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  • Writer's pictureIne Vandenwyngaert

The Thakhek Loop, Laos: How To Do The Thakhek Loop By Motorbike (+ Highlights & Tips)

Updated: Jan 7

Stretching over two provinces (Khammouane & Bolikhamxay Province) in the south of Laos, the Thakhek Loop is the most scenic motorbike route in the country. This 450 km or 280 mile journey takes you along towering karst peaks, refreshing springs, countless caves, and authentic countryside villages. It takes at least 3 to 5 days to complete the loop, moving in a counter-clockwise direction from Thakhek. In this travel guide, we share our complete itinerary for the Thakhek Loop along with all the information you need to do the trip yourself and the must-visit stops along the way. We’ve broken the loop into 4 parts and we recommend making each part one day like we did since that will allow you to see all of the main highlights without rushing.


thakhek loop laos

 

Check out our video on The Thakhek Loop to see the complete route and stops through our camera!




Important Things To Know


Ideal length & season to do The Thakhek Loop


In terms of timing, it's best to devote at least 3 days, but 4 days is what we’d recommend. 5 or 6 days are even better and will give you more time swimming, exploring caves, and taking side roads. Planning your trip during the dry season is advisable due to the potential muddy conditions of side trips like the road to "Cool Springs" during the rainy season. The dry season is from November to April.


Scooter Rental in Thakhek City


When visiting Thakhek, it’s highly recommended to book your motorbike in advance. This will ensure that you have a well-maintained bike for your trip. We rented ours at Wang Wang Motor Rental and had a good experience. We heard that Mad Monkey is another reputable company to consider too.


Driving tips Thakhek Loop


For all roads throughout the loop, caution and attentiveness are key. Be mindful of big trucks, especially during the initial and final sections of the loop. Starting your journey early in the day will ensure that you have enough time to enjoy all activities without rushing or driving in the dark, as we learned from personal experience.


Road Conditions Thakhek Loop


The main road of the Loop is fully paved, although you may encounter some rough patches in certain areas. Occasionally, road disruptions may occur, such as landslides. This can cause roads to temporarily close. For example, there had been a recent landslide on the road to Nahin when we were there, making for muddy and slippery road conditions.


Additionally, be aware of potential construction along the highway back to Thakhek, which can be a bit bothersome. It's the reason why lots of travelers decide to drive the entire 200 km on the same road back from Nahin to Thakhek on the last day. It's definitely an option if you missed out on some sights the first few days.


Optional Route


Finally, some adventurous travelers decide to take their scooter into the boat on the Kong Lor river cave and then drive through the Nakai Nam Theun National Park to get back to Thakhek. It’s important to note that this route is not paved, and there have been concerns from locals about the risk of scooters tipping over during the journey. The scooter can for instance fall out of the boat while you’re in the dark cave going over the rapids. Sadly, there have been casualties reported in such instances. So if you’re going to do this option, definitely discuss it fully with locals in the area first and know what you’re getting into.



The Thakhek Loop Overview


Find all the places to go, eat, drink, and stay along the route on Google Maps. To follow and save the list, do the following:


  1. Tap on the link to open it (click button below)

  2. Tap Follow. This list will now be added to the group of lists you follow.

  3. Optional: To unfollow a list someone shared with you, tap the list Saved.

If you follow the list we made, all our saved places of Thakhek will show up in Your Places. The places will also appear as suggested locations in Google Maps.



map thakhek loop laos


Part 1: Thakhek to Thalang (Nakai Plateau)


Distance: ~100 km / 62 mi (2-3 hours)

Highlights: Nong Thao lake, Elephant (Xang) cave, Xieng Liab cave, Tha Falang, Nang Aen cave, Song Sou waterfall

Where we stayed: Phosy Thalang (has delicious food as well!)

The loop starts and ends in the city of Thakhek, where you can find a range of motorbike rental shops. After signing the rental agreement and choosing a helmet, it’s time to get out of the city. Head east on Route 12 and you’ll soon find yourself in the midst of a karst mountain landscape. This section of the loop is often called "Cave Alley," as it’s home to a number of intriguing caves. It would be easy to spend an entire day here, but unless you have 5 days to do the trip, we recommend visiting 1 to 3 caves on the first day depending on your pace.


The largest and most popular one to visit is the Nang Aen Cave. It has some amazing views inside. If you want to get a little off the beaten path on this first day, then a great option is taking the side road to Nong Thao Lake. Here, you’ll drive down a dirt road for 30 minutes and then take a short walk onto a beautiful viewing platform over the lake. We had the place all to ourselves and loved discovering this hidden gem.


Note that there are many trucks on the road during this part of the route so drive carefully! Once you approach the town Nakai, the road climbs steeply and the air gets cooler. You can find a few guesthouses in Nakai, but for better accommodation options, we recommend driving a little further to Thalang.



Nong Thao Lake Thakhek Loop Laos
Nong Thao Lake


Part 2: Thalang to Nahin


Distance: ~106 km / 66 mi (2.5-3.5 hours)

Highlights: Thalang boat tour, sandstone Buddha rock sculptures, Dragon cave (viewpoint), Cool pool & Ban Na Pavan


On day 2, you’ll start on the Nakai Plateau, a unique place with dead trees and water dominating the landscape. It’s possible to do a boat tour on the many waterways and this can easily be arranged at one of the guesthouses in town. Once you leave the plateau, you’ll weave through the mountains and small authentic villages. There are a few Buddha statues carved into the rock along the road. But be careful as they’re located on a blind corner and there’s not a ton of parking around them. Soon, a valley starts to reveal itself, with beautiful vibrant rice fields. There are a few pull-outs you can stop at to take in the views.


Once you pass the city of Lak Sao at the bottom of the valley, there are a few attractions worth spending time at. The Dragon Cave is the first one, which is well-lit and has some interesting stalactites and stalagmites. There is a steep staircase at the end of the cave that takes you up to an incredible viewpoint.


Another great stop is the “Cool Pool”, a natural turquoise spring. On a hot day, it’s the perfect refreshment as the water is very cold. As a bonus, the dirt road to get here offers some of the most incredible mountain views. It’s also a great way to experience local life as you pass through a small authentic village (Na Pavan). We recommend booking your accommodation in the town of Nahin since it’s a good stopping point to reach the famous Kong Lor Cave on day 3.



Dragon Cave Viewpoint Thakhek Loop Laos
Dragon Cave Viewpoint


Part 3: Kong Lor Cave


Distance: ~84 km / 52 mi out-and-back (2-3 hours)

Highlights: Kong Lor cave, ban natane, Nakai Nam Theun National Park

Where we stayed: Sanhak Guesthouse & Restaurant (back in Nahin)


The highlight of the Thakhek Loop is the 7.5 kilometer Kong Lor river cave. Located about 42 km off the main road, it takes between 1 and 1.5 hours to drive here from Nahin. The road is nicely paved and winds through some cute villages set among rice paddies and towering karst peaks. It’s very scenic and you should take your time here by including a few picture stops along the way. There’s a lot of livestock on this road as well, so keep an eye out. 


The Kong Lor cave can only be accessed by a long wooden boat. At the entrance, you’ll get linked up with a boat driver who takes you through the dark cave. The tour includes two stops to admire the jagged stalactites and stalagmites inside. These were some of the most intriguing formations we saw during our entire Laos trip. At the other end of the cave, there is a small village (Ban Natane) that you can explore before returning back. It’s usually possible to rent a bicycle, but unfortunately the shop was closed when we visited. The only way to get back to the other side of the cave is to go through it again, so be prepared for a wet and bumpy ride over rapids and through complete darkness.


Boat trips through Kong Lor cave take up to an hour each way, so make sure to save enough time for your visit. If you’re planning to go back to Nahin for the night like we did, then plan an entire day to do this cave tour and make stops along the road for pictures on your way home.



Kong Lor Thakhek Loop Laos
Kong Lor River Cave


Part 4: Nahin to Thakhek


Distance: 145 km / 90 mi (3-4 hours)

Highlights: The Rock viewpoint & ziplining, Great Wall of Laos

Where we stayed: Inthira Thakhek


The last day is the longest section of the loop and probably the least interesting one after you get onto the main highway. But first, there’s one more major highlight along the way. The Rock Viewpoint sits just outside the town of Nahin. From here, you can look out over a magnificent limestone forest. What makes this especially fascinating is the adventure route that consists of ziplines, suspension bridges, and via ferratas. You can opt for a short 2 hour excursion, half-day tour, or full-day tour, but if your goal is to get back to Thakhek on this day, then we recommend doing the 2-hour option. Together with safety instructors, you fly across the valley and explore this stunning landscape in a unique and adventurous way. It’s the perfect choice to cap off an unforgettable journey.


From the Rock Viewpoint, it’s about 33 kilometers of driving through the mountains before you get to the main highway. To be honest, the highway stretch feels long, busy, and boring. At the time of our visit, there was also a bit of construction going on which made the drive longer than expected. But once you’re past this section, the road is smooth and fast. Drop off your scooter in Thakhek and cherish your memories from this amazing adventure.



The Rock Thakhek Loop Laos
The Rock 2-Hour Adventure Tour


 

Use These Websites To Save Money On Your Trip To The Thakhek Loop


 

Are you having a hard time planning your Thakhek Loop route? Get our Interactive Travel Planner to keep it all organized.  



travel planner to plan thakhek loop laos



Need more travel inspiration? Check out our other destinations and articles about Laos:


World Wild Hearts

Hi! We are Ine & Zac. An international travel couple from Belgium and the US. We created World Wild Hearts to inspire new adventures and help you plan your next trip. Use these tips, stories, and guides to inspire your next adventure of a lifetime!

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