Pakse is the second largest city in Laos. Located in the South along the Mekong Delta, this sleepy city is generally used as a stopover point for travelers who are on their way to or from Si Don Phan (4000 Islands). However, if you just do a little exploring you’ll find that Pakse has quite a lot to offer and it is an excellent base for discovering the Bolaven Plateau. You won’t find a buzzing party life in Pakse, but you will find plenty of cheap restaurants along the Mekong where you can enjoy a beer and watch the sunset behind the mountains. Pakse also has some excellent cafes such as Delta Coffee and Laos Vida, which serve up a killer up of espresso and also reinvest money into social projects.
Street food is plentiful I suggest trying the tasty roasted mini bananas. There are also many cheap restaurants, the most popular being Dao Lin or Sabaidee (wifi is best at Sabaidee!). A popular afternoon spot is the rooftop bar at Pakse Hotel, however, it is defiantly on the pricier side of the scale!
Things to do in Pakse
For those who love archeology the provincial museum is a great start point and from there take a day trip to Vat Phu – the ancient Khmer site constructed in the 5th century. It is about a 45minute drive from Pakse and is small enough to walk around in a few hours.
The city is also home to Wat Luang where you can take part in a monk alms ceremony, a much less crowded and less touristy take on the ceremony you may have seen in Luang Prabang!
For a great view of the city head to Phu Salao, the big golden Buddha on the hill. To get there you must cross over the Japan-Laos friendship bridge and then it is just around the corner. You have two options to reach the top – walk the hundreds of steps for a great work out and rewarding view! Or if you don’t fancy the walk you can drive up to the top.
From Pakse you can also explore Paksong and the Bolaven Plateau. Miss.Noys bike rental is the most popular in town, reliable bikes and free maps! You can explore the region on a 1-4 day bike loop which will take you through coffee plantations and past 17 waterfalls! I suggest leaving your luggage in Pakse and just taking a small day pack – but pack warm as temperatures in the mountains are much cooler than in Pakse!
Volunteering in Pakse
But wait, how does a Falang know all of this? Well I am currently situated in Pakse for three months volunteering for Village Focus International (VFI). This international organization works all over Laos and also runs an annual bike competition in Cambodia. Their aim is simple – ‘Invest in local leaders to create global change’. This is done through employing and empowering locals to make the changes which are best for their community.
VFI has two focus areas;
1) Land Rights and Reclaiming
2) Protection and Empowerment of Women and Children.
I discovered the organization through the website Idealist, I read through their website and was inspired by the change they’re making all over Laos. So, I contacted them with my CV and asked if they could utilize my skills in anyway…they said yes! I work in a shelter with survivors of human trafficking. At the shelter the girls receive vocational training, schooling, life skills, counseling, health services and a range of other opportunities. I help with the counseling processes, teach short English classes and help around the office doing document editing and other administrative duties.
I don’t speak Lao which is challenging, but everyone here is very welcoming and helpful. It is an incredible experience to be a part of such a progressive and influential organization. It is also a lot of hard work! Volunteering is a great way to give back to the developing areas in which you are travelling in and your skills/expertise can be vital to an organization that doesn’t have the resources/funds to hire an expert. However, if you are considering volunteering please think long and hard about why you are doing it – because although a photo with a lion cub might make you instafamous it is also clear that you’re not out there volunteering for the right reasons.
Voluntourism (Where you pay $1000+ for a week/month of volunteering) is a completely for profit industry which is doing more harm than good. If you want to volunteer sustainably look for free or small-fee programs which are run through non-profit organizations. Some great resources for this include Idealist, ReliefWeb, VolunteerMatch, True Travelers Society and also check out if your government runs any volunteer programs through their department of foreign affairs!
And remember, if you’re traveling through Laos stop by Pakse and say hi!
If you want to know more about Laos, check our Travel guide for Laos, where you can read where to go, what to do and how to in a budget while backpacking Laos.