Bolikhamsai Province is home to a number of towns that are only of interest as transit points. Lak Xao is no exception with a bus station, a few guesthouses and some dusty roads are all that it has to offer.
It's a town situated 34km shy of the Vietnamese border under the shadow of a massive limestone mountain, Phou Phaa Phi Hong, in the midst of a vast expanse of forest.
You'll see the odd logging truck barrel through town with logs of incredible size on the back of them. Where they are coming from, we don't know, but it's fair to say that the trees being chopped down are not from plantations.
Few travellers visit Lak Xao as a destination in itself, but it's becoming a regular stop for those doing the Konglor Cave loop in 4 or 5 days and it's long served as an overnight stop for tour groups going from Vientiane to Vietnam.
A trip out here via Route 8 is worthwhile in its own right, especially by motorcycle, rather than by tour bus, simply for the stunning scenery along the road, traversing spectacular ridges, zooming under huge limestone mountains and criss-crossing countless rivers and streams.
It's pretty easy to find your way around Lak Xao since there are only two main roads to worry about, which intersect at a roundabout. The north-south route leads south to Nakai and Mahaxay. The east-west road is Route 8, a well-paved road that connects Route 13S at the village of Vieng Kham near the Mekong River with Nam Phao at the Vietnamese border, 34km east of Lak Xao.
The Lao Development Bank is located 100m south of the roundabout near the market, open weekdays from 08:30 to 15:30. You can exchange baht, dollars and kip here, and cash traveller's cheques: US$1 per note to receive kip, US$2 per note to receive US dollars. No credit card advances are available.
The Lao Telecom office is located 350m west of the roundabout, open daily from 08:00 to 17:00, long distance phone services is available for 3,000 kip per minute for most countries. (T: (054) 341 000-1, F: (054) 341 004
The post office is located just north-east of the roundabout, open daily from 08:00 to 22:30. The bus station is behind the market, but the main entrance is 250m west of the roundabout.
The Nam Phao border
The Nam Phao Border is 34 km east of Lak Xao -- you can catch a bus to from Lak Xao to Trung Tan or Vinh on the Vietnamese eastern coast and from there to your city of choice in Vietnam. You'll need to have your Vietnamese visa in advance, of course. The border is open from 07:00 to 16:30.
Stamping out of Laos is free except on weekends when it costs 10,000 kip. There is an exchange booth on the Laos side open during operating hours where you can pick up some dong at unattractive rates. Best to just pay in dollars on the other side (baht are harder to get rid of).
If entering from Vietnam, a Lao Visa on Arrival is available at this border crossing.
By Adam Poskitt.