The Konglor Loop, also called the Thakhek Loop for the Mekong riverside French colonial town in which it starts, is a tour of the natural wonders on of Khammouane Province and Bolikhamsai Province in central Laos. Rent a motorbike, take the bus, ride a bicycle or hire a private driver to take to these incredible sites on “The Loop”.
Kong Lor Cave
The highlight of the trip, Kong Lor Cave is tucked 41 km inside the main the loop down a mostly paved road. Up to three visitors can fit in a motor boat with a driver to explore the 7.5 km water-filled cave. Step out onto dry land to see the spectacular stalagmites and stalactites illuminated with electric lighting. The rest of the journey is in the pitch black, so bring a headlamp or rent one from the ticket counter. Wear shoes that can get wet, as you’ll be ankle deep in water getting in and out of the boat!
Nam Theun 2 Visitor Center
A highlight of the loop is driving around Nam Theun Reservoir and seeing the dead trees popping out of the beautiful blue water. The man-made lake was flooded for the hydroelectric plant that opened in 2010 and exports power from the Nakai Plateau to Thailand. Learn about the watershed, the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area, and how and to where the local villagers that were displaced were relocated.
Tad Song Sou
Just across the bridge past the Nam Theun 2 Visitor Center is a dirt path with a little sign pointing to one of the most peaceful places to spend an afternoon: Tad Song Sou. This waterfall has cabanas to enjoy a picnic while taking in the mountains and babbling water. An on-site bar and restaurant offers food, drinks, a pétanque pit and hiking.
Tham Nang Aen
Tham Nang Aen is a cave 20 km down Route 13 from Thakhek. Highly accessible with cement walkways and ramps, this cave is illuminated with colourful lights and alters. The cave’s name means “Sitting and Flirting” and as a constant cool breeze blows from the cave’s mouth, it’s a great place to do just that. Tham Nang Aen is 1.5 km long and contains a lake. Rowboat rides are offered for visitors and an outdoor restaurant is open in the dry season.
Hire a driver and head out on the Nam Theun 2 Resevoir for a sunrise or sunset cruise and try your luck at fishing, then eat your catch. Check out the local women’s weavings and purchase a hand-made souvenir. Sabaidee Guesthouse has a nightly buffet dinner featuring both Lao and Western dishes and a bonfire where you can swap stories with other travellers over a Beer Lao.
Detour down a dusty dirt-packed road to the entrance of Buddha Cave, which was re-discovered in 2004. In addition to being a tourist destination, it is also a pilgrimage site for devout Buddhists. Don’t be surprised to witness a prayer session led by a monk. Women need to cover their shoulders and knees and everyone must remove their footwear before entering the cave, which has bamboo mats for praying and giving offerings in front of over 200 Buddha statues. Photography is not permitted inside the cave. Paseum Cave, below Buddha Cave is filled with water and a three-hour kayak tour can be arranged with a local guide.
Nasanam Waterfall is accessible off Route 8 near the road that leads to Kong Lor. The waterfall is 3km from the road. The first kilometre can be done on a motorbike but the rest of the path is a challenging hike up boulders and across streams through the jungle. Look and listen for birds and frogs. A natural swimming pool at the lower falls offers a cooling break. Continue to the upper falls or just admire the cascade (more brilliant in the wet season) from afar.
Mangkone “Dragon” Cave
Mangkone Cave is right off Route 8 and has a new restaurant and coffeeshop, gift shop, and guest house. Pay a nominal fee to walk through the cave. Navigate around the lake, under a very low-hanging ceiling and into a spacious and well-lit cavern with coloured spotlights shining on impressive rock formations. A second entrance can be climbed up to and out at the back of the cave.
Buddha Sculptures in the Rock
Along a particularly scenic stretch of Route 1E just north of the Nam Theun 2 Reservoir, giant buddha sculptures have been carved into the cliffs on the side of the road. People leave offerings of food, drinks and candles at the feet of the statues. Be careful on the curves and park as far to the side of road as possible if you decide to stop for a closer look.
In the village of Thabak, locals have repurposed the fuel tanks from U.S. B-52 bombers used in the Lao Civil war and Vietnam War into boats. Local guides take tourist out for 1.5 to 3 hours on tours of the Namkading River to see and experience rapids, Nam Kading National Diversity Park and the Nam Nyuang Dam. Each boat can transport up to 3 people plus a driver. The trip costs between 150,000 and 330,000 Lao Kip ($18-$36 USD) depending on the duration and destination.