A Travellerspoint blog

Thakhek Loop Adventure Day 4

Konglor Cave exploration

sunny

On this final day of the Thakhek Loop adventure, I woke up as early as 6 am to prepare myself for the ultimate Konglor cave exploration. I later found out that the cave opens only at 8 am and with some time to kill and headed up towards the cave direction, which was about 1.5 km from Chanta Guesthouse looking for a place for coffee. The morning sunrise landscapes of paddy fields and limestone hills were just simply breathtaking. It was amazing to sum it up. The early morning breeze, crisp and cool air were something that what makes the feel so good. The clean and unpolluted air made the whole Konglor village a great place to set up a home or as retirement sanctuary. As I walked on the road looking for a restaurant that serves coffee, I came accross Phounsouk Guesthouse. This guesthouse was sort of a newly set up business, about 2 years old as was told by the young man, who is a co-owner of the property together with his elder brother. He was from Vientiane but came to set up guesthouse in Konglor for he fell in love with the place and wanted to start something on his own. So, he invested some money to built the 2 storey guesthouse with the help of his elder brother and family. He did involved in the construction works on the guesthouse as well and as of the time when I was there, the guesthouse is still expanding with more rooms to be build. As the guesthouse also serves food and drinks, including breakfast, I got myself a cup of coffee and 3 half boiled eggs to start the day before continuing the Konglor cave exploration. The sights at Phounsouk Guesthouse of hills and rice fields coupled with the sunrise view and cool, crisp and fresh air, the whole experience was wonderful. We had some good chats over certain issues and just 15 minutes before 8 am, I continued walking from Phounsouk Guesthouse for about 1 km to reach Konglor cave area. As I walked, I managed to snapped few great early morning sunrise views around the Konglor village which was surrounded with limestone hills and paddy fields. There is an entrance fee of 2000 kip before entering the gated area which covered with trees before reaching the ticket counter for the cave entrance about 500 metres from the entrance gate. The fee to explore Konglor cave was 105,000 kip with 2 boatmen, one who sits in front of the motorised boat and serves to lookout for danger while the boat cruising through the cave while the other control the boat at the rear of it. The boat could cater only up to 3 persons, excluding the 2 boatmen. Considering the danger that these boatmen had to go through each day, I think the fee was not too much to asked for. Take note that this is just a mere USD 15 for a boat and each of this boat operator would need to share among the 2 of them and they were many boats operating at this cave. I would say, they probably had only 5 or less trips a day on low season. This is how the Konglor cave exploration begins:

1. After paying the entrance fee, you would be given a life jacket as a safety measures. You can also choose to rent a headlight gear if you want.
2. The 2 boatmen will lead you to the area where the boat is being parked.
3. You would first walked down the staircase which leads to the bridge that span across the river which flow out from the Konglor cave.
4. Walked across the bridge and you would come across a beach-like sandy area which formed the riverbanks
5. Walked along that beach area which then leads you to an upper base through a short staircase. After passing through some bushes, you could
see the emerald pool just outside the mouth of Konglor cave
6. You would then board the boat which being parked at the edge of the cave mouth and the journey begins.
7. Inside the cave, there is no lightning apart from designated area where visitors would get down to explore the sightings of stalagmites &
stalactites.
8. Continuing from the brief stop to for a close look at those stalagmites & stalactites, the boat would then head out from the cave.
9. Out from the cave, the boat cruise through the river with great sightings of limestone hills on the background
10. The boat then headed to Natane site, which is a riverbank area covered with lush trees. This site leads to the Natane village which is only
accessible by cruising through Konglor cave.
11. You can buy food and drinks at Natane site, relax and enjoy the nature. The stop is about 20 to 30 minutes.
12. All in, the Konglor cave adventure took about 2 hours to complete.

Let me share some of the early sunrise view on a 1.5 km foot journey to Konglor cave as well as views from inside the cave, out from the cave heading to Natane and back to where the exploration starts.

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The early morning view at Ban Konglor from Chanta House

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A farmer gets out to work in the early morning in Konglor village

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Walking towards Konglor Cave in the early morning of Day 4

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The paddy fields and limestones hill on the morning of Day 4 at Konglor village

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A view from Phounsouk Guesthouse in Konglor village

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Breakfast at Phounsouk Guesthouse, Konglor village

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On foot to Konglor cave

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The gate to Konglor Cave

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The lush trees in Konglor Cave area after passing through the gate

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The ticket counter at Konglor Cave area

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Following these 2 boatmen down the staircase to cross the bridge to board the boat to cruise through Konglor Cave

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The bridge that span across the river that flows out from Konglor cave

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Walking through the sandy beach-like area to the mouth of Konglor cave

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The staircase that leads to the higher ground where the Konglor cave mouth is located

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The river that flows out from Konglor cave

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The mouth of Konglor cave

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On board the boat to cruise through Konglor cave

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Cruising inside Konglor cave

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Stalactites and Stalagmites inside Konglor cave

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Cruising out from Konglor Cave heading to Natane

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Relaxing at Natane, Konglor

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Natane site

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The bridge that connects to Natane village from Konglor Cave

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The emerald pool at the mouth of Konglor cave

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Wang Wang Rental Shop in Thakhek at the end of Day 4 loop adventure

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The bike returned to Wang Wang Rental Shop at the end of Day 4

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Passing through the Friendship Bridge III from Thakhek to Nakhon Phanom

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The VIP bus from Nakhon Phanom to Bangkok

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A cup of porridge after arrival at Mochit Bus Terminal, Bangkok

Posted by kidd27 22:34

Thakhek Loop Adventure Day 3 (Part 3)

sunny

Arriving at Nahin bus station from Laksao, I immediately hit the road again on my bike and ride towards the direction to Konglor Cave after getting on information on how to get there from people at the station. Over at Nahin, the roads here were good and paved. The structure of the road is flat, so its easy to ride a bike on such road condition. From Nahin to Ban Konglor, the distance is 40 kilometres. The road to Konglor Cave is the easiest to ride with the flat road structure, though there were parts of the road which were riddled with potholes and some damages. Overall, the ride should be pleasant and safe as the small road that leads all its way up to Konglor Cave was without any heavy vehicles that ply the road since the ultimate end of the road was to Konglor Cave which signals the final destination. There are dozens of villages dotted the road that leads up to Konglor cave. On the left and right direction of this small road, most of the areas were covered with rice fields, so, you can imagine how massive the areas being filled with rice fields on this road that span over 40 kilometres. For those whom are not into strenuous bike ride to cover the Thakhek Loop, just by biking on this 40 km road to Konglor cave from Nahin and back again from Konglor cave would just be as interesting and satisfying. Apart from the rice fields, the landscapes were covered with limestone hills on the background of those villages and paddy fields. The views were as good and beautiful just as those over on route 12 and 1E of the Thakhek Loop. As I reached Nahin at 2pm, the afternoon heat caused the ride to be slightly uncomfortable while the views, in comparison to the early sunrise time, may not be too picturesque though they are still stunning. It took me approximately 3 hours ride on the road to finally reached my ultimate destination on this loop adventure, the Konglor Cave. I checked into Chanta Guesthouse on this final day of biking. Chanta Guesthouse is a unique place to stay because the view from the rooms provide guests with the privilege of the limestone hills and paddy fields view. The luxury of staying in Chanta House is the ultimate experience for one to get a real taste of a countryside living. With the calm, beautiful natural surroundings and and breathtaking landscapes, one would never want to leave Ban Konglor and just feel plain sad to bade farewell and the end of the day. I was tired at the end of the ride but I was glad that it was finally completed. It was not easy and the whole adventure provided me with lots of memorable experience and such experience would be something that I could cherish on till the end of my life. The people here were nice and the greetings "Sabaidee" (good day) would be heard from the villagers whenever you see them on the road and the school children would be happy and curious to see you and provide their greetings of sabaidee like the adults. Let me share some of the beautiful views and natural landscapes on the road to Konglor cave.

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On the road again to cycle 40 km to Ban Konglor from Nahin

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This way to Konglor Cave. The small signboard that shows the direction to Konglor cave

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The starting point of the road to Konglor cave which is a 40 km long narrow road with nice view on paddy fields and limestone hills

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The 40 km journey to Konglor cave

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The starting point to Konglor cave

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The distance to Konglor Cave on this road

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The road to Konglor cave

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Chanta Guesthouse, Konglor Cave

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A view from Chanta Guesthouse

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Dinner on Day 3 of the loop at Konglor Cave

Posted by kidd27 10:31 Archived in Laos

Thakhek Loop Adventure Day 3 (Part 2)

sunny 37 °C

To put it simply, Laksao is not a town with good infrastructure as of now. Parts of the road in the town was dusty due to reason these roads yet to paved in full though there was a bank observed here. The town is somewhat distinctive as it isArriving laksao after a rough ride on a pick up, I cycled for few kilometres uptown looking for the place where I could board the "songtheaw" (pick-up taxi with double long bench opposite each other) to get to Nahin. My plan was actually to cycled all the way from Laksao to Nahin and then from Nahin, I would continue my journey to Konglor Cave. Due to uncertain information on the road condition (blame it to lack of thorough research on the loop road condition), I decided to hop on to the songtheaw to get to Nahin. I later found out that the road from Laksao to Nahin was an easy ride down hill on most of the stretch and this was where I saw the most foreigners on their bicycles, perhaps from elsewhere like the hotsprings, north of Laksao. Whereas in the most difficult circuits, I did not noticed these fellow riders, so I just figure out why. In fact, in most part of the road covered from Thakhek town to road 12 onwards to road 1E up to Ban Thalang, I could not noticed any of them even those caves located off road 12.

As I cycled towards the Laksao town centre, I asked around on where was the songtheaw station located and I was pointed to the Laksao dry market, which has an open parking space for minivan taxi, minibus and songtheaws as well as a covered motorbike parking area. There are basically 2 types of taxi service, one which is the air-conditioned minivan taxi while the other is the songtheaw. Songtheaw also doubles as good transport agent, where apart from passengers, it will also transport goods for traders to its customers from one town to the other. The songtheaw fare as I was charged ranged between 30,000 to 40,000. I was charged additional 5,000 kip for my bike which would be placed on top of the songtheaw roof tied with a rope on a metal rack attached on the roof of the songtheaw. This was a kind of different experience to me though the whole journey may not be comfortable due to the extreme hot weather and the dusty road condition at times. However, travel in a variety of ways when on a journey like this added much fun and distinction to how one gets from one place to another when on holiday or adventure. Though this is a biking tour, one cannot deny the fact that things can be done in variety of ways to suit the conditions of the travel situations. I was also hoping that I could complete the loop within 4 days, so getting on a songtheaw would help to achieve my target.

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Cycling a few kilometres uptown after arrival at Laksao from Ban Thalang

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A wat along the road to Laksao town

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The road in Laksao town and its surroundings

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A bank in Laksao town

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Laksao is surrounded by limestone hills

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The quiet road at Laksao town

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Laksao dry market

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The open parking space at Laksao market

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The motorbike parking area at Laksao market

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A motorcycle shop in Laksao

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The songtheaw which I board to get from Laksao to Nahin. The bike was tied on the roof of the vehicle on a metal rack

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My luggage inside the songtheaw

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The driver loading goods into the songtheaw

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Waiting to pick up more passengers at the Laksao bus station

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One of the road condition from Laksao to Nahin

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Some of the landscapes from Laksao to Nahin

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The road from Laksao to Nahin

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Arriving at Nahin from Laksao

Posted by kidd27 02:36 Archived in Laos

Thakhek Loop Adventure Day 3 (Part 1)

sunny 21 °C

From Phosy Thalang Guesthouse in Ban Thalang, I departed early at 6 am to get to Laksao. I have read about part of the Thakhek Loop would involve going through the muddy, slippery red earth road and seen some of the pictures over the net, of which most Thakhek Loop adventurers would love to show it over their blogs. The truth is, these stretch of road is hardly passable during the rainy season from what I had experienced and observed on my third day of the loop adventure. But before that, as I cycled away from Phosy Thalang Guesthouse on the unpaved, rocky road, I reached the bridge area which connects to the other side of the road, which was divided by a massive lake. The lake, as I mentioned on the earlier writings, could already be seen when I was in Nakai. So, you could just imagine how huge the lake size is. Over at the bridge, the early morning sunrise view were just stunning and picturesque. The cool morning breeze and crisp air added the charm of the great nature landscapes in this central part of Laos.

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Getting out early from Phosy Thalang Guesthouse on my journey to Laksao

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The road outside Phosy Thalang Guesthouse. The unpaved road deteriorated into muddy red dirt earth before reaching Laksao from Ban Thalang

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The sunrise view from the bridge area after Phosy Thalang Guesthouse

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Another sunrise view in Ban Thalang

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The bridge at Ban Thalang

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The view of the lake at the bridge in Ban Thalang

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Stunning sunrise view at the lake in Ban Thalang

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Another great sunrise view at the lake in Ban Thalang

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The bridge seen far away after I continued cycling towards Laksao

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Lifeless trees on the lake after passing through the bridge in Ban Thalang

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Part of the road condition from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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View on a small lake in Ban Thalang enroute to Laksao

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The distance to Laksao from Ban Thalang

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The road from Ban Thalang to Laksao

After few kilometres ride away from Ban Thalang, there wasn't a sight of any passing vehicles that I could get a hitch on to Laksao. The muddy red earth road was also yet to be sighted, so I continued my journey in the hope that the road condition may not be as bad. As I cycled on, a pick-up came to me and asked if I would like to get a lift to Laksao. I was more than happy to accept the driver's offer, who is transporting a bike to a village in Laksao. The road after Ban Thalang can be described as one of the most difficult stretch on the Thakhek Loop adventure. Most of the road situations were bumpy, narrow, dusty and the worst was on one part where the on-going road widening project which cut through a huge hill and forested area which resulted in the muddy red earth road condition which made worst during the rainy season. As I witnessed this with my own eyes, it would be definitely impossible for any vehicles to get through this road during the wet season. Even 4 wheel drive and pick-ups were facing with difficulty when trying to drive through these part of the road. It took the pick-up I was on for at least 10-15 minutes before the driver could finally managed to pull over his vehicle from the muddy and slippery red earth road. Excavators could be seen here which are used by the contractors to conduct the road widening project. Despite the road works, there are some beautiful landscapes from Ban Thalang to Laksao.

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My bike on the rear of the pick-up which provide a lift to Laksao from Ban Thalang

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The bike to be transported to Laksao from Ban Thalang on the pick-up which offer a lift to Laksao

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Nice sunrise view from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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Some of the dead trees along the road from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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The lake on the road from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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The road from Ban Thalang to Laksao which would be closed on certain time

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Dead trees seen on the road from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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Lake and dead trees from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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Red earth road stretch from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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The Ban Thalang-Laksao road started to deteriorate into red muddy earth condition

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The red earth road surface from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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Part of the muddy road from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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A minivan taxi facing difficulty to get through the muddy road at the Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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It took this pick-up to get through the muddy road from Ban Thalang to Laksao a good 10-15 minutes

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Excavator seen here on the road works at the Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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The road condition improved at the Ban Thalang-Laksao route after passing through the muddy stretch

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Green landscapes at the Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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Hills view on Ban Thalang-Laksao route in the early morning

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Great early morning view at the Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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Buffalo seen here on my journey from Ban Thalang to Laksao

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A village home at the Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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Open field landscape at Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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A river at the Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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The hills and rice fields at the Ban Thalang to Laksao route

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A hill and a house on the Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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Cows roaming the road at the Ban Thalang-Laksao route

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Arriving at Laksao from Ban Thalang

Posted by kidd27 10:22 Archived in Laos

Thakhek Loop Adventure Day 2

sunny 37 °C

I started early at 6 am local time on the Day 2 of the Thakhek Loop adventure. My target for Day 2 was to reach Laksao but unfortunately, I could only reached Ban Thalang at approximately 4.00 pm, cycling for 10 hours non-stop other than to buy bottled drinking waters. The journey on Day 2 was tough having had to negotiate steep hills along the route after Nam Theun Power Station (NTPC) heading to Nakai. NTPC was located after Gnommalath. From Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai in the early morning, the landscapes were one of the most beautiful along the Thakhek Loop surrounded by landscapes of rice fields and limestone hills. The early morning sunrise added the charm to these beautiful sceneries along the route 12. The road structure was paved and flat all along the route 12 to Mahaxai and onwards to Gnommalath and then to the Nam Theun Power Station. The road on the hills from NPTC to Nakai was also paved. From Nakai to Ban Thalang and then onwards to Laksao, the roads were unpaved and the conditions deteriorated further after Ban Thalang to Laksao. From Ban Thalang to Laksao, the on-going road widening constructions which cut through the large tract of hills caused the area to be filled with red mud and difficult to pass through even with the 4 wheel drive vehicles as well as pick-ups due to muddy pathways in which the wheels easily got stuck in the muddy and slippery road condition.

I had the worst encounter after the NPTC heading to the uphill areas before reaching Nakai. The landscapes along the NPTC were beautiful and scenic surrounded by hills and the river. The mid afternoon heat has taken a toll on me when I reached the foothill area after NPTC and I decided to get help from passing pick-up vehicles to provide me with their assistance for a hitch to Nakai. I managed to get help from a kind couple in their pick-up and they did not hesitate at all to gave me a ride to Nakai. They had just finished with their fish trading business and were headed home to Nakai. I was fortunate that there were many vehicles plying the route 1E from Gnommalath to Nakai.

After reaching Nakai, I then continue to cycled about 30 km to reach Ban Thalang. The landscapes along the route 1E from nakai to Ban Thalang was filled with massive yet wonderful and nice lake and trees. The road condition was not flat and I still had to negotiate steep roads which much less steeper than the one before Nakai. However, the difficulty to cycle here were made worst by the fact that the road were unpaved and this was so the case from Nakai to Laksao. The scenic lake from Nakai to Ban Thalang compensated the strenuous biking condition that I encountered. As I had wrote earlier, why it was important to keep a copy of the passport which I handed over to Mrs Wang Wang as a deposit for the bike rental. As I cycled from Nakai to Ban Thalang, a youth who was riding on his motorbike suddenly caught fire just right in front of me. He ran towards a house in front of him to seek assistance but there seemed to be no one there. So, he came to me and asked if I could borrow him my bike for him to cycle home to get help. He said his house was not too far away from the place in which the incident happened but I was worried that he may returned the bike to me. I was reluctant to gave him the bike because being a foreigner in a foreign land, I do not want to get into any trouble. He assured me that he would returned the bike and offered his handphone as a guarantee. I reluctantly gave the bike to him and as he left, the motorbike was almost burnt into ashes. It was then the policemen came and they asked if the bike belonged to me. I explained the whole situation to the policemen and told them I was a foreigner on a bike tour from Thakhek. It was then when they asked for my identification and I had to show them my copy of passport and I explained that the original copy was with Wang Wang as a security for the bicycle rental. I was glad that the youth came back and returned the bike to me later on.

Just before reaching Ban Thalang after a scenic lake ride along route 1E from Nakai, I stopped at one of the sundry store to take a rest after a good 10 hours of ride without a long rest. I was relieved when I finally saw the signboard "Phosy Thalang Guesthouse". I know I had to stop here as I had been utilising all my energy on the Day 2 of my adventure and I need a good rest before I could pressed ahead my Day 3 to Laksao and then onwards to Nahin and finally to Konglor Cave.

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Day 2 Heading out at 6 am from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai on route 12

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Day 2 The rice fields and limestone hills on route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai

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Day 2 Route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai in the early morning

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Day 2 The early morning sunrise on route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai

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Day 2 From Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai on route 12

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Day 2 Student cycled to school on route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai

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Day 2 On my bike heading to Mahaxai from Tham Nang Aen on route 12

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Day 2 Landscapes on route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai

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Day 2 The good road condition on route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai

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Day 2 The nice morning landscape view on route 12 to Mahaxai

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Day 2 Route 12 to Mahaxai

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Day 2 Great sunrise view on route 12 to Mahaxai

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Day 2 Another nice sunrise view on route 12 to Mahaxai from Tham Nang Aen

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Day 2 A motorcycle repair shop in which I had my bicycle's tyre refilled with air

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Day 2 Continuing the journey from Mahaxai to Gnommalath

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Day 2 Limestones and rice fields landscapes from Mahaxai to Gnommalath

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Day 2 To morning breeze turned into the mid day heat from Mahaxai to Gnommalath

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Day 2 The rice fields and hills from Mahaxai to Gnommalath

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Day 2 The bridge on route 1E heading to Gnommalath

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Day 2 Crossing the river enroute Mahaxai to Gnommalath

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Day 2 The scenic river landscape from Mahaxai to Gnommalath

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Day 2 The signboard To Gnommalath and the Laos-Vietnam border from Mahaxai

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Day 2 Arrived at Gnommalat from Mahaxai

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Day 2 Route 1E from Gnommalath to Nakai

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Day 2 The landscapes on route 1E from Gnommalath to Nakai

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Day 2 The bridge connects Gnommalath to Nam Theun Power Station

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Day 2 Route 1E from Gnommalath to Nam Theun Power Station

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Day 2 Arrived at Nam Theun Power Station from Gnommlath on route 1E

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Day 2 From Nam Theun Power Station to Nakai. The road of hell begins here

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Day 2 Awaiting for help to get to Nakai after passing through Nam Theun Power Station

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Day 2 A kind help from a fish seller for a steep hill ride on a pick up to Nakai

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Day 2 Arrived at Nakai from Nam Theun Power Station

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Day 2 The route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang

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Day 2 The motorbike belonged to a youth that was burnt into ashes along route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang

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Day 2 The massive lake along route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang

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Day 2 Part of the massive lake along route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang

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Day 2 Another lake landscape along route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang

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Day 2 Taking a rest and enjoy a bottle of Oishi green tea before arriving Ban Thalang

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Day 2 Arrived at Phosy Thalang Guesthouse

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Day 2 The interior of the room at Phosy Thalang Guesthouse

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Day 2 A view of the lake at Phosy Thalang Guesthouse

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Day 2 Dinner at Phosy Thalang Restaurant. Fried rice with fried egg Lao style

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Day 2 A bottle of Oishi Black Tea before the challenge on Day 3 next morning

Posted by kidd27 00:08 Archived in Laos

Thakhek Loop Adventure Day 1

sunny

It was already 12 pm when I decided to rent the bike from Wang Wang Bike Rental Shop located at a row of old shops near the Mekong river. The rental for a day for the only mountain bike available at Wang Wang shop was 20,000 kip, which considered as very affordable and good value for the money paid. Mrs Wang Wang, co-owned the business with her husband and she stays at the 2 storey shop with her husband and her young children. She was kind of a nice person and accommodating. After I paid her 60,000 kip for a 3-day rental and handed over my passport as a deposit, I was ready to venture to the Thakhek Loop. With a copy of map from Mrs Wang Wang, I headed over to route no.12 from Thakhek to Mahaxai, which was an anti/counter clockwise direction of the Thakhek Loop. From route no.12, I will be heading to Mahaxai, then to Gnommalath or Yommalath on route no.1E, which would then be all the way up to Nakai. From Nakai, I would then be heading to Ban Thalang and I was told by Mrs Wang Wang that the scenes here were interesting surrounded by rivers and lake. I thought maybe this is the place to stay and rest before I restart my journey again heading to Laksao. From Laksao, I would then head on to Nahin on route 8A before finally reaching Konglor Cave on a 40km journey from Nahin.

I have checked with the staff at Thakhek Travel Lodge earlier on what were the interesting caves which worth visiting and was told that, they were Tham Pha Fa, Tham Pha Inh as well as Tham Nang Aen. I had decided that I cannot afford to visit all the other caves and places within route 12 because I wanted to complete the loop within 3 to 4 days. Anyhow, I had paid the bike rental for 3 days and perhaps I would need to pay Wang Wang for additional one day rental should I cannot finished the adventure within the specified days. Other than time constraint, the caves and lakes off route 12 would take additional kilometres, up to over 20 km at some places. So, this would have taken up lots of the time considering I was on a mountain bike and not a motorbike.

What were most disappointed were the fact that at Tham Pha Fa, which was 10 km off route 12, the cave keeper disallowed visitors to take photographs inside the cave for reasons best known to these people inside. That aside, you would also have to pay 2,500 kip as entrance fee to the cave. Nevertheless, the journey itself on a dusty, bumpy and deserted road surrounded by hills and limestone mountains was worth the effort. From Tham Pha Fa, I cycled back to route 12 for another 10 km and continuing my journey on this route to my next target, Tham Pha Inh. This cave was located just about 500 metres off route 12, but unfortunately, I could not located the cave after entering the area, which was deserted with muddy and damped road surface as well as surrounded by trees and bushes. I was afraid that I may get lost inside as I move further into the area but was still lucky to locate the Emerald Buddha statue at the edge of a hill. After that, I headed out again to route 12 to continue the journey to Tham Nang Aen. I completed the Day 1 loop adventure finishing off my day at Tham Nang Aen by 5 pm.

It was altogether a 5 hour of cycling non-stop othen than to visit the caves. Before I get into Tham Nang Aen, I stopped briefly at a stall beside route 12 and bought bananas and the Oishi greentea to built up some strengther after a long day of cycling. One of the stall owner invited me to sleep at his stall as he said he wouldn't mind to host me as his guests. I thanked him for such a kind offer but politely declined him before I headed off route 12 for another 3 km to reach Tham Nang Aen. When I was there, the day was getting dark. The wind blowing from inside the cave was so cool and the surrounded area were surrounded by many trees. There was a stream at the entrance of the cave just off route 12 and I was lucky that there was a guesthouse cum restaurant. I settled down at the guesthouse before continuing my journey next morning to Mahaxai and the target was hopefully to reach Laksao, but unfortunately I could only end up at Ban Thalang. It was kind of eerie sleeping at the guesthouse in Tham Nang Aen and there was no hot shower, so I had to made so with it but the scary feeling just disappeared thinking of the onwards challenges ahead tomorrow.

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Day 1 On route 12 of Thakhek Loop heading from Thakhek town to Tham Pha Fa

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Day 1 Limestone hills and rice fields along route 12 of Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 Dusty and bumpy road to Tham Pha Fa off route 12

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Day 1 Limestone hills landscape enroute to Tham Pha Fa

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Day 1 The staircase leading up to Tham Pha Fa

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Day 1 The entrance to Tham Pha Fa which would lead you down where the Buddha sculptures are located. No photos allowed inside

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Day 1 On route 12 again out from Tham Pha Fa heading to Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 Rice fields and limestone hills along route 12 headed to Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 On route 12 to Tham Pha Inh. The distance signboard to the Laos-Vietnam border

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Day 1 The large limestone hills on route 12 to Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 The entrance into Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 The Emerald Buddha at Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 The areas surrounding Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 Headed out from Tham Pha Inh to route 12

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Day 1 On route 12 to Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 Cycled on route 12 to Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 The landscapes on route 12 from Tham Pha Inh to Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 Banana and Oishi black tea to re-energised at the stall on route 12 just outside Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 The stream at the entrance to Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 The route to Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 Its 3 km into the Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 The signboard at Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 The Tham Nang Aen

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Da1 Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 Tham Nang Aen on route 12 Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The upper wall outside Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 The staircase at Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 A basic room at a guesthouse in Tham Nang Aen

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Day 1 Simple dinner of khao neaw & larb moo (sticky rice & spicy & sour pork)

Posted by kidd27 20:45 Archived in Laos

Biking Through Khammouane province

Reaching Tham Konglor (Konglor Cave) in the most adventurous way

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It was never easy as I would have thought. Doing the Thakhek Loop on a bicycle is just a crazy adventure that I think would never be in most travellers mind who intend to get into this challenging travel experience. Most people did the Thakhek Loop on the bike which can be rented easily within Thakhek town. Through searches in the internet, informations available would be commonly on Mr.Ku's motorbike rental service at the Thakhek Travel Lodge, which is located off the Thakhek town. Getting here, you need to hire a samlor taxi as it is quite a distance away from town. What makes Mr.Ku special was that, according to the samlor taxi guy that took me from the Thakhek bus station, he provides additional services to his customers where he take cares of their needs as and when such requirements arised. For example, if you get into trouble with your bike during your bike adventure, he would get someone at the nearest location to help you with any form of assistance needed. Exactly how true this is, you need to find out yourself should you rent a bike from him. Informations from the net gave the same impressions about Mr.Ku's services, so it may be just as true as what the samlor guy mentioned. When I arrived at Thakhek town, I was unsure if I should do the loop with the motorbike or the bicycle though my heart and mind told me that the latter would be my choice of travel. Even before I arrived, months earlier, I was already determined to complete the Thakhek Loop with the bicycle. The reason is, I could not ride on a bike and I do not have a license. I had a bad experience on riding a bike where I was involved in an accident while riding one during a trip to Koh Larn off Pattaya in Thailand some 4 years ago. That was the last time I rode on a bike and due to that incident, I had doubts on my ability to control the machine. I just hope that I could travel and do the loop in the safest manner and that I would be able to complete the journey not having any of my body parts injured. I took a stroll around Thakhek town as an early orientation to check out some guesthouse rates and also to admire the serenity of the town which is dotted with charming old heritage shophouses. First, I thought perhaps I should stay a night at the town to get myself familiarise with the town as well as enjoy the calmness and beautiful surroundings of Thakhek. After spending some time walking around town, it came to my mind that I should immediately start on the loop adventure as I may need to spend more days if I were to cycle the loop. I stumbled on the Wang Wang Rental shop, which its signboard mentioned it provides motorbike, bicycle and minivan rentals. As I entered the shop, the owner who is a woman in her late 30s or early 40s just returned with her customer , possibly back from somewhere around town trying out the bike if it works fine. She looks like a chinese but when asked further, she mentioned that she is of Vietnamese origin but a resident of Laos. She stays in the same shop with her husband and young children and quite a nice person to talk to. There were some bad review on the net about Wang Wang Bike Rental but how true were those reviews, the best is for those intend to rent a bike from Wang Wang to find out the truth.

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The Thakhek Loop Map

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Day 1 Starting my journey on route no.12 on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The road condition of route no.12 Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The road to Tham Pha Fa off route no 12 of Thakhek Loop

Still undecided, I thought of checking out at Mr.Ku over in Thakhek Travel Lodge. Due to its distance which is away from town, I took the samlor taxi to reach there. Later, I found out from the staff of Thakhek Travel Lodge that Mr.Ku does not have any bicycle for rent and he only has motorbikes for hire. He was not there when I arrived. Some brief chat with the staff on what to expect by cycling through the loop and what are the interesting caves to visit along the route at Road No.12 of the Thakhek Loop, I left the Thakhek Travel Lodge to get back to the town centre. By now, I was quite sure that I should be hiring a bicycle from Wang Wang shop. I checked with Madame Wang Wang (I didn't asked for her name so this is how I addressed her here) about the costs to hire the mountain bike per day and she mentioned it was 20,000 kip, which is inexpensive and value for the money. The white mountain bike is the only one that she has and to rent one, I need to submit my original passport to her as a security should anything untoward happened to her bike. I asked for a copy of the passport main page to be given in case of emergency, which proved to be the right thing to do as along the journey, I was asked to produce my identification document when a motorbike burst into flame in Nakai on route no.1E. More on this later.

The journey throughout the Thakhek Loop adventure is unforgettable. It was the most strenuous ever adventure that I had experience thus far and it will be remembered forever till the last breath of my life. I just do not know how should I describe the whole experience travelling the loop on the counter or anti clockwise from route no.12 to 1E, onwards to route 8A then to Konglor Cave and finally to route no.13 back to Thakhek town.
I need to thank all those who had extended their help throughout the journey and without them, I would never have the opportunity to complete the loop. Thank you Laos and thank you Thakhek.

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Day 1 The landscapes enroute to Tham Pha Fa on Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The signboard to Tham Pha Fa on Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The mountain landscapes enroute to Tham Pha Fa on Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The road enroute to Tham Pha Fa which is 10 km off the route 12 of Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The surrounding landscape at Tham Pha Fa on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The landscapes around Tham Pha Fa on Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 Arriving the entrance to Tham Pha Fa. Photos strictly not allowed inside the cave.

The highlight of Thakhek Loop is to reach Konglor cave, which offers some magnificent and marvelous cave landscapes adventure while going through the cave on a slow manually controlled motorboat which is about 7.5 km in distance to reach the Natane site, a gateway to the Natane village not accessible by road. It took me 4 days to reached Tham Konglor with the bicycle starting my journey on Day 1 of the Thakhek Loop from the centre of Thakhek town onwards to route no.12, then cycled onwards to Mahaxai. The distance on route 12 including of getting into some of the interesting caves along the route such as Tham Pha Fa, Tham Pha Inh and Tham Nang Aen was approximately 50 km. I decided to called it a day at Tham Nang Aen when it was already 6 pm and the day has turned dark. The road condition was comfortably paved and easy with flat terrain along the route 12 where most caves dotted this line of the route. However, the difficulty I experienced was when I cycled about 10km in and another 10 km out visiting the Tham Pha Fa. The journey was bumby with some long stretch of sandy terrain as well as red sandy pathways. I stayed at a nearby guesthouse within the jungle next to Tham Nang Aen before I countinued my journey to Mahaxai the next morning. The natural landscapes along route 12 was the most stunning and beautiful in my thought as I could experience it while biking on the early morning of Day 2 of the Thakhek Loop. I started at 7 am on Day 2 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai, the distance was about 40 km. The road basically from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai was still flat and easy to ride on. From Mahaxai, I cycled onwards to Gnomalath or Yommalath with a distance of about 40 kms. The interesting part on the Mahaxai-Gnomalath landscape was the stunning river than flow across on a stretch of the the route on 1E. The most difficult part of the Thakhek Loop adventure would be from Gnomalath to Nakai as this involved the most strenuous biking adventure through highly steep hills. Over at this spot, I knew I would not be able to cycle through the gravely steep hills and I know I need to get help here. The mid afternoon heat also added to the difficulty to go ahead with the challenging spot. I managed to get help from a mini pick-up lorry, which was owned by husband and wife whom were fish seller. They were so nice and welcoming and never resisted when I greeted them to asked for assistance. I loaded my bike onto the pick-up and off we went heading to Nakai town. Between Gnomalath and Nakai, this is where the Nam Theun Power Station (NTPS) is located. The route from Nakai to Ban Thalang with all the stretch of the road unpaved with uneven and rocky surface in all parts of the route. From Nakai, I cycled for about 20 km to reach Ban Thalang, which offers some a nice view of the river at the Phosy Thalang Guesthouse. All in I cycled for 9 hours non-stop from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai and onwards from Gnomalath to Nakai and finally called it a day at Ban Thalang. Between Nakai and Ban Thalang, the views were just as magnificent as those along route 12, where the natural landscapes on the route 8E include great lakes and green surroundings.

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Day 1 Continuing my journey on route 12 of Thakhek Loop from Tham Pha Fa to Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 On route 12 of Thakhek Loop enroute to Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 Route 12 on Thakhek Loop enroute to Tham Pha Inh

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Day 1 The landscapes on route 12 to Tham Pha Inh in Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The signboard to Tham Pha Inh on route 12 of Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The surroundings of Tham Pha Inh off route 12 of Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 I could not locate the cave at Tham Pha Inh. I discovered only the Emerald Buddha at one of the site in the compound of the cave off route 12 of Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 On route 12 again out from Tham Pha Inh to Tham Nang Aen of the Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 Limestone hill landscapes on route 12 enroute to Tham Nang Aen on Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The signboard to Tham Nang Aen on route 12 of Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The road to Tham Nang Aen off route 12 of Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The entrance to Tham Nang Aen off route 12 of Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 The staircase leading to Tham Nang Aen off route 12 on Thakhek Loop

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Day 1 Tham Nang Aen on Thakhek Loop

Continuing from Ban Thalang at 7 am, what was ahead of me on Day 3 was the most unexpected one. I checked with the owner of Phosy Thalang guesthouse if I could get a hitch from Ban Thalang to Laksao. She told me I would need to ride on to the bridge about 3 km away from the guesthouse, passed the bridge and get the security over at the end of the bridge to help flag down help. For reason that I did not managed to find out, the route from Ban Thalang to Laksao was blocked for checking purposes or perhaps collecting fee. I spoke to the security guy if it is possible to ride through the stretch and he said yes. But lesson learnt. never trust what the people said 100% as sometimes you may get the wrong information. The road from Ban Thalang to Laksao in fact was extremely bumpy, filled with muddy red dirt surface. There is currently an ongoing road construction to widened the stretch on this part of the road connection. The thick jungle and hills had to be cut through to made way for this road widening project. Laksao served as an important gateway town to get from Laos to Vietnam and the widening of the road is inevitable for the benefit of the people of both countried. I was lucky that a small pick-up mini lorry offered me a lift to Laksao from Ban Thalang as I cycled about 3 to 5km along this route. The morning breeze was so refresh with some good and beautiful views of small lakes, trees and hills. Crossing the bridge itself at Ban Thalang was already rewarding with marvelous and stunning view of the large lake and its natural surroundings. But one thing for sure, it was a hell but unforgettable experience sitting on the rear of the lorry pick-up going through the highly bumpy stretch and muddy road. There was a time when the pick-up was stuck in the mud but the experience driver, a man in his middle age managed to work things out for us to get to Laksao. The journey took about 2.5 hours on a 70 km stretch.

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Day 2 Back to route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to get to Mahaxai on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 the beautiful landscapes on route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The early morning landscapes on route 12 to Mahaxai on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The road on route 12 to Mahaxai on early morning on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Route 12 to Mahaxai on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Rice fields on Route 12 to Mahaxai on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Cycling on route 12 to Mahaxai on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 From Mahaxai on route 1E to Gnomalath (Yommalath) on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The limestone hills and rice fields on route 1E from Mahaxai to Gnomalath on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The river on route 1E from Mahaxai to Gnomalath on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The road after crossing the river from Mahaxai to Gnomalath on route 1E of Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Arriving Gnomalath from Mahaxai on route 1E of Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 From Gnomalath to Nakai then to Ban Thalang and over to Laksao on route 1E of the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Cycle on route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Rice fields on route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on Thakhek Loop

Reaching Laksao after a terrified ride, I thanked the man behind the wheel and unloaded my bike to ride about 3 km to the town centre. I did not really know what was ahead of me yet again as informations gathered at Phosy Thalang guesthouse mentioned that the stretch from Laksao To Nahin would be a breeze as it should be a downhill road. But later, a check with people in Laksao stated otherwise. If only I had read and researched on the guidebooks over the counter. Due to lack of time as I should have returned the bike on Day 3, I knew I would not be able to reach Thakhek on Day 3. The most I could do is to reach Tham Konglor but even so, I could only get on the cave adventure the next day. That was what I estimated and turned out to be correct. Not wanting to risk on what the road condition would be, I asked around on where I could get a ride on a songtheaw (a mini pick up with 2 row of long bench on the rear of the vehicle commonly found in Thailand and Laos). The top of the pick up would have a compartment which use to keep goods on it. I got this information from the guesthouse guy over at Tham Nang Aen. I was shown my way to the Laksao dry market by one man at a hardware shop. I cycled about 500 metres ahead and found the market and asked if there were any songtheaw service to Nahin. Such service can be irregular and without specific time of departure. Most of them would load their vehicles with goods to be transported between the towns of their intended destination before they depart. In between the loading time, there would be passengers who would come and ride on. Another transportation mode between the towns would be through the minivans, which is more comfortable travelling option in an air-conditioned vehicle. Either way, you would get to your destination without doubt. The fee in between town is between 30,000 kip to 40,000 kip depending on the distance. From Laksao to Nahin, I was charged 35,000 kip with 5,000 kip additional to load my bike on the top of the pick up. I reached Laksao at about 10 am and waited at the small sundry shop at the Laksao dry market for the pick up to depart and the owner was a woman in her early 30s. She was a very nice person and offered me for shelter while waiting to depart from Laksoa to Nahin. The pick-up departed at about 1 pm after having all goods loaded and he managed to get 5 passengers on board including myself before departing.

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Day 2 The road on route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Crossing over part of a dam on route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 On route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Arriving at Nam Theun Power Station on route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on Thakhek Loop. What came next were extremely steep hill stretches

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Day 2 On route 1E from Nam Theun Power Station to Nakai on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Getting help on a pick up lorry from Nam Theun Power Station to Nakai on route 1E of Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The steep hills from NPTC to Nakai on route 12 of the Thakhek Loop

Arriving at Nahin after a 60 km ride at 2 pm from Laksao, I offloaded my bike and started a biking journey from Nahin to Tham Konglor. This is the most comfortable stretch that I experienced on the Thakhek Loop as the road is a 40 km flat stretch going through some villages and the stunning mountains and rice fields right in front of me. The villages and rice fields dotted along the stretch of the 40 km road. The view was just amazing and the ride throughout was easy aside from the afternoon ride. School children can be seen riding home from schools while I bike through the Konglor cave route. It took me 3 hours of biking journey before I settled down at Chanta Guesthouse at 5 pm. This is one of the best guesthouse that offers great view of mountains and rice fields and was about 1.5 km away from the Konglor Cave. The rates for a night which is a 2 storey accomodation property with wooden structure rooms was 60,000 kip and the staff consist of a mother and daugther with several other small children working as part time caretakers. I called it a day at Chanta House on Day 3 before the Tham Konglor adventure tomorrow morning.

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Day 2 Arriving at Nakai from NTPC on route 1E of Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 On route 1E again from Nakai to Ban Thalang on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The lakes on route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The road on route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The lakes on route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The road condition from Nakai to Ban Thalang on route 1E on the Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Another lake view on the route 12 between Nakai to Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop

The next morning, I woke up early and get out from Chanta House at 6 am. As check out time was 12 pm, I still could leave my luggage and bike at the guesthouse to explore the Konglor Cave. As I walked to the cave which was 1.5 km away from Chanta House, I stopped by at Phounsouk Guesthouse for breakfast. The owner is a man in his mid 30s and a good chat with him revealed that he was from Vientiane. He started the guesthouse business in Konglor Cave with his siblings as well as their respective wives. He enjoyed doing the hospitality business in Ban Konglor because it was less stressful than his previous job in Vientiane and of course, the peaceful, quiet and easy lifestyle in Ban Konglor attracted him most to set up a guesthouse to serve travellers to Konglor Cave and to live here for good as well. I had 3 hard boiled eggs and coffee for 13,000 kip before we called off the chat at 7.45 am as I left to walk to the cave.

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Day 2 About to reach Ban Thalang from Nakai on route 1E of Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Village home at Ban Thalang on route 1E of Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 Finally, arrived at Phousy Thalang Guesthouse in Ban Thalang on route 1E of Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 The Phousy Thalang Guesthouse Reception and restaurant area on Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop

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Day 2 View of the lake from my room at Phousy Thalang Guesthouse in Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop

There was an entrance fee at the entrance gate to Konglor Cave for 2000 kip and you need to walk into the ticket station for about 500 metres from the entrance gate. Walking from the entrance gate to the ticket station on an early morning itself was a breeze as the weather was cool and crisp surrounded by lush greeneries. The cost of hiring a boat for the 7.5 km journey to tour Konglor cave cost 105,000 kip on a motorised slow boat manouvered by 2 persons, one in front and one at the rear. The boat could accomodate up to 3 apssengers. The one in front would lookout for dangers along the stretch inside the cave while the boat crusing through while the one at the rear would control the boat as well as looking out for dangers. There is a beautiful emerald lake just before the entrance to Konglor Cave mouth and you are allowed to swim in this extremely marvelous lake and enjoy the calmness and the natural surroundings. Throughout the cave journey, it was very dark inside and it would stop at one spot for travellers to get down to admire the stalagmites and stalactites in a brightly lite up area. There was an altar area set up on a stalagmites and stalactites for those who believe that offering prayers would bring good luck and fortune. Continuing the journey from here, the cruise would take adventurers out of the cave with a stunning mountain views on this part of the cave landscapes before it stopped for 30 minutes at Natane site, which is an area with lush trees and some shops selling food and drinks. This area is for travellers to relax and take a good deep breath after the cruise along the Konglor Cave and is also a gateway to Ban Natane, which is only accessible by cruising through Konglor Cave.

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Day 3 Head out from Phousy Thalang Guesthouse in Ban Thalang to Laksao on Thakhek Loop

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Day 3 The sunrise view from the Ban Thalang bridge area to Laksao on Thakhek Loop

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Day 3 Crossing the Ban Thalang bridge enroute to Laksao on Thakek Loop

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Day 3 Another sunrise view at Ban Thalang bridge enroute to Laksao on Thakhek Loop

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Day 3 Distance of Laksao from Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop

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Day 3 My bike loaded on a pick up lorry to get to Ban Thalang to Laksao on Thakhek Loop

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Day 3 The dirt & muddy route from Ban Thalang to Laksao

As I wrapped up my Thakhek Loop adventure, I was lost for words as I finally did this strenuous, challenging, rewarding, beautiful and unforgettable journey on a bicycle. I was not prepared at all for whatever obstacles that may came along the adventure but surely, some consistent physical activities did help to get one through. I thanked the people of Khammoune province for the nice and invaluable assistance that they extended and thank you so much Thakhek for the wonderful journey. Someone did say "move over Che Guevare" but let me just say that the spirit of Che Guevara is here to stay even if it is just on a bicycle, one that may not even worth the road condition for the Thakhek Loop.

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Day 3 Cycle to Laksao after passing through the muddy terrain from Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop

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Day 3 The Laksao dry market on Thakhek Loop

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Day 3 My bike loaded to a songtheaw at Laksao to Nahin

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Day 3 View from Laksao to Nahin

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Day 3 Arriving at Nahin from Laksao

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Day 3 Cycling 40 km from Nahin to Konglor Cave on Thakhek Loop

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Day 3 About to reach Konglor Cave from Nahin

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Day 4 Chanta Guesthouse, Tham Konglor

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Day 4 The emerald pool at entrance to Konglor Cave

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Day 4 The stalagmites & stalactites formation inside Konglor Cave

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Day 4 Inside Konglor Cave

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Day 4 Out from Konglor Cave heading to Natane site

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Day 4 The stunning view at Konglor Cave to Natane site

Posted by kidd27 00:37 Archived in Laos

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