The only option to get from Hue to Pakse is overland. Both towns have their own airports but no flights connect the two. Buses travel by day – you will not save on accommodation travelling by night, alas! In general the trip is not so tiring and rural life you are going to see en route makes for a nice experience all in all.
From Hue to Pakse by bus
Though the shortest land route between Hue in Vietnam to Pakse in Laos is 370 km only, buses have to cover 600 km going up north, then west to cross the border at Lao Bao border crossing and then proceeding further west and coming down south to finally reach Pakse. Taking into consideration the speed at which they travel and the time spent at the border crossing, it takes up to 14 hours to get to Pakse.
Arguably the most popular company to travel from Hue to Pakse with is The Sinh Tourist. They have one daily bus which leaves Hue at 8am and reaches Pakse by 10pm the same day. The route is served by a VIP sleeper bus, so basically you can sleep all way long – if you manage to do it by daytime, of course. If you are going to watch the countryside of the two countries flying by from your bus window, opt for a lower berth in a single berth section – you will be able to sit on it as well.
Tip Berths in a sleeper bus are usually organized in two tiers and two rows – one row of single berths separated from the second row of two twin berths by an aisle. The best berths for travelling during daytime are lower single berths.
Note that travelling from Hue to Pakse or vice versa takes the whole day. There are no night buses as the route is partly mountainous and the schedule is adjusted for buses to cover it during daytime.
Tickets cost VND860,000/USD40.
Note There are also direct buses to Pakse from Danang in Vietnam. They take a bit longer to reach Pakse, and you may want to start from Hue instead. Just take a train from Danang to Hue – trains are cheaper and a bit faster than buses on this stretch (2½ hours compared to 3 hours) but you will spend the night travelling as the two most convenient trains from Danang to Hue which allow you to catch the morning bus to Pakse are SE8 at 11pm (arrives to Hue at 1.40am) and SE6 (3.05am; arrives at 5.40am); both USD8 for a second class AC seat.
Why go to Pakse
Pakse is the capital city of the southern Lao province of Champasak. It is also the second largest town in Laos but regardless a handful of international destinations which can be reached overland from Pakse both in Vietnam and Thailand, it sees very few international visitors. It is a real pity as Champasak and the neighbouring province of Salavan have a lot to offer to those who are eager to get off the beaten track and Pakse makes for a convenient base for exploring the region. Those tourists who do venture here, very often end up staying longer than expected: great guesthouses, laid back atmosphere over the Mekong River and the Sedone River and a distinct Thai flavour are persuasive enough for slowing down and spending a couple of days in Pakse.
What to do in Pakse
The relaxed atmosphere of Pakse makes you wish you could stay in the city for a while. French colonial mansions rub shoulders with colourful Buddhist temples, two rivers form a beautiful background for sampling tasty street food at sunset and you can spend days exploring natural wonders around the city. Here are to name just a few destinations you should not miss while is Pakse.
Tribal villages, coffee fields, beautiful waterfalls and stunning scenery of Bolaven Plateau are a stone’s throw away from Pakse – well, you will need your own wheels though to make the most of your trip to Bolaven Plateau, though one-day and multiple-day excursions are offered in Pakse, too.
Wat Phu, or Vat Phou, one of the most important ruined Khmer temple complexes outside Cambodia, is easily reached from Pakse. Since 2001 it is included into THE UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Set some 6 km from the Mekong at the base of Phu Khao mountain, the complex has crawling sanctuaries and intricate stone carvings.
No, four thousand islands of Si Phan Don do not have anything in common with the impressive scenery of Halong Bay in Vietnam. It is rather a destination to enjoy mingling with locals, pedalling around the countryside and relaxing in arguably the cheapest guesthouses in all South East Asia.
Onward travel from Pakse
There are hourly buses north of Pakse to Savannakhet, which take up to 6 hours to cover 250 km. Another laid-back Lao town with distinctively French flavour, Savannakhet is home to a small but friendly community of expats and the seat of the Royal Thai Consulate General (the Embassy is located in Vientiane), which comes handy if you are planning to apply for your Thai visa in Laos.
Further north, buses travel via Tha Khaek – get off there if you want to experience a 7 km boat trip in the total darkness of the cave of Konglor at Ban Nahin – and up to Vientiane. The distance between Pakse and Vientiane is a bit less than 700 km, but speeds in the country are as slow as the whole life in Laos, so expect to spend at least 12 hours to get to the capital.
The fastest way to cross the border to Thailand is via Wang Tao– Chong Mek border crossing. International buses heading to Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand depart from the market bus station located 2 km out of town. There are two buses a day only (8.30am and 3.30pm); both bring you to Ubon in about three hours (140 km).
There are also direct night buses to Bangkok from Pakse leaving at 4pm and 5pm daily. They take 12 hours to get to the Thai capital and arrive to the Northern bus terminal aka Morchit. Lao Airlines operate daily flights from Pakse to Bangkok, too (2½ hours, from USD120).