Traversing the Thakhek loop 24th – 27th
After a few days of fun, and adventure in Vang Vieng, the plan was to head to a town called Thakhek, in central Laos, to partake in the 3 – 4-day loop, on motorcycles. At this point I was traveling in a group of travellers who had banded together after meeting on the Slow-boat and in Laung prabung, and we were all pretty keen to hit the open road, so we took the bus from Vang Vieng to Vientiane around mid-day on the 23rd, and arrived late afternoon (about 5-6 hours I think), found a hostel, (orange hostel, I think) decent, served its purpose, only staying one night in Vientiane, went out for food, got ripped off by a restaurant, everyone was so hungry we kinda just stopped the first place we found (the food was delicious though to be fair!), walked 10 mins down the road and found the night market, and street food for a fraction of what we’d just paid, but this is how it goes, travelling does teach you the art of letting it go and getting over it! The market was mostly clothing and souvenirs, I finally found new legging, YAY!! Only to have my Jandals, break about 10 mins later, after I’d left the market of courseL too late to go back so I’m now without Jandals…
The following morning, we booked the bus to Thakhek, left at mid-day again, arriving in Thakhek after dark, found a hostel in a guide book, looked decent so got a tuk tuk there,
not sure how many people were in that thing, I checked it was about 12!! I was impressed it [the tuk tuk] could still move, my legs went to sleep because of the bags I was squished into a backpack sandwich with. An uncomfortable 2 kilometres later we arrive, had to pay more because the cheapest rooms are sold out and there’s not much else around (Thakhek is pretty small), but $6 is still doable hey….
Found an amazing little local restaurant, the owner/family didn’t speak a word of English the food on the menu was referred to as ‘meat dip’ didn’t know what the hell it was, turned out to be rather exceptional hotpot!! Love these little finds…
Day 1 of the loop
On the morning of the 25th, we hired motorcycles, as the locals call scooters, or mopeds, I opted for a semi-automatic, for 60000 lao kip per day, then after having lunch and putting my big bag in storage at the guesthouse, and having lunch, we departed on the highway out of Thakhek, the group ended up separating into two as some people wanted to leave earlier to avoid getting to the next destination late. It was so good to be on the road again, wind and dust in the face. We made a stop at the Buddha cave, but the group going before us said it wasn’t worth what we had to pay for parking, seeing as paying wasn’t really avoidable, we kept moving, made a few photo stops along the way. The second half of day one was awesome, we crossed a hydro dam took a turn to the left up into the mountains, and the road was nicely cambered up and around the hills, through the jungle, so much fun even on a scooter! Arrived in Tha Lang village, in time for a hard-earned beer and a lovely sunset. Dinner that night at the homestay was a shambles, everyone was hungry, I was hangry as hell, so the hour+ wait for food was less than appreciated, and unfortunately I cannot switch off the chef, so all I could think about was, A. how this should be done and, B. how much of a killing the restaurant owner was making out of hungry travellers, not that I blame them, we can obviously afford it, but still I do hate it when people use a situation to use people and/or their pockets. Anyway, more beers, more card games, whilst waiting, then after dinner I was early to bed for a good night’s sleep.
Up in time for a wander, coffee, breakfast, hit the road around 9-9.30 am, the first part of the day was about 64 kilometres, from Tha Lang village to Laksao town. It began to rain, only very lightly but still made the road a bit scary, particularly for me I think, even as a very amateur motorcycle rider I knew enough about road surfaces to be worried, went a bit slower, enjoyed the wondrous scenery, the road took us further into the mountains, much cooler, found some great view points, filled up the tank just before getting into Laksao, ¾s of a tank cost a hefty $2.40 if I remember correctly. I cannot remember what time we arrived in Laksao, but we had a lunch break there, then sat in the sun for a bit, watching the rain clouds drifting closer, I managed to find and buy the all-important Oreo’s for road trip snacks.
The second part of day two, was 58 kms to the turn off to Konglor village, then 40 kms from the turn to the village, right outside the Konglor cave park. This part of the journey was gorgeous; the topography is impossible to describe, so I’ve popped some photos in that’s the best I can do!! Unfortunately, one of our group had an accident on the league, due to a complete idiot of a local in a big SUV type vehicle, driving in the middle of the road, to fast on a bad road, made absolutely no effort to stop, obviously did not give any f**ks whatsoever… So maddening, anyway, only scrapes and bruises, so incredibly lucky.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, just more beautiful views, well cambered corners (I kinda liked driving on the right!), an awesome straight stretch on the last bit to Konglor village, fun times. It was nice riding through the villages, all the kids waved and shouted Sabaidee (hello), got to Konglor village just on dusk, found a guesthouse, free 3 in 1s!! not sure if I’ve mentioned these, they’re coffee mix sachets, with milk powder and about 50% sugar!! After a while you become desperate enough for caffeine these actually seem delicious… Found a guesthouse up the road with an excellent restaurant, I love how restaurants, with good food and great service pop up in the most random and unexpected places! Brilliant noodle soup, splurged on a “chocolate” milkshake, I haven’t had real chocolate in over 10 weeks!! How devastating… Still it was a treat, while at the restaurant we met a lovely gentleman who is cycling southeast Asia (and other parts of the world) in a superman costume, doing inspirational talks in schools around the world!! Super cool, check out his Facebook page, super cycling man, #WeCanAllBeHeroes
Day two ended as they all do, beer, cards, nuff said….
Day three can only be described as epic, I was up around 7 am, (apparently, I’m an early bird now, it’s just a new thing I do), it was so nice sitting on the deck, wrapped up in a blanket, with a coffee, watching the village wake up, soaking up the early morning sun, listening to the roosters, and generally just appreciating the moment and the exceptional view that came on the side.
Everyone was up late-ish, so didn’t finish breakfast and get to the Konglor cave entrance until about 10.30 am (the cave entrance is a 1 km walk, so an easy walk), to visit the cave its about 45-50 k (lao kip), 3 people to a boat, the trip is about 2 hours, the cave is seriously impressive, but not beautiful, in places the ceiling of the cave must have been 40 metres above, although it is the dry season so the water level in the cave was low. There was a short walk within the cave, to check out the stalactite’s and stalagmites, some cool formations, but to be honest I was more impressed with what was in the cave by the blue lagoon in Vang Vieng. The boat goes all the way through the cave and out the other side of the mountain, stops for a break (were the vendors are waiting to prey on your budget), then goes back through to end the tour where it started, a fantastic experience and well worth doing!
After visiting Konglor cave, we grabbed coffee and/or coke cola, and hit the road, the plan was to find a guest house I little way out of Thakhek, then finish the ride the following morning. This certainly did not happen…
Let me try to elaborate, we didn’t get out of Konglor village to about 1.30-2pm so we powered through back to the turn off onto the main road, stopped to refuel the bikes, then carried on. The scenery on this first stretch of the main road was stunning, and the road was pretty fun, stopped briefly at a lookout, to appreciate the view and grab a photo, then moved on.
Made excellent time to the next town where we turned onto the highway back to Thakhek, we were doing alright to we carried on, everyone was travelling at different speeds at this point so the group got scattered up the highway, everyone having a blast, for better or for worse, mostly, defiantly better, shot past the town I knew had a guest house about 30 kms out of Thakhek, at this point got confused about where everyone was, I thought we had lost a member as the lovely Alexia seemed to have falling behind. Being a worrier, I doubled back to find her, whilst Jon went to get the others up ahead and let them know we had past the guesthouse (are you confused yet?? I am). After a few kilometres, I thought there was no way someone could fall this far back, unless there had been an accident, I began to second guess myself, so turned around again to try catch up and see if maybe everyone was up ahead and had passed me, without my noticing, pulled over to send a message (only 2 of the group had a Lao data sim), got a response; yes, everyone was up ahead safe and sound, and had decided that seeing as we’d come this far, we may as well head all the way back to Thakhek! So, just to recap, I had just gone in the wrong direction for a bit, the group had changed the plan for the third time that afternoon, now I had to catch up, and we had to try to get into town before dark, at that point I think it was about 5.30 pm (may have been later), I won’t include some details here in regards to catching up with the group and trying to beat the sun going down, as I think maybe they would horrify some lovely members of my family (worriers! apparently it’s a hereditary thing), all good,
didn’t do anything to crazy, caught up, and we cracked on to Thakhek, arriving as it got dark, finding our way back into town was a little difficult, and we got lost, the streets were badly lit, but we made it, not before dark, but still, VICTORY WAS OURS!!!
What a day…
It didn’t immediately feel like a victory though, as at this point nobody had had lunch, everyone was tired from hours of riding, we had to find accommodation, there were hangry attitudes aplenty. Accommodation found after about 20 mins of walking, then headed for the night market just down the road, noodle soup all-round and the jovial crew was back on track. I treated myself to a pancake (yay for the banana pancake trail!), then the usual ensued, at this point the crew was splitting in half as some of us were continuing south and some off to Vietnam. It was a celebratory night for a road trip well done, with an excellent crew.