Pakbeng - A small village connecting Huay Xai and Luang Prabang

This small village lies half-way between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, perched high on the banks of the Mekong river. You will likely be in Pakbeng because the two-day boat between Huay Xaiand Luang Prabang has to stop for the night, and a number of guesthouses have been set up to cater for the passing tourists.

Overview

This small village lies half-way between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, perched high on the banks of the Mekong river. You will likely be in Pakbeng because the two-day boat between Huay Xaiand Luang Prabang has to stop for the night, and a number of guesthouses have been set up to cater for the passing tourists. It`s also the eastern end of Road 2, originating in Udom Xai. To call Pakbeng sleepy is an understatement. It's quiet to the point of being dead. Still there are sufficient restaurants for one pleasant night. 

24 hour electricity arrived relatively recently in Pakbeng, but you'll still experience regular power outages (bring a torch or mobile) and find most of the town is shut down by 22:00. What Pakbeng does have to offer is a good night's sleep and sunset views over a particularly scenic stretch of the Mekong. 

Transportations

Most visitors will have to stop here over-night on the slow-boat trip to/from Luang Prabang. It`s also possible to arrive by speedboat en route to the north. Much more uncomfortable than the slow boat, however you will arrive before the slowboat so you have the option of choosing a guesthouse and showering with no queues. You also get to see the town as the only Westerner. Another possibility is to reach the place by bus-- this is a rough and long option.

There are only a few streets, so walk around. Most of the guesthouses are along the first 50 m of the main street as you head up the bank.

With the roads and particularly the rocky bank just above the boat landing being very steep, it might seem tempting to accept an offer for someone to carry your bag for you. Just ensure that if you do so you agree on the size of the tip beforehand.

By boat

The boat landing is at the end of Rd 2 on the Mekong. Slow boats leave in the morning in both directions. They depart when full but expect to start at around 09:00. Arrive early to get one of the better seats (as far away from the loud engine as possible). The dropping off boat normally arrives at about 17:00, but this is Laos, so bear in mind that this is a guideline. Laos transportation departs when the driver can be bothered. It's best just to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. And have a beer, of course.

By bus

Pick-ups make the trip to Udom Xai around 07:00 and leave at the northern end of town on Rd 2.

A bus Leaves at 12:00 from Muang Ngeun (near the Thai-Lao border ), costs 30,000 kip, and takes 1.5 hours.

What to buy in Pakbeng

Pakbeng is remote and offers very little in the way of shopping, but if you're about to spend the rest of the day on a boat it would be a good idea to pick up snacks from the row of market stalls that line the main road in the morning. There is 2 atm's, bcel and ldb, in at the end of guesthouse strip and third one for apb being built (11/2014) farther towards the big streert.

What to in Pakbeng

Several guesthouses and some "restaurants" offer food, but don`t expect anything special. There's an Indian restaurant with decent curries along the main street, called "Hassan". The friendly manager will also package meals for consumption on the slow-boat. Be careful while paying though, he might tend to give you back too litle or hand you unusable (too old, broken) dollar-notes. (Don't accept a dollar-note that's a little ripped, it will be unusable later)

Locals set up small sandwich stands along the road to the waterfront each morning. You can buy basic sandwiches of bread and Laughing Cow cheese. Or ask your guest house to provide you with a packed lunch, as you are going to be in for a 9 hour boat ride without meals. Some boats do have some food and drinks for sale too.

What to drink Pakbeng

Standard beer options are available from guest houses, at inflated prices. To ensure a good nights sleep, try the local "lao-lao bong" -- water poured over fermented rice and slipped through a straw. Hive Bar, (further down the main street than most of the guesthouses). offers some music to dance to and seems to stay open later than the other bars.

Where to spend a night in Pakbeng

Standards are low at this village near-the-end-of-the-world. Just look around as things change fast. The guest houses in Pakbeng are all along the main street, just hundred metres away from the boat docking area. A room with shared bathroom will cost about US$3, while a private bathroom will costs an extra US$1-2 (rooms can mostly be paid in Thai baht and Lao kip as well). There might be places where you can get a room for US$2, but you 'll have to search long and bargain hard. Considering hot water: make sure that your bathroom has an individual electric water heater, as there are guest houses with central boilers that only provide a certain amount of hot water for the whole guest house on a first-come-first-serve basis. 

Touts are prevalent in Pakbeng, and you will be bothered. However, these touts are very laid back, especially compared to Thailand. If you are after a really cheap option, it is possible to get a mattress and a mosquito net under a veranda for about US$0.50. Just watch out for monkeys. 

It is possible, but not necessary, to book accommodation in Pakbeng in advance, as there are plenty of guest houses and almost all visitors stay only one night. Do note that before sunset the dock is fairly active and there may be substantial noise until things cease for the day.

The exception to this rule is if you're looking for something a little more upmarket, in which case you have only two choices.

  • Pak Beng Lodge, French-run hotel offering smart rooms, river views from the balcony and French wine in their restaurant US$62-135.
  • Luang Say Lodge, The only "up-market" option, offering luxury bungalows mostly for passengers on the Luang Say cruise ship.
  • Pheksokxai Lodge, if you have entered Pakbeng by slow boat from Hoayxay then when you get out of the boat and walk up the the sort of drive/road leading down to the port then turn left almost following the road out of the town and into the mountains you see the Pheksokxai Lodge which has very basic rooms with a non-functioning TV and a bathroom that in its whole is the shower area but the lodge has a fantastic pavilion, great views of the river and the mountains as well as a great balcony, plus a nice restaurant with spicy noodles and bamboo shoots.
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