Pakse is the capital of Champasak province in Southern Laos. The city was founded by the French in 1905 when Laos was part of French Indochina. Some buildings like the Chinese society building still remain from the colonial era.
Today the city is one of the largest of the country and growing quickly. The modern bridge over the Mekong river facilitates trade with Thailand, while the town has become a base for those who want to explore the South of Laos, specifically the Bolaven Plateau and the Si Phan Don area, both known for their natural beauty.
To do & see in Pakse
Although the area’s main attractions lie outside of Pakse, the town has plenty of sites worth a visit.
Palace of Prince Boun Oum Na Champasassak
One of Pakse’s most attractive buildings is the former Palace of Prince Boun Oum Na Champasassak, which is now the Champasak Palace Hotel. The building is located in the center of town on Route 13, next to the bridge crossing the Xe Don river.
Champasak Provincial Museum
To learn about local history, visit the Champasak Provincial Museum. On display are artifacts and documents about the history of Champasak province, ancient pottery, inscribed steles as well as sandstone lintels from the ancient Khmer temple Uo Moung. Admission is 5,000 Kip per person. The museum opens daily from 8.30 am until 4 pm with lunch break between 11.30 am and 1 pm.
Pakse houses several Buddhist temples worth a visit. The Wat Luang is one of the towns largest and most beautiful temples. The ornate temple dating back to 1935 is decorated with beautiful murals. The sim or congregation hall houses a large golden Buddha image in the “Calling the Earth to Witness” mudra. The Wat Luang houses a Buddhist school and several chedis in various styles. One of them contains the ashes of a former Laos prime minister. The temple is found next to the Xe Don river, on Route 13 to the airport.
Another temple worth a visit is the Wat Pha Bat or temple of the Buddha footprint, a large temple on the banks of the Xe Don river, across the street from the Champasak Palace Hotel.
Natural attractions around Pakse
About 150 kilometers South of Pakse is Si Phan Don, a beautiful natural area with hundreds of islands in the Mekong river, which is over 10 kilometers wide at this point. Near the Cambodian border are the Khone falls, the largest falls by volume of South East Asia. This area of the Mekong is the home of the rare Irrawaddy dolphin.
East of Pakse is the Bolaven Plateau, a mountainous and forested area about 45 minutes away by car. The area is known for its great scenery and many waterfalls. The highest falls are Ted Fane. Getting to the 120 meter high twin falls requires a trek through the forest starting near the 38 kilometer marker off Route 16 from Pakse to Paksong. Another waterfall, the Tad Gneuang is found deeper into the forest. Trips can be booked at Pakse travel agents.
Ancient Khmer temples
About 40 kilometers South of Pakse are the ruins of Wat Phou, a 10th century Khmer temple. The temple that is built at the foot of a mountain overlooking the plains is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It comprises of a number of barays, two palaces, several small shrines, a processional walkway and a main sanctuary that was dedicated to Shiva. Vat Phou Mekong cruises offers cruises down the Mekong river on a converted ferry boat. Highlights of the 3 days, 2 nights cruise include visits to the ancient Khmer temples of Wat Phu and Uo Moung, the Si Phan Don area and the Khone Phapheng falls.
Ban Saphai silk weaving village
Near Pakse is the silk weaving village of Ban Saphai. The village is located on Don Kho, a small island in the Mekong river 15 kilometers upstream from Pakse. Most families that live in traditional Laos style houses on stilts are involved in traditional silk weaving and offer their wares for sale. Trips can be booked at Pakse travel agents.
How to get to Pakse
Pakse is most easily reached by air. The towns airport is located a few kilometers North West of the town, across the Xe Don river. Laos Airlines offers direct flights from several destinations including Bangkok, Siem Reap, Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Savannakhet.
A slower way is to Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand by air and overland to Pakse. Thai Airways offers direct flights from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani, starting at around 2,200 Thai Baht one way. Nok Air offers multiple direct flights daily, starting at 1,300 Thai Baht one way. The 145 kilometer trip from Ubon Ratchathani to Pakse can be made by private taxi or bus. Busses leave twice daily, at 9.30 am and 3.30 pm and arrive at bus station KM2 along Route 13, a little East of Pakse town center. The trip takes around 3 hours and costs 200 Thai Baht. To get from the KM2 bus station to downtown Pakse, take a tuk tuk or samlor at 10,000 Kip per person.
Since the downtown Pakse area is small, most of it can be explored on foot. Alternatively, a tuk tuk or samlor will cost around 5,000 to 10,000 Kip per person in the downtown area depending on the number of passengers and distance. A private taxi to a destination outside of town can be booked at travel agent or hotel.