Tha Khaek is a town in the center of Laos which is mostly known for being the gateway to Phu Hon Bun National Protected Area. People flock here to check out this gorgeous natural habitat, but this is not the only reason alone to make the effort to visit Tha Khaek.
This is also a pretty riverside town, and you can enjoy a wealth of caves in the surrounding area, as well as local temples and humming markets. In the evenings you can enjoy the local Laotian fare sold along the waterfront and this is a great pick if you want to visit Phu Hin Bun NPA but also experience a typical Laotian town at the same time.
If you venture a little out of the center of town, then you can also sign up for some of the most famous treks in Laos which take you along riverbanks and past charming traditional villages.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Tha Khaek…
1. Visit Phu Hin Bun NPA
Phu Hin Bun NPA is a national protected area outside Tha Khaek and is also the main reason why people travel here.
The protected area is some 1,580 square kilometers and you will find spectacular forests here which are also studded with large karst formations.
This is a relatively new protected area in Southeast Asia, as it only got its status in 1993, but it is also widely considered to be one of the best.
One of the main activities here is wildlife spotting and you can see deer as well as langur and even tigers and elephants if you are very lucky.
2. Explore Tham Xang
Tha Khaek is famous for its caves and one of the easiest to visit is Tham Xang which is located close to town.
This cave is only 4 kilometers outside the center of Tha Khaek and is known for its stalagmites, one of which is said to look like the head of an elephant.
There are a number of passages that run through the cave and one of these is located directly behind the signature statue in the cave which is a Buddha mage made of gold.
3. Sign up for a trek
One of the best reasons to come to Tha Kaek is for the trekking and with that in mind you can sign up for a two day excursion which till take you into Phu Hin Bun NPA. This trek takes you past the famous karst formations for which this part of Lao is famous and you can also walk through splendid caves here such as Tham Pa Chan.
Most of the treks also take you out to local villages and you can also stay overnight here with the resident ethnic minorities to see how they live and work.
4. Eat some barbecued meats
The local specialty in Tha Khaek is the grilled meat, and in particular the barbecued duck.
Most of the grilled meat restaurants are located along the waterfront in Tha Khaek and they are some of the best places in town to get a cheap and delicious meal in the evenings.
As an added bonus you also get to spend time looking out over the river as you dine.
5. Go on a kayaking trip
A recent addition to the touring scene around Tha Khaek is the chance to go on a kayaking tour which takes around three days.
This will take you along the Nam Hin Bun River and then along the river way to the mighty Mekong River.
These tours are not for the faint of heart as they require you to be reasonably fit, but if you are looking for an adventure then this is hard to beat.
6. Walk around the town
Tha Khaek is a charming town in its own right, so make sure that you spend some time exploring all that it has to offer.
You can stroll along the river here at sunset and take in the views or you can also explore the small stalls that line the waterfront and offer you the chance to try your hand at shooting an air rifle.
You will also find delicious restaurants and food stalls all over Tha Khaek which make the perfect place to stop off after a walk and refuel.
7. Admire Tham Pa Fa
This cave was only discovered in 2004 and is one of the narrowest chambers in the area.
There are an amazing 229 Buddha statues where which are all cast in bronze and some are about a meter high while others are only 15 centimeters tall.
Due to the presence of the statues, the cave is guarded by local religious leaders but this only adds to the serene atmosphere here.
8. Shop in the local market
Like all Lao towns Tha Khaek has a lively local market.
The market is a little tricky to find, although locals will point you in the right direction, but it worth making the effort to seek it out if you can.
The reason to come here is to take a look at the array of local produce on offer which includes local fruits and vegetables as well as snacks.
Also make sure you look out for the more unusual products on offer here such as snake meat, squirrel, bat and frog.
9. Explore Tham Pha Chan
One of the main attractions in Tha Khaek is Tham Pha Chan which is a large cave that measures 60 meters high and 100 meters across.
Like all the caves in the area, this is the product of a karst formation and there is a river that runs through it, making it impassable in the rainy season.
If you come here in the dry season however you can walk across the cave and also check out the Buddha statue here which is made of sweet sandalwood.
10. Visit the Nam Don Resurgence
The Nam Don Resurgence is a well known cave close to Tham Pha Chan and is also the spot where the Nam Don River erupts out of the ground.
There is a certain rhythmic harmony to the ebb and flow of the water in and out of the cave and you will also find a pretty lagoon here underneath the main karst formation which you can also swim in on a hot day.
11. Admire Pha That Sikhottabong
Pha That Sikhottabong is one of the most famous temples in the Tha Khaek area and is also part of a monastery which was built in the 19th century.
It is said to have been restored in the 16th century to its current form and this is also the spot of an important religious festival which takes place here in February every year.
As you walk around you can take in the ornate temple hall as well as the impressive seated Buddha statue.
Before you leave the complex, make sure to check out the wooden houses next to the temple which are built in the signature style of Khammuan Province.
12. Visit Khoun Kong Leng
Khoun Kong Leng is a scenic lake which is surrounded by limestone formations in the center of Phu Hin Bun NPA. The lake is also known in English as Evening Gong Lake and is known for its emerald green hue, and the waters here are clean and clear if you fancy swim.
You are allowed to enter the water provided you have permission from the local village first and you will only be allowed in certain parts of the waterway, but this is one dip not to be missed when you are in Laos.
13. Explore Tham Xieng Liap
Another cave that is well worth a visit in Tha Kahek is Tham Xieng Liap.
This cave sits at the bottom of a limestone cliff that rises to a height of 300 meters.
The cave spans some 200 meters and you can walk through it to an exit on the other side which leads to a scenic valley.
The cave is also known for its wildlife including soft-shelled turtles and rock rats, so it is a good choice for animal lovers.
14. Try the local food stalls
There are a number of food stalls in Tha Khaek which are known for two things: grilled chicken and papaya salad.
The local grilled chicken dish is known as ping kai and it is the perfect accompaniment to the sweet and sour salads served here, and both dishes can be washed down with a bottle of the local beer.
They also come with sticky rice on the side and although the set up is rustic, this is one of the most authentic ways to dine in town.
Many of these stalls are located close to the river in town or along the promenade next to Fountain Square.
15. Take a boat trip to Kong Lor Cave
Kong Lor Cave is one of the most spectacular sights in Laos and stretches for some 7 kilometres.
There is a river that runs through the cave which is large enough to accommodate a boat, and you can take a scenic boat trip along this amazing waterway.
As you glide through the cave you can check out smaller chambers as well as eerie karst formations, and when you emerge on the other side you will find pretty valleys unfolding beneath you.
Make sure to bring some waterproof clothes with you as there is a high chance that you will get very wet.
You can also visit in the rainy season although you may need to walk through some sections of the cave.