The provincial capital of Bolikhamsai is Paksan, a blip of a town that sits at the confluence of the Nam San and Mekong rivers almost opposite the small Thai town of Bueng Kan, visible across the river. The provincial capital is a sleepy transportation hub, mostly just used as a place to stay before heading along the back road to Phonsavan or across the border into Thailand.
There's not a lot to see and do in Paksan, although you can spend a few hours wandering into the half dozen wats in the streets between the Mekong and the main road. If you're planning on exploring further afield, the province has some spectacular natural scenery with Route 8 to the border crossing with Vietnam at Nam Phao, east of Lak Xao, being a particular highlight.
The locals here are particularly friendly and a couple of restaurants along the Nam San provide the perfect opportunity to interact over a bottle of beer.
The main highway linking southern Laos to Vientiane runs straight through Paksan. Paksan is also the point at which the back road to Phonsavan starts and finishes, making this a great place to start your loop of northern Laos, which will eventually pass through Luang Prabang and end in Vientiane.
An internet shop is located between BK Guesthouse and the main road, and Paksan Hotel offers free WiFi. As well, 3G coverage is available on Unitel.
There are a few banks in town and the Lao Development Bank near the market, along the main road (T: (054) 212 022; 212 823, F: (054) 212 023) can exchange money Monday through Friday. There is a 24-hour BCEL ATM out the front of the market and another about 300 metres east of the bridge.
The post office is on the street leading past BK Guesthouse towards the Mekong.
The Paksan-Beung Kan Border
You can cross the border into Thailand here -- follow the sign off the main road, just past the Manolom Guesthouse. The crossing is open daily from 08:00 to 16:30 and a boat to the Thai side costs 15,000 kip or 60 baht. This crossing also is used by vehicles.
No Lao visa on arrival is available crossing to the Lao side from Thailand, so be sure to get one ahead of time if you plan to use this border.
By Adam Poskitt.