Looking for wild elephants roaming free? An 80 km drive from Vientiane on Route 13 lands at Ban Na Village and its Wild Elephant Observation Tower and homestay. A short trek delivers you to the forest tower, which overlooks a saltlick and stream that attracts wild elephants in the evening. Though there is no guarantee you’ll see one, but over the years, visitors have reported spotting herds of up to 40 pachyderms including an old tusker, though groups of five to 15 are more common. You can also sign up for a trek to the Nam Hi River, Tad Luang Waterfall, or more distant 40 meter high Tad Fa.
Wat Phabath and Wat Phonsane overlap Route 13 near Ban Na, and present two of Bolikhamxay’s most remarkable attractions. In 1993, locals discovered a 2.4 x 1.2 meter Buddha footprint, and built Wat Phabath around it. Over the decades, journeyers make merit by placing gold-leaf on the phabath (Buddha footprint), and every year in mid-January, the temple holds a festival to pay respect to the phabath. Wat Phonsane sits on sprawling green Mekong Riverside grounds, and is believed to be a sacred place where Buddha once took his meals. The temple is also known for the annual Bang Fai Phayanak Festival during October’s full moon, when the Mekong launches mysterious colored fireballs.
Be among the first to explore the trail along the Yong River’s rapids and overnight at the ethnic Meui village of Ban Yang Kheua at Km 99 on Route 13 South, where the New Zealand CBT-SED project is building a lodge. From here a tractor ride delivers you to the Yong River and its endless rapids racing over a stone-slab bed. A trek follows the river, and sometimes crosses it, allowing you to inspect the perfectly round craters, and infinite small channels gushing between the rocks. The walk ends at a wide set of short falls, where you can swim in a clear pool. From here, a boat connecting to Ban Yang Kheua.
Nam Kading Cruise
Take a river cruise few have experienced. About 40 km south of Paksan, you’ll cross the Nam Kading Bridge and start tasting the upcoming adventure, as longboats putter along he lazy river and vanish into the mountains. A few km along, long-tails at a makeshift port sit ready to take you up the Nam Kading. The once-calm water begins rumbling as the river rushes through a rocky canyon, until the Tad Vang Fong Falls completely block the way. You can anchor at the Nam Kading Protection Center and trek to more rapids by foot. The center also offers a lodge and camping equipment for a stay one the grounds.
Napong’s Waterfall Trek
As Route 8 cuts through the “Karst Corridor” a large elephant-shaped out-crop, Pha Xang, appear about 15 km from the Route 13 junction. Welcome to Ban Napong, and ethnic Toum village launching Tad Thone Waterfall treks and offering homestays. The 7 km morning trek to Tad Thone kicks off with a walk through rice fields to an old-growth forest. The trail traverses streams, before the going gets rigorous, with bursts of steep in clines and precarious ravine crossings. But after about 3 hours, Tad Thone appears, shooting over two ledges before a final plunge approaching 100 meters. You can then descend to the fall’s base, and avalanche of massive boulders big enough to host a picnic.