Asia : Southeast Asia : Laos : Southern Laos : Pakse
Pakse (Pakxe) is a city in the Champasak province of Southern Laos. It's one of the biggest towns in Laos and a major transportation hub for southern Laos. If you plan to go to the Bolaven Plateau, Wat Phou, or Si Phan Don you will probably have to spend some time here.
Tuk-Tuks and Motos will carry you to the town for US$1-3.
At April 2010, the airport is closed for construction works. If you want to fly from Vientiane or Luang Prabang to south you can go to Savannakhet. Don't know how long the works are, you have to check if the airport works or not.
Visa extensions are possible at the Police Station on Th. 10, just down the road from the Salachampa Hotel and Restaurant. The cost is US$2 per day plus a 5,000kip "form fee." The process is very easy; turn up in the morning with your passport and one photo; fill in a form and come back in the afternoon for your extension.
There is a regular slow-boat service to Si Phan Don. Departure is around 8AM but check the day before. The boat landing is near the mouth of the Xe Don river.
Dec 2011: The service is no longer existant, but you can ask for a private boat, which is of course very expensive on your own (we asked Green Dicovery, the offer was about 250 Bucks). But you could bring 10 more travellers with you and share the cost if you like.
Pakse has two bus stations that mainly serve the locals. One serves traffic to the north and one to the south. (This information needs to be verified as these locations can't be spotted on the map. It may mean wrong orientation.) The first is located about ten kilometers north of the city centre (15.1700 105.7600). The latter is located 8 kilometers to the south (40000 kip by moto from the centre). Getting to right station with tuktuk is easy if you just tell the driver which place you are heading.
"VIP" buses from/to Vientiane operate from near the Champasak shopping centre in the town centre. The journey takes about 10 hours and should cost around (April 2011) 170.000 /190.000 Kip depending on whether you buy the ticket in the bus station or at tour agencies. There are a couple of "VIP" bus companies, two of the popular ones are Chitprasom and Kriang Kai. Chitprasom (all sleeper buses) buses operate out of a station close to the shopping center near the town center. Kriang Kai (all sleeper buses)operate out of a private bus station 2 kilometers from the town center near an afternoon food market. As of April 2011, a ticket to and from Vientiane will cost 210K Kip per person when a one seater bus is available, 170K Kip to share a double with another stranger, or 250K Kip for double to be ridden alone if a one seater/sleeper is not available. If a single seater (210K Kip) is available, 340K Kip for a double seater/sleeper for either one or two person occupancy. Chitprasom buses tend to be newer as KK has been around longer and have not updated their buses. When traveling from Pakse to Vientiane, take the KK buses as they will drop you off in the Vientiane town center where their corporate office is, 2 min walk from the Cultural Hall, free of charge and save the 10K Kip tuk tuk ride into town. All northbound buses however do stop at the Vientiane bus station, which is 9 kilometers from the town center. If you are coming from Don Det and have not bought a through ticket, you can either get off at the KK terminal and buy ticket there with KK, or wait and get dropped in town, and buy your ticket for Chitprasom.
WARNING TO FEMALE TRAVELLERS I travelled on an overnight “sleeping” bus from Pakse to Vientiane through the King Kham Transportation Co in Nov 2011. I bought my ticket from a hotel on the main road of Pakse. The ticket inspector got into my bunk several times during my trip and tried to touch me up, and did the same to other girls travelling by themselves. I have complained to my embassy but if this happens to you, do something on the spot! Jump up and yell, tell everyone on the bus what happened, take his photo and tell him you will be informing the authorities. I wish I had but at the time I thought I was over reacting. It might seem like an innocent sleepy hand for the first two seconds but it absolutely is NOT. I encourage you to contact your embassy if this has happened to you. If travelling alone please be aware of your own safety and don't take sleeping pills to help you sleep through the journey. Stay safe!
Minibuses head to/from Si Phan Don for 55k - 60k. Shop around. For Si Phan Don it's also possible to go to the main bus terminal outside of town and take a songtheaw for 40,000kip per person. Expect chickens and fish as your companions!
This is a small town so walk around. Otherwise there are enough tuk tuks around. A trip to the market will cost around 5000 kip and US$1 to the bus station.
Wat Luang, the biggest and most beautiful temple of Pakxe, and home of Buddhist Monk School. This is also the best place to see the monk alm giving rituals often seen in Luang Prabang. If you miss that one, this is one up close and personal opportunity. You might just be one of a handful of tourists there to behold the sight without feeling guilty as Luang Prabang is now in the spotlight.
Wat Phabad, the oldest and largest temple of Pakxe, and believed to have Buddha Footprint, which its name derived from.
Ban Keosamphanh has the most beautiful green rice field of Pakxe, former French Army Camp, and homed to the oldest market of Pakse. Mekong Bank the most popular place and night centre point of Pakxe.
Forget about the PBS Gourmet.com endorsement of street food market in Luang Prabang. It pales in comparison. This is it, Pakse, a small town with disproportionate separate olympic-size wet, dry, food markets formed in one complex called Dao Heuang Market at No.38 Rd.. Acres and acres of food stalls are laid-out before your eyes, a feast to the eyes and nose as well, democracy and freedom at its finest in this communist country where the small time entrepreneur lord it over the big box supermarket capitalist store chains. The selection of food seemed endless, a delightful eye candy for street food aficionados, unspoiled by tourists except for a handful at a time. One day is not enough to comprehend this mind-boggling window shopping experience. This is probably the best in Laos, if not in Southeast Asia.
But Pakse should be considered a staging point for archeological tourists in this part of Laos for two reasons: 1) it is where the Champasak Provincial Museum is located as an introductory to local archeology, and 2). it is an alternative to Champasak city as a staging point for those wanting to see Wat Phou. Wat Phou is a designated UNESCO site and boasts of as Laos' counterpart to Angkor Wat/Angkor Thom. It's got the finest of its genre outside Cambodia.
The museum is located close to the new market 500 meters north of the banks of the Mekong.
It's possible to organize a day-trip to Wat Phou near Champasak, where you can also stay easily.
Rent a motorbike and head east towards Pak Song (Paxxong). The ride is pretty, and there are heaps of waterfalls to stop by near Pak Song. The Champasak Provincial Tourism Department puts out a nice few nice brochures including one on the Bolaven Plateau that details these including Tad Fane, Tad Champee, Tad Ueang, and Tad Pha Suam. Admission tends to be the same at every place, 5000 K per person, 3000 for the bike.
One waterfall not mentioned is Tad Sae, which is located off of Route 13 at a fairly large t-junction with a bunch of fruit sellers lining the road. Not as large as some of the others it nonetheless offers a beautiful place to stop and eat or hang out for a while. (Note that if you search for Tad Sae on the Internet you will be directed to the one near Luang Prabang which is *not* the same one here.)
These are several internet cafes on the corner near Nazim's Indian restaurant that charge around 6000k/h. The smart new 'Tour Lao' Cafe on the southern end of the market plaza has WiFi too.
As in Vientiane there is also a proper bowling alley located in town. About a 15-20 minute walk away from the center or a short tuk-tuk ride away head down the main road and turn right towards the big white building in the distance. It is not far away from the river so if you are over there already you can walk along there to find it. Be warned though that if you want a ride home you should negotiate a tuk-tuk to stay since you won't find many patrolling there especially later in the evening.
The restaurants are concentrated on the main street between the roundabout and the French bridge. The variety is quite diverse for the size of the town. For a more genuine Lao eating experience have a look in the streets south of the main one.
Most hotels and guesthouses in Pakse can be found along the main street between the French bridge and the roundabout or a short way into its sidestreets. Prices in Pakse are very high compared to the rest of the country; even higher than Vientiane. It is also, quite inexplicably as there is absolutely nothing to do here, full of Western tourists and many of the guesthouses fill up quite early in the day. Expect to pay around double what you pay elsewhere in Laos and consider booking ahead.
Aug 2011, a single bus ride on VIP coach from Pakse to Phnom Penh, 13 hours, 170,000 kip, one hour at border, no problems. Sengchaluean bus company.
As of Feb 2012, the above holds true but some additional info.. The fare is now 210,000 (7,890 kips to $US1 @ $26.6 Sengchaleuan Bus) including tuktuk pick up from hotel via agent (Laos Adventure travel www.laoadventuretravel.com) by far the unbeatable cheapest. By DIY is not wise, the bus station is more than 5 km to the east at 20,000 kips tuk-tuk ride plus the fare quoted by the booth attendant at $US27 flat. There is only one departure time which is at 8:00 am (although stated in the ticket as 7:30 am). Previous pathetic and unfortunate incident reports of passengers having to change different modes and types of transport on this trip and being left out for DIY passport processing are now resolved and updated as follows:
20 minutes on the last stop to the border, a fairly neatly groomed man will appear together with other foreign passengers. Holding a stack of passports collected from the foreigners that he tags along as he gets in the bus, he walks the aisle, announces that the border is near and those who have no visa should ready their $US30, distributes the Cambodian entry card and instructs everybody to fill it up. Those who already have visa should still ready their $US6 (reasons unknown but it may be the price of the departure stamp on the Laotian side, the entry stamp on the Cambodian side plus the Cambodian immigration card to be filled up included in the passport). This expediter instructs everybody to stay in place in their seats unless they want to unwind and stretch. As soon as he collects them and the bus stops, off he disappears just the same way as he appeared. After 40 minutes, he comes up and returns the passports stamped, with the visa sticker for those who have none, and the immigration card stamped and stapled. One can actually do it by himself, however it is impossible to inquire about the wheeling and dealing going on due to communication problems, it is best to shut up. If by DIY, chances are they may do the run-around red tape, what is $6 loss to a spoiled vacation trip? Even this author who didn't need this expediter's help by applying a pre-arrival visa for $20 has to give in to the $6 demand money.
At the next highway junction on the Cambodian side, this expediter jumps off, his job accomplished.
It would be wise to leave the processing to the expediter, it's worry free, it's hassle free. Not to condone the corruption that may be involved, but because of the ocean of language barrier that keeps the tourist from being well informed and taking decisions correctly, just better leave it to these runners, unless one has the luxury of time to be a reporter working for 20/20 stinging for scoops.
Warning: For those proceeding to Cambodia by bus and making a pit stop at Pakse, dazed and just rudely awaken from sleep, do not ever be convinced to buy VIP bus tickets right away upon setting foot at the bus station. Guiltless tout/drivers will sales talk you to buy them at $US 75.0 - a blunder that should have covered the cost of air ticket from Vientiane to Phnom Penh. Or if you have the stamina to walk with your luggage for about 500 meters north where agencies line their "Main Street", you can proceed to buy the ticket or better still, directly flag a tuktuk to the bus station to where the Cambodia-bound buses depart, and eke out an additional 13 hours of cramp inducing trip.
Better still, if you have one day to kill, stay for the night (for 100,000 kips or $US12.50) and leave early morning. The best offer so far is by Laos Adventure Travel at Road 12, off their "Main Street" after a few blocks east of the bridge, (Bhan Lak Muang) for 210,000 kips or $US26.00 compared to the rest of agents starting at 230,000 kips and above.