Between the province of Huay Xai and Luang Prabang is Pakbeng, a small, sleepy village on the banks of Mekong River. When the Mekong became a major transportation route, Pakbeng flourished into an overnight stop for passenger and cargo ferries.
Pakbeng does not have much when it comes to attractions except for decent restaurants and guesthouses, but the scenic view that can be enjoyed from your hotel’s balcony — large boulders, verdant green mountains, the calm waters of the river, and sharp jungle banks — is a real treat.
Even though Pakbeng is a popular stop for those taking the Mekong Cruise, there isn’t much to see or do apart from seeing the traditional Lao countryside and the Mekong River. Temple enthusiasts may visit the two temples in Pakbeng — Wat Khok Koh and Wat Sin Jon Jeang. Mekong Elephant Park is also a popular tourist attraction in Pakbeng where tourists can interact closely with elephants. While at the elephant park, tourists can join in the elephant treks, and even get the chance to give the gentle giants a river bath.
The main option for anyone who wants to visit Pakbeng is to board a slow boat to and from Luang Prabang. Slow boats always make an overnight stop at Pakbeng. A faster option — though an uncomfortable one — is to ride a speedboat to Pakbeng. Bus services to the village are also available but please note that bus rides, though cheaper, takes a lot of time and are very uncomfortable.
If you opt for the slow boat ride, proceed to the boat landing which can be found at the end of Road 2 at Mekong. The boat departs at 9:00 and usually arrives in Pakbeng at around 17:00. A ticket costs LAK 110,000 (USD 13.20).
Speedboats make traveling from Huay Xai faster, but loud, roaring engines, waters splashing on your face, and safety issues make this option a least favored one. If you’re boarding one, make sure you have earphones ready. Ticket price range from LAK 320,000-370,000 (USD 39 – USD 44).
Buses from Muang Nguen leaves at 12:00 and reaches Pakbeng at 13:30. A ticket costs LAK 30,000 (USD 1.60).
Laotian Kip or LAK, the currency accepted in establishments in Pakbeng, are available in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000 and 50000. Some guesthouses and restaurants accept baht and dollars, but it is best to carry enough kip with you. Two ATMs are available around Pakbeng, but they are sometimes unreliable. Several guesthouses offer money changing services.
Average temperature around Pakbeng is always high with rainy season experienced during May to October, and the dry season during January to March. Warmest month around Pakbeng is April and the coolest is December. Best time to visit Pakbeng is between November and January when elevated water levels make the trip along Mekong easier.
There are only a few streets around Pakbeng, so take time to just walk around. Guesthouses and restaurants are along the first 50-metres of the main street.
A number of guesthouses and restaurants serve a variety of dishes but keep your expectations low since they aren’t serving anything special. Drop by at Hassan’s if you want to indulge in Indian dishes. Before leaving for your 9-hour boat trip, don’t forget to buy a sandwich — made of bread and Laughing Cow cheese — from stalls near the bank, or ask your guesthouse to prepare packed meals for you.
Pakbeng is a great place for stopovers but may not be an interesting spot if you want to explore. Still, the traditional Lao lifestyle at Pakbeng can give you a new insight about Laos. Take the time to interact with locals.
Safety and Fraud
Some restaurants around the village may give you broken, unusable bills, so better check your change if it’s enough and if it includes broken bills.
Pakbeng is part of the Golden Triangle, so it is inevitable for locals to offer drugs to tourists. Several tourists have died in Pakbeng due to illegal drug use.