Pakse travel guide
Pakse (or Pakxe, Laotian word meaning “mouth of the River Se) appears to be a lethargic capital city of the Champasak Province in southern Laos and serves nothing more than a transit point to more popular sights such as the Bolaven Plateau and Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands). Its seemingly agrarian façade has been changing by the year since this former French colonial bulwark of 70,000 inhabitants got connected by a Japanese-sponsored bridge to the eastern Thai city of Ubon Ratchathani in 2002.
This major infrastructure project has gradually opened up the city to the outside world, and travelers following the Mekong sojourn have been trickling in, resulting to a wider range of hotels, guesthouses and even restaurants. When making your way to this small city, do not expect much with regard to amenities, but with its own wats and a mixture of Thai, French and Lao influences, it exudes its own charm nonetheless, enough for you to perhaps spend at least two days before heading off somewhere. The change brought about by the bridge has enabled tourists to make it as a staging point for trips further out, and not just a town to transit from and forget.
While ruminating where to go next, it will serve you best to examine the town’s museum at the Champasak Provincial Museum (Route 13 South, Ban Phonesaat). It may not be huge nor grand, but it will offer you a glimpse of Champasak artifacts, clothing and musical instruments, remnants of what used to be the Kingdom of Champasak before it was incorporated to the newly-formed Kingdom of Laos in 1946.
The best-looking and biggest wat in Pakse is Wat Luang, where the town’s monks study, while the biggest and oldest is Wat Phabad, reputed to house Buddha’s footprint. A few minutes walk from the bridge is the sprawling Talat Dao Heung, or New Market, well-known for a wide variety of fresh products from nearby farmlands and the Bolaven Plateau. Near the bridge as well, a Big Buddha wat complex was constructed in August 2011, and a few steps up will afford you a commanding view of the town and Mekong River.
The Mekong is the lifeblood of this city, where its people depend on so many aspects of their mundane living such as commerce, transport and even relaxation. Nightlife is not easy to find but you will be hard-pressed not to hang loose and enjoy a bottle of Lao Beer at a restaurant by the river. The rooftop restaurant of Le Panorama is a nice spot to enjoy the view of the whole town and the river nearby during sunset.
As Pakse wakes up to the demands of tourism, some hotels have sprung up in the last decade. The most prominent and upscale is Champasak Palace Hotel near the roundabout at Road 13. It was supposed to be the residence of the Prince of Champasak until it was occupied in 1974 by the surging power of the communist party of Pathet Lao. Other hotels in town are Pakse Hotel, Arawan Hotel and Noknoi Guest House.
Once you have imbibed the spirit of town, you may proceed to wonder at the sights of Wat Phu and the islands of Si Phan Don. You may even try to explore the bigger city of Savannakhet to the north, or the frontier provinces of Sekong and Attapeu to the southeast. But just maybe, you will find yourself back again in small town Pakse.