Riding the Thakhek Loop

May 4, 2015

350km north of Pakse is Thakhek, city mainly popular for the 400 km loop that you can make by motorbike. You can do it in 3 or 4 days depending on how long you want to spend on your motorbike each day and also the road condition. Travelling from South to North of Laos, I did not complete the entire loop, but the last 100 kms back to Takhek from the north are just on the main highway 13 so I don't think I have missed much.
You can of course do the loop one way or the other, I think most people start heading east on the road 12, but you can start by heading north on the main road 13. I started around 8:30am on the first day and headed east. As soon as you're out of the city you can see the karst landscape around you. It was very windy though. My plan for the day was a short 100km ride to Thalang. The roads were in good condition all the way up there, the first half is an easy flat ride on road 12, then when getting to Gnommalat you take a left on road 1E. This road is smaller with also less traffic but in good condition as well. After passing by the powerplant on your left the road starts going up for a few kilometers until you reach Nakay. It took me 3 hours to get to Thalang, I thought about going to Lak Sao, 60 kilometers further but I decided to enjoy the afternoon around Thalang.

I checked-in at the Phosy Thalang guest house, it's on your left 100m before the bridge at then end of the village. You also have the Sabaidee guest house on the right just before the bridge. After checking-in I took my motorbike and my drone - obviously - and decided to continue on the road. And it becomes really interesting for the next 10-15 kms after Thalang. The road goes through those small ponds full of dead trees, add the haze coming from the farmers burning the surrounding fields at this time of the year, and it creates a very particular atmostphere. Probably ideal for a thriller or horror movie set. I stopped in the middle and despite the strong wind I took my drone out and decided to fly it for a bit. I also went to the bridge at the end of the village for a sunset flight.
Phosy Thalang guest house
On the second day, I went through the small ponds and enjoyed it again. After that, the road condition is not as goood. It becomes a dirt road with small holes for about 25 kilometers. It also starts going up and down but nothing really bad during the dry season. Although I have heard that during the wet season things can get trickier and muddier. The road also takes some altitude so you get a nice view of the valley before reaching Lak Sao. I did a quick stop and got something to eat before heading to Kong Lor. 
There is about 150 kilometers between Thalang and Kong Lor, and besides those 25 kilometers of dirt road, the rest of the road is in good condition. 60 kilometers past Lak Sao, I took road 8 towards Kong Lor. The last 40 kilometers can be quiet boring since there is long parts where the road is literally straight. But stay alert as there is regularly quiet big holes, and the last 10 kilometers are just the worst even though the road is paved. I stayed at PhounSouk Guest house. The owner is a really nice tall Lao guy - quiet unusual to see tall local people. Kong Lor is famous for its 7 kilometers cave that you can visit by boat. There is not much else to do but visiting the surroundings. At the end of the day when the wind calmed down I took out my drone and flew over the fields next to the guest house. As usual it attracted the kids and they were quiet excited. I even asked one of them to take his bike so I could film him while riding.

The road past Thalang
Sunset flight in Thalang
Kong Lor village

For the last day on the loop, since I was travelling to the north of Lao, I did not plan to go back down to Thakhek but instead head north to Paksan, a 170 kilometers (105 miles) ride. I did not start as early as usual, I first got my luggage rack fixed and reinforced since it broke again the day before in those last 10 kms and all its holes. I left around 10am to get back to the road 8. As soon as I reached it, it the road started to go up and down with some pretty steep parts. It's only 25 kms to reach the main road 13 but there are a few mountains to go over and quiet a lot of roadwork that makes this part long and streneous to drive. But the nice part is that there is some very nice lookout points where you can stop and rest and admire the view.

It all went well until about 50 kms from Paksan, my motorbike started acting strange and would not accelerate as suppose to. I was hoping I could just ride like that until Paksan, but then, in a small village it completely stopped and did not start again. Wether in Vietnam or Laos, it is very easy to find a mechanic or someone with some mechanic knowledge. He try to change different parts but the problem was bigger, and he did not have the appropriate tools to fix it. Then he called someone who could speak some English and that person explained that I had to go to Pakkading, 7 kms back and that they would put my motorbike on one of those weird looking tractors. It surely is not a tractor but that is what it reminded me of the first time I saw one. I'm not going to try to explain how it looks like, I'll just put a picture and if you know what they are called, please let me know in the comments.

I jumped on the back holding my motorbike, and off we went to Pakkading... slowly... very slowly, and since it was new year in Laos, just imagine a foreigner standing at the back of a slow vehicle. I was a designated target for kids with water buckets on the side of the road. Iwas quiet wet by the time we got there. In Pakkading we waited a while before we could find a mechanic that was able to properly fix a Suzuki. But once he got there, there were about 3 people working on my motorbike. I always like to see how things are done, and since I was zero knowledge about mechanic, it was very interesting for me to watch. And they did a great job, they spent a few hours on it, finishing at night, with one of them holding the head light so the others could keep working. I spent the night in a nearby guesthouse - another thing very easy to find in Vietnam and Laos even in remote places - and head to Vientiane the next morning for what would be a great experience of Laos new year...

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