Get in
From the North: Buses from Vientiane leave the Southern Bus station every 1-2 hour in the morning, the journey takes around 7 hours, 60'000 kip standard or 80'000 kip for a very colorful VIP bus. See the section on the Vientiane Southern Bus station for the non-trivial instructions how to get there on your own. There are VIP hotel pick-up buses that can be booked from the centre of Vientiane but they make quite a mark up charging around 130'000 kip per person.
The bus station is situated about 5 km east of the city center along the Mekong, so a tuk tuk ride is almost unavoidable, for which local drivers seem to have fixed a price of 15'000 kip per (foreign) person.
 Get around
Tha Khaek town is small enough to walk around but tuk tuks will take you most places for 5,000-10,000 kip if you are feeling lazy. One speed bicycles can be hired from the Travellers Lodge.
A tuk tuk to / from the bus station will probably cost 10,000 kip per person and takes about 15 minutes.
[add listing] See
The market hidden behind the shops on the roundabout corner oppositely the Lao Development Bank is well worth a visit. Narrow lanes wind between the shops leading to a large open market selling fresh produce and sometimes unusual meats such as snake, squirrel, frog and bat.
[add listing] Do
Tha Khaek itself is a small town on the Mekong, with good views of Thailand. A fountain square is under development at the end of the main road, and in Jan 2008 the waterfront road was buried under piles of sand and bricks but once construction is complete it could be quite attractive.
Bicycles and mopeds can be rented from the Tha Khaek Travellers Lodge or from a clothes shop on the southern side of the main road leading to the Lao Development Bank. An internet cafe on the other side of the road is open until about 10pm and charges 120 kip/minute. (Half the price of the dial up connection in the Travellers Lodge), there are now also a couple of internet cafes near the fountain square, charging around 6000 kip/hour.
 The Loop
The Loop as it has become known is a few hundred kilometres round trip along route 13 to the east and then back up and around returning to Tha Kheak on route 12. It is normally done in three to four days on a hired moped or using your own transport. It is not for the faint hearted, the condition of the roads and the driving standards make driving challenging to say the least. Once you have washed all of the thick orange dust out of you hair and clothing it is hard not to feel a great sense of achievement in having completed it.
Don't attempt to do the whole loop on the bicycles you can rent, unless you are very determined. It is possible to reach the Tham Nong Pafa Cave (often referred to as the Budda cave) and some of the southern leg this way if you don't mind the heat and are reasonably fit but the lack of gears and suspension would make it very uncomfortable to go further. Allow a full day if going all the way to Aen Cave by bicycle and at least half for a visit the the signposted Budda cave (approx 15 km from town, the last nine of which is a dusty dirt road that winds through some stunning limestone scenery)
Tha Falang is a swimming spot in the river about 15 km east along route 12, is a somewhat disappointing in the dry season but the ride and friendly children still make this trip good fun. It is not signed in English so you will need to turn off to the north, down a sandy track second after the bridge before the road bends around to the right between two cliffs. Immediately south after the bridge there is a shady spot to park and you can follow the river to Tham Xiengliab, a small cave with river flowing through it. Again a guide or pack of children will probably appear to guide you. Bring a torch and some gifts for the children if you want to go inside. After this point the road works being (Jan 2008) Its about another 4-5 km to the commercialized Aen Cave which is lit with a rainbow of neon strip lamps and has an amazing network of Escher like staircases. It has a river running out of mouth and a big pool at the back and is worth a look for the stair cases alone. 10,000 kip + 2,000 for the bike.
Konglor Cave is likely to be the highlight of this trip if not the whole of Laos, a 7 km underground river that can be navigated by motorized long boat with a torch. It emerges into a lush valley on the far side which previously was only accessible by foot. In the dry season you will have to get out while the boat men drag the long boat over the shallows so bring flip flops. The cave is situated in the Phou Hin Bun National Park, 2'000 kip/person entrance fee, 3'000 kip/motorbike. The entrance fee for the cave itself is 5'000 kip/person, the return trip with a longboat costs 100'000 kip/2 people (110'000kip in total for two persons on a boat, three people might be possible as well). The road to Konglor (paving was finished in 2009) leads through a valley with tobacco fields. Ban Nahin village at route 8, 42 km from Kong Lor, has many guest houses and motor bike rentals. There are various guest houses near Kong Lor as well and some good home stays in the village about 1 km from the cave itself (50,000kip per person with breakfast and dinner, maximum of three people in the same house).
Check your bikes thoroughly before starting this trip, make sure the brakes and lights work and check the odometer as turnings are not necessarily signed and you want to measure the distance between junctions. If your helmet does not have a visor then sunglasses are essential as dust and insects will blind you.
Carrying a spare bottle of fuel gives a sense of security and might well make your day, as there are long stretches without gas stations, and ascents might spoil average consumption. Road #1E, the section between Yommalat and Laksao (some 80km), while very rewarding, constitutes a mere dirt track with lots of deep potholes filled with mud, especially after the local heavy rains - enjoy responsibly. Indeed, during rainy season there is a 5km stretch that is all but impassable on mopeds unless you are very skilled at identifying the least muddy route, or have a local to follow. As a general rule, stick to the deep tyre ruts rather than skirting around the edge where the mud is thick enough to clog up your engine and jam your wheels.
Reasonable places for overnights on a counter-clockwise roundtrip could be the Sabaidee Guesthouse in Tha Lang (after 99km without cave watching), and maybe a home stay/guesthouse near Konglor cave (after another 145km), before an early visit there and return to Thakhek (another 185km), making it an enjoyable three-day trip.
There are a number of very informative scrap books filled with tips, maps and others experience on 'The Loop' in the Travellers Lodge.
[add listing] Eat
A number of cafes line the riverfront road serving the usual types of basic food. In the market good noodle soup and be eaten under the sheltered section towards the middle. Pork Rolls in hot baguettes can be bought as a take away lunch from stands near the new fountain square at the end of the main road, towards the other end night food stall sell pan cakes and pork buns by battery powered lamps. It's makes a good stop on the way back from Rendez-Vous and is good way to spend some money outside the monopolising Travellers Lodge.
[add listing] Drink
Rendez-Vous on the main road leading to the River front is a lively bar in the evenings, it's popular with locals but good fun in a group. Beer Lao 9000 kip. Snooker table at the back.
[add listing] Sleep
 Get out
The bus station serves both domestic, and international connections.