Excited to be off of a bus and enjoying the fresh air, Vivien and I rejoined the guys for breakfast before we went to the motorbike shop to start our journey. We packed our daypacks with all the necessary gear we would need for the next three days and left out large backpacks at the motorbike places where they would keep them safe for us. After breakfast, we were ready to get rolling and each hop on a motorbike to start this 450 km ( 279 miles, equivalent to driving from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh) 3-day journey. Well since nothing seems to ever go as planned in SE Asia, the motorbike agency said that they were all out of motorbikes and we would have to wait 2 DAYS for one unless we wanted to rent the manual dirt bikes. Well obviously since I could barely ride an automatic motorbike, I wasn’t equipped to ride a manual dirt bike. After much deliberation and getting absolutely nowhere with the owner, Vivien and I decided to try and find another shop with motorbikes and the guys decided to rent the dirt bikes. We told the guys not to wait for us and that we would find motorbikes somehow and join them that evening at the first guest house. They set out on their 5-hour journey towards the first guesthouse, leaving Vivien and I in the dust…literally.
After walking the entire damn town, we noticed there were only 3 rental shops in this town even though the demand was much greater. After absolutely no luck at the other two bike shops, we figured that we were screwed and would have to start this journey in 2 days which would push back our timeline for Vietnam. Seeing that Vivien was disappointed and mentioning that she wanted to skip the loop if we had to wait, I thought of something else. Since Laos is all about the money and money talks here, we decided to hang around the two motorbike rental areas until someone came back from the loop with their motorbike. Once we saw someone come back around 3pm, I pounced on the opportunity to talk to the owner of this small shop. We basically told him that we needed to leave to start the loop tonight and we would pay extra for the bike if we were able to drive off with it tonight. Since everyone already had their names down and they were exploring the town, we made sure the owner knew that no one would know if we took this bike today since they would all be coming by the next morning to pick up their bikes. Well our little bribery worked and Vivien and I rented a Honda 150CC motorbike for 150,000 kips per day (the original price was 120,000 kips). We originally wanted two motorbikes but this was our only option, so we decided we would take turns each day riding. Since the loop takes around 5- 6 hours of riding a day to complete, Vivi and I would each drive 3 hours a day while the other rested on the back. Since we had to make it to the guest house by sun set, we fueled up and sped out of town with our paper drawn out map of the loop. We knew the first guest house would take us around 4 hours to get to and since it is extremely dangerous to drive at night in Laos on a motorbike (due to the streets having no street lamps and the windy, mountainous roads) we did not make any stops until we were close to the guesthouse.
Although we didn’t stop at any of the caves on the way to our first guest house, we were impressed by the stunning limestone cliffs and green pastures around us. More times than once, we had to stop to let the cows or water buffalo walk across the street. During the first day, we passed small villages of people, kids getting out of school and yelling Sabaidee to them and many amazing views. Since we were speeding past everything, we were making amazing time and ended up stopping at a viewpoint to admire the mountains ahead of us. Since we were so close to the Vietnam border, I am positive that some of the mountains that are photographed below are actually in Vietnam. While we were admiring the views, a couple guys stopped with their motorbikes and we noticed they looked like war bikes (army green with a white star for Vietnam). We asked them where they found these and they said they bought them when they were in Ho Chi Minh (southern Vietnam) and had been riding them through Vietnam and now Laos for the last month – how amazing! We asked if we were able to take a picture with them and then we continued on the loop.
The views continued to surprise us as we passed different mangroves. Since we were getting closer to the guesthouse and we had an hour before the sun started to set, we decided to take a dirt road that led to a pack of cattle and take a quick break there. As you can see we got a bit tangled with all of the cattle passing our motorbike! Here we looked out on the horizon and ate out delicious dragon fruit.
We made perfect timing because as we were approaching the guesthouses, the sun started to set and guess who was waiting for us at Phosy Thalang Guesthouse, the boys!! We told them all about how we basically bribed the motorbike owner to let us leave today and that Vivien and I had to share a bike but it wasn’t the bad since we were able to give each other a rest driving. Vivien and I shared our own private bungalow on the river and enjoyed an amazing HOT shower for the first time in days (oh the little things in life)! We met up with the guys at the bonfire, played some card games, exchanged stories from the day and met a couple from Chicago. The perfect ending to a slightly hectic day.
The next day, the guys got an earlier start than Vivien and I so we mentioned that we would meet them at the next guesthouse. Today, we were able to take our time to get to the next guest house because we left at 10am. We decided to drive to Laksao and stop there to explore the village, say Sabaidee to the kids in the village and eat some food at the market. The views were absolutely incredible and the villages were very small with most houses made from bamboo. After our stop at Laksao, Vivien and I switched and we decided she would drive the next couple of hours to the cold spring. Since we were following the paper drawn out map, rather than mapsme on our phones, we made a slight error…
Knowing that the Thakhek Loop is not completely paved the entire way and it gets a bit rocky, when we decided to go straight at the light at Laksao and we started our rocky journey to the cold springs on the dirt roads….or so we thought. The roads got worse and worse and it seemed like Vivien was dodging pot hole after pot hole as if we were skiing down moguls. The ride got very bumpy and we were bouncing everywhere. A couple times we almost lost all control of the motorbike. Since we read many blogs that mentioned these crappy roads we thought we were still on the right track but we did notice that the deeper we got on this road, we were only passing locals and small villages. After about an hour of driving straight and hitting every pothole, we arrived to this huge sinking hole. I told Vivien to stop and said if we go down this hill there is no way we are getting this motorbike back up if we are wrong. The hill was a 90 degree angles straight down on rocks, I seriously have no idea how people drive up and down. After finally pulling out our phones, we realized we were 5km from the VIETNAM BORDER! This was NOT where we were supposed to be at all. After mapping it out on our phones, Vivien and I made the ride back to Laksao, waved hi to all of the locals we passed an hour ago and dodged half of the pot holes we ran into heading this direction. Well after a 2-hour detour of really seeing where the locals live and breathtaking views…we made it back on the correct road towards the cold springs.
Finally after two more hours of driving and admiring the insanely beautiful mountain range to our right, we arrived at the cold spring! We laughed a bit when we met up with the couple from Chicago about our mistake. They actually mentioned that when they didn’t see us at the cool spring they thought we went straight instead of make the crucial left turn. The cool spring was gorgeous and exactly what we needed to relax and soak up some sun. We talked to a couple of people who had been there for a couple hours relaxing. Since they wanted to get to the next town before sunset, they quickly left after we arrived. Vivien and I swam a bit, enjoyed another dragon fruit as a quick snack and headed back on the bike.
We had about 3 hours of riding left until we reached out next guest house next to Konglor Cave. Of course the next hour was full of turns, passing huge trucks and buses and having slight panic attacks. The roads were absolutely crazy and no one should be motorbiking around these areas with these huge trucks and buses on the same roads. Luckily we managed to get to the town before Konglor Cave to fuel up. With a full tank of gas and 45 minutes of sunlight left, we got back on the bike and I raced down 40km from Kuon Kharn to Konglor Cave in order to make it there by sunset. This last part of our trip was on dirt roads with massive potholes. I knew if we didn’t make it to the guesthouse by sunset, we would have a long road ahead of us trying to avoid the potholes that we could barely see with the light. As the sun was setting, we had a terrific view while speeding through the villages to get to our final destination. We still had around 10 km to go when it became dark. For the next hour in the dim light of the night, I made my way slowly to the guest houses trying to avoid the potholes but of course it was a very dark and bumpy ride for Vivien and I. Luckily after a couple panic attacks and some close wipe outs, we made it to the guesthouse and found the guys. We were absolutely starving by the time we got there since all we had that day was a small breakfast, a snack at the market and dragon fruit! We told them all about our crazy day going to the border and they figured that we would get lost as well. When 2 blondes get on a motorbike to drive through the middle of Laos without cellular service, anything can happen! That night we played a couple card games, ate dinner with the guys and played with the local dogs around the area. What really made that night spectacular was when the guys surprised us with ice cream – for anyone who knows me, my biggest weakness is ice cream and I was overjoyed when they brought it out!! Yet another perfect ending to a wonderful day.
We woke up eager the next morning to tour Konglor Cave and get back to Thakhek to end our 3-day motorbike tour. We were the first ones to arrive at Konglor Cave that morning, which allowed us to take in the beauty of this ginormous cave for ourselves. In order to see the entire cave, you have to rent a motorized boat with a driver that will take you down the river that goes through the middle of the cave and ends on the other side. Before getting on the boat, we turned our headlamps on so we could admire the different stalactites, stalagmites, columns and pillars. This cave was absolutely massive, if you weren’t able to figure that out when I mentioned that a river flowed through the middle of it. Our tour guide dropped us off at different parts of the cave to explore with our headlamps and meet him on the other side where he would drive us to another destination. Once we got to the other side of the cave, Ban Natan, we talked to some villagers who lived there and also went on a short nature walk where we saw lots of water buffalos!
Getting back on our motorbikes, we drove 200km back to the center of town. Vivien and I had to stop a couple times because we were so sore from driving for such long periods of time. Luckily we were able to switch on and off to give our hands, backs and butts a rest. This was an absolute dream come true and we both experienced so much during the last three days. This 3-day motorbike loop was the highlight of our Laos trip so far and the perfect ending to our time in Laos.
Next stop…Hanoi, Vietnam!