As far as Asian capital cities go, Vientiane was actually quite pleasant. Not overpopulated, a diverse food scene, cultural attractions, and an expansive night market make it a place that’s definitely worth enduring the heat for.
- Buddha Park: Whether you’re buddies with Asian mythology or not, the mix of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures on this grassy section of land will capture your imagination. You’ll find creatures just knee-high to behemoths several stories tall. Go early to try and avoid the searing sun from baking you alive.
- Do your best to stay in the area surrounding the streets of Samsenthai and Setthathilath, just above the river and night market. This is where most of the action is within walking distance, including several inner city temples, the aforementioned night market, the cultural center, banks, motorcycle rentals and a variety of top class food options.
Thakhek / Konglor Cave Circuit
Thakhek is a town that really only serves as a base to explore the circuit of caves that stretch eastwards, and most particulularly, the absolutely breathtaking Konglor Cave to the northeast.
- Inthira Thakhek: Though placed on the higher end of the expense range for lodging, this place is absolutely worth it. It’s an old colonial era mansion converted into a gorgeous hotel that has preserved its old french architecture while upgrading its facilities. The restaurant and bar provided top notch offerings as well. Book through Agoda for seasonal specials, such as an included cocktail with your booking.
- Caves East of Thakhek: If you’re not completely interested in doing the full 3 day loop as many do, you can still explore the caves east of Thakhek within a day and be back in town for sunset.
*Xang Cave isn’t the most exciting, but the little village surrounding it is worth a slow ride through to read the information plaques and possibly even grab a very cheap and local lunch from.
*Buddha Cave is quite the bumpy and lengthy ride to get to off the main highway, but once there, you can rent a longboat with an operator to guide you through the cave river and back. Women must bring a wrap to cover bare legs.
*Xieng Liap Cave was fascinating, with its dragon jaw-like openings and the cool waters running through it just begging for a swim. You’ll either need to source a local guide if entering from the west OR continue on the highway as it curves southwards and look for the sign for ‘Green Climbers’ Home’ on right side (very easy to miss) and ask them to point it out. You can even choose to stay a night if you’re into private bungalows tucked in among towering limestone cliffs and run by an environmentally conscious group of individuals.
*Tham Sa Pha In Cave is across the highway from Green Climber’s Home. It’s a mysterious cavern with a bulbous interior watched over by an ominous Buddhist shrine and a gushing cave river in wet season.
Jen swears this is the best cave she’s seen to date, and I’d have to agree. It’s a massive 7.5 km long river that tunnels through one of the biggest caves you’ll ever see. The majority of it is pitch black, except for your boatman’s navigational flashlight, so bring a strong light for yourself so you can look up and feel absolutely minuscule once you realize just how enormous this cave is. You’ll start with your boatman from one entrance of the cave and come to a stop within the first 2km at a walkable section that is strategically well-lit to highlight some of the most impressive stalactites and stalagmites we’ve ever seen. Jen went a little shutter crazy and needed some gentle prodding from me and impatient looks from our waiting boatman to get back on the boat to continue the rest of the boat trip. The water here is so clean that it’s crystal clear and possible potable as well. Once you exit on the other side, you’ll be obliged to make a short stop at a rest area that offers beverages and snacks, before doing the whole ride back again. Once you’re back, you’ll have a chance to take a swim in the refreshing waters of the Konglor National Park before you head back. Budget at least 2 hours from arrival to finish and keep in mind that the boats stop around 4pm. Also, there are a number of lodging options on the road leading up to the cave, where it might be wise to stay for a night unless you’re keen to ride all the way back to Thakhek in the dark.
This town should be attracting more attention than it does, and we really fell in love with it. On top of the fact that it sits on east bank of the river, gazing out at Thailand and epic sunsets on the other side, its downtown core is a collection of dilapidated yet French colonial houses, with gaping shutters regal archways. And it seems the enterprising millenials of the town have taken advantage of this old-era charm by establishing a modern foodie night market in the center of town, complete with popular street food, Western favourites, vintage-chic styled food stalls and even a retro café. You can also check out a number of grand Buddhist temples and a well-maintained Catholic cathedral within walking distance. For lodging, we really enjoyed our stay at a the sophisticated café-guesthouse hybrid, “Pilgrim’s Kitchen & Inn,” run by a Canadian & Indian duo. New, stylish and clean private rooms with a funky café to boot, this was likely the only suitable place to stay during our stayover in mid-2016.