A 7,5 kilometers boat ride through Kong Lor Cave with an overnight village stay flashes bright on the province’s marquee, as does a tour to the recently discovered Nong Pa Fa Cave and its 600 year old Buddha images. Another new entry is the easy to spot bald bulbul bird, which was just declared a species in 2009. A one-day tour around the provincial capital, Thakhaek, reveals several historical gems including the 1,500 years old Sikhottabong Stupa and ancient “Great Wall”, while the hearty can trek in a national protected area with an overnight stay in a village lodge.
Khammouane/Thakhaek, meaning “happy gold”, is believed to have been named after the gold deposits found in the area hundreds of years ago. The province’s history dates back as early as the 6th-8th centuries when the region was part of the Sikhottabong Kingdom. Remnants of the ancient civilization include the Great Wall (Kampeng Nyak), Meuang Phone Stupa, and Sikhottabong Stupa-one of the most sacred in Laos. The province has many remaining buildings that date to the colonial period, especially in the provincial capital of Thakhaek. There is an abandoned railway track that was originally planned to connect Laos with Vietnam but was never finished. Today the only evidence of this endeavor is an old railway bridge over the Nam Don River. Khammouane/Thakhaek is a land of rugged karst mountains which were once the refuge of a succession of ethnic groups fleeing the Haw invasions in the north during the 19th century. The famed Mu Gia pass at the end of route 12 was one of the main transit points of the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Indochina Wars. This dreamlike landscape has served as a sanctuary for a number of wild animals that were unknown to scientists until the 1990s. The khan you, a small rodent-like creature the size of a small squirrel was found in Khammouane in the early 21st century and possibly will be the last remaining mammalian family to be described on earth.