A quick google of Pakse in Laos will tell you that there’s not really whole lot of things to do there. In fact the majority of “things to do in Pakse” actually involve leaving Pakse which is funny. We like so many others who passed through southern Laos most populated city were only really here to see the pre-Angkorain ruins at Vat Phou, and maybe the Bolaven plateau if it would stop raining long enough (*spoiler… it didn’t).
Despite the “lack” of attractions and the crappy weather (we did go in rainy season), we enjoyed our time in the capital of the Champasak region, and we’ll tell you why;
From Vientiane To Pakse:
We booked a bus with our hostel, Orange Backpacker Hostel, for 150,000 LAK (€15) which included pick up. This was for the VIP sleeper bus (beds not seats) leaving the south terminal at 8pm. This was, strangely enough, much cheaper than doing it DIY.
At the south bus terminal, the sleeper bus is advertised at 170,000 LAK (€17). Secondly the south bus terminal is located 8km from the city so you will need to get there, your cheapest option being the local #29 bus costing 4000 LAK (€0.40). Also the last bus leaves the central terminal at the very inconvenient time 4.30pm. So, strangely enough, it is much cheaper if you book with hostel or agency, just triple check that the bus you’re booking drops you to the VIP bus terminal in Paske and not any of the bus terminals outside Pakse city.
There are cheaper local buses available at 110,000 LAK but they have straight seats, no air con and are significantly slower, and for what is already going to be a hellish 14-15 hour journey sure you might as well pay the extra 3 quid and lie back. Our journey was slightly longer as in the end 3 different buses broke down on us and turned it into the journey from hell. You can watch the full super funny story in our Instagram highlights here, or click here if you’re interested in reading about our 2 day 1 night adventure in Vientiane.
Accommodation In Pakse:
We stayed in the Nok Noi guesthouse. Nice and centrally located, it was the most reasonably priced guesthouse we found in the area at 50,000 LAK (€5) per night for a double room with shared bathroom. Nothing to write home about, Nok Noi is along No.13 Road a 15 minute walk from Chitpasong bus station.
Alternatively Champasak is a quiet, lazy yet beautiful little town on the Mekong; it might suit better to spend the night there instead of all the messing around with transport back and forth to Pakse. If we could do it all again we would totally spend a night or two here.
There’s not much online in the way of accommodation for Champasak, but when we were driving through there was a rake of signs up for home stays and guesthouses, so trust us when we say you won’t be stuck if you do spend the night out there.
Getting To Vat Phou:
Let’s be honest, chances are a wander around this ancient temple complex is VAT you came here PHOU… see what I did there?!
While it is possible to get from Pakse to Champasak by minivan 60,000 – 80,000 LAK (€6-€8) or songthaew for 20,000 LAK but you then need to get from there to the temple complex, which means another 20,000 LAK per person by tuk tuk. It’s much easier, cheaper and more convenient to rent a moto from one of the million and one tour agents in Pakse.
An automatic costs 80,000 LAK (€8) per day, 75,000 LAK (€7.50) per day if you rent for more than 2 days. For a cheaper 50,000 LAK (€5) price per day, rent a semi-automatic. They’re not difficult to drive at all, the rental company can show you how to ride and you can take a spin before agreeing to ensure you’re confident. The price will lower to 45,000 LAK (€4.50) if you rent more than 2 days, just don’t forget to factor in gas, 20,000 LAK (€2) got us there and back.
The ride from Paske to Vat Phou is 45km. It takes less than an hour and is a simple scenic drive, even in rainy season. The key is stop and take cover if it downpours. Once you exit Paske, cross the bridge & take a left after the toll (bikes don’t pay at any toll you can just drive around the barrier) and then it is a straight run the whole way. A stunning drive through little villages, cloudy mountains and paddy fields. Past families, farms and waving children.
Moped doesn’t sound like your style? There are half day tours that visit Vat Phou from Paske, costing 120,000 LAK (€12) excluding the entry fee. Tours start at 8am and end at 2pm, but if we’re being honest, 170,000 LAK (€17) is way overpriced!
To do it DIY you could take an early morning songthaew (arrive earlier than 9.30am, we know one leaves definitely leaves 10am) from the Daoheuang Market in Pakse for 20,000 LAK (€2), arrive to Champasak and either hike, rent a bicycle or take a tuk tuk the 10km to the Vat Phou entrance. You would need to stay overnight as Songthaews heading back to Paske leave Champasak at 7am.
There may also be an afternoon songthaew available we are not 100% so let us know if you figure this out. If so, you could visit Champasak for the day and go back to Pakse so don’t pre-book accommodation just in case. At least this way you can explore the town, get off the backpacker trail and have as much time as you want in Vat Phou.
Parking at Vat Phou is 5000 LAK (€0.50). Entry to the site will set you back 50,000 LAK (€5); this includes access to the museum and a lift to the foot of ruins in a golf cart type thingy.
Originally a Khmer/Hindu temple the site is older than the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia, a fact that the Laotians are very proud of. Like most Khmer temples it was built to face the east, the direction of the rising sun.
Vat Phou, which means Mountain Temple, was built at the foot of Mount Phou Khao. The majority of the temple complex was built from the 11th – 13th centuries although it can trace some of its buildings back as far as the 5th century to when Champasak was the epicenter of the universe for the Laotians, some archaeologists believe it may well have been the first Angkorian temple ever built.
At first glance the significance of this fact was a bit lost on us. The site is beautiful but small and unimposing, and not yet having seen the mind-boggling size of Cambodia’s Angor Wat Complex we didn’t really have a frame of reference, but we were suitably impressed none the less. Two tiny sanctuaries sit at the top of a decaying and oh so slippery staircase. Two reception halls mark the plains below one either side of the main “axis” or avenue that runs from prayer hall to entrance.
As with the Angkor temples, symbolism plays a massive part in the design and location of the temple. The shadow of the phallic-shaped mountain peak of Phou Kao was chosen as the site for this important place of worship as it was thought to represent the embodiment of Shiva a god who is often depicted as a Phallic shape, that’s right people… he’s a willy god, and we spent the whole day giggling like teenage girls at the fact.
The spring nearby was associated with Shiva’s wife, the goddess Parvati. Water runs underground from the mountain peak, rising through Parvati and “bathes Shiva”, from here the water is directed through numerous man made dams, reservoirs and willy shaped statues (*giggles uncontrollably) before flowing into the Mekong. To this day the water is still collected by locals who believe it to have “Magical” or at the very least spiritual properties.
Apart from the views, which are out of this world, the mix of Buddhist and Khmer idols and imagery is absolutely fascinating. On the same site one prayer hall contains four Buddha images and is fully decked out as a place of worship surrounded by images and carvings from Hindu mythology and directly behind is the Shiva spring.
You’ll find the carving of the Buddha’s foot print in the cliff face as well as a huge boulder carved to look like an elephant (revered in Buddhism) and the crocodile stone which is believed to have been used for Human sacrifice.
We spent a good few hours wandering around the complex and museum site despite the fact that it was rainy and miserable when we went. That will tell you how impressed we were with the sight. We honestly cannot recommend the place highly enough. If you’re into art, culture, history or just love a bit of a hike in the fresh air, this place has it all. We would recommend that you start with the museum first thought as it will help you make more sense of what you’re seeing as you wander through the complex.
Other Things To Do In Pakse:
Go to Market:
There are three main markets in Pakse:
Dao Heuang Market – fresh food market and chaotic assault on senses
Pakse New Market – cheap clothing and dubious brand names
Friendship Mall – upmarket mall with cinema (some movies in English)
Wat Luang temple:
The oldest and most worshiped Wat in Pakse, Wat Luang is also home to a college with a lot of young monks who would be happy to chat to you to improve their English. We headed down just before 6pm and coincidentally caught evening prayer. We stood in the rain to hear the monks chant. It really is one of the most beautiful things you can imagine.
We found a corner eatery where all dishes were only 10,000 LAK (€1) and the food is delicious! Pop over to the corner of No.10 Rd, across from the hospital and new market you will see a large banner with a menu of all available dishes. The menu is also in English.
We never made it to the Bolaven Plateau in the end it was just too dangerous in the rain, although it does look stunning and is one we’d defo love to have had a crack at! All in all Pakse is a great little stop, especially if you’re going to take in the markets, Wat Luang and the Bolaven plateau. But if like us you’re only really there for the Vat Phou ruins maybe just head straight to Champasak for that more authentic local Laotian vibe. Either way this is definitely a region to throw on the “to do” list.
As always, no question too silly, no comment too funny please feel free to get in touch, especially if you have an update on the Champasak songthaew situation. In the meantime…
Happy Travels TUG x