Pakse, Laos

Pakse, the gateway to southern Laos, sits at the confluence of the Mekong River and the Se Don (Don River). The city retains the sort of Mekong River–town lethargy found in Savannakhet and Tha Khaek further north. Fewer colonial-era buildings remain, but do look for the grandiose, Franco-Chinese-style Chinese Society building in the centre of town.

The city’s main appeal lies is sipping Beerlao on the riverfront, soaking up the laid-back provincial vibe and launching forays to nearby attractions such as the Bolaven Plateau, Tat Lo and Kiet Ngong.

Pakse is the capital of Champasak Province, which was part of the Cambodian Angkor empire between the 10th and 13th centuries. Wat Phu Champasak, near Champasak town, is the most striking relic of that time. Following the decline of Angkor between the 15th and late 17th centuries, this region was absorbed into the nascent Lan Xang kingdom, but broke away to become an independent Lao kingdom between the beginning of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.

Today Champasak Province encompasses Laos’ southern Mekong region, including Si Phan Don and the Bolaven Plateau. The province has a population of more than 500,000, including lowland Lao (many of them Phu Thai), Khmers and a host of small Mon-Khmer groups, most of whom inhabit the Bolaven Plateau region.