Tuesday, January 25, 2011


After our short stay in Vientiane, we headed south to a town called Thakhek. On the bus ride down, the bus got a flat tire, which delayed us for quite awhile. However, that flat tire ended up making our trip to Thakhek incredibly awesome. While we were waiting around for the bus to get fixed, a local girl who was on the bus came and talked with us for awhile. She was really friendly and offered to help us find a place to stay in Thakhek. Even better, she knew a German guy living in Thakhek who explores caves in the countryside and who could take us to some places outside the main tourist routes. Needless to say, we were very interested, so we agreed to meet up again the next day.

Rather Garish Bus with a Flat Tire

After a breakfast of noodle soup, we met up with Soy (the Laotian girl) and DC (the German guy). We chatted with them about some potential trips to do in the area. Most people come to Thakhek for "the Loop," which is a 3-4 day motorbike trip around the countryside. We were originally planning to do the Loop as well, but after talking with DC, we decided to skip the loop and have him take us to some more interesting places.

We rented some motorbikes for the trip and prepared to set off. Phil and I both didn't have much experience riding motorbikes, so we decided to do an easier stretch of riding for the first day. We thought it was pretty funny that they let us rent the bikes with a mere $7.50 deposit and an ID card, when we were clearly inexperienced and a little out of control when we pulled away from the bike shop. However, we got the hang of things quickly and the bikes were pretty easy to ride.

That first day we checked out a few of the nearby caves. The first was the Buddha Cave, which was the only touristy cave we went to and was by far the least exciting. After that, we trusted DC's advice that most of the tourist caves were relatively uninteresting, whereas the ones he knew about were really cool and less visited.

Pool near Entrance of Cave 

 Soy, Our Trusty Laotian Friend

DC and Soy near Cave Entrance

The insides of the caves were pretty impressive. Some of the caves DC knew about were only discovered recently, so we were pretty lucky to see them. Several would have some Buddhist sculptures nearby or just inside the entrances, but deeper inside the caves it would be completely untouched and pitch black. Some of the caves had interesting rock formations that you could go and see up close. One of the caves was extremely deep and even DC didn't know how far into the mountain it went. We probably walked in a mile or so through some huge caverns and narrow passages before turning back. 

Buddhist Sculptures near Cave Entrance

Buddhist Sculptures Inside Cave

 Phil Inside Cave

Wes with Butt Cheeks Rock Formation

Besides the caves, riding around the countryside on motorbikes was spectacular. It was a lot of fun to drive through the rural areas, where friendly kids would shout "Sa Bai Dee" or hello as you passed by. The rice paddies, green fields, and mountains were really impressive and it was great to just sit back and cruise through the beautiful landscapes.

Rice Paddies

Countryside around Thakhek

Rocky Mountains

Karst Mountains like Yangshuo in China

Driving Around Countryside

Cruising through a Village

Hitting the Open Road

At the end of the first day, we caught a great sunset along the Mekong River from the main street in Thakhek. The street has some great places to relax after a hard day, grab a drink and some food, and then just kick back and enjoy the sunset.

Sunset over Mekong

The next day, we headed out again with DC and Soy to some caves further away in an area called Mahaxai. Since it was the rainy season, heavy rains during the night made the dirt roads really muddy, but that just made riding a motorbike through the countryside more fun. There were some pretty rough patches, but our bikes were pretty small and light, so we could get through them by going around through the trees or just gunning it through. 

Wes and the Mean Hog with a Basket on Front

Water Buffalo Cooling Off in Our Path

 Wes Demonstrating the Aftermath of Superior Driving Skills

Village Pit Stop

Local Kids Jumping Into River

The caves we went to the second day were equally as cool as the first day. We were really lucky to have met Soy on that bus ride so we could go with DC to some of these caves that no one else seemed to know about. As DC often mentioned, these caves weren't tourist caves with parts lit up inside and a set path through the cave. All we had was our headlamps and DC to guide us through. 

Practicing Meditation

Terraced Pools Inside Cave

Big Spider Inside Cave

After being hot and sweaty all day, we had dust stuck to our entire bodies from riding on the dirt roads, in addition to the filth from biking in the mud all day. We decided to go to a little waterfall to clean ourselves up a bit and cool off. Lacking any swimming suits, we had to strip down to our underwear, resulting in the graphic picture of me below.

 Phil, DC, and Wes

Phil, Soy, and Wes

Wes Swinging on Vine

After finishing up at the waterfall, we headed back to Thakhek. We had quite a ways to go and it started getting dark on our way back. There were some spectacular views with the sun going down on the drive back, but a storm was starting to roll in and we were worried about getting back safely, so unfortunately we had to go straight back without stopping. It was really too bad, because they really were some of the best views on the trip.

That night was our final night in Thakhek and with the properly named "DC Adventure Tours," so we met up with Soy and DC for a Laos-style hotpot dinner to celebrate the fun days we had. 

Laos Hot Pot with Meat Cooking on Hot Center and Soup on Sides 

The Crew

Thakhek was one of my favorite places on the trip. Sometimes you have to get lucky and meet some locals to have the best experience. We really appreciate Soy's friendliness and help during our time there. Hopefully someday I can repay all the kindness I've received during my travels.

On that note, here are two final random pictures from Thakhek:

Totaled Buses from Reckless Driving in Laos

Typical Laos Toilet: No flushing, just fill up a small bucket of water from a basin nearby and pour in toilet.


Phil Dawsey said...

Fantastic pictures - brings back memories! That was a great part of the trip for sure.