Districts: Thakaek, Mahaxay, Nongbok, Hinboun, Nhommalath, Bualapha, Nakai, Xebangfay, and Xaybouathong.
Khammouane Province covers about 16,000 square kilometers in central Laos, and is bordered by Bolikhamxay Province to the north and Savannakhet Province to the south. The Mekong River Valley and Thailand make up the western boundary, while the Annamite Mountain Range separates Khammouane from Vietnam in the province’s eastern frontier. Thakhaek is the provincial capital, situated across the Mekong from Nakorn Phanom in Thailand. It also has much well preserved French colonial architecture similar to that found in Vientiane.
Khammouane’s 330,000 inhabitants mostly engage in farming, as the fertile land is well-suited to grow rice, cabbage, sugar cane, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables. The lowland river valley’s population mostly consists of Lao, Phouthai and other Tai-speaking people, while the Makong or Bru, a Mon-Khmer-speaking ethnic minority, make up 13 about per cent of the provincial population. Smaller numbers of Phuan, Tahoy, Kri, Katang, Nguan, Atel, Themarou, and Maleng are mainly found in upland areas and the mountainous eastern region of the province.
The vast forests of the Nakai-Nam Teun National Protected Area act as an important watershed that feeds several Mekong tributaries as well as form the catchment area for Nam Teun 2, the largest hydropower project in Laos.
National Protected Areas
Of Khammouane Province’s total land area of 16,135 square kilometers, 6,295 (39 per cent) falls inside three interconnected National Protected Areas (NPAs): Nakai Nam Theun, Phou Hin Poun, and Hin Namno.
Three of the world’s five most recently discovered or re-discovered large mammals –the saola, giant muntjac, and Indochinese warty pig – make their homes in Nakai Nam Teun NPA’s 353,200 ha of sandstone formations, complex habitats, and mountainous elevations ranging from 500-2,200 meters. You can reach the heart of Nakai Nam Teun NPA from Route 8B.
Phou Hin Poun is the most popular of the province’s three NPAs, as is easy to access from Thakaek Town or from Ban Na Hin (Ban Khoun Kham) on Route 8. The NPA’s 150,000 ha are characterized by limestone karst mountains and several caves, the largest being the 7.5-km Konglor Cave. The Provincial Visitor Information Center offers a range of nature-based adventure activities in Phou Hin Poun including trekking, rafting, kayaking, and caving.
Least accessible of the three NPAs is the 82,000-ha Hin Namno, which also features dramatic limestone escarpments and caves, due to its location where the Central Indochina Limestone Mountains collide with the Annamite Chain. You can reach Hin Namno by taking Highway 12 to Muang Boualapha.
Khammouane’s dominant forest types include semi-evergreen, with stands of mixed evergreen and deciduous trees. Most of the forests you see growing around the limestone mountains are semi-evergreen, with unusual stunted vegetation on rocky outcrops and cliff faces. The Nakai Plateau features vast stands of mixed evergreen and pine forests.
The southwestern monsoon dominates Khammouane’s weather, as it brings heavy rains from May-October, though storms from the South China Sea and Vietnam supplement the monsoon in Nakai Nam Theun NPA’s mountains. The rains keep the area wet for nine months of the year and support the dense forests needed to sustain rare wildlife species.
The Annamite Range’s high forested mountains at the Vietnam border and the steep rugged cliffs and caves in Phou Hin Poun NPA have an abundance of rare and unique animals. Recent discoveries concealed in the cliffs, caves, and forests of Khammouane have astounded scientists. Beside tigers, elephants, gibbons, and the douc langur, there are a number of other remarkable species in the province, many of which were recently discovered. The saola is an ox-like mammal that scientists first described in 1994, and they discovered the giant Muntjac, a deer-like mammal, at about the same time. In 2004, scientists found a new rodent species, referred to by villagers as kha nyou, which looks like a cross between a rat and a squirrel. The kha nyou, which lives in limestone-mountain crevices, is so unique that it has been classified as a new mammalian family, making it the first new family discovered since the 1970s.
The sooty babbier (Stachyrisherberti) is a unique bird species found only in the limestone mountain areas of Khammouane and Bolikhamxay Provinces and in the adjacent Phoung Nha Reserve in Vietnam. The medium-sized, dark colored birds makes their homes around deep forested gullies, and are usually seen foraging in the low stunted vegetation and playing in groups near cliffs and boulders. To identify this bird, look for a pale bill and characteristic eye ring. The bald bulbul was just recognized as a species in 2009, and is relatively easy to spot near Ban Na Hin (Khoun Kham Village) on Route 8.