Forty kilometres southeast of Paksan, Nam Kading NBCA is Bolikhamxai province’s largest conservation area and a place of dramatic scenic beauty. Running parallel to the Mekong and encompassing 1740 square kilometres, the park has a chain of mountains down its length, the highest peak being the 1588-metre Mount Pha Pet, which can clearly be viewed as you travel Route 13. Unfortunately, this is likely to be as intimate a glimpse as you’ll get, as there are no roads into the reserve, and no facilities for visitors whatsoever.

Behind the ridge on the eastern boundary of the NBCA, the Nam Mouan and Nam Theun rivers converge to form the Nam Kading, so named because the waterfalls where the Nam Theun spills off the plateau are said to make a “kading” sound – the sound of a water buffalo’s bell. The Nam Kading flows out through a gap in the mountains to join the Mekong at the village of PAKKADING. There are a number of good fish restaurants along the highway here, making it a favourite lunch spot for truckers and travellers plying Route 13.

To the east of Pakkading, the highway crosses a Russian-built bridge and heads south out of town. Drivers often pause to light a cigarette before crossing the bridge, and then respectfully toss the lit cigarette into the swift waters below, an offering to appease the feisty water serpent believed to live at the river’s mouth. Every year a buffalo is sacrificed to the water serpent, though the offerings weren’t enough to spare the lives of a Russian engineer and several Lao workers who died during construction of the bridge.

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