As the capital city of Champasak province and the fourth largest town in Laos, chilled Pakse lulls you into a false sense of security with its calm pace, but don’t be fooled when the Boat Racing Festival is on!
Where is Pakse?
Apart from a couple of Buddha statues and Wats, the boat racing festival is a treat to experience.
Boat Racing Festival
The Boat Racing Festival (Boun Suang Heua) is currently on, which means boat races, music, cheap food stalls, a drumming competition with massive drums…
…and even a jumping castle for children gracing the Mekong riverfront.
The river bank is packed out every day…
…and especially in the evenings with locals and the odd tourists dotting the landscape.
Lucky enough to see a lovely sight of locals releasing lit lanterns into the still night sky, although these days frowned upon as this activity is considered a form of air pollution.
Anyway, depending on who’s telling the story, the release signifies several things: good luck, fleeing bad spirits for the coming year, or just wanting to stay together forever.
The higher in the sky the lantern goes, the higher the chance of your wish coming true.
This usually quiet place is buzzing with activities and is no longer a sleepy town.
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 surroundings.
Day trip to the Bolaven Plateau, Paksong
This area abounds with coffee fields and waterfalls galore and you can do the loop from Pakse-Bolaven-Pakse in 2 to 3 days or just 1 day if you don’t plan to visit all the natural wonders along the way.
Do yourself a favour and hire a motorbike/scooter 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 is not frequent, to say the least.
The road is dusty and not great but the scenery along the journey is picturesque.
Locals are very friendly and especially inquisitive at the market, which reminds me of when I visited Laos back in 1989. Eager to practise English, you’ll have loads of fun with the locals.
As the name suggests, the coffee plantation is spread over a plateau, so it is 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 and also the cheapest freshest bread.
After walking around the town and without transport running today to go further to the coffee plantation, disappointed we waited a couple of hours at the market for a sŏrngtăaou back to Pakse.
To compensate for the disappointment, we buy and eat loads of fresh baguettes.
Only here for the day and I am interested in trying the coffee of course.
Jhai Coffee House
Along Main Road in Paksong and one kilometre from the start of town on the right, the Jhai Coffee House is a must to stop and drink coffee that’s lovingly made and tastes wonderful.
The owners (Tyson and Jackie) make you feel right at home in a great ambience and I hear they’re going to build a fireplace in the coffee house.
You can select from many blends and depending on your choice and how you like your coffee, Jackie grinds the beans fresh and prepares your 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.
Travel to Pakse
The bus (40,000K) from Savannakhet to Pakse takes around 5 hours and is uneventful.
The scenery isn’t as spectacular as Northern or Central Laos. The only hiccup is disorientation on our part – it happens.
Thinking that the bus comes into Pakse from the north across the bridge when in fact, the bus comes in from the west on 13th Southern Road. So, instead of a short walk with almost 30kgs of backpacks each, we walk about a couple of kilometres before back-tracking to the guest house.
Deciding to stay 5 nights in Pakse, we tried a couple of places to call home.
Alisa Guest House
Close to the city centre on 13th Southern Road and about a 15-minute walk to the Mekong, this fairly newish (or recently renovated) guesthouse is spotless.
I can’t fault our good-sized tiled room, except there’s isn’t any wi-fi on the 3rd floor, although it is good in a public area at reception.
Great AC, hot shower, and comfy large bed, TV, and fridge with the room serviced daily and small bottled water provided.
Didn’t get much response from the staff except when summoned to the reception at around noon on the second day. They messed up something in their system and asked me to pay for the second night. After explaining several times we already paid for 2 nights, the manager still didn’t believe me and wanted to see our Agoda confirmation email. On seeing the booking, she’s very apologetic. Mistakes happen but a good rule is always to have your booking confirmation at hand.
Phi Dao Hotel
On No.125, 13 Road, Ban Phathana Lakmuang, the newer part of this hotel is more expensive with the older part (our room) offered at a much cheaper although no breakfast is provided.
Food in Pakse
Restaurants were relatively cheap in Pakse in October 2014 as Pakse wasn’t a tourist destination.
The Jasmine on 13th Southern Road provides great service and prices for Indian and Malay meals.
You can’t go past the freshly made plain or garlic Naan. This is a Halal restaurant but still serves beer.
Phi Dao Hotel
The restaurant in this hotel on No. 125, 13th Southern Road, offers an extensive menu of reasonable to pricey meals for Laos, Thai, and Western food.
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 wi-fi that works.
Leaving Pakse for the Islands
Buying 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, hope that this trip is without any scams. As everyone sells these tickets at a similar price, just pick a company.