In a nutshell
Why to go to Pak Beng
The village lies on the banks of the magical Mekong River and you can stop here for the night on the way from Houay Xai. There is not much in the way of tourist infrastructure in Pak Beng, although this is one of its great charms. There are a few restaurants in town and you can watch the spectacular uninterrupted views across the Mekong as you have a sundowner. There are also a few scenic temples scattered around town as well as some caves nearby. You can also take some trips to the neighbouring villages which are the home of the ethnic communities in Laos.
When to go to Pak Beng
In comparison to many other countries in Southeast Asia, Laos has a fairly straightforward climate. The seasons here are wet and dry, and the rainy season lasts from May to September. The dry season is from October to April and this is widely said to be the best time to visit. That said, as Laos does not have a coastline, the rainy season is not as intense here compared to other countries, so you can visit all year round without too many problems.
Where to stay in Pak Beng
As Pak Beng is more a village than anything else, you really won’t find much choice here. There are a clutch of guesthouses which are located along the main street, and you can get a shared room with a bathroom for as little as USD 3. If you want a room with a private bathroom then you can expect to pay around USD 5. Whatever you choose however, it is unlikely to be upscale, although as most people just pass through Pak Beng, there is no need for anything more sophisticated.
One thing to note is that if you get a boat that gets in after everyone else has arrived then choice can be limited.
Where to eat in Pak Beng
As with accommodation choices, food choices are also limited in Pak Beng. There are a few restaurants and cafes which are attached to guesthouses where you can get some simple meals and some independent eateries in town which sell Indian and Lao dishes. Along the waterfront you will also find a number of sandwich stalls which sell bread and cheese that you can buy to take on the boat journey to Luang Prabang with you which will take around 9 hours. If possible try to buy something before you board the boat as many do not sell food.
How to get around Pak Beng
If you are stopping in Pak Beng overnight then you probably won’t need to venture very far. If you want to explore the centre of town then you can easily do so on foot and you won’t have to walk further than around 50 meters up the road. If for any reason you do want to go a little further afield then you can get a motorized trishaw called a tuk-tuk to places such as the bus stations.
How to get to and from Pak Beng
Most visitors come to Pak Beng to break their journey on the boat either coming from or going to Luang Prabang. You can either do this by taking a slow boat, river cruise or a speedboat.
If you choose to take the speedboat to Pak Beng then this will arrive before the slow boat which means that you will have a wider selection of accommodation options to choose from. That said, it can be difficult to get the speedboat particularly from Houay Xai as foreigners are encouraged to take the slow boat as it comes with more hidden extras that travellers can buy such as food and drinks.
You can also take a cruise with a dedicated company like Mekong Smile Cruise which is different from the slow boat and comes with a better range of amenities. On a cruise you will find more comfortable seating as well as a wider variety of food and drinks, and some cruises also stop at scenic spots along the way so that you can visit some of the attractions in the local area including caves and temples. If you take a cruise then it can cost up to USD 130 per person.
You should also note that if you get the slow boat then you will usually leave at 9 am and arrive in Pak Beng at around 5 pm, so bear this in mind when it comes to packing food and drinks for your trip. The slow boat however is also the cheapest option if you want to get to Pak Beng, and then ultimately Luang Prabang or Houay Xai as tickets only cost LAK 220,000.
It is also possible to take a bus from Pak Beng to Uodomxai which leaves at 7 am although this is not an option that many people take as you still need to get the boat to Pak Beng in order to catch the bus.
Is Pak Beng a safe place to visit?
Pak Beng is part of the infamous Golden Triangle which means that drugs of all kinds are readily available in town. If you purchase these however, then you will usually immediately be approached by someone pretending to be a police officer, or who says they are going to take you to the police station if you don’t pay a fine/bribe. For this reason alone it is very dangerous to buy drugs in Pak Beng.
Many of the streets around Pak Beng are extremely steep, particularly those close to the waterfront. With that in mind, you need to take care, particularly in the rainy season as it can be very slippery.
You will also find that people will flock to you and offer to carry your bag for you, although these are porters and they will expect you to give them a tip before handing your luggage back to you.