Not so fun fact: I’m terrified of driving a motorbike. I only learnt to ride a bicycle properly very recently, and although I managed to drive around the whole of Australia in a car, the thought of controlling a bike going at 60-70 kmph is absolutely terrifying.
But in Asia, everyone rides motorbikes. It’s just the done thing. The first time I ever got on the back of one was in the crazy city of Hanoi, where I hung on for dear life and pretty much screamed non-stop.
I’ve calmed down a bit since then, and I am even sometimes relaxed when I’m sitting on the back of a scooter. But I still would never ride one unless I had some lessons somewhere very easy first. So basically, I would never ride one in South East Asia.
But, many of the best parts of South East Asia are only accessible by bike, or are at least best by bike. Think the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam, the Mae Hong Son Loop in Thailand… There’s lots to see on two wheels here.
And one of them is Central Laos’ Thakhek Loop. What do you do if, like me, you’re terrified of riding a bike but want to see the Thakhek Loop? You follow my detailed plan about how to see the Thakhek Loop with no motorbike, of course!
Plan A: Find a Friend Who Can Drive
This would be my first word of advice for if you are wanting to do the Thakhek Loop without a bike. Most travelers in Thakhek are here for the loop, so if you’re staying at traveler places (more on this later), you should meet someone doing it.
Then you just need to smile sweetly and ask them if they fancy a pal for the journey. Of course, you’ll be splitting costs but maybe offer to take them for a dinner or a couple of drinks as a thank you for driving as well. Or however you like to make friends.
Plan B: Cycle the Distance
I’d only recommend this if you’re a very keen cyclist; the closest cave to Thakhek City is some 20 kilometres from town. But if you’re eager for a long bike ride, and want to experience the mountains and scenery at a slower pace, then bicycles can be rented from the city. Unless you’re a pro, I wouldn’t recommend doing the entire loop on a bicycle, but caves close to the city are certainly possible.
Plan C: Do a Guided Tour
Some guided tours do leave Thakhek for the caves. Green Discovery Laos are probably your best bet. You can drop into their branch in Thakhek City, or check out their website here.
Plan D: Take a Tuk Tuk
Now, I’ll warn ya here: tuk tuks in Thakhek are notoriously expensive. Don’t ask me why. They basically quoted me a London black cab price to get from my hostel to the town centre. But if you’re going a little further, you might find a driver willing to take you out for a day or half day. If it’s split between a few people, you might find yourself a deal.
Plan E: Head to the Green Climbers Home
The Green Climbers Home is located near the start of the Thakhek Loop, about 20 minutes’ ride from the city itself. It’s home to some of the best climbing in South East Asia; and it’s all outside, with varying levels of rock difficulty. You can do a half-day, one day, two day or longer course, or if you already climb you can just rent out equipment and head up the rocks.
There’s a really nice atmosphere here, so it’s a fun place to stay for a couple of days. People are super friendly, there’s a restaurant serving delicious food and drinks, and accommodation is in dorms or self-contained cabins. It does book up early though, so be sure to organize your stay there in advance!
They don’t currently offer a pick-up service unfortunately, but there is a set rate for the Green Climber’s Home tuk tuks.
Once there, if you want to explore the loop you’ll have plenty of people who are willing to go to local caves and attractions. You might even find somebody to head all the way to Kong Lor with!
Plan F: Take a bumpy Songthaew to Kong Lor
Public transport does ply part of the Thakhek Loop; the road from Thakhek to Kong Lor. There aren’t many other caves here but the scenery is spectacular. Five hours in a songthaew will take you to Kong Lor Cave, the pinnacle of many people’s Thakhek Loop adventures. This is the longest cave in Laos and is a fantastic addition to anyone’s itinerary for the country.
If you’re heading north after Kong Lor, you don’t need to get a songthaew back to Thakhek – just take it out to the main road and then connect on a bus to Vientiane. This can also be done in reverse, if you’re in Vientiane before you head to Kong Lor and Thakhek.
As you can see, there are a few different options for doing the Thakhek Loop with no motorbike. I ended up making a friend and doing half of the loop with her, then taking a songthaew to Kong Lor for the cave and after heading north to Vientiane.
Whichever way you do it, make sure you see at least some of the Thakhek Loop. It was my favourite part of Laos; the scenery here is absolutely mesmerizing. I hope you love it as much as I did!
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