At the tiny junction town of Ban Vieng Kham, 47km south of Pakkading, Route 8 begins its journey over the Annamite Mountains to Vietnam. These days the majority of travellers pass through here on direct, air-conditioned buses running the Vientiane–Vinh route, but it’s worth pausing at the frontier town of Lak Xao, a base for trips to both the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Nakai-Nam Theun NBCA.
Tracing a centuries-old trading route to Vietnam, Route 8 zigzags through hilly countryside, dotted with woods and tiny stream valleys, the southern horizon punctuated by black-topped limestone pillars draped in lush vegetation. An hour’s drive along this route takes you to the village of NA HIN, which sprang up during the construction of the Theun-Hin Boun Dam, completed in 1998. The hydroelectric potential of the area is vigorously demonstrated during the monsoon season, when the rains recharge a medley of waterfalls on the surrounding hillsides. The densely forested hill guarding the valley’s southeastern side alone supports as many as six sizeable falls, all visible from the highway.
Today Na Hin has found a new lease of life as a gateway into the Phou Hin Poun NBCA, more popularly known as the Khammouane Limestone NBCA, and from the bus station there are direct daily connections to both Vientiane and Thakhek.
Continuing east on Route 8, you pass Ban Phonhong and cross a toll bridge spanning the Nam Theun, the river that powers the Theun-Hin Boun Dam. The road then reaches KAM KEUT, a quaint, shady village of traditional homes, set in an expansive valley of rice fields hemmed in by a low wall of hills.