Driving the Thakhek Loop is one of my favourite memories from our three-month sabbatical around Southeast Asia.
It was an adventure filled with memory-making highs and but also a couple of huge lows. We all know any good story has to have the balance between light and shade (and this trip certainly made for a great story) but being the main character in an anxiety-inducing day certianly didn’t feel like fun at the time.
Let me begin by saying, if you have the chance to drive the Thakhek Loop you absolutely should.
The limestone crags, red dusty roads, endless caves and turquoise springs were pure heaven.
Backpacking Southeast Asia often means travelling by trains or buses, on predetermined and well-worn routes. There is something great about taking a road-trip (we absolutely love them, see all my road-trip posts here), giving a traveller the freedom to get off of the beaten-track and have a unique adventure of their own creation. Whilst the Thakhek Loop is far from being an undiscovered route, it’s far enough away from the standard path through Laos to mean heading somewhere that most tourists won’t go.
For most that head here, the Loop is completed by motorcycle, picking one up from the Mekong-side town of Thakhek, but we decided to complete the adventure from Vientiane, picking up a Toyota Hilux from the airport.
And it was this Hilux that proved to be the main character in the big lows of the trip.
- A Misadventure
- Thakhek Loop FAQs
- Map of the Thakhek Loop
- Thakhek Loop 5-Day Itinerary
- Day 1 – Vientiane to Thakhek (336km)
- Day 2 – Thakhek to Phosy Thalang (100km)
- Day 3 – Phosy Thalang to Springriver (146km)
- Day 4 – Kong Lor Cave
- Day 5 – The Blue Lagoon & Drive Back to Vientiane (315km)
- What to Pack for the Thakhek Loop
- Final Thoughts
On our final day, when leaving the riverside paradise of Springriver resort near Kong Lor Cave, I managed to reverse this big hulk of metal into a small tree stump.
This is despite it being fitted with both a reversing camera and sensors.
Too embarrassed to admit there was a problem in front of the owner who was waving us goodbye, I drove a kilometre or so before checking for damage. I was hopeful (a Hilux is a solid, rough and ready kind of car) but ultimately very disappointed. The damage was extensive with a massive dent in the bumper and a crack in the lights.
I’ve never caused any damage to a hire car before, so on the five-hour drive back to Vientiane, I switched between moments of being thoroughly pissed off at myself and then worry about what would happen when we returned it.
I tried to put it to the back of my mind and focus on the driving.
But that wasn’t everything for the day…
Laos’ roads are bad at the best of times, but we hit the capital city at rush hour and it was terrifying! Cars everywhere, no indication by anyone and roads with markings for which a degree in hieroglyphics was a basic requirement.
We got to around 3km from the airport when a small white car veered slightly out of the lane to the right of us, clipping her wing-mirror with ours, as I had no-where to go on my left.
I carried on as it simply wasn’t safe to pull over at this busy junction, the car changed lanes, followed us flashing her lights and pulled over behind us on a dusty strip beside the road.
She was pumped up and ready to go!
“You hit my car, you can’t hit my car in Laos, you are tourist”.
This wasn’t going to go well.
I went around her car. There was no damage whatsoever. I took photos, offered her my insurance details, but she was having none of it.
“You need to follow me to police station, give me your passport”.
Clearly I refused.
I had read about scams in Laos where the local police extort tourist to benefit locals. There is no way of telling if this was happening here, but I was struggling to understand why she was wanting my passport details and to involve the police when there was no damage to either vehicle.
I tried reasoning with her, explained that I was happy for her to follow me to the airport as this was a hire car, and she could speak to the rental company.
She was having none of it.
Much to her very vocal disapproval I got in the car and we drove off.
She followed us for a while, but eventually gave up, which was surprising given how concerned she’d been just a few minutes before.
Returning the car went about how I would expected it. When I told the guy at Sixt what had happened he looked at me as if I’d given him a personal insult. We headed out to look at the truck. Men in his position around the world have a default stance in this situation. He put his hands on his hips, took a sharp intake of breath and gave me a look that could universally be translated as “that’s going to cost you mate”.
Numerous phone-calls to local garages resulted in a quote of $650. I agreed to pay it as, to be quite honest, I just wanted out of there. He took another scan of my credit card and we were away. Never again will I debate if travel insurance is worth buying!
Later that night, I read how it was illegal to leave the site of an accident in Laos. My weird over-thinking brain convinced me that the police had contacted the rental company, looked up our accommodation for the night and that we’d have a knock on the door in the middle of the night.
The following day we got on a plane to Pakse.
We left Thakhek behind us, trying hard to hold on to the amazing memories of a truly unforgettable place, but leave behind the ones of the our final seven hours of chaos.
It’s hard not to with something as magical as this.
Let me show you exactly why with my detailed first-hand guide to the Thakhek Loop.
Thakhek Loop FAQs
What is the Thakhek Loop?
The Thakhek Loop is a 480km loop in Central Laos. It is famous with motorbike riders, but can also be completed by car.
The big highlight is Kong Lor Cave, but there are numerous other caves, springs and waterfalls to visit on the way, alongside marvelling through your window (or visor) at the unreal limestone karst vistas.
Hiring a Car or Motorbike for the Thakhek Loop
Hiring a car or motorbike is going to be the first port of call for a journey around the Thakhek Loop (let’s face it, it’s a long walk if not!). There are lots of hire places available in the town of Thakhek, or you can do as we did, and hire from Vientiane and drive down, which will take around an extra day.
Motorbike Hire in Thakhek
There are three motorbike shops in Thakhek.
We hired a car, so can’t speak to motorbike hire with any authenticity, so I would suggest reading this detailed post by Lost Aussies for more information.
As a quick summary though, there are three main shops in Thakhek for motorbike hire:
- Mad Monkey
- Mr Ku
- Wang Wang Rentals
A semi-automatic motorcycle is going to set you back around 120,000 kip a day (for three or more days) with a full automatic motorbike going for around 140,000 kip a day.
In an unusual move for a loop famed for its motorcycling, we decided to hire a car. Neither of us have motorbike licenses, so it was a fairly easy decision.
We were staying in Vientiane, so in another unusual move for the Thakhek Loop, started our trip in Vientiane, driving the 337km To Thakhek town.
And when I say we hired a car, what I actually mean is we hired a truck…
…a big truck!
We had heard the roads were bad on The Loop (more on that later), so decided to go for something that could handle it, step up the Toyota Hilux.
It was big, spacious and powerful enough to do the overtaking that was required on Laos’ poor roads (keep an eye out for the ‘buffalo on a tuk-tuk video later on to get an idea for what we were up against’).
The car cost us 2.02 million kip (yes, really!) which was around £180, so not bad at all for a huge truck like this for 5 days.
We booked with Sixt Car Rental from Vientiane Airport.
They also had available:
- A Toyota Sedan, available for around half the price (£90 for 5 days)
- A Toyota 4WD available for £5 extra a day, taking the total cost up to £235
See latest Prices here:
If I was to offer you one piece of advice on this trip it would be…
…BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE!
There is always a bit of risk involved when hiring a car abroad, especially in countries with roads as bad as in Laos.
Problems like this can happen…
So yes, I managed to back our lovely truck into a tree stump on the last day of the trip.
We were invoiced nearly £600 for repairs.
Thankfully we were able to claim all of this back via our travel insurance.
I’ve used World Nomads on four trips now, including our three month Southeast Asia sabbatical that took us to Laos. Having been through the claims process I can tell you it was simple, quick and we got all the money back.
Get a quote below:
What are the roads like?
We found the main roads along the Loop to be in general great condition. They were all tarmac and wide.
The side roads were generally sand and gravel, which was fine in the truck but maybe a little more difficult on a motorbike. They were really well kept and packed down hard enough to give lots of grip, however in the rainy season (June-September) these would become more difficult.
The roads have light traffic, with the occasional big truck moving via the industrial sections and up to the dam. If you’re on a bike this should provide some comfort as if you got a puncture there will always be somewhere heading past to rescue you!
Best Places to Stay on the Thakhek Loop
I try my best to be authentic on this site, so I only write about places we visit and stay.
The great news is (for you!) is we research everything extensively, so try to find the best places at a reasonable price to stay.
Our night in Thakhek was spent at Inthira. This old colonial building has been adapted into a hotel.
The rooms were basic, but clean and it was perfectly located in the town centre. Inthira is mid-range of the eight places on offer in Thakhek, and also includes breakfast which was a bonus.
Nam Theun seemed about the right location to stop for our second night on the Loop and there were two options here, Sabidee Guesthouse or Phosy Thalang.
We opted Phosy Thalang after reading the reviews and certainly weren’t disappointed.
This is a rugged, rural place so we weren’t expecting luxury, but what we got, we were very happy with.
We stayed in a small lodge which looked out over the river, which even had WiFi! We’ve stayed in some places in big cities which don’t even have this.
The real high point though was paying 50,000 kip for a homemade BBQ, which we sat and ate outside whilst exchanging travel stories with a motorcyclist called Clay who was staying here too. The sky was free from light pollution, meaning the stars were incredible and we woke the next morning to the sound of birdsong. Bliss!
We opted for some luxury at the end of out trip and stayed at Springriver Resort which currently gets 9.7 on Booking.com from nearly 400 reviews.
Yes it’s going to be £45 a night (which in reality is nothing in Western terms, but expensive for Laos) but in exchange you get a little piece of paradise.
In all my time travelling I can rarely think of somewhere better that we’ve stayed. In the shadow of a limestone mountain and at the junction between a river and a cool spring, Springriver is simply stunning. The owners have built wooden walkways through the grass, with bamboo lights that come on to dimly light up the evening. The wooden cabins are beautiful and have amazing views over the river.
The main reason for being in the area is to visit Kong Lor Cave and this is the icing on the cake for Springriver Resort. We paid for a local to take us upriver in a dug out canoe to the mouth of Kong Lor, where he waited and then picked us up again (thankfully!) after the tour to take us back.
If you have a bit of extra money you simply won’t regret spending it here.
Read My Full Review: Springriver Resort: 5 Reasons You MUST Stay Here
Map of the Thakhek Loop
Locally Drawn Map of the Thakhek Loop
We picked up the map above from our guesthouse and it proved to be the perfect guide to the best viewpoints on the Loop. I have taken all the places we visited and added them to a Google Map below which should be much more convenient for you to review.
Downloadable Google Map
This map includes all the places mentioned in the post below. It’s easy to open it using the button in the top right-hand corner, where you can save it to your own Google Maps for future use.
Whilst we were in Laos I used Maps.me rather than Google Maps, as these are available off line.
Thakhek Loop 5-Day Itinerary
We did the Thakhek Loop in five days, but it’s possible to do it in only three, if you hire a bike a Thakhek, stay a single night around Nam Theun, another night near Kong Lor and then head back to Thakhek.
Of course it is possible to do it even faster than that, but why would you? This is a place to be savoured like a high-quality Pinotage (my favourite wine) not chugged back quickly like a cheap tequila. With so many stop-offs and viewpoints you’d be foolish to come all this way and try to rush it.
Day 1 – Vientiane to Thakhek (336km)
Day one for us was a bit of a non-event. You could argue this isn’t even technically part of the Thakhek Loop as we started a Vientiane.
But for us it was.
The roads were crazy, we saw some interesting sights (buffalo on a tiny truck anyone?) but we made it in one piece.
Thakhek was actually much nicer than we expected, with beautiful views over the Mekong into Thailand. We sat back, enjoyed a couple of Beer Lao and got an early night ahead of the excitement of tomorrow,
Day 2 – Thakhek to Phosy Thalang (100km)
Xang Cave (Elephant Cave)
ENTRY PRICE: 5,000 kip
Having left Thakhek behind us we started the Loop headed for Xang Cave (the Elephant Cave).
This was marked off of the main road to the right, but we weren’t expecting there to be signposts, so I ended up turning off early and almost getting the truck stuck in the sand. Great start!
We eventually found the cave, and had to pay a small entrance fee to get in. The cave is fronted by some images of elephants, followed by a steep climb up some stairs.
The cave itself was humid and filled with bats with some beautiful statues either side of the stairs. At the very top was an area for worship, filled with incense, candles and a small black gong.
The roads around this area were an incredible colour. Off of the main tarmac road they were red sand, the kind you’d more expect to find in East Africa or the Australian Outback.
ENTRY PRICE: 5,000 kip/Parking 5,000 kip/Skirt Rental 3,000 kip
Having navigated another long red sand road the opposite side of the highway, we finally reached Buddha Cave.
This place was discovered by a local farmer stuffed full of Buddha Statues. No-one really knows how they got here!
This is a sacred cave, so Becca had to pay to hire a long skirt to cover her legs and no photographs were allowed inside the cave. It was a steep walk up wooden steps alongside the cliff face, I’ve no idea what the farmer was doing to be up this far!
At the very top, a monk was giving blessings, which were being translated back into English by an interpreter with a very strong American accent. It was very dark inside, but the spiritual ambience was somewhat ruined by the inclusion of neon lights behind the Buddha statues. An odd choice.
It was also possible to go rafting here at a cost of 100,000 kip for up to three people for three hours. The route was around 700m through one of the local caves.
I’ve included this photo to further highlight the incredible red sand roads in this area. They were well-kept and firm to drive on, but wow, that colour!
Nam Theun Power Station Visitor Centre
Yes, we visited a power station.
I know I know, it’s doesn’t exactly seem like the normal thing to do on a road-trip in the middle of rural Laos, and we hadn’t planned to come here, but my dad’s an engineer who’s worked on a lot of development projects around the world, so when we drove past and saw a visitor centre. Stopping felt like the right thing to do.
It was actually really interesting. Laos has generally been short of its own energy sources and this dam, which was completed in 2008, now supplies 20% of Laos total power needs, which has to be better than burning fossil fuels. It also helps the economy as they now have a power surplus which they can export.
The downside of a dam though is of course flooding a large area. The dam was closed in April 2008 and took nearly eight months to fill completely with water and now covers an area of 450 sq/km. 4,500 people needed to be resettled and a lot of wildlife was given time and help to move out of the area. Whilst it has been good for Laos’ economy and power needs, the local people have gone from having 45,000 hectares of fertile farmland to less than 20,000 hectares, which they are now having to compete for with other villages.
Certainly an interesting stop-off, but be aware that a lot of the good news stories shared in the visitor centre about the relocation of wildlife and the positive impacts of the dam are one side of the story. Big displays declaring ‘improved lives in new villages‘ are not all they seem. Search Google for some more reading to get a balanced perspective (I found this piece ‘A retrospective analysis of Laos’s Nam Theun 2 Dam‘ a balanced read).
ENTRY PRICE: 15,000 kip
Just after the bridge that leaves the visitors centre is a right-hand turn which took us onto a dusty track up to Song Sou waterfall. This place wasn’t mentioned on our local map, but there was a sign, so we followed it!
It was 15,000 kip to park up and a short walk over a ford and across some rocks to get to the waterfall, where there is a pool for swimming. Be careful in the wet season as the water can come down here very powerfully, so it could be a bit dangerous.
It was a nice stop off, but not desperately memorable, other than bumping into Clay, who we would meet numerous times over the next couple of days. An American who’d hired a motorbike from Thakhek, he was making his way around the Loop solo.
I love meeting travellers like this when on the road – we’d end up seeing Clay again at the guesthouse in the evening and also sharing a boat with him through Kong Lor Cave. We shared many travel stories over a long evening and he ended up being a theme of our stop-offs ‘I wonder if Clay will be here?‘ leading to Becca saying I had a real man-crush on our American friend! As always, she was probably right!
Phosy Thalang Guesthouse
For more details on Phosy Thalang Guesthouse see the ‘where to stay on the Thakhek Loop’ section above.
Day 3 – Phosy Thalang to Springriver (146km)
The landscape started to really change on the third day, with the roads much more windy and the landscape very strange.
If you look on the map you’ll see than Phosy Thalang Guesthouse is essentially in the middle of the newly created reservoir, with the road built on a raised section through the middle.
The flooding of the area killed many of the trees, so for a 10km or so stretch we were filled with the eerie landscape of tree skeletons, a very unusual scene.
Buddha Rock Carvings
About 20km after setting out we found a place where numerous Buddha images had been carved into the red sandstone. You can see a couple of them in the photos above, but there were many more than this.
This place wasn’t marked on any of the maps and there was no information, they were just here by the side of the road. What a wonderful surprise, one we just had to pull over at and take a closer look.
I have marked the location we found them on the Google Map at the top of this post.
Mangkone (Dragon) Cave
ENTRY PRICE: Forgot to write it down!
Outside of the huge Kong Lor Cave, the Dragon Cave was the most spectacular of the caves we saw on the Thakhek Loop (despite the terrible photos!).
It was quite a long walk through the cave, with flattened walkways through soft sand beside a deep channel of water which had strange little fish in it.
Towards the middle of the cave was a section where the roof got really low, it felt like walking through the throat of some large monster – humid, damp and with a weird smell.
At the very back was the big rock formations that give Dragon Cave its name, with hundreds of stalactites hanging down from the ceiling looking like the teeth and claws of an ancient beast. They were lit up in funky pinks and blues to further enhance the otherworldly feeling.
Cool Springs Swimming
ENTRY PRICE: 20,000 kip
This part of the Loop is famous for hot and cool springs. We decided to opt for the cool spring and it turned out to be a great decision.
It wasn’t just the springs themselves, but the drive to them. The mountains had really flattened out, and were on a large plain, surrounded by lush green grass with the red sand road cutting through the middle to the dark cliffs beyond. I can imagine this was the kind of road that would be really tricky to navigate in the wet season, as even now in late May it was starting to get clogged up after some recent heavy rain.
We decided to pull over here for a while and taken in the awe-inspiring scenery whilst eating our lunch on the back of the truck.
The springs themselves were fantastic with really handy facilities, such as changing facilities and toilets. They felt really safe to swim in with lots of families around.
Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos as our cameras were safely locked away in the truck away from all the moisture.
Let’s just say it was well worth the visit, so if you get the chance definitely come over here for both the views and the swimming.
Drive to Springriver Resort
The drive from the Cool Springs to where we were staying for the night was about 65km so we headed on. The weather had changed really quickly, with one of the most spectacular storms I have ever seen bouncing off the mountains.
You can see from the screenshot of the map above that the last bit of road toward Kong Lor Cave and our resort was flanked by mountains, which made the storm apocalyptic at times, just as we thought we were through it it would bounce back and go again. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much rain dumped in such a short period of time.
Another little quirk of these roads was the tiny bridges, made even more treacherous in the slippery weather. I had to get a photo of one of them, so stopped off to get the shot above.
I’ve not got the time or space in this post to say all the positives I want to about Springriver Resort. I shared a few in the section at the top, but needless to say it was worth the money. The location, the hosts, the rooms, the experience of hiring canoes, the unique journey to Kong Lor Cave, the food!
This is a post in itself and I wrote more here: Why You MUST Stay at Springriver Resort: 5 Great Reasons.
For now here are some more photos to tempt you…
Day 4 – Kong Lor Cave
Day four was due to be the highlight of the trip. Kong Lor Cave is one of the most famous places to visit in Laos, and with good reason.
A Longtail Boat Trip
COST: 150,000 kip
One of the great advantages of staying at Springriver Resort was the offer of taking an additional trip up the river to the mouth of Kong Lor Cave before taking the ‘official’ tourist trip through the cave.
We, of course, said yes to this and at 0930 our guide from the local village turned up in his motorised ‘long tail’ boat to take us along the Nam Hinboun River.
We’d been told to wear clothes we didn’t mind getting wet and it was soon clear why. Not only was the long tail boat very narrow, but the river was also barely more than half a metre deep at points.
There were a few occasions where we had to get out of the boat and push it along and once we got out and walked along the shoreline while our guide expertly navigated through some rather vicious looking rocks. I tried to help shove the boat over raised sandbanks where I could but, honestly, I think I was more of a hindrance.
This felt a bit like an adventure down the Amazon, large parts of the river showed absolutely no signs of human settlement at all. We came across the occasional makeshift dam use to help fishing, but other than that it was just the dramatic, lush surroundings of Laos.
Oh, and the occasional water buffalo, one of which was particularly upset at our attempts to run him over. One minute you’re lazily bathing in the cool water, with only a nostril in the air, the next minute a boat tries to give you an impromptu out-board motor shave. Needless to say, he was as unhappy as we were shocked given that none of us even saw him. He quickly made for the bank, giving us a look that translated from buffalo to both Lao and English with ease.
Exploring Kong Lor Cave
COST: 65,000 kip per person
Kong Lor Cave is one of the biggest attractions of the Thakhek Loop. The limestone mountains here means hundreds of caves have been carved out over millennia, but none of them on the scale of Kong Lor.
Legend has it that the extent of cave was discovered in the 16th century when a villager noticed a duck that wasn’t native to the area in the water. They followed the river through the cave for three days to find that it went right through the mountain.
Paddle power meant it wasn’t really a feasible route, but after outboard motors were more readily available, the route became more useful for the people of the Natan Village to transport crops through to the markets at Thakhek.
In 1995 some resourceful locals saw the tourism opportunity and started to offer tours through the cave. Since then it’s grown in popularity.
We arrived, paid up at a small kiosk and were allocated to a guide who would take us through the cave with a couple of other people.
These boats were similar to the one we’d taken from Springriver, with the main difference being the size of the motor. These are called ‘long tails’ for a reason, with the propellor on a long pole which allows the pilot to change how deep it goes into the water.
This is needed in these caves, which can become very shallow in the dry season.
You can see an example in the photo below.
The boats themselves are also very shallow to keep them off the bottom, so expect to get pretty wet on the way through the cave. If the water coming over the sides doesn’t get you, the dripping ceilings will!
Dress for the occasion, this is not a day for fancy clothes.
As we headed off into the darkness, the change in temperature was the first thing that hit us, an almost instant drop. The light then disappears very quickly too and I’d heard some people describe the trip as claustrophobic because of this.
The guide wears a small head torch which makes a bit of a difference, but most of the trip was in almost complete blackness.
About five minutes in we got out of the boat and were asked to walk for around 10 minutes over a ridge of rock and sand. The path was safe and it was lit up with some multi-coloured lights, similar to the Dragon Cave from earlier in the trip.
Towards the end of the trip the water became really shallow over a set of rapids, so we were asked to get out again and stand on the rocks while the guide wrestled the boat to the next deep patch of water.
These guys have the trip down to a fine art, but the first people through this cave must have been incredibly brave. Three days in the blackness with only paddles to move them, no battery-powered lights and no real idea that the way ahead was safe. That’s some serious guts right there. Even though we knew it was safe, there were moments it felt a bit hairy, so hats of to the pioneers who forged the way through the blackness.
After about 45 minutes we started to emerge from the blackness, with the white light appearing in the distance from the end of the cave.
When I looked at the map after we got home I was amazed just how long this cave is. By my crude measurements on Google it’s just over 5km, but this is with it going directly from A to B, the distance we actually traveled would have been far greater than this. It’s no wonder it took so long for Kong Lor to become a regular tourist attraction, this is quite an undertaking to get people through here.
At the far end is a small village with a shop to buy some cool drinks and food. We were there for about half an hour before heading back through the cave.
They even had live caged babies for entertainment, this little guy was having great fun giggling at us while his mum served customers at the shop.
Once the return trip was done we jumped back in our original boat and headed back to the resort.
A few more thoughts on Kong Lor Cave from a fellow travel blogger – Sheree from Winging the World:
I have always been a great lover of exploring caves. Whether it be small caverns like Spar Cave or giant ones like Kong Lor, the magic of the darkness always pulls me in.
Ever since I heard that Kong Lor cave was large enough to house a cathedral, I knew I had to visit.
My partner and I teamed up with two other girls and arranged a lift to the cave with a driver from Thakek. We hopped in the jeep and sped off towards the cave, crashing in and out of monster potholes and making unsafe overtakes. By the time we reached Kong Lor, we were all relieved and I couldn’t wait to get inside.
After organising our boat, we hopped into the long wooden motorised canoe and sailed into the darkness. We wore headlamps but I was still in awe of just how black the cave was. Before entering the cave, our driver had been relaying tales about fist-sized spiders and I was on edge. Every noise or brush of the skin made me jump.
As we breathed in the cold air and listened to the rustle of bat wings overhead, it occurred to me that Gollum wouldn’t look out of place here. It didn’t calm my imagination and my mind continued to run on overdrive.
As the light from the outside world drew closer, I was relieved when we finally sailed out into the day.
Day 5 – The Blue Lagoon & Drive Back to Vientiane (315km)
If you were in two minds about whether or not you should spend the extra money to stay at Springriver Resort, let me help you take the decision beyond any doubt.
Springriver is named (not unsurprisingly) because it is at the confluence of a spring and um, yes you got it, a river!
The resort have a few canoes of their own which can be paddled to the source of the spring, and on our last morning we decided to do just that.
The cooler water of the spring mixing with the slightly warmer water of the river meant a small mist hung over the water, creating an otherworldly feel.
It felt like being lost somewhere on the Amazon, no-one around, only the sound of the dawn chorus to accompany us.
But then something strange happened.
Out of the mist a local woman in a boat appeared.
We have no idea where she came from.
She said nothing, just drifted past us and back into the mist which is when Becca took the photo above.
To this day I’m still not sure if she actually existed, or if I was still recovering from one too many of the local Lao-Lao (rice whiskey) the night before.
I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like this 90-minute paddle in paradise. It was one of the most peaceful and memorable moments from our entire trip through Southeast Asia.
Once we’d finished, we packed our stuff up at said goodbye to Springriver Resort, which takes us right back to the beginning of this story (and therefore the end!). Little did we know, that after this peaceful morning at the spring we were about to have the most stressful day of the entire trip!
What to Pack for the Thakhek Loop
I have a broad list of everything we took with us on our trip around Southeast Asia which you can review. It has separate lists for both men and women and we went back to review it afterwards to remove anything we didn’t use.
I would however, suggest a few specifics from that list that are very much needed for the Thakhek Loop.
My first suggestion would be a dry bag. These things are brilliant at keeping all your important gear dry when needed, which given the Thakhek Loop is a combination of springs and rain is much needed! We both have the ones above by Karrimor, which were absolutely great, with a fold-over top that doesn’t let any moisture in.
There is not a lot of light pollution on the Thakhek Loop so we found a head torch absolutely vital, especially when staying at Phosy Thalang. The Black Diamond Spot is just brilliant, with so many features you don’t know you need until you try them! I like things like the lock to stop it accidentally flicking on and draining in the bag, holding the main button to scroll through lighting options and a side beam that’s great to use as a little lamp.
Wide Angle Lens
- Nano Crystal Coating System (NCS) for increased light transmission and reduced internal reflections
- Fast F2.0 maximum Aperture + close-focusing to 9.5 inches = maximum versatility in all shooting conditions
- Optimized for excellent optical quality and true ultra-wide 110 degree edge to edge coverage with APS-C sensor digital cameras
For scenery as gorgeous (and big) as this, you need a wide-angle lens. I use the Fuji X-T3 as my main camera (read more about why here) and decided to buy a wide-angled lens before our trip. The Fuji XF range is expensive and doesn’t go wider than 16mm, so I decided to go for a cheaper option, the Rokinon (or Samyang in some parts of the world) 12mm. It is a manual lens, but this doesn’t really matter for landscape photography as mostly you’ll be shooting at infinity. It does, however, punch well above its weight for the price and also doubles up as a great lens for astrophotography thanks to its F2 aperture.
I hope my enthusiasm for the Thakhek Loop come through clearly in this post.
Whilst I’ve shared as many of the highlights as possible, don’t underestimate just how good the journey itself is. The 250km of driving around the Loop is just as (if not more) dramatic than the scheduled stops. The roads are surrounded by lush greenery, imposing limestone mountains and skies that can change from clear blue to stormy black in a couple of hours.
Despite our last day of bad luck, I look back with nothing but fond memories of our time driving the Thakhek Loop and would thoroughly recommend anyone in the area to visit and see it with their own eyes.
If you’re planning a trip around the Thakhek Loop and need any help or advice, feel free to leave a note in the comments, I will always get back to you.