The big Indochina trip: looping the loop

The main reason people come to Thakhek is to do The Loop, a three day round trip by motorbike that not only goes through beautiful scenery but passes by a number of caves and lakes where you can go swimming. I decided to do the loop anti clockwise, starting with the caves just east of Thakhek.

Xang cave is reachable via a dirt road just off the main road and you have to ford a small river to reach it. The cave itself is not much, just a couple of Buddha statues and it’s not really worth the trouble of getting there.

Xang cave Buddha statue

The view from Xang cave 

Xieng Liap cave is a few hundred meters into the forest off the main road. A guide just kind of showed up when I was parking my motorbike and took me there. It’s kinf of adventurous and you have to do a bit of scrambling over the rocks to get in. It’s not super interesting but not bad.

The entrance of Xieng Liap

The entrance looking out

Inside the cave

Another opening but it’s not accessible without getting your feet wet.

Almost right next to Xieng Liap is Tha Falang which is supposed to be a lake for swimming. After following a dirt track for a few kilometers without finding any lake I stopped. There was however a river and an old camp site next to it. I didn’t really feel like swimming but the pace is beautiful.

Tha Falang river

Right after I arrived two motorbikes pulled up, the people riding them were three friendly French guys and we decided to ride together.

My French friends Tiki, Mouss and Celine 

A short distance away is Tham Nang Ene cave, a much larger and much more touristic cave than the others. The four of us went in because I had seen a recommendation for it but it really wasn’t that good, too touristic and not very impressive.

After Tham Nang Ene there weren’t that many tourist attractions so we kept riding for a while. About 30 kilometers from Thalang, our stop for the night, the road started following the shores of a lake formed when they dammed up the river for  a hydroelectric plant. The landscape is full of flooded valleys, dead trees sticking up from the water, former hilltops forming islands. It’s a really spectacular drive and we stopped several times to take photos.

Stilt house by the lake shore

Clouds reflected in the surface 

Beautiful river valley

French guys on their bike

Flooded valley with dead trees 

Another flooded valley

We stayed the night In a village called Thalang, at Sabaidee guesthouse, a place where traveler of the loop congregate for beer, barbecue and playing boule with the owner.

The next day we took off towards the town of Laksao. The view leaving Thalang is just as spectacular as entering.

I can’t get enough of these flooded valleys 

Buddha carved straight into the cliff face

Aftet a while we left the flooded valleys behind and the landscape went from stunning to plain old beautiful. We stopped at a small cool spring for a bath. It was cold, more or less like swimming in Sweden but very nice and we had fun jumping from the rocks and paddling around in a small canoe.

The cool spring 

Not every day you see someone taking apart the whole engine by the side of the road 

After the cool spring we  headed to what can be considered the main goal of the trip, Konglor cave. I thought I’d seen a lot of caves during this trip, but this one is something else. You start with a boat ride in a small canoe  into the cave, no other light source than the head lamp of the driver and whatever flashlight you might have with you.  There is a small lit section where you walk past some stalagmites and stalagtites but frankly it’s not very impressive. After that it’s back on the boat along the underground river for several kilometers. When you get out of the cave on the other side you have a few minutes hanging out by the river bank before you go back. The whole thing is a really cool experience and definitely worth the extra trip.

By the cave entrance 

Part of the lit section 

Exiting the cave on the other side 

Coming out on the river

We came across some swimming buffalo 

The cave mouth coming back to the start

Sunset the second day on the loop

The third day we left Konglor a bit later than I hoped for and considering that we had a fair distance to go we were in a bit of a hurry. However, we made some good time once we got on the road.

Just after the road to Konglor merges with the main road there are two sights to visit, a waterfall and a viewpoint. Some people we met coming the other way said the waterfall wasn’t worth it so we went for the viewpoint. The view, as expected, was quite stunning.

On the way to the viewpoint 

The view from the viewpoint 

From there it is more or less a straight slog back to Thakhek. Shortly before Thakhek however, there is a lake nicknamed Blue Lagoon. To get there you have to take a dirt road for 20 kilometers which sounds kind of daunting but it’s actually not that bad. Apart from the odd pothole, the road is nice and smooth, you won’t be going full tilt through the corners or anything but it’s ptetty decent. The lake itself is another flooded valley but you can get down to the water, go for a swim and even climb some of the old, dead trees.

The blue lagoon 

Jumping from the dead trees 
The blue lagoon was our last stop on the loop, after that we headed back to Thakhek and the guesthouse. For those interested, here is the map of the loop:

Overview of the loop

Closer view of the route 

The main stops marked out with stars

I think that if I had this information when I started I might have skipped some parts and gone directly from Pakxan to Konglor. If I had I wouldn’t have met up with the French guys however so I don’t regret doing the loop in its entitety. Since I’m doing the whole trip by motorbike, the ride itself is not super special but for travellers going by bus and train I think the loop is a very worthwhile experience.

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