From Pakse we headed to Tha Khek to do “The Loop”. This is a 400km road trip through rural areas and villages in southern Laos, undertaken on a hired motorbike. The Loop starts and ends in the town of Tha Khek. It’s unguided – rent a motorbike and take as long as you want, staying at guesthouses in villages along the way. It took us 4 days / 3 nights to complete the ride.
The Loop was great fun. We saw some nice scenery, caves, rivers and lakes. It was super cheap, with the motorbike hire being AUD$8 a day, fuel cost a few dollars a day, accommodation maybe $6 a day and food another few dollars a day. The people and children from the villages were so friendly and nice. One village was having some sort of festival where they waved us down and gave us free BeerLao and stuck some decorative pins to our clothes. Another village we played bocce with a local and a couple of other tourists, with the losing team having to buy the winning team a bottle of Beerlao. Parts of the road did not exist and involved negotiating some pretty rough dirt sections, resulting in a severe ass pounding. These cheap, small motorbikes don’t have much suspension and aren’t really made for offroading. Part of the loop takes you to Konglor Cave – a famous cave with a river running through it for 7.5km. Also we passed by a hydroelectric power station with a free visitor information center. It was very interesting, especially for Joe.
Tha Khek itself doesn’t have a lot going on, but still has good cheap food and a few watering holes on the Mekong where you can watch the sun go down with views across to Thailand. There’s plenty of dodgy motorbikes for hire. I had never ridden a proper motorbike before Tha Khek. Only fully automatic scooters. The very first time I’d ever ridden a motorbike was a test drive on a bike we were thinking of hiring to do the loop with. Literally a few meters away from the hire shop, with only a few seconds of experience in riding a manual transmission motorbike, the throttle got stuck on full. Maximum power. What an exciting few seconds it was piloting an out of control accelerating bike through Tha Khek traffic. My first thought was open the clutch. No go – these bikes are semi-automatic. South East Asians need bikes that can be operated one handed so they can hold an umbrella or a child or talk on their phone with the other hand. The clutch is slaved off the gear shifter. Next I tried the brakes, only to lock up the front wheel and nearly come off the bike. Fortunately I eased off the brakes and managed to get the bike into neutral with the engine screaming at maximum rpm. I turned the engine off and pushed it back to the hire shop. We went to a different shop. At the shop we ended up hiring from, we still went through about 4 motorbikes before finding one with all the lights operating and brakes working effectively.