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Pakbeng

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Northern Laos : Pakbeng
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Pakbeng is in Bakeo Province, Northern Laos.

Understand

This small village lies half-way between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, perched high on the banks of the Mekong river. You will likely be in Pakbeng because the two-day boat between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang has to stop for the night, and a number of guesthouses have been set up to cater for the passing tourists. It`s also the eastern end of Road 2, originating in Udom Xai. To call Pakbeng sleepy is an understatement. It's quiet to the point of being dead. Still there are sufficient restaurants for one pleasant night.

24 hour electricity arrived relatively recently in Pakbeng, but you'll still find most of the town is shut down by 22:00. What Pakbeng does have to offer is a good night's sleep and sunset views over a particularly scenic stretch of the Mekong.

Pakbeng.JPG

Get in

Most visitors will have to stop here over-night on the slow-boat trip to/from Luang Prabang. It`s also possible to arrive by speedboat en route to the north. Much more uncomfortable than the slow boat, however you will arrive before the slowboat so you have the option of choosing a guesthouse and showering with no queues. You also get to see the town as the only Westerner. Another possibility is to reach the place by bus-- this is a rough and long option.

By boat

The boat landing is at the end of Rd 2 on the Mekong. Slow boats leave in the morning in both directions. They depart when full but expect to start at around 09:00. Arrive early to get one of the better seats (as far away from the loud engine as possible). The dropping off boat normally arrives at about 17:00, but this is Laos, so bear in mind that this is a guideline. Laos transportation departs when the driver can be bothered. It's best just to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. And have a beer, of course.

By bus

Pick-ups make the trip to Udom Xai around 07:00 and leave at the northern end of town on Rd 2.

A bus Leaves at 12:00 from Muang Ngeun (near the Thai-Lao border ), costs 30,000 kip, and takes 1.5 hours.

Get around

There are only a few streets, so walk around. Most of the guesthouses are along the first 50 m of the main street as you head up the bank.

With the roads and particularly the rocky bank just above the boat landing being very steep, it might seem tempting to accept an offer for someone to carry your bag for you. Just ensure that if you do so you agree on the size of the tip beforehand.

See

There is nothing much to see except the mighty Mekong and rural Laos life.

A couple of local wats may interest the obsessive temple enthusiast.

  • Wat Khok Koh.
  • Wat Sin Jong Jeang.

Do

Find a bed, eat something and sleep ... and prepare for another day on the boat

Recently a local guy [1] there started trekkings, with a sleepover in a hilltribe village . Can be nice before you get on that slowboat again.

  • Mekong Elephant Camp, [2]. offers elephant treks

Buy

Pakbeng is remote and offers very little in the way of shopping, but if you're about to spend the rest of the day on a boat it would be a good idea to pick up snacks from the row of market stalls that line the main road in the morning

Eat

Several guesthouses and some "restaurants" offer food, but don`t expect anything special. There's an Indian restaurant with decent curries along the main street, called "Hassan". The friendly manager will also package meals for consumption on the slow-boat. Be careful while paying though, he might tend to give you back too litle or hand you unusable (too old, broken) dollar-notes. (Don't accept a dollar-note that's a little ripped, it will be unusable later)

Locals set up small sandwich stands along the road to the waterfront each morning. You can buy basic sandwiches of bread and Laughing Cow cheese. Or ask your guest house to provide you with a packed lunch, as you are going to be in for a 9 hour boat ride without meals. Some boats do have some food and drinks for sale too.

Drink

Standard beer options are available from guest houses, at inflated prices. To ensure a good nights sleep, try the local "lao-lao bong" -- water poured over fermented rice and slipped through a straw.

  • Hive Bar, (further down the main street than most of the guesthouses). offers some music to dance to and seems to stay open later than the other bars

Drugs: many people sell them it in Pakbeng, and they happily double their profits by scamming you. After having sold you drugs, someone will appear with a police badge, and ask for a hefty bribe in exchange for not arresting you.

Sleep

Standards are low at this village near-the-end-of-the-world. Just look around as things change fast. The guest houses in Pakbeng are all along the main street, just hundred metres away from the boat docking area. A room with shared bathroom will cost about US$3, while a private bathroom will costs an extra US$1-2 (rooms can mostly be paid in Thai baht and Lao kip as well). There might be places where you can get a room for US$2, but you 'll have to search long and bargain hard. Considering hot water: make sure that your bathroom has an individual electric water heater, as there are guest houses with central boilers that only provide a certain amount of hot water for the whole guest house on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Touts are prevalent in Pakbeng, and you will be bothered. However, these touts are very laid back, especially compared to Thailand. If you are after a really cheap option, it is possible to get a mattress and a mosquito net under a veranda for about US$0.50. Just watch out for monkeys.

It is possible, but not necessary, to book accommodation in Pakbeng in advance, as there are plenty of guest houses and almost all visitors stay only one night.

The exception to this rule is if you're looking for something a little more upmarket, in which case you have only two choices.

Mid range

  • Pak Beng Lodge, [3]. French-run hotel offering smart rooms, river views from the balcony and French wine in their restaurant US$62-135.
  • Luang Say Lodge, [4]. The only "up-market" option, offering luxury bungalows mostly for passengers on the Luang Say cruise ship.
  • Pheksokxai Lodge, if you have entered Pakbeng by slow boat from Hoayxay then when you get out of the boat and walk up the the sort of drive/road leading down to the port then turn left almost following the road out of the town and into the mountains you see the Pheksokxai Lodge which has very basic rooms with a non-functioning TV and a bathroom that in its whole is the shower area but the lodge has a fantastic pavilion, great views of the river and the mountains as well as a great balcony, plus a nice restaurant with spicy noodles and bamboo shoots

Stay safe

Pakbeng is in the Golden Triangle, and in the midst of one of the world's drugs production areas. From the moment you set your foot in Pakbeng, you will be offered weed and opium, cocaine and amphetamines, the latter usually Burmese in origin. If you are stupid enough to buy anything, you are highly likely to soon be approached by a different person with a police badge, who apparently will report you to the police if you don't pay, usually US$20-50. It cannot be stressed enough; when in Asia, stay away from drugs!!

Get out

Huay Xai and Luang Prabang by boat are the normal destinations for anyone leaving Pakbeng

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