Hit the Road on the Thakek Loop
Hit the Road on the Thakek Loop


Hit the Road on the Thakek Loop


Laos is full of adventures waiting to be rediscovered by travellers looking to explore the country. One of the most popular adventures is the Thakek Loop in Khammouane Province, which takes travellers on a thrilling journey through rice paddies, lakes, mountains and limestone karsts. Check out our guide to one of Lao’s most popular road trips, and get ready to hit the road.

Thakek Loop. Photo by Laos Loop

Getting Started

Most people start and finish their trip in the provincial capital of Khammouane, Thakek, which is how the loop got its name. Here you will be able to find a range of guesthouses and hotels to suit your budget. You will probably want to spend at least one night in Thakek so you can start your ride refreshed. There are plenty of restaurants in town to choose from as well as a few bars overlooking the Mekong. 

There are also a number of motorcycle rental business of varying quality and prices. The best one offers scooters and dirtbikes as well as breakdown assistance anywhere on the loop, but is also the most expensive. Many of the larger guesthouses also offer scooter rental, but some of the bikes are not in as good condition. Check over your bike before you leave and make sure you are comfortable riding it before setting off. Check out our guide to riding motorbikes in Laos for an overview on riding safely in Laos. 

Setting off – Thakek to Thalang

Most people ride anti-clockwise around the loop, so this guide will follow that direction. Head out of Thakek, travelling east along Route 12. You will soon be out of the town in a semi rural area as you continue riding along Route 12. This section is often called ‘Cave Alley’ due to the many number of caves that can be explored in the limestone karsts that dominate this landscape. Continue along Route 12 until the road crosses over a large canal. Just after the bridge you will continue straight through a T intersection, and are now riding along Route 1E. Keep following this road as it runs mostly parallel to the large canal. You will cross over the canal once again before the road follows the edge of a reservoir that feeds into the canal. On your right you will soon see the Nam Theun 2 Power Station Information Centre. This is a great place to have a short break and learn about some of the countryside that you are about to ride through. 

Nam Theun 2 Power Station Information Centre. Photo by hobomaps

After leaving the Information Centre you will begin climbing up the escarpment, winding your way through hairpin turns and switch backs, until reaching the top of the mountain and arriving in the town of Nakai. Here you will find a number of restaurants and guesthouses, but it is not the most exciting town. Most people choose to push on and head to the next town. Continue following Route 1E out of town to the north west. The road gently curves along the edge of the escarpment, offering views of the reservoir on your right. Continue a short distance out of town to the Orchid Path to the Viewpoint. Here you can park your bike and walk up a dirt track to a viewpoint offering uninterrupted views over the reservoir. Another great place for a break and some photos before continuing on your trip. Depending on the time of year you might even be able to spot orchids growing beside the path.

Nam Theun Reservoir

From the Orchid Path continue heading north west on Route 1E. The road gently winds its way along the top of the escarpment, making its way through mostly uninhabited rural Laos, before arriving in the small town of Thalang.

Here you will find two guesthouses offering simple but clean bungalows, and a restaurant on the edge of the lake. During peak periods these accommodation choices can book out quickly, so it’s wise to book ahead. 

Phosy Thalang Guesthouse. Photo from https://solotravellerontour.com/


This small town is not the most exciting town in Laos, but it is the gateway to the Nakai-Nam Theun National Park, one of only three national parks in Laos. From Phosy Restaurant, on the edge of the lake, guests can hire kayaks or organise a tour into the national park. The large Nam Theun Dam flooded this area, creating a sunken forest which makes for incredible photos as your explore this other worldly landscape. It has also limited access to the upper reaches of the Nam Xot River, which heads into the national park. Tours can be organised to go into the heart of the park, with a day trip to a waterfall or overnight camping and kayaking trips. It’s a great way to explore some of the last of Lao’s wilderness and support eco-tourism as an industry that can offer an alternative livelihood to logging or hunting. It is also an immensely beautiful area and well worth spending a day or two exploring the lake.

Thalang to Kong Lor

Leaving Thalang follow the road north as it crosses the bridge and then winds its way along the edge of the reservoir. This is an incredible section of road, with stunning views on each side and big sweeping curves offering an fantastic riding experience and a great way to start the day. Continue along the road as it starts to climb away from the reservoir and into the forested hills. You will shortly arrive at a collection of stone Buddha’s carved into the rock on the side of the road. While it is definitely interesting, there isn’t really anywhere to park and being on a corner it’s not the safest place to stop. 

Continue on the road as you leave the forest and start riding through a valley and then along a ridge through cassava plantations. The gentle curves give way to a quick descent of hair pins and switch backs before the road straightens out as it passes through small villages and into the town of Lak Sao. This is a major trading town, close the Vietnamese border, but not terribly exciting for tourists. There are some local restaurants and noodle shops, but nothing incredible. It is a good place to stop and fuel up both the bike and the body, but not much else.

Dragon Cave. Photo courtesy MICT/Insmai.

Head south west out of town on Route 8 and you will soon be riding through rice paddies framed by limestone mountains. Continue along the road until you reach the Dragon Cave, one of the more impressive caves on the loop. Large chambers are lit up with coloured floodlights, highlighting some of the impressive limestone features. From the cave continue on Route 8 heading west until you reach the turn off for the ‘Cool Spring’. Here a good condition dirt road takes you to the base of the limestone mountains and stunning turquoise pool of clear spring water. Local legend holds that those who swim in the water will be blessed with long life and good health, but be warned; the water is definitely cool! With some food and beverage stalls here as well it’s a great place for a break.

Cool Spring
Bomb Boats

From the Cool Spring it is a short drive to the Nam Kading River and the town of Tha Bak. Here you see the ‘bomb boats’, a grisly reminder of America’s bombing campaign in Laos. The boats are made from large external fuel tanks that were attached to American bombers to increase their range into remote areas of Laos and were dropped when empty. The local villagers have collected these tanks and repurposed their aerodynamic shape into boats, which are mistakenly called ‘bomb boats’. The boats can be hired for trips up and down the river, lasting between one and four hours, depending on how far you would like to travel. Even if you don’t feel like a boat trip, its well worth stopping to examine these incredible boats. 

From Tha Bak, continue along Route 8 and up over a mountain pass, before riding along the top of a valley towards the town of Na Hin. Some people decide to spend the night in Na Hin. There are a number of guesthouses and a few restaurants, but very little else of interest. Most people opt to to continue the days ride towards Kong Lor Cave, another 45 minutes from the town of Na Hin. 

Continue along Route 8, past Na Hin, until you reach an intersection at the Kong Lor Cave Bus and Taxi Station. Turn off Route 8 and follow this road along the valley floor. This is especially beautiful at the end of wet season when the road drives through vibrant green rice paddies, ringed by towering limestone mountains. The valley narrows as you approach the end of the road at the entrance to Kong Lor Cave. There are a number of guesthouses along the road, some overlooking the river and some overlooking the rice paddies. For those looking for a little bit more luxury there is the Spring River Resort, a collection of wooden bungalows looking out over the river. Here you can hire kayaks to explore the river and even visit a blue lagoon where turquoise water seeps out of the ground to make a stunning pool. 

Wherever you choose to stay


Kong Lor Cave to Thakek

Start the day by exploring Kong Lor Cave by boat. Check out our article about Kong Lor Cave here for everything you need to know about visiting the cave. It’s a great experience and one of the highlights of the loop.

Kong Lor Cave 

From the cave head back up the valley towards Route 8. Turn left onto Route 8 and make your way up the mountain to The Rock Viewpoint. A perfect place for a coffee, or some adventurous ziplines. For a detailed guide to The Rock Viewpoint, check out our article about it by clicking here.

The Rock Viewpoint @Phou Pamarn

From the Rock Viewpoint follow Route 8 down the mountain heading west. After riding through some small villages you will reach an intersection with Route 13 South. Turn left onto Route 13 and start heading south towards Thakek. Continue driving along the main arterial road of Southern Lao, with the Mekong on your right and imposing mountains to your left. You will drive through small villages, crossing bridges and passing rice fields. Before you reach Thakek you can stop off at Khoun Kong Leng, a stunning large blue lake. Recently developed with accommodation and restaurants on site, this is a great place to take a break and have something to eat or a swim before continuing your journey. 

Continue south on Route 13 until you reach Thakek. Return your bike and check in to your accommodation, then hit the shower and wash off the road dust, you’ve earned it!

The Thakek Loop is the highlight of many people’s trips in Laos. The stunning scenery combined with the freedom of riding a bike make it a truly awe-inspiring experience. Make sure it’s on your list of things to do in Laos but for now get out there and Discover Laos Today!


David Ormsby

David is a writer, explorer, adventurer, outdoor educator, and guide. He was worked across the Asia Pacific in a number of different roles within the eco-tourism and outdoor industry. Since 2016 David has lived and worked in Laos, and brings a depth of experience to his writing in Laos.