Photo: Late light over the Mekong.

Introduction

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The provincial capital of Khammuan province, Tha Khaek sits on the banks of the Mekong River across from the Thai town of Nakhon Phanom. While Tha Khaek is not the most exciting town in Laos, it’s on the tourist map as the jumping-off point for explorations of the province’s mesmeric landscape and stirringly beautiful natural wonders, the highlight being Konglor Cave.


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Tha Khaek means “guest landing”, a reference to the town’s past as a pier and trading post, a role that continues to this day as host to the third Thai-Lao Friendship bridge, just 13 km north of town; Lao visas on arrival are available and the border is easy to cross by public bus.

Take a stroll in the countryside. Photo taken in or around Tha Khaek, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Take a stroll in the countryside. Photo: Cindy Fan

With the bridge, good roads connecting to Vietnam and hydroelectric projects dotting the province, the town is establishing itself as a commercial centre (and a notorious hub for the illegal wildlife trade). Sadly tourism isn’t the main priority, and one need only drive a few kilometres east along Route 12 to understand Tha Khaek’s enormous tourism potential.

Flat farmlands and rice paddies are littered with jagged cliffs that appear like black teeth jutting from the earth. Within those limestone karst is another world—the first 20 kilometres of Route 12 is “cave alley” where visitors can explore caves filled with Buddha statues, underground rivers and eerie formations.

Have you ever swum in a cave like this? Photo taken in or around Tha Khaek, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Have you ever swum in a cave like this? Photo: Cindy Fan

Route 12 is also the start of the “Tha Khaek Loop”, a multi-day motorbike journey popping up on Southeast Asia-backpacker bucket lists, though it will never feel crowded. There are long, lonely stretches where you will pass no village or see another soul for miles. The loop takes a minimum of three days, driving around the edges of Phou Hin Poun National Protected Area and to Konglor cave, where a thrilling boat ride on an underground ... Travelfish members only (Around 900 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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