The Loop entices visitors to explore central Laos
Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images
inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

The Loop is a 450-km circular route passing through Borikhamxay and Khammuan provinces in central Laos and featuring an abundance of scenic and other attractions.
The route is becoming increasingly popular among tourists looking for adventure amid a stunning landscape.
The Loop has been on travellers’ itineraries since 2006, but became more well known after 2013 when it received support from New Zealand.
Those embarking on the circuit can start in the provincial capital of either Borikhamxay or Khammuan.
A media team recently travelled the route in cooperation with the Tourism Marketing Department of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.
Personnel took in some of the highlights and interviewed local authorities, members of the public and tourists, while spreading the message about Visit Laos Year 2018. 

Map of The Loop travel route and its highlights in central Laos.

Deputy Head of the Information, Culture and Tourism Department in Khammuan province, Mr Panya Chanthalath, said The Loop was a new initiative to develop and promote tourism, based around the construction of the Nam Theun reservoir from 2006 to 2010.
Before this time, the road around the reservoir between Khamkeuth district in Borikhamxay province and Nakai district in Khammuan province was in poor condition.
“In those days, we didn’t do much to advertise The Loop. But since we received support from New Zealand in 2013, the route has developed and become more widely known. Now many more visitors know about it and more than 100 people visit places in the two provinces each day as they travel The Loop,” Mr Panya said.
“Last year we had more than 21,000 visitors, mostly foreign. Konglor Cave in Khounkham district is one of the most popular destinations and many people go there.”
Many people travel by motorbike to have more of an adventure and feel more in touch with their surroundings.
Our media group started from Borikhamxay provincial capital and travelled on Road No. 13 South before turning left onto Road No. 8 to Khamkeuth district, where several popular attractions are located. The road then runs into Khammuan province.
We stopped at our first viewpoint to take photos of Phou Hin Nam Nor (Limestone Mountain) in Khammuan province, where it was pretty windy. This striking rocky outcrop is being submitted to UNESCO for possible listing as a World Heritage Site.
After that, we continued on to Tha Bak village in Khamkeuth district in Borikhamxay where local people have found an ingenious use for the fuel tanks discarded by B52 bombers during the Indochina War. They have sawn the metal tanks in half, added a motor, and use them as boats on the Theun River.
They use 22 of these craft to take visitors on boat trips, charging 150,000 to 350,000 kip to travel on the river to visit five places.
Driving further, we turned left to the Vang Nam Yen (Blue Lagoon) in Napavan village, Khamkeuth district, where we could see a stunning mountain range. The sight that met our eyes seemed to be even more majestic than the peaks in Vangvieng district, Vientiane province.
At the Blue Lagoon we interviewed two travellers from France and the USA who had met each other in Laos and were now riding bikes together around The Loop.
Frenchman Craules Rousseau said “This is my first visit to Laos. I came here from Vietnam when I heard about Laos and decided to visit places in the north such as the Nam Ha protected area in Luang Namtha province and of course Luang Prabang.”
“Now I’m passing through central Laos and really enjoying this circuit and travelling by motorbike. The Loop is more interesting than some of the other places I went to. It’s a lot more unspoiled and the atmosphere is free and easy and I get the opportunity to explore many places on the trail. What I see makes me forget to go home. I really want to stay in Laos where I have found my paradise and I love this area.”
American Alex Alward said “I met Craules when we were hiring bikes in Thakhaek district so we decided to travel together and we also love Lao nature very much. I would also like to stay here forever because it’s so peaceful and the Lao people like smiling and are lovely. This is my second visit to Laos as I really wanted to come back after spending three months here before. I want to spend as much time here as I can.”
Both of them said they didn’t think it was a good idea to develop places of natural beauty as they should be preserved in their original state and not interfered with by man.
After visiting the Blue Lagoon, we headed to the Tha Lang area in Nakai district, Khammuan province, which is located on the Nam Theun reservoir. This area is one of the highlights for visitors, and is known locally as the Lao sea. Visitors can catch fish and take photos of the sunset and sunrise.
At this point it got cooler and we all had to pile on jackets to keep warm. The owners of the two guesthouses made a camp fire to entertain visitors and we stayed there for a night before moving on.
Along the road from Khamkeuth to Nakai district, we had panoramic views of the reservoir and the lush countryside along both sides of the road before arriving at Nang Aen cave. This is one of the most popular caves in Thakhaek district.
We were lucky and got to visit a new section of the cave that had just been discovered and opened to the public. We had to take a 10-minute boat ride to reach the site, which was well worth the trip.
We eyed the natural formations with wonder and took our time exploring the large and dramatic interior of the cave, spending over an hour there.
Our last destination was Thampha (Buddha Image Cave) where there are 229 Buddha statues. In 2004, a man living in Nakhangxang village in Thakhaek district discovered the statues after he climbed up to a small opening in the rocks 15 metres above the ground.
Since then, the cave has attracted many visitors who go there to worship. There is also a large pool inside where people can take a short boat ride.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit all of the places suggested on the circuit, of which there are many.
One of the most outstanding is Konglor Cave in Natan village, Khounkham district. Then there is the enticingly named Dragon Cave in Khamkeuth district, Elephant Cave in Thakhaek district, and the so-called giant wall and Khoun Kong Leng (Blue Pool) in Thakhaek district.
These are all good reasons to get out of Vientiane and make another trip that’s somewhat off the beaten track.


 

By Panyasith Thammavongsa
(Latest UpdateJanuary 06, 2018)

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