Dec 17-23, 2014
Exploring the off-the-beaten-path of Pakse, Laos
GPS waypoint: 15°07'11.7"N 105°47'55.4"E
Location: Pakse, Laos
Even for the backpacker, Pakse isn't a big blip on the radar - it remains off-the-beaten path. In Laos, the usual destinations are Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. But coming from Pleiku (Vietnam), Pakse was along the way to the more visited places to the north. Tuyen and I didn't really know what to expect, but the first thing we noticed was that Pakse (and all of Laos) is more expensive than Vietnam. The food prices on the menu seem the same as in Vietnam, but in Laos, we are talking Kip, not Vietnamese Dong.
Horrific Minivan Ride
For such a long 12-hr trip, I was hoping we could get a sleeping bus. But no. We had to board a cramped minivan full of workers on their way across the border. It was literally standing ovation inside the small van. It was also cold so the windows were all closed. If that was not bad enough, the men were smoking like crazy. Vietnamese smokers, in my experience from as southwest as Phu Quoc Island to as far northeast as Halong Bay, are completely oblivious about the inconvenience they impose on other people, or simply put, they don't care. They smoke in air-conditioned rooms, in hospitals, in air conditioned buses, in an enclosed space with kids and babies, etc. Vietnam has come leaps and bounds in its progress since the war, but when it comes to smoking ethics, it's still in the stone age.
Life has been good for me and Tuyen in Pakse. We were able to close restaurant deals with a Vietnamese seafood restaurant and an Indian restaurant. We also stayed at a luxurious hotel for a few nights including breakfast for 2. All of these deals were in barter exchange for increased presence on the internet. With freebies like that, our need for money was not as compelling.
It wasn't exactly the Red Sea parting to rain abundance. We also had our setbacks. I tried to close deals with tour companies and some cafes, but nothing came out of it. We wanted to explore the Bolaven Plateau, Wat Phou but the rates were just prohibitive. We tried to rent bicycles but again, the cost was almost double from other places.
Walking About Town
Tuyen and I just chilled within town, walking around, exploring what other streets have to offer. In a new city, it's always fun to walk around - discovering new sights and new food offerings. Pakse doesn't have a backpacker area like Khaosan Road of Bangkok. It's a small city and you can walk across its radius in less than an hour.
If Pakse is along the way, then stop-over for a break on the journey - but don't expect much from the city itself. Pakse would be a good day trip to check out Bolaven Plateau or Wat Phou. If you're heading south, you can go straight to the 4,000 Islands on the Mekong Delta.
Pakse, like all of Laos, is more expensive compared to Saigon, Bangkok or Phnom Penh. Foodwise, it is almost twice as expensive as Saigon.
- Wat Phou Temple - pre-Angkor, a World Heritage Site since 2001 (map)
- Bolaven Plateau - tropical jungle that is home to 20 ethnic minorities
- Phou Asa - a temple built like a fortress where elephant riding can be availed
- one big bottle beer
- body massage
- noodle soup with meat
- bicycle rental, 24 hours
- lodging, room for 2, fan room, ensuite, hot water
- motorcycle rental
- banana pancake (Jasmin Restaurant)
- standard room with double bed in a 3-star luxury hotel, Pakse Hotel
- sticky rice, a Laotian specialty
- lap dish, a Laotian specialty
- local bus trip to 4,000 Islands (no a/c, lots of stops)
- 4,000 Islands -
- Wat Phou + Kied Ngong Elephant riding -
- Wat Phou + Khoneprabeng Waterfall -
- Wat Phou -
- Bolaven Plateau + Tha Teng + Tadlor -
- Pakse to Champasak - , boat or bus
- Pakse to Vientiane - , sleeping bus
- Pakse to Si Pan Don - , includes boat ride
- Pakse to Phnom Penh, Cambodia -
- Pakse to Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat) -
- Pakse to Bangkok -
- Pakse to Luang Prabang -
- Pakse to Vang Vieng -
- FASTEST AND SHORTEST ROUTE (NEW): you can take a direct sleeping bus from Saigon to Pakse. Bus line is Minh Vu / phone: 020 996 96 179 / +84 989 96 1239 /
Laos (Pakse) - Cambodia - Vietnam (Saigon) and vice versa /
departs 4am daily, arrives 7pm, Kip 300,000 (VND 800,000 or US$38-40) / 15 hours
- I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS ROUTE: take a sleeping bus from Saigon to Pleiku City, Gia Lai (Province), 12 hours (departs 7pm, so you sleep during the trip), $14/person. From Pleiku, there is a small bus departing for Pakse between 7 and 8 am, depending on which bus line you choose, 11-12 hours, $14/person including lunch. The small bus has no air-conditioning, crowded, very few stops, closed windows because of the cold, and a lot of the people smoke inside the bus - you had been warned! If you are making the direct connection from Pleiku to Pakse, make sure that the Saigon-Pleiku bus departs Saigon early enough to make to to Pleiku before the Pleiku-Pakse bus departs at 7am.
- the Pakse bus terminal is within the city center, right by the river, where you can book a sleeping bus directly (not sure if this saves you money compared to getting your booking from your hotel). Night buses leave 8pm and arrive Vientiane 7:30am the following day. Kip 150-170,000. You'll get off at the Vientiane Southern Bus Terminal. Take a tuk-tuk to city center, Kip 20,000/pax.
- Laotians hardly speak or understand English
- like Switzerland, Laos is land-locked by its neighbors - Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and China
- Laos is a communist country and has close ties with Vietnam, its communist neighbor. Best not to talk anything negative about the government
- some establishments will accept US$ for big purchases but it's best to exchange your dollars to Kip for the small day-to-day expenses
- Laotians are generally honest people with a calm demeanor, much like Cambodians
- like Cambodia, Laos is steeped in its devotion to Buddha - pagodas abound and monks are an integral part of the landscape
- best place to exchange currencies is at the border. City money exchange centers won't give you the best rates
- best to exchange US dollars to Kip for good rates. If you exchange Vietnamese Dong to Laotian Kip, the rate is horribly low
- Exploring Huay Xai, Laos May 9-11, 2016
- Exploring Luang Prabang, Laos Dec 30, 2014 - Jan 3, 2015
- Exploring the off-the-beaten-path of Pakse, Laos Dec 17, 2014
- Do-It-Yourself Tour of Buddha Park Dec 27, 2014
- Exploring Laos' Capital, Vientiane Dec 24-29, 2014
Dec 17-23, 2014
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