Thakek is a small place in middle/south Laos at the banks of the Mekong River. Opposite to Thakhek lies Nakhon Phanom. Both places have a road connection via the '3rd Thai/Laotion Friendship Bridge' since late 2011.
Thakhek's central square. Image by Asienreisender, 3/2010
Thakhek is the capital of Khammouane Province. It's a town with some remaining old colonial houses, but since it's pretty much booming, the dominant buildings are all of the ugly, contemporary style. Besides, the place has been bombed by French aircraft in the First Indochina War, and the area around the market place has been heavily damaged in that happening.
Part of Thakheks remaining colonial buildings. Image by Asienreisender, 2010
The place's history remains somewhat unclear; could have been an outpost of the Khmer empire, before that, maybe Funan, Chenla and the Champas played a role here. Modern Thakhek is a French invention from the years short before the Great War. Witness of that give the rotting colonial houses, particularly around the central square (fountain square). Insofar it has similarities with other places in former 'French Indochina', like Pakse and Kampot, but remains smaller than these.
There is practically not much to do here but to walk around (best on foot) and have a look for details. Along the river are many and ever more karaoke bars and restaurants who care for the horrible din without the primitives can not exist. All the places along the Mekong River in Laos nowadays seem to be brutally noisy.
One wonders why there is yet none of these decadent casinos in Thakhek, for the gambling-happy Thais who think to make money after consulting religious authorities and pleading for the help of supernatural forces.
However, Thakhek is going to get touristic, respectively it is already by a not small degree. The upside of that is that it is possible to rent motorbikes here to explore the countryside around. On the other hand are the roads mostly in a bad state, means still widely unpaved, what makes them dusty in the dry season and slippery in the rainy season. You will either look like thoroughly powdered or like a swine. Dust masks help a little, but not much. Pothols prevent the drivers from speeding, but navigating the roads is therefore a challenge. Instead of enjoying the landscapes as best as possible, one's concentration is fixed on the blasted road to avoid the worst. The landscapes are magnificent, by the way - there are several mountain chains of limestone mountains of the kind one finds west of Vang Vieng, all aligned in north-south directions. It's also a problem that there is normally no insurance on the motorbikes and the owners keep the renter's passport as a deposit. In case of an accident the renter has to expect an extraordinarily high bill... Laotions are among those who love to drive like wild boars, and they love to drink before, when and after driving. And, of course, in any case of an accident a foreigner is the one who is generally blamed guilty.
Public transport is generally poor in Laos and the quality is usually slightly above cattle transport. The bus station for overland buses lies about 5km north of town - another organized nuisance to piss travellers off.
A foodshop in the morning. Live starts early in the day and people get early to bed as well. Image by Asienreisender, 2010
By the way: for those, who want to enter Thailand here, there is still a ferry service running, what is a much better solution to go to Nakhon Phanom than using the road connection over the new bridge, what would be a big detour. Except, of course, you arrive at Thakhek busstation and head directly to Thailand. Nakhon Phanom is much livelier than little Thakhek.
Be aware of that anything worth being visited in Laos is already being turned into a tourist trap. Laotions are not only dull, they are moreover greedy. If there is any cave in a landscape where once a foreigner paid a visit, someone from the neighbourhood will set up a ticket booth there and cash from now on at least 10,000 kip for entrance. For the use of many bridges, great or small, is also a toll to pay - particularly foreigners have to pay.
The province of Khammounane is among the areas where somewhat so bad, ugly, unhealthy and completely useless as tobacco is still produced in a larger scale. There are also many rivers, all of them tributaries of the Mekong River. Some of these rivers are falling victim to the notorious Laotian damming efforts (see also: 'Damming the Mekong'). The mountains get destroyed by international mining companies (Vietnam, Korea), who get easy concessions from the Laotian government if it only pays what back to the communist party leaders.
There is one of these notorious drug detention centers in Laos. Horrible stories about abusive and brutal treatments of captives come sometimes out.
In the French colonial time there was an attempt to connect Laos and Vietnam with a railroad line, but the plans were never carried out. Thakhek was planned to get a station.
The Annamite Mountain Range
The landscapes east of Thakhek are minted by several mountain chains who run in north-south direction. Image by Asienreisender, Nakhon Phanom, 12/2015