Photo: Pak Ou caves.

The Pak Ou Loop

Our rating:

We’ve researched and created a full-day motorbike trip that gets you off-the-beaten track while covering two Luang Prabang attractions. We’re calling it “the Pak Ou Loop” since Pak Ou village marks the furthest point. Mere minutes from town you’ll find yourself off-road travelling through rural landscapes, teak forests and small friendly villages and we’ve thrown in two stunning viewpoints to savour as well.

Teak forest and rural life only a few kilometres from Luang Prabang

Teak forest and rural life only a few kilometres from Luang Prabang.

Like the Chomphet Loop, we’d rate this ride moderate. The route is mostly undulating dirt road and a paved major roadway with some traffic. Prior experience driving a motorbike is an absolute must. It’s also worth buying Hobo Map’s inexpensive Luang Prabang Area Map, which covers the route.

From town, go to Luang Prabang’s airport. Pass the airport and continue along the road until you reach a two-way split. Go right, in the direction of “All Lao Elephant Camp”. The Nam Khan river and a new bridge under construction at the time of writing should come into view. Once you pass the bridge, you will suddenly find yourself on quiet dirt road immersed in a rural landscape with a pretty ridge of mountains running along your left hand side.

You won’t encounter any traffic on this section of the route.

You won’t encounter any traffic on this section of the route.

For the next 18 kilometres the tourist crowds will seem like a distant memory. The dirt road takes you through teak forests, rice paddy and a few small villages including Ban Na Tan, where they make bricks. There are some lovely shady spots to take a break. Eventually you will meet a quiet asphalted road. At this junction, head left, travelling for 8 kilometres until you hit Route 13.

Turn right and head north on Route 13 for three kilometres. Route 13 is Laos’ most important highway, a major artery that goes all the way from the Cambodian border in the south, connecting Pakse, Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Boten at the northern Chinese border. On this small stretch you’ll cross the Nam Xuang river, pass a radio tower on your right and the Agricultural College on your left before you’ll see signs and the turn off for Ban Xang Hai. Go left.

Here we go off-road again. In 1.5 kilometres you will come to Ban Xang Hai, aka the whiskey village. While it is a tourist trap, it’s worth it to stop and walk around the village to stretch your legs and peek at the Mekong. Souvenirs are for sale and you can learn how they make lao-Lao, the country’s popular moonshine. We don’t recommend having a tall glass of the stuff and then getting on your motorbike – but a little taste wouldn’t hurt.

Rules of the road: yield to elephants.

Rules of the road: yield to elephants.

A fantastic five-kilometre drive lies ahead. Continue on the dirt road where you may end up passing an elephant (several camps are located along this way). On your left you will start to get scenic views of the Mekong. Slow down to enjoy it, and slow down because you don’t want to miss the next junction.

LP_Pak Ou Loop sign_Cindy Fan_550

No neon lights yet.

Look for another small dirt road that will join in on the right hand side and a sign for Nam Ou Riverside Hotel & Resort. If you want to see Pak Ou Cave, keep straight and you can hire a boat at the village to visit the cave. Otherwise, turn right and follow the other road towards the resort.

This seven-kilometre section is our favourite of the entire trip. The road steadily rises while following the course of the Nam Ou river. At the apex, the brush clears and you can stop for a stunning panoramic vantage of the Nam Ou and limestone cliffs.

An off-road motorbike is not necessary for this route, but it does make for a less sore bottom.

View of the Nam Ou. An off-road motorbike isn’t necessary for this trip, but it does prevent a sore bottom.

Stop in at Nam Ou Riverside Hotel & Resort for a cold drink. Its breezy restaurant and terrace overlooks the tranquil river landscape. Otherwise keep going and shortly you are back on Route 13.

Beer bar with a million kip view.

Beer bar with a million kip view.

It’s a straightforward 23 kilometre drive south back to town. The first half of the drive will be pleasant. You may see people on the side digging for bamboo shoots or selling other forest edibles. The last recommended stop is our secret spot: “Chokchongkang Restaurant,” a beer bar with an amazing panoramic view of the Mekong River (and bonus: clean toilets). To find it, slow down when you get to Ban Sensouk – on your right there’s a barely noticeable sign and entrance. You could easily spend an hour on the deck basking in the afternoon light, savouring a cold drink while watching fishermen in canoes and slow boats putter by.

Pausing for a Mekong minute.

Pausing for a Mekong minute.

Eventually you’ll have to pull yourself away and head back to town. The traffic on Route 13 will become increasingly heavy as you get closer to the city. The area between Suphanuvong University and the Northern Bus station is prone to accidents, thanks to a combination of buses, transport trucks, tuk tuks and motorbikes all trying to overtake each other. Please, please, please drive this section with extreme caution.

By .

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