Like neighbouring Salavan, Sekong is infrequently visited thanks to its poor road network and close to non-existent tourist infrastructure. A province of high mountains and deep river valleys, it is reputed to have stunning scenery -- but we haven't been able to see anything except the most accessible so far.
If you're planning to explore Sekong using locally-available transportation, be prepared to spend a lot of time and a lot of money. With your own motorbike or 4WD, your options are better, but still not fantastic.
A fairly recent addition to the Lao landscape, Sekong town was cut out of the forest and laid out on a wide, map-easy grid spread across an area about 10 times the size it needs to be, much like Salavan. It seems the urban planners had high hopes for the future development of the town, but as things currently stand there is just about nothing whatsoever to see in town and everything is a bit of a walk away from everything else.
But Sekong hasn't given up on its if-we-build-it-they-will-come philosophy. On our first visit in 2004 we found many of the guesthouses closed up, seemingly due to low patronage. Since then, a couple of new hotels have opened up and some of the old ones are still in operation – a sure sign that there must be some people swinging through town, just perhaps not in the numbers that city planners had once hoped.
The most exciting thing to do in town is to get up at 05:00 and watch the locals fishing in the river, then walk along the river road as the Buddhist faithful line up with donations of food for the monks who make a long slow promenade in their orange robes to receive their morning meal in begging bowls.
For some, though, that is the attraction. Without the pressure of always finding the most fantastic and remarkable things, and not running around expecting to see something unique and utterly picturesque around each and every corner, you can really become to appreciate this place.
In recent years many of the main roads around these parts have been paved, including the one that shortcuts cross-country from Salavan to Sekong. Just a few short years ago this was a goat track full of villages with no electricity. Now electricity and a paved road has arrived, you can see how local societies have developed with lots of motorbikes, modern clothing, blaring Lao music and many small stalls with fridges – half a decade and the entire landscape has changed.
If you venture just to the other side of the river from Sekong, you can see rural Laos at a crossroads that will rarely be witnessed again anywhere in Asia. This is true, off-the-beaten track stuff and you'll be exploring it on your own.
Entering Sekong from Tha Teng or Attapeu, you'll find yourself on the main road at the north of town, with most of the rest of the town situated to the south, coming to an end at the northern bank of the Sekong River. Nearly all the restaurants, services, and places to stay are in a rectangular area bordered by the market to the east, the Sekong River to the south, a large, conspicuous white stupa to the west, and the main road to the north.
The post office (T: (038) 211 057) is located on a parallel road a block north of the Woman Fever and Souk Samlane guesthouses. Open weekdays 07:30 to 11:30 and 13:00 to 16:00. Right next door is the telecommunications office, (T: (038) 211 005) with 2,000 kip per minute overseas phone calls and faxing services: Open weekdays 08:00 to 4:30.
For banking, the Agricultural Promotion Bank across from the market has an ATM and can do foreign exchange in business hours. There are a couple of BCEL ATMs in town – one at the market and one outside the Hongkham Guesthouse.
There's a small book exchange with some English language, but mostly Scandanavian-language books, at the Phanthip Restaurant.
Unfortunately there are no official motorbike rental shops in town, so you'll have to ask at your hotel to see if they might be able to help you should you want to visit some of the surrounding waterfalls.
An internet cafe is located on the street running towards the river from the Hongkham hotel and 3G internet is available on Unitel.
By Adam Poskitt