The Thakhek Loop by Motorcycle: The Full Guide (2024)

The Thakhek Loop in Laos is undisputably best done driving a motorcycle. This 4 (or more) day adventure takes you through magnificent caves, spectacular scenery, rural villages, boat rides, waterfalls, and a man-made reservoir to give you the best of South Laos.

How to organize the trip of a lifetime, what to visit, and what isn’t really worth it, where to stay, and what you must know… all this and more in this guide to the Thakhek Loop by motorcycle!

Thakhek Loop Quick Facts

  • Time needed: 3-4 days
  • Distance: ~440 km
  • Attractions: Caves, rural villages, karst landscapes,
  • Difficulty: 2/5
  • Cost: ~500.000 LAK (~24 USD) per day

Thakhek Loop Map

I used to navigate while going around the Loop. Download the map of Laos before starting and bookmark important places like towns, caves, and other attractions from this guide.

Google Maps is just okay – it lacks many trails and the detail is worse than

In addition, you can also use a simplified map that you can take from Wang Wang (although I don’t recommend them for renting a scooter) or the Thakhek Travel Lodge. Check out the former here:

Wang Wang Rental map of Thakhek Loop

Which Direction?

Clockwise or counterclockwise?

The consensus is to go counterclockwise. Why? Well, no particular reason, actually – you will see all the same things anyway.

What really matters is which day you want to do the slightly unpleasant, straightforward and boring driving on Road #13 between Thakhek and Vieng Kham. If you want to get it out of the way on Day 1, then go clockwise. If you are okay with leaving it for the last day, then go counterclockwise.

In this guide, I am sharing the counterclockwise itinerary as I did it.

Thakhek Loop 4-Day Itinerary

This itinerary is by no means the only way to do the Thakhek Loop. It is, however, an itinerary that sees you driving safe distances and covering all the noteworthy places on the Loop.

Day 1: Thakhek to Thalang


100 km

Driving time:

3 hours

Notable stops:

  • Elephant Cave
  • Xien Liap Cave
  • Nang Ene Cave
  • Song Souk Waterfall
  • Nam Theun 2 Visitor Center
  • Sunset in Thalang


Sabaidee Guesthouse, Thalang
Book at WA: +856 20 55 429 950

Day 1 is what I call “Cave Day”. In the first 20 km after leaving Thakhek there are so many caves, big and small, that you may get a tad overwhelmed.

The scenery changes very quickly and suddenly as you leave Thakhek. The karst mountains that I reference many times in this guide are most pronounced in this part of the Loop. Even if you don’t like caves, Day 1 gives you a sensory tickle.

Elephant Cave

a man standing in a cave
The Elephant Cave is more of a Buddhist Shrine than a proper cave

First comes the Elephant Cave – only 10.000 LAK to enter but so small and lacking any formations that you may still feel a bit “meh” after it.

Optional Detour to Buddha Cave and Paseum Cave

After that, you can do a 7-8 km detour to Buddha Cave and Paseum Cave. The former is famous for having hundreds of Buddha statues whereas the latter is flooded and navigable by boat or, in the dry season, by bravery and rolled-up pants.

Xien Liap Cave

Back on the main Road #12, the next notable stop is Xien Liap Cave – my favorite on the Thakhek Loop. The entrance fee is 10.000 LAK and you don’t need a guide.

I was there in the late dry season and one could walk all the way to the other side but this may not be the case in the rainy season.

The cave is quite beautiful and even though it’s not that big, it’s still vividly stamped in my memories.


On the other side of the road from Xien Liap is what’s called Thafalang – apparently a play on the Thai word for foreigners – Falang. It’s a small river and a resort perfect for relaxation but not much else to do. It’s a lovely area for a picture or two and that’s it. Don’t stop here for lunch either – the food is overpriced and lackluster.

Tham Nang Ene

a cave with water and lights
On the river in Tham Nang Ene

A bit further is Tham Nang Ene which costs 40.000 LAK to enter with an additional 120.000 LAK pp if you want to take a boat ride inside. I decided to skip this one – I deliberately never visit everything: to save some money, to avoid a fed-up feeling of overload, and to leave things to see for when I return again.

If you decide to go, I’ve heard that the cave is quite pretty and the boat ride is worth it. The river is not long – perhaps 500 meters, after which you hike around 45 minutes to the second entrance of the cave. It’s not worth it to just enter but not do the boat ride and you won’t see much of the cave this way.


Larb with rice - Laos's national dish
You must have larb at least once in Laos!

Your lunch can be anywhere but for good food and cheap prices, I recommend a roadside restaurant just before entering Ban Nakok. It’s funnily marked as “Very good restaurant for the loop” on Google Maps.

Song Souk Waterfall

If you’re doing the Thakhek Loop in the dry season, this waterfall is entirely skippable, especially if you (like me) are coming from the waterfall paradise that the Bolaven Plateau Loop was.

Tad Song Souk is free to enter and you can swim in it. It’s more of a cascade of rocks than a proper waterfall though.

Nam Theun 2 Visitors Center

Entrance of Nam Theun 2 Visitor Center
Temporarily closed though. It’s been months.

This is the place to go to learn more about Nam Theun 2 – the artificial dam that defines the area. Laos flooded tens of villages to create it and its environmental effects were huge.

Unfortunately, the visitor center was closed when I visited in March 2024 and remains closed as of June 2024.


Sunset over water and dead trees near Thalang
Sunset in Thalang is incredible!

You have reached the end of Day 1! The lovely and charming village of Thalang awaits you with cold beers and an amazing sunset near the Nam Theun River. Bliss!

You can even hire a boat driver to take you on the river for around 100.000 LAK.

After dark, Sabaidee Guesthouse is the best place to be. It’s lively, they often make barbeque and play games. There is a bonfire and fireside chats. If you’re not of the social kind, their common room is cozy and perfect to chill and read a book.

Day 2: Thalang to Kong Lor


150 km

Driving time:

4.5 hours

Notable stops:

  • Dead trees in Nam Theun 2 National Park
  • Lak Sao
  • Dragon Cave
  • Cool Springs
  • Bomb Boats
  • Phou Namnin (Nipple Mountain)
  • Chilling by the river in Kong Lor


The road from Thalang to Lak Sao is the most pleasant to drive on of all the sections on the Thakhek Loop. From dead trees eerily sticking out of the water that flooded the reservoir to impressive vistas of the whole national park, it’s a feast for the eyes.

Dead trees in water and Simon

That was in my eyes the biggest attraction on Day 2 – this section of the road.

Lak Sao

Mountains around Lak Sao
The mountains around Lak Sao

A small provincial town which for most is just a dusty stop en route to Vietnam. It’s a good coffee/lunch/fuel break. We had this smoked chicken which looked so tasty but ended up being as thick as leather and we could barely chew it. But there are all the common Lao food options near the market too.

Grilled chicken
Looks good but unchewable!

Dragon Cave (Mangkone Cave)

At 50.000 LAK to enter, this is one of the more expensive caves on the Loop. This is because it’s one of the most popular too and popularity usually means beauty.

Such is the case with the Dragon Cave, just off the side of the main Road #8. The cave is illuminated inside and has simple wooden plank trails. I can’t call it spectacular but it’s quite cool and worth the visit.

Cave formations in the Dragon Cave
Inside the Dragon Cave

There is also a viewpoint, which you need to climb a bit to reach, offering a spectacular view of the whole region.

Cool Springs

By doing a 6 km detour, you can get to the Cool Springs, a place that is exactly what the name suggests. Plus the water is a pretty bluish-green.

A blueish-green pool of water
Cool Springs

Entrance fee is 30.000 LAK + 10.000 LAK for parking which is a bit steep for what is essentially a natural swimming pool. If you want to cool down and swim on Day 2, this is the place.

Be careful with your valuables as there’s nothing worse than coming back from a swim and realizing you have nothing else left.

Bomb Boats

A single aluminum boat in a river
I only saw 1 bomb boat but there are usually more.

This is a very short stop. As you’re crossing the bridge over the Nam Theun River at Ban Thabak, look down. If you’re lucky, you will see peculiar silver boats.

They aren’t made of wood but of aluminum – one that’s taken from fuel tanks that US airplanes dropped after using up all the fuel. Not bombs, as bombs are way shorter. But “Fuel Tank Boats” doesn’t have the same feel to it, does it?

The locals took the tanks, dismantled them, and used each half of the shell as a boat. Truly resourceful.

A choice ahead: stay in Ban Na Hin or Kong Lor?

Simon crouching on a rock in the hills above Ban Na Hin
Above Ban Na Hin

I was contemplating staying in Ban Na Hin initially. I am so, so glad I changed my mind and stayed in Kong Lor at the end of Day 2.

The road from Ban Na Hin to Kong Lor (technically a detour on the Thakhek “Loop“) is in poorer condition than the rest of the Loop and the 38 km will take you 1.5 hours. Don’t go if it’s getting late – there is no lighting on the road and hitting a bigger pothole can be very dangerous.

Cows crossing the road
Livestock on the roads in Laos is a very common thing

Look left for the “Nipple” Mountain – a single pillar that pokes out of the otherwise flat ground like a…nipple.

Kong Lor is quaint, slow, charming. It’s surrounded by striking cliffs and has an air of rurality that other rural villages don’t. I can’t explain it – it’s a feeling you have to experience. It’s just cool, yo!

Rocky mountains around Kong Lor
Admiring the mountains around Kong Lor Village

Last but not least, staying in Kong Lor will allow you to do the boat ride inside the cave early in the day before any crowds arrive and (if possible) spend more time exploring the other side.

Day 3: Kong Lor to Ban Na Hin


40 km

Driving time:

1.5 hours

Notable stops:

  • Kong Lor Cave boat ride
  • Bicycle tour of the villages on the other side
  • Na Hin Market


Sanhak Guesthouse 1, Ban Na Hin

Day 3 is the shortest driving day and the one with the least places to visit. But it’s also the one dedicated to the Kong Lor Cave which is often considered an outstanding natural attraction.

Kong Lor Cave

The entrance to Kong Lor Cave…

The entrance to the cave is within walking distance from any guesthouse in the village. The entrance fee is 200.000 LAK (~9 USD) per person (300.000 if solo) which includes the boat ride to the other side and back.

I’ve been very direct in my review of Kong Lor Cave: the cave is awesome and the boat ride is a bit mystical but the experience is overpriced and hurried. The rower only allows you 15 minutes on the other side, or else you have to pay again! What the actual…!?

Exit of Kong Lor Cave
…and the exit.

I was really looking forward to riding a bicycle around the villages on the other side of the cave, but all I had time to do was stretch my legs and drink a can of cola. In this regard, it was very disappointing.

Yulli and Simon on a boat in Kong Lor Cave
Enjoying the boat ride!

Some people opt to take their motorcycles on the boat and get transported to the other side. This costs significantly more, is a tad dangerous and the boat operators don’t seem particularly fond of the risk-to-money ratio. I say avoid doing that. If you want to visit the villages on the other side, go the long way from Nakay.

Na Hin

You have a lot of time on Day 3. You can spend more around the Cave or chill admiring the scenery around the Village. You can also detour to Nam Non Cave just 10 km from Kong Lor.

Another option is to drive to Vieng Kham to spend the night there and cut driving time on Day 4. It’s entirely up to you.

I opted to stay in Na Hin village. It’s small and doesn’t have many things to do. I guess you can visit the market and pick something cheap as a souvenir.

Day 4: Ban Na Hin to Thakhek


150 km

Driving time:

3.5 hours

Notable stops:

  • Limestone Forest
  • The Great Wall of Laos


Day 4 sees you driving a lot and experiencing little. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid that unless, instead you go back the way you came. Which is an even longer drive and who likes to return the same way on a “Loop”?

Nam Sanam Waterfall

An optional stop before you depart is Nam Sanam Waterfall. It is reachable through a dilapidated jungle trail and 45 to 60 minutes of struggling through thick vegetation. It’s not maintained anymore and has no entrance fee. Proceed at your own risk.

Limestone Forest

Rocks in beautiful arrangements in the Limestone Forest
It’s a “forest” made of limestone!

The road from Ban Na Hin takes you up and up and the views quickly become breathtaking vistas. At the top is The Rock Viewpoint and what you “view” is called The Limestone Forest.

There is a network of ziplines that looks awesome, to be honest, but has a price to match: 30 USD for 2 hours, 60$ for a half-day, and 90$ for a full day of adventures.

A map and pricelist of "The Rock Challenge"

For smaller budgets, sit at the cafe and enjoy the views.

The Long Drive

For the next 100 km after the Limestone Forest there are no notable stops. The dusty town of Vieng Kham is barely worth stopping for lunch – there are better and cheaper options later.

A possible detour to Tham Heup Cave will take you at least another full day. But if you want the ruralest Laos, do it. The villages there are isolated and live on their own time.

Yulli sitting on the pillion seat of a parked motorcycle

Other than that, it’s just straightforward driving on Road #13 until Thakhek.

The Great Wall of Laos

The name makes it sound grand. Lower your expectations a little. It’s a 15-or-so-meters-high natural stone wall used as a Christian worship site.

the so called Great Wall of Laos
The “Great” “Wall” of Laos

It’s not man-made even though it looks like it.

There is no entrance fee and you can climb to the top. Or sit in front of the shrine and pray.

Given the lack of other attractions off Road #13, the Wall is at least something.

Logistics of the Thakhek Loop

Renting a Motorcycle

Many backpackers rent from WangWang but if you read the reviews on Google Maps…let’s just say that you are sacrificing a lot in safety to save 1 or 2 bucks.

Personally, I recommend Mixay Motor Rental for the best value for money. They have new motorcycles which they check and repair after every rental. The owners are friendly and provide a ton of information about the Loop. Plus, you get a free banana, water, and a snack when you set off!

In front of Mixay Motorcycle Rental
In front of Mixay Motorcycle Rental

Mixay’s motorcycles and prices are:

  • Semi-automatic (Honda Wave 100cc): 6$ per day (130.000 LAK at the time of writing)
  • Automatic scooter (Honda Scoopy 110cc): 8$ per day (170.000 LAK)
  • More powerful automatic scooter (Honda Click 125cc): 10$ per day (210.000 LAK)

As with anywhere else, you have to leave your passport as a deposit.

Road Conditions

A road with some cows on the Thakhek Loop
The roads on the Thakhek Loop are good. And there are cows!

Roads in Laos are slowly improving. 99% of Thakhek Loop is paved with very few sections going over dirt tracks. I am not including the road from Ban Phon Kham (the other end of Kong Lor Cave) to Nakay as I never did it but I’ve heard it’s mostly dirt tracks.

However, the main Loop has more than adequate roads.

  • Thakhek to Gnommalat: Road is quite new, beware of heavy trucks going towards/from Vietnam.
  • Gnommalat to Thalang: Perfect road conditions. Careful with the uphill after Nam Theun 2 Reservoir.
  • Thalang to Lak Sao: Brand new road.
  • Lak Sao to Ban Na Hin: Road is adequate. Some sections are under repair and lack a stable surface. Beware of heavy trucks.
  • Ban Na Hin to Kong Lor: Road is poor but bearable. Many potholes and bumps, especially in the last 10 km. Careful with the cows and water buffalos.
  • Ban Na Hin to Vieng Kham: Road is perfect. Careful with heavy trucks especially when going up towards the Limestone Forest.
  • Vieng Kham to Thakhek: Some sections of the road are being rebuilt as we speak. This is a main artery road in Laos, so sees a considerable amount of traffic.

Police on the Loop

I didn’t see a single policeman on the roads of the Thakhek Loop.

If there are any, chances are they will be on Road #13 from Vieng Kham to Thakhek or at the exits of Thakhek.

That being said, the police in Laos are pretty chill and don’t stop foreigners. I’ve never been stopped and have never heard any reports of others having been stopped. No fines or bribes necessary (unlike in, say, Vietnam).


I will keep it brief:

  • Dry Season: October to April. Best time to do the Thakhek Loop.
  • Wet Season: May to September. It rains the most in July and August which are the worst months to do the Loop.
  • Burning Season: February to April. It’s dry but also smokey and hazy. Could become dangerous but in this region of Laos, it’s unlikely. Read more about traveling in Laos during the Burning Season.

Packing List

You will be going on the Loop with a limited amount of luggage. It’s best to go only with a small backpack that’s not too heavy on your back while riding the motorcycle. The rest of your luggage you can leave in Thakhek – in your hostel or motorcycle rental place.

A few things (besides the obvious) to pack for these 4-5 days:

  • Flip flops (for the Kong Lor Cave boat ride)
  • Swimming trunks or any short pants you don’t mind getting wet (same reason)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Waterproofing stuff: poncho, baggie, backpack wrapper, etc. It may rain EVEN in the dry season!


There is no lack of fuel stations on the Thakhek Loop. Every 10-20 km on average there is a fuel station.

Fuel costs around 25.000 LAK (~1.15 USD) per liter. One liter lasts 40-60 km.

You are given the motorcycle with little to no fuel in it. Top it up at the exit of Thakhek, then refuel in Nakay, Lak Sao, Ban Na Hin (before and after returning from Kong Lor), and Vieng Kham.

If push comes to shove, you can even buy bottles of fuel from street vendors.

In total, to do the Thakhek Loop you will need 8-10 liters of fuel (200.000 to 250.000 LAK / 9-12 USD).

Flat tires

If you get a flat tire, you’re on your own. No rental in Thakhek will come to fix a flat tire.

Instead, push the bike to the nearest village or gas station and ask for help. There is at least 1 motorcycle repair shop (or shack, or at least a guy) in every village in Laos.


In Laos, it’s not necessary to book accommodation online beforehand. Even in the high season. Moreover, the options that are online (and they are not many) are always more expensive.

There are two ways to go about it:

  1. Message the chosen property via WhatsApp and let them know you’re coming. Guesthouses are more than happy to receive reservations this way. You can usually find WhatsApp numbers on Google Maps.
  2. Just turn up and check in.

I did the Loop in March and didn’t reserve anything anywhere on the Loop. It was fine to just turn up and check-in. I was even able to negotiate better prices for some of the places.

Thakhek Loop Caves

Cave formations
If you love caves, you will adore the Thakhek Loop!

This is a not exhaustive list of some of the best caves on the Thakhek Loop (counterclockwise from Thakhek):

  • Elephant Cave: a small cave with a Buddhist shrine.
  • Buddha Cave: A short detour is needed to reach this small cave with hundreds of Buddha statues.
  • Paseum Cave: Close to Buddha Cave, Paseum is half submerged, so you need either a boat or proper clothes and courage.
  • Xien Liap: You can go through the cave for a superb “on the other side” view and vibe. Entirely walkable.
  • Tham Sa Pha In: One of the few free-to-enter caves. Has an abandoned feel to it.
  • Tham Nang Ene: Zip line and kayaking near the cave. It’s illuminated inside. 40.000 LAK to enter and 100.000 extra for a boat.
  • Dragon Cave: Big cave with beautiful formations just after Lak Sao. Breathtaking viewpoint at the end.
  • Kong Lor Cave: The Pearl on the Thakhek Loop. Some come all the way from Vientiane just to see this cave. I have mixed feelings about it but it’s a unique place no matter.
  • Tham Heup: Off-the-beaten track cave and boat ride. You need a long detour from Road #13. For those seeking a very authentic rural Laos experience – the nearby villages have no electricity, internet, no cell coverage, etc.

Other Ways to Do the Thakhek Loop


You don’t want to or cannot ride a motorcycle? Check these out:

By Public Transport

That’s not really an option, at least not for the whole Loop.

But you can visit Kong Lor Cave by public transport. There are direct buses from Vientiane.

From Thakhek, there are public buses to Ban Na Hin and at least 1 songthaew from Ban Na Hin to Kong Lor in the afternoon.

By Car

Possible but you’ll have to rent a car which is a lot more difficult than renting a motorcycle. And much more expensive too.

You may be better off getting a private driver in Thakhek. Going around the whole Loop with a private driver will cost you a lot of money though.

By bicycle

Doable. Depends on your fitness level. I saw a few cyclists. And of course, you will need a few more days than the standard 4.

Hitchhiking the Thakhek Loop

If there is a will, there is a way. I will leave it at that – if you’ve hitchhiked around the Loop, leave a message below, please.

What is the Extended Thakhek Loop

The Extended Thakhek Loop is what travelers call a detour to Xe Bang Fai Cave. This adds at least 2 extra days and the roads are not in as good of a condition.

Inside Xe Bang Fai Cave
Xe Bang Fai Cave

It’s as rural as it can get in Laos.

Thakhek Loop vs Bolaven Plateau Loop

Thakhek Loop is all about caves and dramatic karst scenery.

Bolaven Plateau Loop is all about waterfalls and rustic villages.

I liked Bolaven more than Thakhek although most backpackers have the opposite view. If you have the time, the two loops are different enough, so you really should visit both.

(In)frequently Asked Questions

Which cave is best on the Thakhek Loop?

Kong Lor Cave has made a name for itself for a reason. Read my honest review of Kong Lor Cave.

Other than that, I really enjoyed Xieng Liap Cave.

How long does the Thakhek Loop take?

The shortest you can do it in is 2 nights/3 days. I recommend at least 3 nights (4 days) which is also what I explore in the itinerary above.

I couldn’t find any of the places you mentioned on Google Maps or Why?

It’s probably a difference in spelling. I use the spellings as seen on but perhaps something slipped through. Spelling is different on Google Maps.

Keep in mind that places in Laos have multiple variants in the name – Thakhek or Tha Khaek or Thakek, you get me. It’s complicated to spell the Lao language in English.

Thakhek Loop Pinterest Pin

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