Pakse International Airport (PZK) is just three kilometres north of town off Route 13. There are daily domestic flights to Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. Lao Airlines services international flights a few times a week to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap.
Travel agents and hotels sell train tickets to Bangkok including all transfers—and be prepared, there are a few. It’s pick-up from the hotel, a minivan to the border, another to Ubon Ratchathani bus station, then finally to Ubon Ratchathani train station. For air-con sleeper train, you’ll depart Pakse at 13:00, costs 420,000 kip. Second-class fan departs Pakse at 15:00, costs 320,000 kip.
The bus situation in Pakse is complicated as there are several different bus stations. There’s the northern bus station, southern bus station (km-8 station), VIP bus station in the town centre and the regional station at Dao Heuang market.
More often than not, purchasing the ticket through a travel agent or hotel will be more cost effective and save your sanity. It’s a small mark-up but it will include pick-up from your accommodation and transfer to the appropriate station, usually located some kilometres outside the city. You might save money by getting on samlo to the relevant bus station, but it's like splitting hairs. Another thing to consider: private bus companies will use a spot in the city for pick up, sometimes bypassing the station completely. Buses to Vietnam depart from a cafe 2 km from town.
A private bus company operates comfortable tourist buses along Route 13 to Champasak, Si Phan Don (Don Dhet and Don Khon), ending at the Cambodian border. Purchase these tickets from an agent or guesthouse. While a ride on the local bus is full of atmosphere and local flavour, the tourist bus is undeniably more comfortable: it departs on time, is air-conditioned, takes an hour less and includes pick up from your hotel—no need to make your own way to the bus station.
Here are the destinations and prices available through travel agents.
Destinations in Laos
Champasak: departs at 08:00. Costs 55,000 kip and takes 1.5 hrs.
Don Dhet or Don Khon: departs at 08:00. Costs 65,000 kip and takes 2.5 hrs. Price includes boat transfer.
Destinations in Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand: bus departs at 08:30, 15:30. Costs 60,000 kip.
Bangkok, Thailand: international direct bus departs at 16:00. Costs 220,000-250,000 kip. This could be operated by either a Thai or Lao company.
Destinations in Cambodia
Kampong Cham: departs at 08:00. Costs 170,000 kip and takes 11.5 hrs.
Kratie: departs at 08:00. Costs 150,000 kip and takes 7.5 hrs.
Phnom Penh: departs at 08:00. Costs 220,000 kip and takes 13.5 hrs.
Siem Reap: departs at 08:00. Costs 250,000 kip and takes 12 hrs.
Stung Treng: departs at 08:00. Costs 130,000 kip and takes 6.5 hrs.
Destinations in Vietnam
Kon Tum: departs at 05:30. Costs 180,000 kip and takes 10 hrs.
Hue: departs at 05:30. Costs 220,000 kip and takes 12 hrs.
Da Nang: departs at 05:30. Costs 250,000 kip and takes 14 hrs.
The Northern Bus Station
This terminal is located seven kilometres north of Pakse past the airport. Local buses and sleeping buses leave directly from the terminal and tickets can be booked here, though many of the departures are the same buses you can book in town. You may save a dollar or two on the local bus but it can be extremely tedious. Those heading to Tha Khaek should consider taking a VIP bus headed to Vientiane, you can be dropped off en route.
Savannakhet: departs at 06:20, 09:00. Costs 40,000 kip.
Tha Khaek: departs at 09:40, 11:00. Costs 60,000 kip.
Vientiane: departs 07:00, 07:40, 10:20, 11:40, 12:20, 13:00, 13:40, 14:20, 15:00, 15:40, 16:20, 17:00, 17:40, 18:30, 19:00, 20:00. Costs 110,000 kip, departure at 18:30 & 19:00 cost 130,000 kip, 20:00 costs 170,000 kip.
Xieng Khoung: departs at 08:40. Costs 170,000 kip.
Southern Bus Station (km-8 station)
This terminal, also known as the eight-kilometre or “lak-phet” bus station, is 8-km from the city centre, where Route 13 meets 16E. Local buses service destinations to the south and east of Pakse, departing when there are enough passengers (and piles of cargo). The information provided by signage and staff at the terminal is poor. Take these times with a grain of salt.
Ban Khiet Ngong: departs at 12:00. Costs 35,000 kip.
Don Khong: departs hourly until around 16:00. Costs 50,000 kip.
Nakasang: departs hourly from 07:00 until around 15:00. Costs 40,000 kip and takes 3.5 hrs.
Pak Song: departs hourly throughout the day until 15:30. Costs 20,000 kip.
VIP bus station
The VIP bus station is located in the tourist centre close to the Provincial Tourism Office and Sinouk Cafe, on Rd 11 which runs along the Sedone River. VIP buses (air-con sleeper bus, usually two people to a bed with drinking water and a blanket provided) depart for Vientiane en masse at 20:30. It’s the rare exception where travellers can easily walk to the station and buy tickets without having to go through an agent, though it’s unlikely English is spoken and you’ll have to choose which company to go through—there are a number. A reliable shop like X-Plore-Asia or Miss Noy’s should book customers onto a good one. Our experience with CPS Company was excellent; the bus was well-maintained bus and there were no hassles.
The bus can drop off en route along Route 13, and the experience is far more comfortable and quicker than the local bus, though the arrival time to Tha Khaek bus station is around 01:00 in the morning. Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang requires a change of bus in the morning.
Luang Prabang: VIP sleeping bus departs at 20:00 and costs 320,000 kip.
Vang Vieng: VIP sleeping bus departs at 20:00 and costs 220,000 kip.
Vientiane: VIP sleeping bus departs at 20:00. Costs 150,000-170,000 kip and takes 12 hrs.
Dao Heuang Market/km-2 Market
The km-2 market is—you guessed it—two kilometres from the city centre. From here it is possible to catch songthaews to Champasak and minivans to the Thai border.
Champasak: songthaew departs when full, service throughout the morning until 12:00. Costs 20,000 kip.
Thai border: minivan departs when full, around once every half hour to an hour. Go earlier in the morning as departures are more frequent. Costs 100 baht.
With good sealed roads connecting Pakse to Champasak, it’s cheaper for locals to travel by road than by boat. And the inside scoop is that travel agents/guesthouses have managed to force the boats out of business, so for travellers in need of a comfortable ride—surprise—the only option is hiring a private minivan which agents and guesthouses can provide.
Don’t despair, the boat hasn’t completely disappeared from this route. It doesn’t depart every day and it depends on passenger numbers. A reliable agent or hotel can call to see if the public boat is running and with luck, with around four people it can run at a cost of 70,000 kip per person including agent fee and transfer to the boat landing. Or make some friends at the guesthouse and gather a squad for the journey.
It’s possible to take a boat from Laos to Stung Treng, Cambodia. Ms. Mai at Xplore-Asia in Pakse can make the arrangements, which are a little complicated logistically with ground transport, boat and paperwork involved. From wherever you are, be it Pakse or the 4,000 Islands, it’s a minivan to the border where you go through both passport/immigration, then you actually have to return to the Lao side (that’s where the paperwork comes in handy) to get on the boat in Veun Kham. It’s a two-hour scenic journey puttering down to Stung Treng. Door to door, based on a group of four, it’s US$48 per person, US$80 per person based on two. Try to rally other travellers to join, it’s a lot more memorable than being squished into a van. Find the Xplore-Asia office beside La Terrasse restaurant, which is at the end of the tourist strip running north off Route 13. T:(031) 212 893; http://xplore-laos.com/
Boats from Ban Saphai to Don Kho island cost 40,000 kip roundtrip.
This is one of the last places in Laos to ride a samlo (motorcycle taxi with side seat for the passenger). Try it while you can, they are almost extinct.
There is a big tourism push to explore the region by bicycle and good mountain bikes are now available for rent in a few shops and hotels including Xplore-Asia, costs US$8/day. Guesthouses and shops rent cheapie bicycles for around 10,000 kip/day.
Motorbikes have become an extremely popular way for independent travellers to see the outlying areas, especially the loop through the Bolaven Plateau. Motorbike is also the easiest way to reach Ban Khiet Ngong and Champasak, which is now connected with a gorgeous scenic sealed road west of the Mekong.
There are many motorbike rental shops offering semi-automatics for 50,000 kip, automatics for 80,000-90,000 kip. It goes without saying, the less the bike malfunctions the happier you will be. Try to get one with low mileage, don’t rent a Chinese-brand bike and do, to the best of your ability, check that it’s in good working order before departing. Check horn, lights, signals and brakes, listen for strange noises, photograph any existing damage and your contract. Read the contract. Have the appropriate insurance coverage, wear a helmet and drive at a sensible speed.
We can recommend Miss Noy’s Motorbikes on Route 13 beside Lankham Hotel. Though not the cheapest, they have cornered the backpacker market through word of mouth as their motorbikes are well maintained and checked before being sent out again, fixed by a mechanic if needed. Those who rent from the shop have the benefit of attending the orientation session held every evening at 18:00; the short and long loop through the Bolaven Plateau loops are covered step by step, with helpful tips and stern reminders of how to prevent the bike from getting stolen or wrecked. Another benefit: English, French and Lao are spoken so you can phone them if you encounter any issue on the road or need translation help with the mechanic. A motorbike is 55,000 kip per day, an automatic 90,000 kip. Open daily around 08:00-20:00 with a break in the midday. T: (020) 2227 2278; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://missnoymotorbike.com/index.php/en/
Never leave you motorbike at a waterfall if there is no paid parking.
Pakse city driving is a bit tricky until you get outside, then it’s smooth sailing on excellent roads through the Bolaven Plateau, down to Champasak and along Route 13. That said, always be on guard for potholes, chickens, cattle, kids, overloaded buses and random debris. In the countryside it’s best to be off the roads after dark.
AVIS car rental office is in the same corner office as Green Discovery, Rd 10, just around the corner from Pakse Hotel. T: (031) 214 946, email@example.com; http://www.avis.la/; open Mon-Fri 08:30-18:00, Sat-Sun 09:00-13:00