Tha Khaek Loop

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by Iwantablackrz, May 5, 2010.

  1. Iwantablackrz

    Iwantablackrz Ol'Timer

    Hi Guys,

    I thought I'd share my experiences of riding the 'That Khaek Loop' (Pg. 240 in the Lonely Planet book). It's not an epic journey or anything of the sort but it was a great introduction for me of what riding in Laos is like and being that it seems to be a semi-popular activity amongst the backpacker fraternity I thought it might prove helpful for those researching the trip or even for the more experienced GT-rider looking to find out why the 'loop' here is so popular.

    I did this in early June '09. My brother did a relatively short two day ride to Tham Kong Lo cave (from Tha Khaek) the year prior and after looking at some of his pictures on his return I vowed to do it in '09. After doing it myself now though I haven't the heart to tell him that Route 13 was probably the most lack lustre part of our journey. It's beautiful don't get me wrong but the main road straight up the highway doesn't compare to some of the countryside going the 'long way around'. That said sometime it all comes down to time and a day has to be saved here or there. For those researching the trip I strongly recommend taking atleast 3 days. I've heard of people doing the entire loop in 2 days but I don't think you would have the time to enjoy the sites as we did and if you can shave a day off another destination to have 3 days on 'the loop' I think you will be grateful for it.

    My friend and I started by hiring our bikes at 'Tha Khaek Travel lodge'. We stayed the night here and the basic rooms where clean. I believe some rooms had A/C but we found in Cambodia that they just gave us the sniffles so rathered the basic fans in the end. Unfortunately I don't recall the price of the bikes. I think it was around $15-$20US a day but can't recall exactly. All the bikes are Chinese 100cc step through (automatic clutch) and we didn't have any issues with our bikes. Our fuel gauges and Odo's didn't work but hey, it added to the experience. For those inexperienced riders the owner of the bikes will 'teach' you of sorts around the driveway and around the Lodge. Do wear your helmet. I was the unfortunate witness to one girl who we met further south (and who had been travelling with us) ride full throttle into the heavy metal gate. Although the helmet resembles a plastic ice cream container it would have reduced the injury somewhat had she been wearing it. The trip was over for her and she found her way to the Tha Khaek 'hospital' for stitches for 1" slit down her forehead. You can still hurt yourself even at low speeds and with inexperience a lack of safety gear can cause nasty results.

    Before you leave grab yourself a map from the Lodge. It might be basic and hand drawn but we found it very helpful. :)

    Anyway, we left and started out 3 day journey....

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    This is about 30 mins from Tha Khaek.
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    My travel mate and our bikes.
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    My 'hog'. Strangely I kinda miss it. Note the awesome helmet! It's like tupperware!
    We stopped at quite a few of the caves outside of of Tha Khaek. I didn't take photo's but strongly recommend you get to a few of the caves as they are worth seeing. I found them pretty cool anyway. :)
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    Enjoy this ^. It's a lot of fun and then suddenly the road drops off a few inches and you'll be on bumpy, washboard dirt tracks for hours.
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    We stopped here for a short break. This is temporary settlements built for those who are working on the dam project. That's what I was lead to believe.
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    We stayed in a place similar to this. It's marked on the lodge map as the first night stop. It's pretty much the only place you can stay as there isn't much around. The accommodation was very basic. Don't expect power long after dark or running water. It was dry and clean enough for us. The lady there makes a mean pork soup though. Seriously, it was sep lai lai!
    It took us a while to find the place though. Keep riding past all the settlements like the ones pictured above and when you see a small lake/dam on your left with a shack sitting on the waters edge. The 'guesthouse (if you can call it that) is on your right (or opposite side of the road you are on) and opposite the small lake.

    Day 2
    We left early the next day. A mix of dry bumpy road, driving through 'jungle y' areas and roads that look like they will swallow your Chinese bike whole.
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    After riding around water filled pot holes that looked like they could be a metre deep my luck ran out as my 'non trial bike' tyres slipped on the edge of a pot hole and my bike and I shot off into the undergrowth whilst I tried to keep the thing upright. Retrospectively I should have just dropped it. I got a puncture as a result but a 30min walk or so resulted in a small town with a tyre repair shop. The Laos people always seem to be extremely helpful and with a smile I was off on my way again.
    A word of advice but with large water filled pot holes go either straight through the middle of them or around them completely. The 'slick' tyres of the chinese bikes just slip out from under you on the slippery angled sides of the potholes.
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    Lak Sao ^
    I really wanted to go the Vietnam border. I'm Australian so in Oz to say you've ridden across a country here would involve sitting on a freeway at 110km/h for 5+ days. I really wanted to say I rode 'across' Laos so I wanted a photo on the Vietnam border (and when we returned to Tha Khaek one on the Thailand border).
    With this in mind we rode off the map we had been given and rode to the border. The roads are absolutely beautiful. The roads are very windy and most corners are blind. The tourist buses from Vietnam have a habit of crossing the inside lane on these such corners. Take caution and use the outside of the road.
    My friend was wiped out by a bus and miraculously was able to jump of the bike and push himself off the side of the bus. It really was an absolute miracle he wasn't seriously injured or killed. Amazingly enough the only mark was on his backpack and 2 small nicks on his right arm. The bus stopped in the middle of the road for a bit and when the driver saw my friend get back up he took off again. My mate was a bit shaken up but after awhile we were good to continue.
    This was his bike after the accident. His handlebars where all out of whack too.
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    Me being serious at the border.
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    On our return we had the bike fixed in Lak Sao. New mirrors and a bit of labour and she was good to go again. The bike store was pretty much on the main roundabout (first on your right) as you come into town from the Viet border and they were most helpful. They were generally surprised my mate pulled off an altercation with a bus so well!
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    We stayed in Tha Bak. We did have difficulty in finding accommodation here as most of the rooms had been taken over by those working on the dam project. We were fortunate that we did find a room and even had the room been filthy we would have grabbed it all the same. Despite being literally full of mosquito's (I think we counted 40+ carcasses in the end) it was quite clean and the owner had some bug spray to nuke the place with. The below photo's are Day 3 and took us to Tham Kong Lo cave and back to Tha Khaek. Even if the cave doesn't sound like your thing the roads to get there are worth the ride. It's a dead end road but the scenery is just magic.
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    The Cave
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    We stopped for lunch on the corner of Route 13 (Vang Kham) and then continued....
    Route 13.
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    The Thai border (Tha Khaek). Mission completed.

    So guys, this is my 'first' trip riding in Laos. Any questions feel free to ask. If backpacking Cambodia and Laos was the best month of my life then riding on bikes through the beautiful scenery around Tha Khaek and meeting some of the wonderful Laos people on this short three day ride would have be the best 3 days I've ever had.

    This is not the end for me. I'll be flying to Hanoi in October of this year, purchasing motorbikes with another good friend of mine and riding through Vietnam and Laos for two months. It's all I can think about since getting back and I can't wait to be back out there. We'll be doing it properly this time. Going with the crowd one could say and looking at getting some Minsks which we hope will be a bit more powerful than the Chinese bikes I had and will be bringing over our own safety gear this time. Full face helmets, jacket etc.
    Hopefully the friendly folk here can help me with all my border crossing questions and everything else I'm sure to ask!

    So anyway, hope you find this helpful.

    Dave
     
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  3. dirthonk

    dirthonk Ol'Timer

    Sweet report and great photos!

    Good luck with the trip in Vietnam!
     
  4. jimoi

    jimoi Ol'Timer

    Good report and well done.

    I've just ridden the loop on a quick survey and between Gnommalat to Lak Xao is really messy. I was on a big time push and ran from Thakek all the way to Vientiane in one day but it was a stretch on this section. There are deep holes in some places filled with lovely buffalo water and thankfully, the inclines between Gnommalat and Nakai are concrete. The last 22 km from the turn to the dam up to Lak Xao was pretty slow going on scooters but the DRZ loved the mud bath. I emerged completely nasty and came across 3 tourists on scooters just entering. They turned around because they didn't want to get their white shorts dirty...

    There is an option on this as you connect with Hwy 13. Go straight instead of down 13. This will take you to the Mekong but this is definitely not a scooter trip portion in rainy season and adds at least 3 hours more to the ride, but a muddy fun 3 hours. There are many tracks between 13 and the Mekong but care should be taken as services are quite limited and the terrain is pretty nasty (fun).

    http://www.remoteasia.com/Motorbike.html
     

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