One of the delights of travel is discovering a destination that simply washes over you. Especially when the cut and thrust of your journey demands that you slow down and soak up a relatively under-visited location. Pakse, on the peaceful confluence of the Xe Don and Mekong Rivers, is just such a place.
From whatever direction you come, you will soon surrender to this most gentle of cities.
It is peaceful, remote and surprisingly unflustered, especially considering that Pakse is Laos’ second largest city and the capital of Champasak Povince. Offering not only a charming river location, with the close-to-hand lush Bolaven Plateau landscape, but also two of South East Asia’s most alluring attractions: Vat Phou and Si Phan Don.
As these photos show, the ruined Khmer Hindu temple of Vat Phou has a serene setting with medley of beautiful structural carvings and eye-catching rural views stretching out towards the Mekong. Divided into six platform terraces over three levels, the Disney-like staircase leads up to a collection of temples. Most of these were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries, but some of are more than 1,000 years old.
Si Phan Don, better known as ‘4,000 islands’, is a delightful Mekong riverine archipelago with a backwater-style community living on the riverbanks, amidst lush paddies and tropical palms.
Indeed the river has played a constant part in Pakse’s make-up, sustaining a diverse and ever-changing collection of people. Fishing boats, canoes and even the long boat rowing team ply today’s river, as they have done over the centuries.
In Pakse itself the old French Colonial Buildings stand proud, as does the Vietnamese Quarter, an old Catholic church and a selection of Buddhist and Chinese Temples. Even the traffic feels relatively chilled, as busy tuk-tuks, motorcycles and bicycles weave about transporting a whole community neatly adjusted to commuting at the pace of a tropical breeze.
Get ready to slow down. Take inspiration from reports that Lord Buddha himself surely rested well, leaving his footprint at Pakse’s oldest temple Wat Phabad.