Pakse

PAKSE Township is in Champasak Province, Southern Laos. It sits on the Eastern bank of the Mekong River and is the staging point for the Bolaven Loop trip and the gateway to the most southern areas of Laos, and Cambodia beyond. In years past Pakse was a bit of a sleepy backwater that most travellers bypassed on their way north to Savanakhet or conversely south to the magical 4000 Islands. More recently, Pakse has seen a surge in popularity due to many travellers discovering the adventure of one the best short motorbike trips in South East Asia; the Bolaven Loop Trip. Pakse is the start and finish point for the loop trip and as such, there’s been a steady increase in the number of travellers spending a few days in the Southern Laotian town. For more info on the Bolaven Loop trip, follow this link: http://www.megaworldasia.com/laos/the-bolaven-plateau-champasak-province-laos/

Aside from its close proximity to the Bolaven Plateau, Pakse is also a central location to undertake day trips to the 4000 islands and half day trips to the Khmer historical site of Wat Phu. As mentioned, the township of Pakse sits on the banks of Indochina’s most famous river, the mighty Mekong. In fact it must be said that a trip down to its shores will reveal the section of river which flows past Pakse is one of the widest in Laos. What better way to end a day of sightseeing than enjoying a Beer Lao while watching the sun sink over the rivers wide expanse and western horizon beyond.

A perfect end to the day, a sun-downer over the Mekong River

The Loy Kratong Festival in Pakse:

For travelers fortunate enough to be in Pakse over the full moon period in October you’ll be lucky enough to get caught up in the annual Loy Kratong Festival. Just as in Thailand, Laos has its own yearly festival to celebrate the end of the rains and the beginning of the rice harvest. NOTE: Loy Kratong in Laos falls one month earlier than in Thailand. For those wishing to mix with the locals, along the shores of the Mekong for the evenings celebrations, you’d be well advised to leave your rented motorbike securely locked up at your hotel. If you’re staying on southern route #13, in the traveler’s area of town, it’s only a relatively short walk down to the riverside anyway. Additionally, the crowds that will be out and about make it very difficult to move around on a motorbike.

Launching her lantern into clear, dark skies over Pakse

A local lady getting ready to launch her “Kratong” into the Mekong

Getting enough heat going to launch their Loy Kratong lantern

Buddhism in Pakse:

As with most towns and villages in Laos the Buddhist religion is revered by the locals and Pakse is no exception. There are several Wats (temples) in and around the town and Wat Luang (the biggest one) is obviously the main attraction. However, if you want to enjoy a more sedate temple setting, with some very friendly and accommodating monks, then Phabat (just past the ring road on route # 13) is a great place to visit at sunset.

Wat Phabat, with the Bolaven Plateau in the background

Wat Phabat, Pakse

Phu Salao (Golden Buddha Peak):

This peak with its large golden Buddha statue at its apex is a great place for a panoramic view back across the Mekong to Pakse, and beyond. The peak can be seen easily from Pakse Township and a visitation will entail crossing the bridge to the western bank of the river. If you are planning to go up there to catch the sunset, you are well advised to take a flashlight because the descent may end up being done in the dark. Such is the distance from the car park to the top. The lower section of the trail to the top has well-constructed cement steps but this eventually gives way to rickety wooden stairs which needed to be negotiated with care. The hike up is further than it looks. Therefore a reasonable level of fitness is advised as well as enough time to get up and back before darkness falls. The Buddha statue at the top is large and impressive and is part of a temple complex. Whilst there, the temple monks will probably come in small groups to pay their respects to the statue.

The beginning of the long hike to the Golden Buddha Statue at the peak

The Golden Buddha of Phu Salao at dusk

Wat Phu historical site:

Wat Phu is a Khmer Historical site, approximately 49 kilometres South West of Pakse. Travel time from Pakse is around one hour and is an easy run on a motorbike, across the bridge and down the western bank of the Mekong. There is plenty of signposting on the way but if you’re in doubt just use the Google maps tracker. The historical site is approx. six kilometres back from the river and tucked in against Phou Khao (mountain). Once you arrive at the car park you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well set up the site is. There is an entrance area with the obligatory entry fee to pay plus a nice restaurant and souvenir shop. The entry fee is about USD 5 which includes a tuk-tuk ride along a grassy track between the Barrays. The distance from the entrance to the drop off point is roughly two kilometres. However there is little shade on the way so if you decide to walk, be prepared to perspire. The approach to the historical site itself is by way of a cobblestoned path which is flanked by evenly spaced metre high columns. This wide pathway is the approach to the palace ruins. If you’ve visited other Khmer sites in Cambodia or Thailand the similarities in building construction and art work are easily identifiable as one gets closer. The two opposing stone buildings are the North and South palaces with both being in various states of disrepair.  Beyond the palaces is another stone pathway leading up to the seven sandstone terraces. At the top of the terraces is a sanctuary with some Khmer/Hindu carved figurines, similar to those seen at Angkor, on the outer wall corners.

The approach to Wat Phu with the ruins of the north and south palaces visible in the distance

Within the sanctuary are a number of Buddha statues adding some colour to the rustic grey and brown hues of the sandstone. Behind the sanctuary are some interesting features. Directly to the rear is a flat granite cliff face with a number of small freshwater springs trickling out from the overhang. Along the base of the cliff a small track leads off to the right and ascends to a little plateau where a large footprint has been carved into the smooth face of the cliff. Apparently it is a representation of the Buddha’s foot. Dropping back down to the grassy flat area just behind the sanctuary, another trail leads off to the left where more rock carvings can be seen. The first and most imposing is that of an elephant, carved into a boulder almost the same size as a full sized tusked behemoth. Another flat rock has a depiction of a crocodile carved into it. The crocodile stone has acquired some notoriety as being possibly the site of an annual human sacrifice described in a sixth century Chinese text; the identification is lent some plausibility by the similarity of the crocodiles dimensions and those of a human. After taking some time to view the sanctuary and the surrounding stone carvings some nice photos can be taken from the edge of the plateau, looking out over the ruins and Barrays.

A closer view of the north and south palace ruins and the seven levels beyond

Very similar artwork to the Khmer ruins in Cambodia

The elephant carving on a large rock at the rear of the small temple

The view back across the Barray’s

Travel information

Location: Champasak Province, Southern Laos

Getting there:

In Laos already: there are daily flights with Laotian airlines from Vientiane to Pakse. If traveling by bus, travel south on route # 13 from Vientiane, or north on route # 13 from the 4000 Islands. NOTE: route # 13 goes right through the middle of town so you will be dropped off in the central traveller’s area.

From Thailand: take a bus from the Ubon Ratchathani bus station. For more info on bus travel from Ubon Ratchathani to Pakse please refer to this link:  http://asiaforvisitors.com/general/border-crossings/ubon-pakse.php

NOTE: For those flying into Pakse the airport is quite close to Pakse Township. A taxi ride is approximately 80k Lao Kip (USD 10) and you will be in the main traveller’s area of town within a few minutes.

Recommended accommodation in Pakse:

Phi Dao Hotel: Located on 13 South Road and immediately to the right of Pakse Travel and Service Company. No. 125, 13 Southern Road, Ban Phathana, Lakmuang, Pakse 01000, Laos. Tel: +856 31215588. 2017 Prices: Approx. USD 20 per night. Good restaurant within the hotel.

Sang Aroun Hotel: 13 South Rd., Pakse, Champasak, Laos. +856 31252111. sengarounhotelpakse@gmail.com.

Recommended Motorbike rental:

  1. Miss Noy Motorbike Rental & Internet Café: located on the main street rents out reliable motorbikes from 50.000 kip/day and provides you with free maps and lots of information in English and French about how to get to the waterfalls and to Champasak. They can also give you many up to date details about the BOLAVEN LOOP TRIP (2-5 day motorcycle loop in southern Laos). Free baggage storage available.
  2. Pakse Travel and Service Company: Located next to Phi Dao Hotel. Current motor bike rental rates = 50k – 60k LAK per day. Standard bike = 100 cc Honda Wave. Free baggage storage available.

NOTE: both the above shops are next door to each other and immediately to the left of the Phi Dao Hotel.

Worthwhile attractions around Pakse:

Phu Salao: the viewpoint with the large golden Buddha statue on the western side of the Mekong River.

Wat Phu: Historical site (khmer Ruins). 49 kilometres south of Pakse and on the western side of the Mekong River.

Further afield:

Tad Fane Waterfall: at the 38 km marker on route # 16 (on the right if coming from Pakse). Can be done as a day trip on a rented motorbike.

Tad Champee waterfall: at the 38 km marker on route # 16 (directly opposite the turn off to Tad Fane Waterfall). Can be done as a day trip on a rented motorbike.

Tad Yuang Waterfall: at the 40 km marker on route # 16 (on the right if coming from Pakse). Can be done as a day trip on a rented motorbike.

Khone Phapheng Falls: approx. 150 km south of Pakse on southern route # 13. Can be done as a day trip from Pakse. (2 hours travel each way)

Safe travels,

Mega

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