Pakbeng sits midway between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang on the Mekong. As the river was once the only major transport route in the country, Pakbeng developed as an overnight stop for both cargo and passenger ferries.
This route down the Mekong is spectacular and it remains a popular transport route, so Pakbeng is flourishing.
Set in a particularly scenic spot, where the Nam Beng flows into the Mekong (Pak means mouth, and Beng is the name of the river), the town itself doesn't have a lot to offer but a number of guesthouses and restaurants have sprung up catering to backpackers.
Accommodation gets very booked up in the high season and often travellers will have to visit a few guesthouses to find an available room. This is especially true when the boats arrive. Touts now meet the boats, usually selling the worst rooms in towns at inflated prices. Our advice is to go it alone. The town is only a short distance from the boat pier. A short walk around town will often bring you better value than the touts at the boats will offer. It is advisable, if you want some comfort, to book ahead or charge up the road to find a hotel before everyone else on your boat.
In the early morning, as most travellers are making their way down to the boats, the street is lined with stalls piled with drinks, dodgy pastries and freshly-made sandwiches. Restaurants serve breakfast early, with baguettes, Lao coffee and more recently those pastries of dubious quality.
For a more 'Lao' experience, head up to the early morning market and have a look at all the local produce including dried buffalo skin, frogs on sticks, pigs face and buffalo hooves. Perhaps purchase a few Lao sweets, such as coconut jelly, fried bananas or sweet donuts, or have a delicious filling breakfast of noodle soup, at 5,000 kip a bowl (without meat is bo sai sin).
Local trekking trips were outlawed by the provincial government and Pakbeng is not a town to hang around in. Unfortunately the locals are very aware of this fact, and some take advantage. There are occasional thefts, so be careful of your valuables and leave nothing unattended in your guesthouse room.
Pakbeng is too small to offer any of the services of larger towns. While ATMs and banks have arrived, foreign cards are rarely accepted but money changing is still possible at selected guesthouses and a couple of banks about a kilometre from the boat dock. Be careful when changing baht or dollars, as there are frequent attempts at skimming and some money changers have gained a reputation for being less than honest. There is a post office in town, but it doesn't have forwarding services.
People walking alone or in small groups will frequently be offered drugs and in recent years there have been a number of foreigner deaths in Pakbeng from drug usage.
Another problem the town faces is that of inequity when it comes to the distribution of wealth. Clearly, foreign visitors have more than the locals, but there is also a clear disparity among the people of Pakbeng -- those who serve the foreigners earn considerably more money than those who don't. And the distinction is clear in the housing, clothing, cleanliness and the big eyes of the more unfortunate looking at those who are not.
It's a good idea not to flash any indicators of wealth: cameras, jewellery, expensive clothes or wads of cash.
Text and/or map last updated on 22nd March, 2013.
Backchat from the Travelfish community
I stayed at Pakbeng just one night, because I had booked the whole trip down to Luangprabang. To short, because it's a nice little town with a nice scenery on the Mae Kong. And there some nice guesthouses and restaurants in town. Next time I will stay a few days.
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By Armando696 (dabbler)
Written on 8th June, 2012 after a visit to Pakbeng in March, 2008
Also reviewed by Armando696: Chiang Rai,
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