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Gilles – Pakse: Boomtown Down South

On te way to Wat Phu Champasak, Pakse

On te way to Wat Phu Champasak, Pakse

Since we wanted to visit different places at a different pace, we decided to travel our own way for the next week. It was also time for each of us to be a little on our own: we have been sticking together non-stop since Chile, which means 7 months! I decided to skip the area around Tha Khaek, which also meant giving up traveling the “430 kilometer Loop” on motorbike. But considering the many times I have been sick over the last 4 weeks, it simply was more reasonable. So I flew directly to Pakse, 680 kilometers further south.

Pakse is no longer the sleepy Mekong town described in many tour guides, but has now turned into “boomtown down south”. It has become the major tourist hub for visiting the Bolaven Plateau, the Khmer temple Wat Phu in Champasak as well as the “4.000 Islands” at the Cambodian border.

Pakse is also on the crossroad to nearby Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand just across the river. This strategic location did not escape the attention of Chinese and Thai investors. This city is growing and changing at an unbelievable pace, with kitschy brand new fake colonial-style houses growing like mushrooms, huge hotel resorts being built one after another and the unavoidable traffic jam that is linked to such a development. Traffic is here actually much worse than in Vientiane, the capital city!

If Pakse is THE hub for discovering the whole southern part of Laos, the city itself has little to offer. Tourists concentrate on one or two streets where the usual infrastructure can be found: accommodation, restaurants and Internet cafes. It is heartbreaking to see these young adventurers flocking to the few eateries recommended in the Lonely Planet in the center instead of venturing out to the restaurants along the river less than one kilometer away. The same people who cannot wait to visit minority villages have little interest to eat where all the locals spend their evening…

Things quiet down early in the center and tourists soon disappear in their hostels, whereas the road that runs parallel to the Mekong is full of life and laughter. It is THE place to go out for the locals, with food stalls all along the way and bars playing loud Lao pop music. Especially one area seems to be the hotspot, a place where in the evening young people gather and lesson to live music or karaoke at a deafening volume and enjoy Beerlao or imported whisky.


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