, the Paseum cave, was small but untouched, which I liked, and it was cool to explore the stone playground without another soul in sight.
Afterwards we walked along a (very) rickety bridge to enjoy the stunning view of the Nong Thao lake and the mountains that surrounded the area. It was agreed that this part of Laos is full of natural beauty, reminding us of Phong Nha in Vietnam if you’ve ever visited? The borders are so close, it’s no surprise that there are vast similarities between the two.
The whole way back to the bikes, wearing unforgiving light-gray tops and with hair stuck to our foreheads and necks, we knew to look out for the lake to our left once we were back on the road! Much easier to find than the majority of the caves, we allowed the sandy path to lead the way…
Sand is my least favorite grounding to drive over, but following the tracks made by my brother and the girls, we all made it there with no swerving tyres and no mishaps… Hallelujah 🙌!
The Nong Luang lake was truly gorgeous; it contained clear waters which the grand mountains overlooked. The greenery that surrounded the water gave life and vitality to the picture. A group of young locals were perched upon a big rock in the distance, dipping their feet in the water, escaping the humidity of the day… and it wasn’t long before we did the same, swishing in carefully to stand upon the rocky floor.
We quickly washed the sweat from our bodies, but it was so bloody cold, that the moisture was soon replaced with goosebumps. Just 10 minutes (and a photo shoot) later, we decided to dry off and get back to it… but in fact, our day was about to get a whole lot wetter 😬!
It started to rain….then it started to pour…then it came down torrentially… and then Mother Nature roared! She bloody won, I tell ya!
We were stranded on the lake side, with the ground beneath us now a mudslide, so slippery that you had to dig your toes in to stay upright! In just minutes, we were drenched from head to toe, clutching our most valuable possessions close to us with no waterproof bag and no cover to hide under – even the trees were soaked through to the bark 😱! I saw people looking in the shrubbery for plastic bags and settling for a Haribo packet to protect their phone. I was running around barefoot trying to do the same, holding my bag in Ben’s rain-jacket like a baby. The girls ran back to the bikes to put their possessions in the seat before they were ruined – it was truly a nightmare! But the worst part? We knew that the sandy path we drove down earlier would now be an impassible sludgy mess…
But once the rain calmed, we had to make a getaway incase it started again 😬😩…
It was just like a British comedy scene, but I was really unsure of whether I should be laughing or crying 🤣. We were four ameateurs driving through conditions we’d never driven through before, three of us small girls trying to control chunky bikes that we barely had the strength to hold up. At one point, Romy got stuck in the tracks that Ben has just made (always make your own if there’s a way to), and Anouk was close behind. Romy revs her engine to loosen the wheels, but she’s going nowhere – instead her back wheel spins uncontrollably and loudly, so that she is deaf to Anouk’s cries as mud repetitively pounds her in the face🙈. Her helmet went from red to brown! My word it was hilarious 😂 but maybe not so much for poor muddy Anouk! The contrast of her anger with my attempt to stop myself from bursting out laughing was apparently a sight in itself.
At one point, I suggested us going through the water as the odd puddle or two had seen me escape quicker than the girls, but the water I drove through was actually like a bloody lake and was waaaay deeper than I anticipated. Suddenly my engine was fully submerged in brown water and I nearly burned out trying to avoid my drowning fate🙈! It was one thing after another…
The locals we saw in the river were stuck with their bikes too as the older models simply couldn’t hack it, but they forget their own troubles to help us free our sinking bikes. The Laos locals are something else – so so kind – and we were grateful for them at that moment in time.
They continued on, and we did the same but at a slower pace to analyse each obstacle and prevent any accidents. All of us were utterly exhausted, hungry and ready to throw the bikes down whennnnn… we saw a beautiful angelic truck in the near distance 😍😍😍!!!
Thanks to the locals, a remotely positive attitude and the impressive strength of my brother, it took us two hours to slide down the 2km muddy massacre but we were finally unstuck!!! we managed to finally free ourselves from this hellhole🙌! The locals were waiting at the finish line to cheer us on, we high-fived each other until our hands stung and even the French family that passed us by earlier waved their hands about as we passed them on the highway!
The scenery afterwards soon put a smile back on our faces and we had a newfound confidence driving in normal conditions with ease 👍!
It was only later on, when we were warming our hands (and drying out our trainers) before the bonfire at Sabadei Nakai that we really had a good laugh about what had occurred that day. We had the best travel story and most-shockingly, we made it through without a single scratch to any of the bikes or ourselves! Getting stuck in the mud together actually ended up being the highlight of our day, and it will probably be what we remember most in years to come.
(Sabaidee Guest House Shared Family Bungalow: 40,000K each (£3.50/$4.80) for a very comfortable nights sleep. I’d recommend the restaurant too – although the food takes a while to come out (there’s only once chef), it’s well-worth it when it does. The staff speak amazing English, are hospitable and funny and the whole complex has a calming serene air.)
Day 2: Nakai to Kong Lor Cave
The landscapes on the second day were glorious from the moment we set off. You could really see how Laos is a developing world, with new dams creating an eery scene of decapitated trees submerged in water.
Villages are in the midst of growing – and in some places, you can see builders replacing wooden shacks with more sturdy foundations.
But it was the last part, en route to Kong Lor Cave (the most famous attraction of the entire Loop), that has to go down as one of my favourite scooter rides of all time. Once you see that last brown sign saying that the caves are 38km from you, prepare for nothing but beauty. Clear roads greet you, with a lack of cars and other tourists on the way.
The nature that surrounds you is absolutely gorgeous! You’ll see ever-expanding fields of green and mountains that are inescapable in the near distance. There’s cows, water buffalo, pigs, goats, chicken and ducks bathing with their young in the sun, roaming free across the fields to graze or seeking shade under the shacks that stand on wooden poles.
School children ride bicycles back to their village with their friends clambered on the back. The little girls wave at you and your cheeks will hurt from smiling back at their sweet faces…
Nursery children waddle out presenting you with their little hand to high 5 you as you pass by, onto a rickety bridge with wooden panels that bend and creak as you slow right down to stabilise.
Then, you swerve and cut through underdeveloped villages, past friendly locals who nod in your direction from their small shops and humble homes. Women are working hard on the rice fields. The communities are small and few, but happy. It’s more than enough to make you fall head over heels in love with the country!
We decided to stay amidst the mountains that night and what a decision that was – just check the view from our twin bungalow at Thongdam Guesthouse (45,800K – £4, $5.50)!
We ate a late lunch and dinner here too, and we were far from disappointed with the price and flavoursome dishes we were presented. Oh, and they have red wine, which is actually delicious and satisfied the wine craving I’ve had for like 4 months now 🌚!
Recouped and ready to get back on the bikes, Ben and I danced around potholes to get to the Konglar Cave whilst the girls rested their tired bums upon the hammocks (trust me, sitting on a bike for hours on end takes its toll).
We got there at 3.30pm and last admittance is 4pm, meaning that we were the last allowed on the boat tour to explore inside the caves (120,000K each – £10.50/$14.45). This worked out swimmingly for we had THE ENTIRE CAVE to ourselves to explore 😍. I’d highly recommend you to go around this time if you can!
Our driver took us deep into the cave on a little boat that rocked a little haphazardly – and I made the stupid mistake of having my phone on me. Everyone knows that photos inside a cave don’t do it justice – so leave it behind if you can. I very nearly lost mine when the tide of the stream took me out and I fell on my knees with my hand in the air 😂! Ben also got taken out and would have been f**ked if he had his phone on him – as he fell down helping the man pull his boat up stream haha. He also lost a flip flop which was entertaining as he waddled around on the rocks afterwards 🙈.
Instead, let the light of your flash light guide you to discover this other world. When you get off the boat to see the interiors up close, simply use your memory to remember how the natural sculptures are both impressive and beautiful❤️!
Dusk fell as we were coming to the end of our tour, and I was thrilled to see bats in their natural habitat swooping down in front of our heads. They were using our head lights to catch the gnats that were attracted to the beam. It was bloody cool!
We also saw water buffaloes in the river just down from the mouth of the cave and a water snake slither past!
Value for money for this tour was unreal, especially because of how non-touristic and unique the experience was. It’s an absolute MUST-SEE for anyone completing the Thakhek loop!
Day 3: Back to Thakhek
Some people start the Loop on the highway, and do it in the reversed way to us.
But after two jam-packed days, there’s nothing better than hopping on a highway and burning some leather.
The roads are pretty straight, and for a highway it is a very nice drive with some cracking scenery – but there’s no need to marvel over this part of the journey.
Petrol is super cheap in Laos, costing around 15,000-20,000K (£1.30/$1.80) for a full tank but as soon as I went past Ben giving him the infamous 🤙 sign, it was on and we burned through fuel – meaning we only stopped to fill up some more. We even lost the girls until…
…we bumped into the police just before entering Thakhek🙄. We managed to avoid their little office the first time round – but honestly, we didn’t know where it was on the way back. The police are known for stopping tourists and giving them a hard time because you need a licence to ride a scooter – however, they don’t really understand the writing on your license, so you can easily blag it and save yourself from paying 50,000K (£4.40/$6) IF you have it on you👀.
Yep, I’m the fool who left for a bike trip without my license – but whatever, 50,000K isn’t too bad. What’s done is done…just don’t make the same mistake as me, okay?😅
Although honestly, mistakes are often what make the journey memorable👆! if it wasn’t for us four going down a sand path when rain was predicted, or falling over in a dark cave or getting stopped by the police etc etc, what fun would our story be?
Don’t ever be afraid to wing it and see what happens…because often when you do, that’s when the best memories are made!
Don’t hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions about the loop…and don’t hesitate to attempt it yourself!