The South of Laos


Global Mark : 9.91

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 


 3 2 2 2 2 5 2 2 2 9.78

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
20 65% (13)  20% (4) 15% (3) 5 to 15 10.05

Description :
A transit town with a lively market and not much else.

Comments : Most people do not recommend this place but a few actually liked it. 

What to do ? Beside walking the market, watching sunset over the Mekong, preparing your trip south or to Thailand or writing to your mother, there aren't much to do. Its surroundings however offer quite a few attractions :
- Get wet at the 100m high Tad Fane Waterfall (one km from the village called Km37 toward Paksong)
- Get fresh air & minorities villages at Tadlo Resort in the Bolaven Plateau (2 hours away toward Salavan, government GH at around K10000)
- Buy traditional skirts at Saphai Village, 24 km north (also the remains of Wat Phonhsay)
- Ride elephants inside the Dong Houa Sao Forest Reserve at Phapho Village, 67 km south on route 13

What you may not like ? The cost of accomodation and the little value you get / The beggars /

How long ? One night waiting for your transport

Where to stay ? 

  • ® Phone Savanh Hotel (212842), just after the Mekong bridge coming from the north bus station / Small Sgl downstairs B75, Dbl B80, Dbl upstairs B100, Trpl B125, Dbl w. cold shower B175 / No HW outside / Speak French / Go there for the cheapest rooms in town, meet people in a friendly atmosphere & collect info from the billboards / What you may not like : the basic & not so clean rooms, some closet-sized rooms, the bad isolation between rooms, the dim lightning, the noise from the street. A shame this remains the only recommended place for backpackers...
  • Suksamlan Hotel (212002), just a bit south from the above / Sgl or Dbl w. AC and HW shower about $11 (K3500 savings for the Sgl only !) / Some charm but small, not so fresh, quite basic and therefore expensive !
  • Salachampa Hotel (212273), south of the above / More charming rooms w. AC & shower $12(1), $15(2), Trpl $20, upstairs Dbl $20 / Speak French / Nice house with little garden / Expensive nevertheless !
  • Vannapha GH (212502), Road 9, 10mn walk south / Very basic Dbl B150, slightly better w. cold shower B175, also more expensive rooms in the front yard (bungalow style) / Small garden / Speak French / Go there for the Dbl w. shower as it set in a quieter environment. / What you may not like : the basic & not so clean rooms, the too expensive rooms without shower. 

Backpacker's Tips : Stefan Westerheide, Germany (Jan 05)
« Lankham Hotel (dbl,ac,br,hw,fridge,clean,friendly) 7 $ good value (fan 5 $). Cheapest place to rent motorbike 8 $. Day trip with motorbike to Champasak can easily be done (1.5 h per way). Bus to ban nakasang 2.5 h 2.5 $. Canoe to don det 0.5 $ »

Internet ? A place in town was reported charging K2000 per mn. 

Change ? Banks change both TC & cash at a good rate. If you have kept your certificates of exchange, you can change your remaining Kips back to Bahts or US$. Without certificate or outside banks hours, Phone Savanh Hotel also do the same operation but at a bad rate.

Vietnamese Visa ? $50 ($5 cheaper than in Vientiane), 3 working days, 1 photo. No need to leave the passport. 

Backpacker's Tips : Amtrak Amtrakker, Australia (April 03)  
«  There is an 8a.m. bus from southern bus terminal at Pakse to 4000 Islands (20k KIP) and takes 6 hours depending on time it leaves (9.30a.m. and whether the ferrymen at Dong Khong island are having their lunch/morning tea break.)  »

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
« Sedone GH, in a little street along the river with the same name, 150 meter from the one-way-bridge. Not in any guidebook (yet). 35.000 Kip for a room with toilet and shower. The (also French speaking) owner is the big boss of the “Lao Coffee Entreprise Pakse”, a very important man in town ! / In Pakse you must try a Korean Barbeque (20.000 Kip, a lot cheaper than in Vientiane) ! / In the main street you can find a lot of Vietnamese restaurants. »

Backpacker's Tips : Peter Christiaen, Belgium (March 02)
Pakse : Dull and dusty town (the later because a lot of road construction going on). / Salachampa Hotel : 6 USD; colonial building with nice room (private bathroom; hot water + western toilet). Almost opposite : very nice and friendly Vietnamese restaurant. / "Real" bus to Tadlo (2 hours; 10.000 Kip). From the junction : 1,5 km walking to Tadlo Resort

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
 Pakse is lively, the market is interesting and there is a museum. Nearby is a stylish hotel if you want some luxury. They also have good coffee in town.» 

Boat or bus to the South ?
OK, our boat had technical problems (see the following story) and those are not supposed to happen on a repeated basis... Still, is it worth spending 8-10 hours (and K20000) on a crowded boat when crowded buses takes 3 hours on a good road for K12000 ? If you are lucky, you may even get a crowded Japanese bus... From a cultural & adventurous point the bus obviously come short compared to the boat (except maybe if you seat on the roof). But considering that the scenery is not that spectacular (and really boring after a while), I would recommend skipping the boat between Si Phan Don & Champasak. See Si Phan Don section for a suggested itinerary.
If you wish to take the boat to Champasak, it is better not to take the boat going to Don Khong as it will stop at Ban Phabin, 3km away. It is also often delayed (see below story)

Thailand's border crossing ? You will need to cross the river to Muang Kao first (K1000, 10mn), then board a packed tuk-tuk (K4000, 45mn) toward the border at Vangtao. There, you should find a border open daily from 6 to 18, except that 16 to 18 and Sat & Sund are considered overtime and require an additional K10000 or B50 fee. It is also overtime on the Thai side but it is free for individuals (B25 for vehicles). Once in Chong Mek, songthaews leave every 20mn from 6 to 17 to Phibun (B20, 1 hour), from where you will change for a songthaew to Ubon (B20, 2 hour). You should arrive at the train station. From Chong Mek, AC buses going all the way to Bangkok were reported leaving at 4pm & 5pm. Those buses will take you to Ubon for B60.

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
« Tat Lo Resort:  Bus Pakse - Salavan : 6.000 Kip, 2 hours. / Tatlo Resort, splendid bungalow complex, you have to pay in dollars here... But for 9.000 kip you can order a Beer Lao and enjoy the place ! / De bungalows before the bridge – we forgot the name – were OK for 40.000 Kip. / Don’t stay in the Saise GH, the “White House” (40.000 Kip/room) or the “Green House” (60.000 Kip/room) ! / Tim’s Restaurant. Good and the owner (a blues & jazz -freak ! In Laos !!!) gives useful info about an easy walking tour around, +/- 4 hours. You don’t need a guide, here ! 
Transport to Bangkok: Songthaew to Chong Mek : 5.000 Kip, 1 hour. Paperwork on the border takes no time and on the other side of the border, buses are waiting… Songthaew to Piphoon : 25 Bath, 2 hours. Then, to Warin / Ubon Ratchani : 20 Bath, another 2 hours. From Warin you can take the train to Bangkok, 12 hours, 135 Baht (3rd class). Arriving in Warin, first make your train ticket-reservation !!! / River Moon GH, Warin, 250 meter from train station. Much travel info, 15.000 kip for a room.»

Backpacker's Tips : Fatima & Frank, France (Jan 02)
« We crossed overland from Laos into Thailand at Chong Mek on a Sunday. We found out that it is the only day of the week when you have to pay a 10000K fee per person to be able to get out of Laos. From Pakse, we took a songthaew from the "new" market to Chong Mek (5000K per person). There is a new bridge over the Mekong and the songthaew took us directly to the border (about 1 hour from Pakse). The border is 48km from Pakse.
Once dropped, you need to finish the crossing on foot. If you get the impression that you've landed in a big market, don't worry. This is the border... You will need to walk first to the Laos immigration (big white building with a green roof on the left side of the road) before moving on to the Thai one. This one is a bit more tricky to find as it is behind the market... You will see first the Thai building for customs on your left, keep walking as the immigration office is about 200m further on, besides a food stall... After getting your visa, get on the main road through the market. There is a tourist information kiosk on your right. Pass it and 25m further down, you will find the songthaews to take you into Thailand. We did the trip from Champasak where we left at 8.30am, we were in Thailand in Ubon Ratchatani at 3pm.»

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
 Tadlo is a place where you can stay in a bungalow right at the top of a waterfall. From the highway where you get off the bus, you need to walk on a dirt track for 1 km. There are 3 choice of accommodation, a private bungalow with better location cost USD35, normal bungalow room cost from 25000kip to 45000kip, if you stay outside the resort, there are some wooden hut just before the bridge cost only 7000kip. You can hike around the area and see how the local fish in the waterfall. There are elephant you can ride as well.
Sekong is a desert town with nothing to do. The reason to come here is for the boat trip to Attapeu. There is no scheduled boat, so you have to find the boat man by the river. Normally, they charge 200000kip/boat, good enough for 4 people. Took about 6 to 7 hrs to Attapeu. Sekong hotel was the only place to stay in town : 35000kip/room or 15000/bed in the dorm. Bus from Tadlo took 4 hrs to Sekong and cost 8000kip.
Attapeu is a small town from where you can reach Pam-am, part of the Ho Chi Ming trail. Hire a tuk tuk for 10000kip, good enough for 5 people. Not much to see there, except for a SAM missile. You need to rent a motorbike or bicycle to explore the area and, for sure, you need time. Couple of GH in town but sorry I 
don't recall their name ..»
Note : Tam made is trip to Laos in 1999.  Expect therefore inflated costs ! Saise GH at Tadlo was reported at K12000 for a clean triple room. 

Bus Schedules : 

To Price Road Duration Time Nb Freq.
Savannakhet K17000 bad 9 7 to 15 a few hour
Ban Muang K4000 good 1 ? a few hour
Don Khong K12000 good 3 8 to 9 1 or 2 na
Don Khon K15000 good 3.5 7,8:30,10,11,13 5 na
Tadlo Resort K8000 ? 2 8,9 2 na
Attapeu K15000 ? 8 7:30,9,10 3 na

Notes : To Savannakhet from North bus Station. Also go to Vientiane (K26000, a lot of hours) / To Don Khong via Ban Muang, 3km from Champasak

Backpacker's Tips : Antonio Arce, Spain (Jan01)
 To get to Si Phan Dong was easier than I expected.  I arrived in Pakse on the morning flight from Vientiane and went directly to the southern bus station. All the buses should have gone but there was actually one waiting to fill up for Muang Khong. We wanted to go to Don Det but people didn't understand us. Or they wanted us to fill the bus so it could leave earlier...
Once on Don Khong island, the northern island, we tried to hire a boat but they asked for K80000 so we denied. So we crossed the Mekong to the main road, as they told us there were buses coming from Pakse heading south. We waited 30mn The bus stopped at any tiny village on the road but finally reached our destination, where the ferries to Don Det leave, at 4 pm. That means that there are lot's of buses heading south from Pakse (at least before 2pm, the bus we took).»

Boat Schedules : 

To Price Duration Time Nb Freq.
Champasak K5000 2 7,9,12,13 4 na
Don Khong K20000 8 to 11 7 to 8 1 or 2 na

The trip to Si Phan Don (Don Khong) :
SSS / everywhere / B100 / 13 hrs ! / Broken Boat
This was the trip of a lifetime : 13 hours on a crowded boat having regular engine failures... Cruising the Mekong at night is also a lot of fun !
We had been told that the boat would leave at 7am so I showed up at 6:30. Most locals however arrived at 7:30 and, by 8, bags were still being loaded inside and on the roof. There was little room left for the legs when it left half an hour after.
It did not go far : the motor was turned after just 5mn cruising. Another boat passing by helped us to reach the bank of the river, where first aid was applied. We could then reach a river bank "garage" for a more serious operation. We really left at 9:40.
We reached Ban Phaphin (the village 3km away from Champasak) at 10:50, already a 2 hours delay ! But if I had decided to get off there like a few westerners, I would have missed the adventure ! Indeed, two hours later, it broke again. We were about 150m from the bank, where we could spot villagers. For 15mn, the staff tried to move the 30m long boat with 50 passengers on it plus tones of merchandise with a 15cm width plank of wood ! It was pathetic as, of course, we did not advance 1centimeter ! So, eventually, they called from help and the boat was pulled within minutes. It took however a bit longer to fix the problem...
Except for another brake down that consumed another half an hour, the rest of the trip was worries free. We stopped quite a few times on the way to let a few locals get off and a lot of salesgirls try to sell food. Stop after stop, we got more space for the legs...
We saw a Mekong sunset and we saw a Mekong night. There was no light on the boat but the staff used torch to indicated the driver the direction. Plenty of flies but no safety worries and a great atmosphere, in particular from the roof ! We got the last stop, paid the K20000 and disembarked, completely exhausted from doing nothing, at 20:45. 

The trip to Ubon (Thailand) : SS / L / K1000 k K4000 + B20 + B20 / 10mn + 1 hour + 2 hours / Boat + three songthaews
It started with a short boat ride across the river (K1000). Strangely enough, two westerners had just been indicated toward the big vehicle pier and I had to insist a bit to be allowed on the boat which filled up real fast. The boat landed in the north jetty of Ban Muang Kao (the south one is for vehicles), which was perfect as this is apparently from where tuk-tuk & taxi are leaving toward the border between Vangtao (Laos) and Chong Mek (Thailand).
It took us nearly one hour to cover the 45km as the tuk-tuk was packed and therefore had to stop every couple of minutes to let passenger off the crush and merchandises off the roof. We arrived at the parking, from which it was a 10mn walk among restaurants & shops toward the immigration building. 
On the Thai side, I was indicated toward an empty songthaew. "How much to Ubon ?" - "20 Bahts". We left on schedule, empty. So we did the whole trip with the first two or three gears only : slow but pretty with the lake on the left side and, still, quite empty. At Phibun, we were asked to change to a much faster songthaew with on board stereo music. This was the normal procedure but I though that the first driver had just decided that he had enough of road for the day. So, arriving at the train station in Ubon, I skipped paying the second ride B20, saying I had paid the first guy already. Sorry, this was a cultural misunderstanding. It won't happen again... 

 << Discover a boat trip

See also the trip from Savannakhet