Pakse is a small, quiet city in southern Laos, situated on the Mekong River. There isn’t much to do in the city other than wander around, see a few temples, and enjoy some peace and quiet.
The real draw of this place is that it’s a launching point for visiting Wat Phu, an often-passed-over UNESCO site that’s well worth the visit.
Pakse is not exactly a hot-spot in Laos but it doesn’t mean it should be written off as a destination! After your bender week/s in Vang Vieng, why not head down to this relaxed city to enjoy some awesome locally grown coffee & watch the sunset over the Mekong? Once in Pakse you can rent a bike and explore the many surrounding areas.
Where to Stay in Pakse
Pakse offers accommodation of varying quality, with a number of offers sitting at the “not so good” end of the spectrum. Guests at some of the less-desirable establishments have listed such such complaints as “They have a monkey on a leash” and “Bed unmade, rubbish bin full. We had to demand to change rooms.”.
However, it’s not all bad. The are still a couple of decent options available…
Chato Hostel is the top choice for backpackers. It’s modern, clean, and well located (a very short walk from the bus station). The beds (which are extremely comfortable) come with a curtain for extra privacy. Prices start at $6 USD. Private singles are available for $11 USD.
DownTown Pakse is, as the name would suggest, located right in the heart of the action. Good for restaurants etc. The owners are friendly and helpful. The rest of the place could be described as basic, but comfy. Beds (mattresses on the floor) cost $5 USD.
Xuanmai Garden Resort is a little way out of town, this may put you off, particularly if you’re not going to hire a bike. However, it’s very clean and comfortable. The garden, owners and breakfast are all exceedingly nice. Rooms start at around $25 USD.
Where to Eat in Pakse
When you arrive in Pakse you will probably head to Daolin Restaurant for a good, cheap feed ($3-8 per meal), however, soon you will discover that Sabaidee Restaurant Pakse across the road has much better WIFI, BUT a much less extensive menu… dilemmas! Some other good food options included Champady and Pizza Boy.
Oh, you want to eat like a Laotian? OK! Head to the Mekong with a few friends (minimum of four is ideal, anything more is a bonus) and set up at one of the quaint, cheap local places along the riverfront.
Now, to eat like a Laotian you must order – one clear soup, a meat dish (crispy pork is always a winner), some steamed vegetables, papaya salad and a huge old straw container of sticky rice!
See why you need a lot of friends? If you’re still hungry you opt for the mango sticky rice or maybe just a few bottles of Beer Lao.
For your morning meal, I suggest Laos Vida Bakery and Café. They’re a social enterprise who provides vocational training and schooling for young Lao men who come from impoverished communities.
The coffee is good, pastries are cheap ($1-2) and the breakfast and lunch menus are mouth-watering. Plus you’re supporting this awesome cause! Double win!
If you’re a bit of a coffee snob head to Delta Coffee, hands-down the best coffee in Pakse (Espresso $1.6). The staff are not so welcoming or friendly but you will get an espresso that could even have tasting notes!
Delta also grows and roasts their own coffee, plus they run medical projects in local rural villages. Look at you go supporting all these good causes.
Things to do in Pakse
Rent a bike for $2 USD a cycle along the Mekong River. Wat Luang is in the heart of the city. In the afternoon head across the Japanese friendship bridge, ditch the bike and climb the stairs to Phu Salao (Golden Buddha) where you will be rewarded with an awesome view of the sun setting over the Mekong.
Keep your bike for that extra day and go to Daoheuang market – like most other big markets in South-East Asia but nonetheless still a fun experience! Afterwards head towards the Phonsavan Temple, the national stadium and the historical museum!
Health & Fitness
If you’re a gym junkie and craving to work out you have two options. The national stadium has a small free weights room (5,000 Kip per session), it is packed with local men in the afternoons so head there at midday!
Otherwise, the Champasak Palace Hotel has an air-conditioned facility, the only catch is that it is 50,000 Kip per session!
Buy Local Crafts
If you are looking to buy local handcrafted goods look no further than the Dream Weavers shop located across from Champasak Plaza.
All the artisanal goods are made by survivors of human trafficking, the profits go straight back to the women and their communities! (Third good deed – check)
Short Trips From Pakse
Wat Phu (or Vat Phu, with Phu pronounced as “poo”) is an ancient temple with a rich history. The standing temple that visitors come to see today was originally constructed as a Hindu temple, but after the Khmer Empire fell, it was eventually converted into a Buddhist temple.
The mixing and matching of different religions translates into a fascinating combination of images and relics combined in a single site.
Wat Phu is no Angkor Wat, and if you’ve been to that famous temple complex, be prepared for a very different experience. However, most visitors agree that this seldom-visited spot is a fantastic break from the more popular tourist-ridden sites.
As you walk along the long, straight path to the temple near the top of the mountain, you pass along remnants of other ruins and relics that display the ancient and varied history of the area.
Wat Phu, sitting on a natural outcropping on the side of the mountain, isn’t very big but seems to vibrate with the spiritual energy and significance that has been poured into it by devotees for over 1,000 years.
It also offers fantastic views of the plains below, and is a peaceful place to sit and ponder.” (Taken from previous Pakse page)
Day-trips to Wat Phu from Pakse give plenty of time to visit both the temple and the museum associated with it.
Paksong & the Bolaven Plateau
Situated only 30km from Pakse city you can easily rent a motorcycle or catch a local bus from the market to reach the Paksong area/Bolaven Plateau within 1-2 hours.
Here you will find a number of gorgeous waterfalls and coffee plantations. In the morning bathe under the refreshing twin stream of Tad Fane waterfall, then take Koffies Coffee Tour and learn how to roast your own coffee!
Some other waterfalls to check out are Tad Hang and Tad Suong which are in the Tad Lo area. If you want to get a bit off the beaten track (motorbike needed) look out for Tad Alang and Tad Katamok.
You may have to go down some long winding dirt roads to get to them but the serenity and beauty of the place are worth it.
Also while you’re in Paksong take a coffee break at JHai Coffee House – another social enterprise with wicked coffee in a great location.
Paksong Jungle Tour
If you’re up for a unique experience head to Green Discovery’s office in Pakse and book a tour to the Jungle Hostel in Paksong. You can do tours 3D/2N or 4D/3N, this hotel is only reachable by trekking and zip lining! Fairly pricey but an awesome experience if you have some extra cash to spare! Green Discovery also run a number of other day trips or multi-day trips in the surrounding area.
How to Get to Pakse
The easiest way to get to Pakse is by bus. Since Pakse is the third largest city in Laos, bus routes will go here from all other major cities in Laos. If you’re coming from Thailand, buses run between Ubon Ratchathani and Pakse regularly and take a few hours including the border crossing.
To get from Pakse to Wat Phu, you’ll either need to rent a motorbike or hire a driver to take you. Consider hitching up with other backpackers to cut costs.
Where to Head Next
Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands): Further south towards Cambodia you will discover Four Thousand Islands, a laid-back, sleepy, charming little gem of a place nestled at the foot of Laos on the Cambodian border. Spot river dolphins, chill out with a book in a hammock and watch the sunset or explore my bicycle.
Savannakhet, Laos: Visit the second largest city in Laos that is seldom visited by tourists. With beautiful Buddhist temples, authentic Laotian culture and food it’s a good stopping off point on your way to northern Laos.
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand: Head across the border to Thailand’s easternmost city for an authentic taste of Thailand. Don’t miss the candle festival in July.
About the author: Ashlee Drew is a bubbly, optimistic, adventurous Aussie, a self-acclaimed coffee-snob, food lover and full-time dork. She is passionate about international health and development which has led her to Pakse, Laos where she is currently volunteering for Village Focus International in their Protection and Empowerment of Women and Children Program. Check out Ash’s Adventures Abroad on her blog here.