Reaching Tham Konglor (Konglor Cave) in the most adventurous way
30.10.2013 - 03.11.2013
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.
The Thakhek Loop Map
Day 1 Starting my journey on route no.12 on the Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The road condition of route no.12 Thakhek Loop
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.
Day 1 The landscapes enroute to Tham Pha Fa on Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The signboard to Tham Pha Fa on Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The mountain landscapes enroute to Tham Pha Fa on Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The road enroute to Tham Pha Fa which is 10 km off the route 12 of Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The surrounding landscape at Tham Pha Fa on the Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The landscapes around Tham Pha Fa on Thakhek Loop
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.
Day 1 Continuing my journey on route 12 of Thakhek Loop from Tham Pha Fa to Tham Pha Inh
Day 1 On route 12 of Thakhek Loop enroute to Tham Pha Inh
Day 1 Route 12 on Thakhek Loop enroute to Tham Pha Inh
Day 1 The landscapes on route 12 to Tham Pha Inh in Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The signboard to Tham Pha Inh on route 12 of Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The surroundings of Tham Pha Inh off route 12 of Thakhek Loop
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
Day 1 On route 12 again out from Tham Pha Inh to Tham Nang Aen of the Thakhek Loop
Day 1 Limestone hill landscapes on route 12 enroute to Tham Nang Aen on Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The signboard to Tham Nang Aen on route 12 of Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The road to Tham Nang Aen off route 12 of Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The entrance to Tham Nang Aen off route 12 of Thakhek Loop
Day 1 The staircase leading to Tham Nang Aen off route 12 on Thakhek Loop
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.
Day 2 Back to route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to get to Mahaxai on the Thakhek Loop
Day 2 the beautiful landscapes on route 12 from Tham Nang Aen to Mahaxai on the Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The early morning landscapes on route 12 to Mahaxai on the Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The road on route 12 to Mahaxai on early morning on the Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Route 12 to Mahaxai on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Rice fields on Route 12 to Mahaxai on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Cycling on route 12 to Mahaxai on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 From Mahaxai on route 1E to Gnomalath (Yommalath) on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The limestone hills and rice fields on route 1E from Mahaxai to Gnomalath on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The river on route 1E from Mahaxai to Gnomalath on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The road after crossing the river from Mahaxai to Gnomalath on route 1E of Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Arriving Gnomalath from Mahaxai on route 1E of Thakhek Loop
Day 2 From Gnomalath to Nakai then to Ban Thalang and over to Laksao on route 1E of the Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Cycle on route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on Thakhek Loop
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.
Day 2 The road on route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Crossing over part of a dam on route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 On route 1E from Gnomalath to Nakai on the Thakhek Loop
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
Day 2 On route 1E from Nam Theun Power Station to Nakai on the Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Getting help on a pick up lorry from Nam Theun Power Station to Nakai on route 1E of Thakhek Loop
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.
Day 2 Arriving at Nakai from NTPC on route 1E of Thakhek Loop
Day 2 On route 1E again from Nakai to Ban Thalang on the Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The lakes on route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The road on route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The lakes on route 1E from Nakai to Ban Thalang on the Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The road condition from Nakai to Ban Thalang on route 1E on the Thakhek Loop
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.
Day 2 About to reach Ban Thalang from Nakai on route 1E of Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Village home at Ban Thalang on route 1E of Thakhek Loop
Day 2 Finally, arrived at Phousy Thalang Guesthouse in Ban Thalang on route 1E of Thakhek Loop
Day 2 The Phousy Thalang Guesthouse Reception and restaurant area on Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop
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.
Day 3 Head out from Phousy Thalang Guesthouse in Ban Thalang to Laksao on Thakhek Loop
Day 3 The sunrise view from the Ban Thalang bridge area to Laksao on Thakhek Loop
Day 3 Crossing the Ban Thalang bridge enroute to Laksao on Thakek Loop
Day 3 Another sunrise view at Ban Thalang bridge enroute to Laksao on Thakhek Loop
Day 3 Distance of Laksao from Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop
Day 3 My bike loaded on a pick up lorry to get to Ban Thalang to Laksao on Thakhek Loop
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.
Day 3 Cycle to Laksao after passing through the muddy terrain from Ban Thalang on Thakhek Loop
Day 3 The Laksao dry market on Thakhek Loop
Day 3 My bike loaded to a songtheaw at Laksao to Nahin
Day 3 View from Laksao to Nahin
Day 3 Arriving at Nahin from Laksao
Day 3 Cycling 40 km from Nahin to Konglor Cave on Thakhek Loop
Day 3 About to reach Konglor Cave from Nahin
Day 4 Chanta Guesthouse, Tham Konglor
Day 4 The emerald pool at entrance to Konglor Cave
Day 4 The stalagmites & stalactites formation inside Konglor Cave
Day 4 Inside Konglor Cave
Day 4 Out from Konglor Cave heading to Natane site
Day 4 The stunning view at Konglor Cave to Natane site