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In Southern Laos where the mighty Mekong river meets the Xe Don river lies Pakse, or Pakxe. The second most populous city in Laos, after Vientiane and the capital of its province, Champasak. It is home to Vat Phou, the Bolaven Plateau and many other interesting temples and sites.
I arrived there in mid-June after traveling through Thakek via bus from Vientiane. The journey was about 6 hours long and the entire ride was through the Laotian countryside passing through small towns and wooden villages. Along the way the bus would stop several times where young Laotian girls and older women would frantically climb aboard to sell all different kinds of snacks and drinks: Grilled skewered organ meat, Khao Lam (sticky rice in bamboo), and grilled chicken sliced lengthwise and tied to a bamboo stick.
Yes. I bought and ate them all.
But only after after being subjected to local high-pressure sales tactics from a young school girl.
I arrived at the local bus station and began walking through its streets and markets, knowing little of what the charming city of Pakse had in store for me. But I’ve found Laos to always surprise me in many different ways.
That being said, here are some of the things I did in my week stay in this interesting city and you should probably do the same!
1. Vat Phou Salao
Away from the Pakse city center and crossing the Mekong River via the Lao-Japan Friendship bridge you can find Wat Phou Salao, also known as the Golden Buddha in the Hill. With the wonderful gigantic golden Buddha statue aside, the site also offers a beautiful panorama of the Mekong and of the Champasak landscape. Try catching it at sunset for some fantastic scenery and also to avoid some of the heat. I arrived there by a tuk-tuk with some other travelers and climbed the steep stairs up to the site. If you choose to do the same, give yourself some time to do this and bring along some water, as it can be a bit strenuous. If you haven’t been doing your P90X workouts (errr…) and stairs aren’t your thing, you can also reach it through a 4 km paved trail.
2. The Bolaven Plateau
The Bolaven Plateau is an elevated region in southern Laos with many rivers flowing through it and a number of scenic waterfalls, with Tad Fane (large picture above) being the tallest. It is also known for its lush vegetation and ethnic villages which you can explore by motorcycle, boat rides or trekking. If you’re a coffee lover/addict, then make sure to visit one of the many coffee plantations in the area, as coffee production in Laos is almost entirely produced here. 80% of it is Robusta but they do make some very good quality coffee. If you’re feeling adventurous enough, for about 350,000 Laotian Kip ($40) you can zipline across the Tad Fane waterfall and other areas which includes some hiking for about 50 minutes. This was my first time ever ziplining and it was quite the adrenaline rush and a truly unforgettable experience… particularly because I almost shat myself.
I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for something thrilling around these parts.
3. VAT PHOU
Dating from the 11th to 13th century, Vat Phou is a ruined Khmer-Hindu temple complex which lies about 6 km from the Mekong river. The site was originally a place dedicated to Lord Shiva but it is now a center for Buddhist worship. In 2001 is was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site making it a well conserved archaeological area. The hours of visitation are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the entrance fee is 50,000 LAK for foreigners and 20,000 for locals. Cray.
4. Talat Dao Heuang
As the largest outdoor market in southern Laos, a trip to Pakse would not be complete without a stroll through the chaotic Talat Dao Heuang. Located near the Lao-Japanese Friendship bridge, the market is especially known for its produce section with all kinds of local fruits and vegetables being displayed along with coffee stalls, a seafood and meat section, local delicacies and a variety of herbs and medicines. There is also a section that sells jewelry, woven baskets, local textiles and imported goods from Thailand and Vietnam. Walk through slowly and immerse yourself in the wonderful madness of this Laotian Market.
Sidenote: You will go mad in here.
5. Visit Lak 40 Coffee
Located in Ban Paksong lies a charming coffee shop and plantation that has been around for three generations called Lak 40. Here they make some very exceptional coffee and they also hold some workshops which teach about its cultivation and production. If you find you find yourself in the area and love coffee, then make sure to stop by Lak 40 or any of the numerous coffee plantations and enjoy a genuine cup of Lao Coffee.
For more information you also visit them here:
6. Wander the city and get lost you bum
Pakse is a fairly walkable city with a good number of shops, markets, restaurants and bars. Whenever in a new town, I always suggest taking a day to get a general idea of the area and to explore leisurely. Pakse interestingly enough, is home to a very sizable Vietnamese community ( In 1943, 62% of the population in Pakse were Vietnamese). Therefore, incredible Vietnamese food can be had everywhere. Go out, meet some of the locals, grab some delicious noodles and for some entertainment at night, head to the Lighthouse Station for some drinks, live music and dance. I would also suggest renting a motorbike to get around, as Pakse can be pretty hot especially before the monsoon season (March-April) but also be weary of some of its roads and always drive carefully. And wear a helmet. And don’t speed.
You know. Logical shit.
Or do speed.
I don’t care.
7. 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don)
Laos is a landlocked country and as strange as it may sound, it does have a cluster of islands in the south. About 3 hours south of Pakse lies the archipelago of Si Phan Don scattered throughout the majestic Mekong Delta. After arriving at the bus station you have to take a short longboat ride to Don Det, the main island with bars, restaurants and cheap bungalows to stay. With it’s quiet atmosphere and slow pace of life its definitely worth a couple of days stay or even longer. From Don Det you can visit Don Khong by crossing the old French railway bridge via bicycle, which you can rent for the entire day for a dollar. If you’re looking for a place to relax and unwind on a hammock with a couple of beers (or 10 if you wake up early) after a long backpacking trip through Laos, then 4000 islands is a great way to end it before heading into Cambodia. Kayak through the islands, cycle through Don Det and Don Khong and definitely visit Khon Phapeng Falls, the largest waterfall in SE Asia!
So, where exactly is Pakse and how do I get there Benny?
Gee, glad you asked!
Pakse is located in southern Laos in the Champasak Province close to the Thai border and is about 670km south of Vientiane using Route 13.
Pakse International Airport (PZK) is 3 km north of the town itself and located off Route 13. There are daily flights to Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. There are also flights to Bangkok, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh.
Wear a cape.
There are 4 bus terminals in Pakse:
Chitapasong Bus Terminal – Located in the town center close to the old French Bridge. Your best bet.
Kriang Kai Bus Terminal – 2 km east of Pakse with tuk-tuk services available to the city center. 2nd best bet after 1st best bet.
Northern Bus Terminal – Located 10 km northwest of Pakse.
Southern Bus Terminal – Located 8 km east of Pakse.
Where can I stay?
In Pakse there are many accommadations to choose from ranging from cheap hostels to some luxury hotels and resorts. But this post would not be complete if I didn’t mention my wonderful stay at Sanga Hostel.
Upon arrival I was greeted by Leuang, the manager of the property and quite simply the kindest and most hospitable woman I had ever met. After giving me some water and a snack, she settled me into my dorm personally and then helped me with every question I had a about Pakse, from sites that I shouldn’t miss to the better dining options in the area.
The hostel has a very nice and clean restaurant serving breakfast, local coffee and all kinds of Lao and western dishes. The entire staff, which were all lovely young women dressed in traditional Lao skirts or sinh, were very friendly and attentive and made me feel like a true guest. Although it is a hostel, all the beds had privacy curtains and were the most spacious and comfortable in my entire trip in Laos. The bathrooms were impeccable with fresh towels and there was a daily cleaning of the rooms. If dorms aren’t your thing Sanga also has some private rooms. And in the front Sanga has its own boutique store selling all kinds of traditional items and souvenirs.
All in all, if you find yourself in this area of the world I would highly recommend staying here. Sanga Hostel, Leuang and her staff made my stay in Pakse unforgettable and I know they would do the same for you!