If you haven’t been looking for it, it’s unlikely that you will know too much about ‘the loop’. It’s not a stop visited by many tourists but can be travelled in varying degrees of intensity, by varying modes of transport. Beginning and ending in the small town of Tha Khek, this 450km loop is three interconnecting roads that traverse the stunning mountain ranges and villages of rural, central Laos. As well as passing painfully beautiful rice and tobacco fields, there is a myriad of other attractions along the way including caves, waterfalls an home-stays.
We arrived in Tha Khek at 11pm after one ferry, two mini-busses and a very stressful 10 hour ‘local‘ bus ride. Exhausted, we got a tuk tuk to Tha Khek Travel Lodge in search of a cheap room for the night. When we arrived, all they had left was ‘luxuary rooms’ with hot showers, private bathrooms and mini-bars. Shame! With no other choice available, I wasn’t too upset about spending $8 for a night in luxury!
After a fantastic sleep and a proper shower, it was DAY ONE. We packed a change of clothes and basic toiletries into a small backpack and left the rest of our luggage in the hotel storeroom ($2 for 4 days). We donned boots, jeans and jumpers and set off to find ourselves a couple of trusty steeds for the journey ahead. They do hire motorbikes from the place next door to the hotel but they are all broken, the brakes don’t work, the electric starts don’t work and they charge 100,000 kip per day for the privilege. Following a recommendation off the internet, we walked 2km into town and scored a couple of brand-new beauties, in perfect working order, for just 50,000 kip per day, helmets included. Unfortunately, all helmets in the whole of SE Asia seem to be size L or XL but I found a great solution for this later.
From Tha Khek, we set off, North towards Ban Nahin. The first leg of the journey was a little less than enjoyable, mostly due to the weather. Though we were wearing boots, jeans and jumpers, it was freezing! My helmet kept slipping back as it was so big, I was getting constant dust and bugs in my face and the scenery was pretty average. We stopped after an hour or so for a warm up and a quick, roadside, noodle soup ($1.50) that turned out to be delicious. It was a point and hope affair but moments later, we were served soup with fresh lime, snake beans, fresh mint, lettuce, and of course, chilli.
After 98km, we reached the town of Ban Nahin and turned right onto Road 8. The following 41km was perhaps the best riding experience of my life. S curve after S curve, up one mountain, the down the other side. Paved roads, barely any traffic and everybody we passed waved madly, shouted hello, and the children chased us down the road. But it was still freezing! After another hour or so, we finally reached our bed for the night. Shivering and starving, we turned down the road into Sainamhai Resort… it was a bumpy one.
When we arrived, it was such a welcome sight for sore eyes. 130,000 kip scored us this private bungalow on the river with private bathroom, hot shower, big warm duvet and mosquito net. The family who owned the place were really lovely, cooked us some delicious BBQ fish and let us keep our bikes in their garage overnight.
We settled in for an early night as we had a long day of caving ahead of us!
Check in tomorrow for Loop days 2 & 3! The weather was better, the pictures were better, plus you get to see my super amazing bike-riding outfit. X