In a nutshell
Thakhek, Laos, the capital of Khammuan Province, is located on the banks of the Mekong River – almost directly across from Nakhon Phanom, Thailand.
Why go to Thakhek
Thakhek itself is a relatively small town and not a particularly exciting tourist destination, but it serves as a good landing spot for backpackers who are branching out into the surrounding areas of Konglor Cave, or planning on motor biking around what is becoming the somewhat famous Thakhek Loop – a circular loop of a few hundred kilometers that generally takes 3-4 days to travel around by motorbike.
Though not for the faint of the heart, the Loop will give you spectacular views of quiet, rural Laos. There are a variety of sights to see along the Loop, including Konglor Cave, of course, as well as many other interesting caves filled with Buddha statues, underground rivers, and other rock formations, located close to Thakhek itself.
There are a variety of other tours and treks available in the area nearby Thakhek, and checking in at the Thakhek Tourism Office will give you all the information you need for booking tours around the area with an English speaking guide. The office is opened Monday-Friday, but is located about 2 km away from the town’s main tourist center.
When to go to Thakhek
Like most of Southeast Asia, Laos experiences rainy season in the months of June-August, while February-May tend to be the hottest months of the year, making October-March the best time of year to travel here if you're looking for the coolest, driest months.
Where to stay in Thakhek
As tourism has grown in Thakhek, there are plenty of guesthouses scattered about the town. You will find several accommodation options situated along or near the Mekong River, which is close to the tourist center, but you can also find popular backpacker options further away from the river. Most guesthouses in the town are good budget options, with cheap and basic amenities and accommodations, though a few more resort-style options are available, too, for those who are in more of mid-range budget. Dorm rooms will cost about LAK50,000 while private rooms will likely set you back around LAK80,000-LAK100,000.
Where to eat in Thakhek
Thakhek is not particularly known for its broad range of eating options, but at nighttime, the Mekong riverbank area is the best place to go for food. There is a night market here where you can find a good variety of foods such as fried chicken, grilled meats, noodle soups, deep fried dumplings, drinks, roti, etc—depending on what you get, you might pay around LAK15,000 for an item from the night market. You will also find several barbecue stalls and papaya salad spots opening up at night along the riverbank.
Sabaiedee Thakhek is a popular backpacker restaurant with standard offerings on the menu of Lao, Thai, and Western food. The Kitchen, located in the Inthira Hotel, is another popular tourist spot with a big variety of options on the menu catering to Thai, Lao, and Western food tastes. Olso enjoying popularity is Le Bouton D’Or Boutique Hotel Restaurant , located just north of the night market, which has a nice view over the river and a similarly large array of items on the menu.
How to get around Thakhek
The town is small and easily walkable, but tuk-tuks are available to take you around if needed or wanted. Prices vary on these, and some reports say that from the bus station you will often be looking at paying LAK40,000 for a tuk-tuk ride into town, while others say that walking away from the bus station a bit can get your prices down to LAK10,000. With tourism growing, prices are sure to increase; your best bet is to ask around and make sure you're getting the most reasonable price for a tuk-tuk if you do get one.
Bicycles can be rented for about LAK20,000, but are surprisingly difficult to find in the town center.
Motorbikes are very popular to rent in Thakhek, especially for those tourists who are planning to traverse the Thakhek Loop. Semiautomatics will generally cost you about LAK50,000-LAK70,000, while automatics will cost LAK90,000-LAK100,000. Wang Wang’s, Mr Ku’s, and Mad Monkey Motorbike are a couple popular rental spots located along the river.
How to get to and from Thakhek
Getting in and out of Thakhek is a relatively easy matter, no matter where you're coming from or where you're planning to go next. Buses are the primary method of transport, and the bus station is located on Route 13, a few hundred meters south of the intersection with Route 12.
There is a bus between Nakhon Phanom and the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, which leaves from the bus station frequently and costs about LAK20,000. The bus ride is only about 90 minutes (including time spent crossing the border), and it is one of the quicker and easier border crossings between Thailand and Laos.
There are also buses from Thakhek to Vietnam, and it is possible to travel between Thakhek to Dong Hoi, Hanoi, Ha Tinh, Hue, and Vinh. Schedules vary and these buses do not depart every day, so it's necessary to check at the bus station for the times and availabilities of these buses if you are hoping to travel to Vietnam after Thakhek.
Buses to Vientiane cost LAK60,000 and take about 8 hours; the VIP bus costs about LAK80,000 and is meant to be about an hour faster.
Other destinations in Laos that are serviced by buses in Thakhek include Attapeu, Paksan, Salavan, Savannakhet, Sekong, and Xieng Khouane. Prices and times vary on these buses, and although you generally can't buy tickets in advance, it is advisable to check in at the bus station ahead of time to clarify schedules and prices. There is also a smaller station with songthaews and small local buses that go to the small towns and villages along Route 12 and Route 8.
Is Thakhek a safe place to visit?
Thakhek is a safe place to visit. Your main concern here lies in ensuring that you are well prepared if you choose to travel the motorbike Loop, as you may pass through long stretches without fuel stations or much sign of life nearby; you’ll want to fill up your take frequently, and you may even want to take a bottle of fuel with you just in case).