I travelled from Pakse to Tha Khaek in the hope of finding someone to do the loop with me. I first had heard about the loop from a guy on Ko Chang. I was told that if I go to the Tha Khaek Travellodge I will definitely find someone to do the loop with.
To explain, the loop is a motorbike tour starting at Tha Kheak (most people stay and start at the Travellodge, this is also the place to meet people if you are by yourself) and takes anything from 3 to 5 days. The loop is about 340km long and can include the Kong Lo cave. You ride along some of the most amazing scenary I have ever seen. I have done the Kong Lo cave by bus and you can't really appreciate the landscape around Kong Lo but doing this route (route 8) by motorbike is something else.
How it works: find a buddy (or buddies), hire a bike (semi-automatics, very easy to ride even for novices) and ride away. You will be given a map and also a quick induction if you haven't ridden a semi-automatic bike before.
I was lucky enough to have
met two girls and a couple who all went to Tha Khaek to do the loop. I also bumped into some people who I had met before who just returned from it and had nothing but good things to say.
We wanted to start on Friday, 28 April but had to wait for one more day due to bad weather. It was thunderstorming all day long and we decided it that it wouldn't be the best time to start a motorbike tour. On Saturday we could finally start the loop. The first route includes various caves that are about 22km outside of Tha Khaek. These can be done in a day trip if you don't fancy doing the whole 340km. After that you ride along route 12. Ensure to take enough breaks to stretch your legs and get some food. We found it quite difficult at times to find restaurants that would serve us due to the lack of our Laos and their English. The first night we stayed over in Thalong. Riding up to Thalong was quite an experience. You go up hill and it doesn't seem to end. We came accross some very fairytale style scenary up
there with trees growing out of water, jungle, etc. There are two guesthouses in Thalong and we have heard various opinions about them but we decided to stay at Mr Posi. The other one is Sabaidee. The bungalows there were nice and the food was good but it took for ever to arrive.
The next day proved to be the most challenging of all 4 days and we had been warned. The road is route 8B and is about 62km long. It's basically a dirt road that is being constructed at the moment and consists of gravel, mud, dirt and puddles. You can't go very fast and you have to concentrate a lot to avoid falling or skidding. It was a great challenge but we were all happy once it was over. It took us about 3.5 hours which is less than the 5 hours that had been estimated on our map. We only had one minor fall. That night we stayed in Laksao in a resort on the river. It was beautiful there - we had lovely luxurious bungalows and they do a great steak! We wanted to stay one more day but we all had a schedule
The next day we started our trip to the Kong Lo cave. I had already been there with my friends earlier this month but I was looking forward to doing this trip by motorbike. The road to Kong Lo is route 8 and my Lonely Planet had a very detailed description about this route (world of lost jungle, trippy landscape, fluroscent butterflies, etc). I couldn't really understand what they meant as you can't really see that much when travelling by bus but as soon as we rode on that route I understood what they were going on about. You ride through jungle, mountains on either side and up and down hills. There are millions of butterflies on the roads - it's simply stunning!
We arrived at the Kong Lo cave and I decided to go in again as it was so great last time. After that we had lunch and then continued our ride through even more jungle until we reached a guesthouse. It was more difficult to find a decent guesthouse as we were well off the beaten track.
On our last day we left quite early to ride back to Tha Khaek. It was 105km but because we were so confident on our bikes by then it didn't take us very long. There is the possibility to stop at a lake but we decided to ride straight back.
The loop was one of the most amazing things I have ever done. It takes you off the beaten track, through villages and you can get a glimps of the real Laos. The landscape, the jungle and the mountains at route 8 are unforgettable. Everyone should do it - don't be scared of riding a bike, it's easy and most of the people who do the loop have never ridden a bike before. Everyone in my group agreed that it was one of the best things to do!
It was the perfect end to an amazing month in Laos!
I had a great month in Laos. It's a country for many activities like trekking, biking, motorbiking, caving, tubing and the list goes on. The people are super friendly and honest. You hardly get hassled by beggars or vendors or scammed. The food was better than I expected by still not my favourite. Laos is quite different to its neighbours. I found Laos quite rural at times. I am not talking about Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng but most places only play local music, certain things can be hard to get (pharmacy stuff, electronic goods) and they have a curfew where even in Vientiene, the capital, everything shuts at 11pm. On the other hand it's nice that they don't have the typical fast food chains and Seven Elevens (also I do have to admit I like them). I will go back to Laos one day as there are still things I want to do there. I hope Laos will stay the way it is for the next few years!
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