The medium sized village of Pak Tha is set at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Tha rivers and is a comfortable place to break the journey between Huay Xai and Pakbeng. It is also the place from where to embark on a boat trip up the Nam Tha river to Luang Nam Tha – if you're lucky.
Set atop the bank of the Mekong, Pak Tha also marks the region from where Laos sits on both sides of the Mekong River. Not much happens in Pak Tha, making it an ideal spot to rest and recharge. More happens though in the late afternoon (by Pak Tha’s standards) when the river is low and a good football games kicks off near the Nam Tha riverbank. A daily market in the centre of town seems to be the focal point of most activity in town and it’s also where you will be able to get a bowl of noodle soup.
Also when the river is lower there are some great rapids which some of the particularly crazy kids throw themselves into. The village is basically made up of three main roads which run parallel to the river and have numerous smaller paths linking them together.
The customs and immigration office is located near the boat dock, but this will be of little use to anyone unless coming through the scrub across the river from Thailand.
The few accommodation options in Pak Tha offer only rudimentary facilities. Supaphon and Suphany are the pick of the guesthouses and are located in the centre of town. Just ask at the market for directions. Suphany has two types of rooms and those downstairs are some of the worst we have seen. If you can manage it, tell the owner you’d like to stay with her son, Bounmee, where he has a few basic rooms in his house. They’re the best bet, and although still basic, you will at least not feel dirty. Cold water and squat toilets are the norm around these parts.
Food in Pak Tha is a makeshift affair. Near the boat dock there are two noodle shops worth checking out. The meat is a bit gristly, but it does fill the spot. Suphany also can put on meals and if you’re staying with Bounmee on the boat dock side of the Nam Tha, he will lend you his bike to get to his mother’s house for a feed.
There are no regular boat services upriver to Luang Nam Tha, instead boats generally do smaller hops between the villages that line the river. To do the entire trip you’ll need to charter a sampan to take you and it will take a couple of days and cost (at least) a couple of hundred dollars (for the charter not per person).
We’ve only been as far as Pak Hat which is set around 25 kilometres inland from Pak Tha — the trip takes roughly two hours. This small village is most definitely off the tourist trail — and while there is little to distinguish it from any other small village in Bokeo, it has a small wat, a customs office, a few shops and lots of thatch huts, the trip here is still a good diversion. It sits at the confluence of the Nam Tha and Nam Hat rivers and the reason for coming here is the trip enroute and onwards to Pha Udon and Luang Nam Tha.
An early morning boat trip from Pak Tha to Pak Hat is particularly atmospheric, particularly if you head off early enough to catch the remnants of morning mist. The river is quite small, with a few sets of small rapids while the mountains and jungle that surround the river is very atmospheric.
Moving on from Pak Tha, the slow boat to Huay Xai swings past at 15:00 and you will need to get someone to wave it down for you. Locals don't generally use this slow boat, however, and opt for a speed boat.
The slow boat to Pakbeng comes past at about midday, but the precise time depends entirely on its departure from Huay Xai. Sit by the river and ask a local to flag it down for you.
By Stuart McDonald.
Last updated on 12th October, 2016.
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