Just across the Mekong, Nakhon Phanom in Thailand has an airport with a couple of daily flights to/from Bangkok.
Tha Khaek's main bus terminal is on Route 13, 850 metres south of the intersection with Route 12. It’s mostly served by local buses, the wait-until-full, share-the-seat, chicken-bus variety that chugs at a snail’s pace stopping to drop off and pick up every five minutes. There are regular departures to points north and south. An alternate gamble, you can stand in front of the bus station on Route 13 and try catching a decent bus headed north to Vientiane, south to Pakse—they can drop you off at any destination along the highway. The Vientiane or Pakse bound buses tend to be faster and more comfortable. Air-con buses are only a few dollars more than local buses.
Bus tickets can’t be bought in advance, but we advise to confirm the bus schedule the day before or the morning of, especially for Vietnam bound buses which are run by private companies. Ask at the window; do not rely on the schedule posted on signs.
A tuk tuk ride from town should cost no more than 20,000 kip, but we experienced stubborn negotiations from the drivers at the bus station. The sleeping bus between Vientiane-Pakse arrives in Tha Khaek in the middle of the night. A tuk tuk to town will cost more as your hands are tied. Try for 30,000 kip.
Destinations within Laos
Attapeu: local bus departs at 15:00, 16:00, 23:00. Costs 90,000 kip. Sleeping bus departs at 01:00. Costs 140,000 kip.
Paksan: take Vientiane bus. Costs 50,000 kip.?Pakse: local bus departs 10:30, 12:00. Costs 60,000 kip and takes 7 hrs. Air-con bus departs at 08:30, 01:30. Costs 70,000 kip and takes 6 hrs.
Salavan: local bus departs 23:00. Costs 90,000 kip. Sleeping bus departs at 01:00. Costs 140,000 kip.
Savannakhet: departs at 10:30, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00. 15:00. Costs 30,000 kip.
Sekong: local bus departs at 23:30. Costs 80,000 kip. Sleeping bus at 01:00. Costs 130,000 kip.
Vientiane: regular departures from 05:30-24:00. Costs 60,000 kip and takes 8 hrs. VIP bus departs at 09:15. Costs 80,000 kip and takes 7 hrs.
Xieng Khouane: departs at 13:30. Costs 130,000 kip. Slow bus, advisable to go to Paksan and take bus from there.
Buses to Thailand
Nakhon Phanom/Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge 3: departs the bus station every 60 to 90 minutes (in each direction) from 07:00-17:00. You can flag down the bus anywhere along Route 13. Mon-Fri costs 18,000 kip, Sat-Sun costs 20,000 kip and takes about 90 minutes (30 minutes of which covers border formalities). Even if you arrive to the border by tuk tuk, you’ll still need to wait and use this bus to cross the bridge.
Buses to Vietnam
Reconfirm the schedule a day in advance.
Dong Hoi: departs Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday at 06:00. Takes 10 hours.
Hanoi: possibly departs on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday at 13:00. Costs 170,000 kip and takes 17 hrs.
Ha Tinh: departs Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday at 09:00, 10:00, 11:00.
Hue: departs Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday at 07:00. Costs 90,000 kip and takes 17 hrs.
Vinh: departs daily at 09:00, 10:00, 11:00.
Savannakhet has buses to Da Nang or more frequent departures to Vietnam.
The songthaew station is located about 100 metres south of the roundabout/km-2 market, with songthaews and small local buses for everywhere else such as destinations along Route 12, Route 8 and Route 1E, Mahaxai, Nakai, Lak Xao, Na Hin and so on. Rates are reasonable. Sample prices: Na Hin 50,000 kip, Mahaxay 25,000 kip.
The ferry across the Mekong river to Thailand is not available to foreigners.
It would be great to get around Tha Khaek’s flat, leisurely roads by bicycle—if you can find one. Rentals are scarce and generally of poor quality. Wang Wang’s Rental has a few bicycles for 20,000 kip a day. Green Discovery charges an outrageous 85,000 kip for a mountain bike in terrible condition.
Motorbike rentals are the big business with the vast majority of backpackers choosing to do the Tha Khaek loop or day trips independently. The two big rental shops are Chinese-owned Wang Wang’s, located in the town square by the river, and Mr Ku’s, in-house at Thakek Travel Lodge. Legendary Mr Ku had a hand in putting the loop on the map, so to speak. He has hand drawn maps, great English and a helpful demeanour. Stay at the lodge and it makes sense to rent from there.
Wang Wang’s, located at the river across from Inthira Hotel, has an enormous fleet, and it’s not uncommon for most of it to be rented out by the end of the morning. If doing the loop or any multi-day trip, it’s not a bad idea to go to the shop the evening before or earlier in the morning to secure a bike in good condition and with low kilometres. The shop can be chaotic so you’ll need time to get in then on your way. It’s the cheapest deal in town: semi-automatics cost 55,000-70,000 kip per day, depending on cc. Automatics cost 90,000 kip a day.
Beside Wang Wang’s is German-owned Mad Monkey Motorbike which only have automatics for 100,000 kip a day and serious off-road bikes, 250,000 to 300,000 kip per day.
A passport is usually required as a deposit. Check the motorbike to the best of your ability before you depart. Though the loop is all sealed roads now, the bikes still take an absolute beating. Check the brakes, lights, signal, photograph any existing damage and the contract. Don’t rent a Chinese-brand motorbike, wear a helmet, have travel insurance... see our Tha Khaek Loop guide for tips on motorbiking.