The Thakhek Loop is famous for its karst mountains and caves. Taking off on this loop, you will be driving between 200 to 450km, depending on whether you choose the two or four-day loop. The two-day loop goes as far as Lake Thalang while the Kong Lor Cave is located past the paved roads. If it is your first time on a motorcycle, it is a good idea to stick to the paved roads. If the Kong Lor Cave is on your wishlist, you have to complete the full 450km loop.
Getting lost on the Thakhek Loop is hard as there is literally one road. Paying close attention to the map will guide you perfectly.
Day 1: Thakhek to Lake Thalang
Day one will take you alongside the beautiful karst mountain lined roads on Route 12 to 23km long the lake of Thalang.
Here, you will see plenty of small eateries with fuel stations. There are also many caves to visit. On day one you can choose between (in order if you are driving from Thakhek to Thalang) Elephant Cave or Tham Xang, Tham Pha Fa or Buddha Cave, Xieng Liab and Tham Pha Nya Inh Cave.
Stop 1: Buddha Cave
Your first cave of the day is Buddha Cave. It is a small detour from the road, but it is well marked. If you are looking on Google, search for Tham Pa Fa. The cave is filled with up to 229 Buddha statues! Buddha Cave is one of the more popular caves in the area and therefore there is an entrance fee to be paid. Note that it is not allowed to take photos inside the cave.
Stop 2: Tham Pha Nya Inh Cave
The second cave on your list is the biggest cave on day one, Tham Pha Nya Inh Cave. The cave has staircase built inside the cave (so strange) and for an extra fee of KIP 20.000, you can take a boat through the cave. The usual entrance fee for the cave is another KIP 30.000. Walking in the cave you can sense the immediate change of temperature and we had a good time discovering all the nooks and crannies.
Stop 3: Tha Falang swimming hole
Enough caves for today, your next stop is Tha Falang, a pristine swimming hole. The road to the swimming hole is dusty and corrugated, but totally worth it. After spending a day on the road, a refreshing swim is just what the doctor ordered.
Stop 4: Lake Thalang
Congratulations, you’ve made it to your first stop along the Thakhek Loop, Lake Thalang. Lake Thalang has a super eerie vibe as it is covered with dead trees. It used to be dry land before it was flooded due to the closeby dam. A large part of the trees died off while other trees are making it work. A very strange landscape to see!
Day 2: Thalang to Na Hin
Here, you have the option of heading back to Thakhek and staying on the (safe) paved roads. Make sure that you drive on a little bit further up anyway before heading back. The immediate area around Lake Thalang is as haunting as it is gorgeous! Or you can choose to continue to Na Hin. Either way, don’t forget to fuel up before you leave!
The route from Thalang to Na Hin:
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. 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.
Day 3: Nahin to Kong Lor Cave
Nahin to Kong Lor is the shortest drive of the entire trip. But it’s also the drive with the worst section of road. But 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. 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.
After the bridge it’s smooth driving the rest of the way to Kong Lor cave.
Kong Lor cave:
The Kong Lor Cave is so famous due to its size. Visitors describe it as going inside a mountain, others as a real-life ‘Space Mountain‘. Most visitors come here for the 7km long boat tour you can take inside the cave.
It’s no secret that the cave will be your most expensive attraction along the Thakhek Loop. Expect to pay to park your motorcycle, to enter the cave and for the boat tour. For LAK 65.000 (11AUD/7USD/8EUR) you can enter the cave and take part in one of the boat tours.
Day 4: Kong Lor cave to Thakhek
Most people will be keen to head back to Thakhek after several days on the motorcycle. After all, most of this journey will be spent on busy Highway 13.
If you do desire a quick stop over and a dip in another swimming hole, mark Khun Kong Leng Lake on your map. It looks idyllic on some photos and a lot less on other photos, but it looks worth having a look for yourself.