Fifty kilometres east of the Mahaxai Caves lies the beautifully situated town of MAHAXAI, engulfed in limestone karst formations, on the banks of the Xe Bang Fai River. A bumpy 50km drive from Thakhek, this lively little town lacks sights of its own but is nevertheless a charming place offering visitors enchanted by the strange beauty of Khammouane’s karst formations a chance to soak up the surroundings at a more measured pace.
Buses and pick-ups grind to a halt at the central market, next to an old tin-roofed temple. There’s just one hotel, as well as several noodle shops and tam màk hung vendors, all just steps away. Hiring a boat to cruise the river, which stretches from the mountainous Vietnamese border to the Mekong, can be a bit of a chore – ask by the river or around town – but if you can swing it, a two-hour round-trip by motorized pirogue is scenic in either direction, with the upstream route taking in stunning cliffs and the downstream option skimming through gentle rapids, past submerged water buffalo and villagers catching fish. Most cave touring originates in Thakhek, but the area surrounding Mahaxai is also honeycombed with caves – ask the villagers.