Hammer and Sickle over the Mekong by Asienreisender

Hammer and Sickle over the Mekong River at Pakse. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Kaysone Phomvihane Hero Memorial in Pakse by Asienreisender

A hero memorial in Pakse. The hero is Kaysone Phomvihane (1920 - 1992), one of the, if not the most important player in the communist party in Laos younger history since 1975. His picture is on the Laotian money bills as well. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Songkran in Pakse by Asienreisender

The Songkran Festival (water festival, 'Buddhist New Year'), annually celebrated in April, following a lunar calendar. Great fun for the youngsters to play and splash with water. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

A Girl on a Motorbike in Pakse by Asienreisender

A girl on a motorbike. As mostly, the locals use only one hand for keeping the wheel. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

A Market Woman in Pakse by Asienreisender

A market woman on the fresh market in Pakse. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

A teenager in Pakse by Asienreisender

A teenager in Pakse. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Teenager in Pakse by Asienreisender

Another teenager. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Noodle Soup Bowl by Asienreisender

A bowl of noodle soup. As almost everywhere in Laos it's of pretty poor quality and quantity. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

A Wastewater Stream in Pakse by Asienreisender

A stream in inner Pakse. Most of it is wastewater, stinking and seamed with plastic rubbish. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

No Alcohol Poster by Asienreisender

A poster at Pakse Airport, warning pilots to drink before flying. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Beerlao Gold Advertisment Poster by Asienreisender

Next to the 'no alcohol poster' an advertisment poster for Beerlao Gold. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

An Accident Smashed Motorbike by Asienreisender

A motorbike, smashed in an accident. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Kilometerstone near Pakse by Asienreisender

One of the very helpful kilometer stones at the roadsides. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

New Casino Hotel in Pakse by Asienreisender

Palazzo di Prozo - the new casino hotel in Pakse, the upcoming biggest building in town. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Sign of the  Lao-Nippon Bridge in Pakse by Asienreisender

The sign of the Lao-Nippon Bridge in Pakse. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Lao-Nippon Bridge in Pakse by Asienreisender

The Japanese Bridge. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Tokay Gecko under an Icebox by Asienreisender

A small tokay gecko, hidden under an icebox. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Pakse / Laos

Asienreisender

1.

Pakse

Pakse is Laos third biggest city (population: 120,000 in 2010), deep in the south of the country. It's a young place, founded in 1905 by the French colonial administration.

Chinese Association in Pakse by Asienreisender

The house of the Chinese association in Pakse. It's one of the few old buildings, and, as almost all of them, completely restorated. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

In these days it's undergoing a thorough transformation. Pakse get's a facelifting so deep that travellers who know the place from a few years ago barely would recognice anything anymore. Everything is new here, few old buildings are left, and great parts of the city including some main roads are under construction. Therefore it's noisy, dirty, busy, faceless, unfriendly, hot and after all just another place better to be avoided.

By the way: Pakse is the provincial capital of Champasak Province. In difference to other places, where the provinces are normally called after the name of the provincial capital, here the province is called after the much older, but nowadays politically and economically meaningless place Champasak.

There are no touristic sights in Pakse.

Pakse - Under Construction by Asienreisender

Pakse, under construction. Here the main road at the east end of the Japanese Bridge. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

2.

The Surroundings

Pakse is placed at the banks of the Mekong River at the confluence with the Sedon River. The magnificient Mekong River is a much bigger river here than it is between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang and a lot of tributaries are coming from the mountains, most of them from the eastern mountains, joining the Mekong.

At the Mekong River around Pakse by Asienreisender

The times of the simple life with the nature are defenitely over. There is barely a quiet place left around Pakse at the banks of the Mekong River to enjoy the nature. On both sides of the river are new roads built, seamed with new karaoke bars and discotheques, partially on bigger restaurant boats on the river itself. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Thirty kilometers north of Pakse the also big Mun River, coming from Thailand's northeastern province Isaan, is joining the Mekong River. That makes the Mekong gaining in size considerably.

On the western side of the Mekong River, at one end of the Lao-Nippon Bridge (also: Pakse Bridge or Japanese Bridge) is a mountain. Below the summit is a new temple place and a huge Buddha statue (still under construction, one more bigger building site) is overseeing Pakse. An also brandnew road is going upwards, winding for kilometers in serpentines to the temple.

To the southeast the road 13, later road 16, is going up into the Bolaven Plateau. The plateau is the result of a former (super-) volcano, who shaped this unique and rich landscape. The cultivation of coffee up there in the high plains makes a bigger contribution to Pakse's economy.

A great attraction near Pakse is the World Heritage Site 'Wat Phou and Champasak Cultural Landscape'. It's an old Khmer temple complex with a thousand years of history, embedded into a planned, medieval landscape including waterworks, side temples, ancient roads and two ancient settlements, stretching from Phou Mountain over ten kilometers down to the banks of the Mekong River.

3.

Transport and Traffic

The trouble in Pakse as in many Laotian places is the transport. There is no reasonable solution for travelling the Bolaven Plateau or Wat Phou and Champasak. Public transport is extremely time-consuming, extremely inflexible, uncomfortable and expensive. For longer trips the southern bus station is eight kilometers outside the city, the northern bus station is nine kilometers north of the place. Bingo!

Pakse Airport and Plane by Asienreisender

Pakse airport. Lao Airlines has still problems with safety. It seems to be the same old planes as they used many years ago already. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

A trip to Vientiane on bus takes about twelve hours. Night busses (sleepers) are available.

After all it seems to be the best solution to hire a motorbike. But this implies another complex of problems.

The most agencies who rent motorbikes want a high guarantee in case of any damage. Nang Noi Guesthouse for example demands a guarantee of 1,500 dollars US. The case of damage could be simply a scratch in the lacquer. If you have an accident, doesn't matter if it was your fault or not, you are obliged to pay. Therefore the deposition of a passport with the visa inside is mandatory.

I wouldn't sign such a contract. But in any case, the agencies want a passport as a deposit.

Motorbikes in Pakse by Asienreisender

Motorbikes in Pakse. The time of bicycles is over. Even the kids drive motorbikes. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The traffic here is not too easy, one has to be aware of the fact that the local drivers don't ask for any rules. They drive as they want. On the right side, the left side, in middle of the road, zig-zag, entering a road by completely ignoring the traffic on it... and so on, and so on. In other words: traffic is pretty unpredictable here. And too fast.

The worst drivers are the young men between 15 and 25 - 30 years old. They are full of energy and express that in their driving style. Much too fast and too risky. I have seen some nasty traffic accidents in Laos.

In case of any accident the locals will by all probability point on the foreigner. He/she did what wrong!

Sometimes, when school ends, masses of local pupils appear on the roads. The vast majority of them is driving a motorbike - the time of bicycles is over in Laos. Even eight years old boys or sometimes girls drive a motorbike, not seldom with a six years old kid behind them on the bench. It's a good idea to be very careful when they appear in great swarms.

Pakse has also a little airport.

New Cars in Pakse by Asienreisender

Pakses streets are full with brandnew cars, matching all the new buildings. Where is actually the money coming from in such a poor country? Is there another credit and real-estate bubble in the background? Image by Asienreisender, 2013

4.

The Bridges

The French Bridge in Pakse by Asienreisender

The small French Bridge in Pakse. It's the oldest bridge in town. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

There is a grand bridge over the Mekong in Pakse. It was built in the years 1997 - 2000 (called: 'Pakse Bridge' or 'Lao-Nippon-Friendship Bridge') and is still the only Mekong bridge which is completely on Laotian territory (near Ban Pak Beng another bridge is now under construction). The construction is 1.4km long and has at the right and the left a sidewalk, what makes it worth to cross the bridge by walking. There seems always a good breeze to be, what's really a relief in hot Pakse.

The bridge connects Pakse and the places east of the Mekong with Vang Tao at the Thai border (national road 16), from where is a direct connection to the big Isaan city of Ubon Ratchathani. I guess the bridge is promoted by the Japanese state for the sake of the very powerful Japanese car industries in Thailand. Traffic is now literally exploding in Pakse and whole Laos (and whole Southeast Asia, as I see it).

Besides the Japanese Bridge over the Mekong there is a Russian bridge and a smaller, one-lane French Bridge (probably the oldest bridge here), both leading over the Sedon River.

Pakse, Lao-Nippon Friendship Bridge by Asienreisender

The 'Lao-Nippon Friendship Bridge', also 'Pakse Bridge' or 'Japanese Bridge'. The building complex on the left is still under construction. It looks like it will be one of the notorious casino hotels the Chinese and the wealthy Thai like so much. It represents a typical concrete neo-baroque building style which is very popular in Laos among the new-rich. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

5.

Economy

The upgrading of the national road 13 to Vientiane (and further north to Luang Prabang) together with the Pakse Bridge promoted Pakse as the economic hub of the south of Laos. The close connection to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia helps to boost the place up as a trade center.

Dao Coffee Factory near Pakse / Bolaven Plateau by Asienreisender

The Dao coffee factory on the way from Pakse up to the Bolaven Plateau. The bitter smell of raw coffee is penetrating the main road. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

In the close surroundings up on the Bolaven Plateau is the biggest coffee production of Laos. For further processing the drug there is a big coffee factory built at the road no. 16. It's the Boa coffee factory. Coffee production happens here in a greater scale.

It's interesting to see how fast Laos is catching up with Thailand now. Laos' markets were always much, much poorer in variety and quality of goods for sale. Now here in Pakse there is at least one big shopping mall where a lot of plastic goods and clothes are for sale. It's housing restaurants as well. That's a new phenomenon in Laos. There is also a big, new main market near the Japanese Bridge. The amount of offered goods is extending everything I have yet seen on Laotian markets anywhere else yet.

Together with the complete upgrade of the city it pretty much seems that Pakse's economy is rising like a rocket.

Pakse Shopping Center by Asienreisender

A brandnew shopping center in Pakse, full with cheap stuff. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Poverty, poor People in Pakse, Laos by Asienreisender

The other side of the booming economy. When the familiy income is insufficient to feed and house, people fall out of the society. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

6.

People

Although Pakse is kind of touristic and has some touristic infrastructure as guesthouses and restaurants / pubs for the western taste, western tourists don't spend much time here. They come only for a daytrip to the Bolaven Plateau and/or Wat Phou and quickly leave the busy place again. The local people therefore are not used to deal with Westerners and do not speak English or very poor only. It's defenitely helpfull to speak a bit Thai or Laotian to come along here.

Lottery Lot selling Woman in Pakse by Asienreisender

Many women here sell lottery lots. Winning the jack-pot is the only hope for the poor. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The most tourists who come to Pakse are probably Thai from the nearby border, followed by other Asian countries. Westerners are a minority among the tourists. Asian tourists come usually in bigger groups on busses.

The mentality of the local people is reserved, sometimes avoiding. Many try to take advantage of foreigners, supposing they don't know the prices and customs and overcharging them and/or telling them funny stories. My general impression is that most of the local people are kind of blunted.

Abbot and Buddha Image by Asienreisender

The abbot of the temple on the mountain west of the Japanese Bridge. Seems he made the gigantic Buddha statue after his own model. Images by Asienreisender, 2013

As in other places in Laos there are neverending parties with deafening music and the notorious booze. In the few days I spent here till now there was a number of parties in the neighbourhood of the guesthose. There was a two day party in the garden of the local red-cross hospital with dancing and drinking, and today, early in the morning (around 6am) another party started at another place, more noisy. Might be the beginning 'songkran' already (songkran means: water festival, this year officially from the 12th to the 15th of April). The party activities arrive at their climax at the end of hot season - from the beginning rainy season on they mostly cease.

There are groups of young male locals around here every evening, gathering and spending time at certain places like parkings or streetcorners. Pretty sure there are a lot of funny stories going on in these groups and I don't want to know what all they do to proof their bravery. I wouldn't say it's really dangerous here, it's certainly not, but to keep an eye open on them is no bad idea.

For more information on the People of Laos have a look here.

7.

Champasak Palace

The yet biggest building in Pakse is the 'Champasak Palace'. It's placed at the Sedon River near the Russian Bridge and build under the order of prince Boun Oum of the former kingdom of Champasak and later prime minister of Laos.

Champasak Palace in the Night by Asienreisender

Champasak Palace at night. Close to the Sedon River there is most of the time a fresh breeze which makes it a much better place than inside the hot city. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

He planned the building as a residence and designed it with a thousand rooms. Though, before it was completed, the communists took the state over and Boun Oum fled to France. The communist party continued the construction und used it for party and state events.

In the 1990s the building was bought by a Thai tourist company, who changed it into a hotel. Now it's called the 'Champasak Palace Hotel'. It represents luxury although the place looks a bit neglected, but not too much. There is a great potential left for improving the garden at the river banks. Could be the best place in Pakse then.

Champasak Palace might loose it's status as the biggest building in town soon; at the eastern end of the Japanese Bridge is a huge building site which looks like the construction of a casino/hotel. When ready, I guess, it's topping the palace in size.

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Published on April 12th, 2013

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