Getting there and away
Pakse airport is located just a few kilometres north of town, offering flights to many airports in Laos, along with international flights to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap among a growing host of others.
There's also a Lao Airlines office in Pakse along the river, west of the BCEL, that's only open on weekdays. You can also book online: http://www.laoairlines.com/. If you're staying at one of the better hotels they can arrange pick up for you, but if you just show up there are always tuk tuks available when flights touch down for about 20,000 kip -- negotiate to get a good price.
Hotels, restaurants and travel agencies along Road 13 offer bus tickets that include transport to the terminal or a local pick up in town. You sometimes pay extra in town and those on a tight budget might save money by getting on a songthaew to the relevant bus station, but it's like splitting hairs. You can potentially pay more by journeying out to the bus station if you have to charter your own transport here.
The Northern Bus Terminal
This terminal is located eight kilometres outside Pakse past the airport. Regular buses and VIP buses leave directly from the terminal and tickets can be booked here, though some of the departures are the same buses you can book in town.
Savannakhet – every hour through the day – 50,000 kip
Tha Khaek – every hour through the day – 60,000 kip
Vientiane – every hour through the day – 120,000 kip
Da Nang, Vietnam – 07:00 – 220,000 kip
Southern Bus Terminal
This terminal, eight kilometres along Road 13, is just a patch of dirt surrounded by wooden stalls -- known as the eight kilometre market. It's just on the other side of the junction with the road to Veun Kham. The information provided by signage and staff at the terminal is poor and some aren't sure what time certain buses arrive. Take these times with a grain of salt.
Attapeu (190km) - 06:45/08:00/10:30/15:00 - 45,000 kip
Ban Khiet Ngong (56km) – 10:00/12:00 – 35,000 kip
Don Khong (140km) - 08:30/10:30/11:30/13:00/14:30/15:30 - 50,000 kip
Nakasang (144km) - 08:00/09:30/10:00/11:00/12:00/13:00/14:00/15:00/16:00 - 50,000 kip
Pak Song (50km) - 08:00/09:00/10:00/12:00/13:00 - 25,000 kip
Salavan (110km) - 07:30/09:30/10:45/12:00/14:30 - 30,000 kip
Sekong (144km) - 07:30/09:30/11:30/13:30/14:30 - 35,000 kip
Veunkham (154km) - 07:00/11:00 - 50,000 kip
Daoheuang Market/KM2 Market
The KM2 market is located two kilometres out of town on the road to Si Phan Don. From here it is possible to catch tuk tuks to Champasak and minivans to the Thai border.
Champasak (45km) – 09:00/11:00/12:00 – 25,000 kip
Thai border – depart when full – 80 baht
The Chong Mek/Vangtao Border
The Thai side of the border is a short, 20 baht songthaew ride from the Chong Mek bus terminal, and is open from 06:00 to 18:00 daily. Vangtao, on the Laos side, has regular working hours from 08:00 to 16:00, Monday through Friday. From 16:00 to 18:00, weekends and official holidays are all considered “over-time”, and an additional fee is levied.
One-month visas for Laos are US$30 to 45 depending on your nationality. Keep walking down the road from the border into Laos and songthaews and taxis are available at a small, dingy terminal 200 metres down on the left. Both leave when full – 80 baht is the correct price at time of writing. The trip is 45 kilometres and takes about 40 minutes. All vehicles drop off at the Daoheuang Market (otherwise known as the two-kilometre market), which is two kilometres from most of the guesthouses near the river -- where tuk tuks and samlors are available and should cost about 10,000 kip per person after bargaining.
Ah, the disappearing, reappearing boat to Champasak! There used to be a US$5 boat, but it was discontinued. Now (as of late 2012) it's back on and travel agents and the Sabaidy 2 Guesthouse offer the standard 60,000 kip ride to Champasak plus some options in terms of touring Wat Phou and continuing on down to Don Dhet. Boats leave at 08:00 daily from the Pakse boat landing. It's a more expensive option than taking a songthaew, but similar to that of a minivan and a much more rewarding excursion.
Travellers who have spent time in Thailand are often disappointed to find there are no motorcycle taxis in Pakse. A limited number of tuk tuks and samlors (motorcycles with side cars) are available in town -- try flagging one down or find one stopped along the street around town. The samlors charge per person and carry a maximum of two passengers: 5,000 kip for short trips within town, 10,000 kip for trips to the outlying bus terminals and the airport. Tuk tuks are a bit trickier -- they tend to cruise the streets during peak times, and you can flag one down that's going in your direction and maybe pay as little as 5,000 kip for a ride. But solo travellers and small groups wanting to get the bus station or airport on their own will have to pony up to around 40,000 kip total.
Motorbikes are a popular way to explore the outlying areas, especially the waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau, and they make getting down to Champasak or Ban Khiet Ngong easy as pie. Motorbike rentals are available at countless hotels in town. The going rate is 60,000 per day, 50,000 per day for longer term rentals. They even offer funky automatic motorbikes now for those with little experience on two wheels -- these go for about 100,000 kip. While the roads are generally good, be prepared for some rough spots and pot holes. Also, chickens and cattle milling in the road, kids playing in the street and random piles of dirt and debris. On our visit to the area we even had to detour around an accident site where an unfortunate Laotian had been killed and was lying on the road covered in blood. It's one of those things that immediately reminds you of how vulnerable you are when riding a motorbike. Take it easy out there.
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