Pakse and the Bolaven Plateau – Southern Laos

October, 2014

As the capital city of Champasak province and the fourth largest town in Laos, this chilled place will lull you into a false sense of security with its calm pace, but don’t be fooled when the Boat Racing Festival is on!

Pakse location map

Travel

The bus (40,000K) from Savannakhet to Pakse took about 5 hours and was uneventful. The scenery isn’t as spectacular as Northern or Central Laos.

The only hiccup was disorientation on our part (it happens). Thought (logically) the bus came into Pakse from the north across the bridge when in fact, the bus came in from the west on 13th Southern Road. So, instead of a short walk with almost 30kgs of backpacks each, ended up walking about a couple of kilometres then had to back-track to the guest house.

Sights

Apart from a couple of Buddha statues and Wats:

  • Festival – Boat Racing Festival (Boun Suang Heua) was on with boat races, music, cheap food stalls, a drumming competition with massive drums, and even a jumping castle along the Mekong riverfront. The river bank was packed out everyday and especially in the evenings with locals and the odd tourist dotting the landscape. Lucky enough to see a lovely sight…locals releasing lit lanterns into the still night sky. Apparently, this signifies good luck, or fleeing bad spirits for the coming year, or just wanting to stay together forever…depends on who’s telling the story. This usually quiet place was buzzing with activities and no longer a sleepy town!
Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Laos

Mekong boat races

Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Laos

Mekong dozing…

  • Mekong – Take a stroll down to the riverfront and just soak up the warmth whilst enjoying a cool drink – it’s all about the pace here and just enjoying your surrounds. If it’s too slow a pace for you, then think about heading north to Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang; or further south to Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands) – party mania!
Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Laos

Making a wish

Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Laos, lantern

Higher in the sky, higher the chance of your wish coming true

Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Laos, festival

Sticky rice in bamboo

Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Laos, festival

Boat Racing Festival streets

Day trip to the Bolaven Plateau (Paksong)

This area abounds with coffee fields and waterfalls galore and you can do the loop (Pakse-Bolaven-Pakse) in 2-3 days or 1 day if you don’t plan to visit all the natural wonders along the way. But, do yourself a favour and hire a motorbike to get out to the plateau, or stay here for a couple of nights. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the sŏrngtăaous (20,000K one-way), which are not frequent, to say the least. The road is dusty and not great but the scenery along the journey is pretty.

The locals are very friendly here and especially inquisitive at the market, which reminds me of when I visited Laos back in 1989. Eager to practice English, you’ll have loads of fun with the locals.

As the name suggests, the coffee plantation is spread out over a plateau, so it’s a long way to walk if you want to see the whole area. Paksong is the first main town before the plateau and is also a little spread out with the markets as the central hub, and where sŏrngtăaous travel to and Pakse. You can pick up the usual fresh produce from the markets but also the cheapest freshest bread. After walking around the town and without transport running to go further to the coffee plantation, disappointed, waited a couple of hours at the market for a sŏrngtăaou back to Pakse. To compensate the disappointment, bought and ate lots of fresh baguettes!

Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Laos, lady

Market smoke break…

Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Laos

Fresh produce – market transport

Jhai Coffee House (Main Road – Paksong | 1 Km from the start of town, on the right) – If you’re passing through Paksong, make sure you stop at Jhai’s for coffee that’s lovingly made and tastes wonderful! The owners (Tyson and Jackie) will make you feel right at home – great ambiance and I hear they’re going to build a fire-place in the coffee-house!

You can select from many blends and depending on your choice and how you like your coffee, Jackie will grind the beans fresh and prepare you a coffee using a method that suits best. Love this place for the coffee but most of all for what the people are striving to achieve – “…investing all profits to fund local children’s sanitary education and clean water projects in Laos.” This is a Philanthropic coffee roaster and cafe.

Accommodation

Five nights in Pakse, so stayed in a couple of places:

  • Alisa Guest House (13th Southern Road) – Close to the city centre and about a 15-minute walk to the Mekong, this fairly newish (or recently renovated) guesthouse is spotless. I couldn’t fault our good-sized tiled room, except no wi-fi on 3rd floor (good in public area at reception). Great AC, hot shower, and comfy large bed, TV, and fridge. Room is serviced daily and small bottled water provided. Didn’t get much response from the staff except when I was summoned to reception at around 12pm on the second day. They mucked up something as they asked me to pay for the second night. After explaining several times we already paid for 2 nights, the lady still didn’t believe me and wanted to see our Agoda confirmation email. Once sighted, she was very apologetic – mistakes happen but a good rule is always have your booking confirmation at hand.
  • Phi Dao Hotel (No.125, 13 Road, Ban Phathana Lakmuang) – The newer part of the hotel is more expensive but the older part (our room) was much cheaper; no breakfast provided.
Bolaven Plateau, Laos, Pakse

The mess after festival stalls close each night, but a good night was had by all!

Food

  • Jasmine Restaurant (13th Southern Road) – Great service, prices; Indian and Malay food. You can’t go past the freshly made plain or garlic Naan. This is a Halal restaurant but still serves beer.
  • Phi Dao Hotel (No. 125, 13th Southern Road) – Extensive menu offering reasonable to pricey meals (Laos/Thai/Western). The fresh fruit shakes and juices are great. The coffee here is very good and is reasonably priced, as are the breakfasts. Good service and delicious food! Oh and the restaurant also offers free good wi-fi.

Pakse to Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands)

Bought the combined bus and boat ticket (60,000K) to Don Khong Island (Si Phan Don) from one of the many travel agents along the main street in Pakse. Everyone sells these tickets at a similar price, so, just pick a company.

Thought: If you’ve been following my blog, you may have noticed that I’ve changed around the headings in this post. After the initial Travel information, I’ve included Sights first, followed by Accommodation and Food. Let me know if this works better.

Visit my Nilla’s Photography Laos gallery for more images; more blogs on Laos.

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