How far? How many ways to get there? Getting to Laos from Siem Reap, or Cambodia in general, you are probably going to have to go through Pakse. Pakse is the main transport hub that connects to Cambodia overland and Laos’ second largest city. Travellers mostly find themselves in Pakse in order to get a connecting service to Laos’ many smaller towns or nature tourism. From Siem Reap, Pakse is 300km away and you can take a minivan, bus or plane. The road is roughly 530km long and will take you at least 9 hours by bus or minivan, however there are also daily flights that take only one hour.
From Siem Reap to Pakse by bus
All buses going to Laos from Cambodia will go through Pakse as it is the only bus route to Laos’ other cities or tourist destinations. From Siem Reap, the trip to Pakse will take around 9 hours (but normally up to 12) if there are no delays in the road conditions or border.
Note As this is an international trip you will have to stop at the border to show your Lao visa or buy one on arrival. Have a passport size photo to attach to your application (though you can do without it, but will be asked to pay some extra money for that).
The trip is direct but you may have to change vans or buses along the way as some companies amalgamate the passengers from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Kampong Cham before going into Laos.
Tip Check in advance with your company if they practice this scheme. Travelling via Kampong Cham makes your travel a way longer as you first drive down south to Kampong Cham instead of heading east to Stung Teng. It is about 260 km from Siem Reap to Kampong Cham plus add more 500km from Kampong Cham to Pakse.
There are many companies that offer the international service, leaving early in the morning to arrive that same evening. Most buses will drive through Stung Teng (Stueng Traeng) and then over the border, stopping along the way for food and toilet breaks and will also organize the visa crossing or wait for you to do the visa process.
Some bus companies will stop after the border for travellers to take buses elsewhere in Southern Laos, mostly 4000 Islands but it is easiest to go straight to Pakse.
Night buses are also offered, but can take much longer as driving at night is slower because the visibility is less and therefore more dangerous, but also because the border closes at night. If you decide to take the overnight bus, check what time you arrive at the border to ensure you are not waiting around too long.
Most buses are quite similar in amenities and comfort, only the sleeper bus will have a small reclined bed opposed to a seat. Also note that the sleeper buses sometimes have a single bed on one side of the bus and a double bed on the other side, so you may sleep next to a stranger if you are traveling alone and do not book a single bed.
Tip If the singles are sold out, you can always book two seats on the bed to get it all for yourself.
You can book tickets at any travel agency in Siem Reap or even at your guesthouse. Most companies do not have websites to book online. It is not necessary to book more than a few days in advance unless it is a holiday as there are many buses or minivans available. High season (December–March) may be busier and therefore sell out of the more convenient or faster options.
Bus companies between Siem Reap and Pakse
Sorya Transport leaves at 5.30am and takes 12 hours costing around USD30 changing bus in Kampong Cham
Balaha Asia Express have one bus leaving at 7.30am and taking 16 hours, arriving at 11pm for USD29; it normally drops you off at Champassak Market in Pakse.
From Siem Reap to Pakse by van
Minivan or vans are a better way to travel in Cambodia because they are smaller vehicles and thus can go faster, have more control on the road and are less crowded than buses. Also if you are in the restroom while the bus leaves, the driver or passengers are more likely to notice you are missing!
Minivans usually hold 12 people but they can get more crowded if there is a lot of luggage, as many locals use them to transport goods. In general there is more legroom than on the bus and the driver is more flexible to stop anywhere for a bathroom break.
Vans from Siem Reap to Pakse in Laos take around 9 hours stopping sometimes in Kampong Cham or Stung Treng and on the border. The cost is usually a little higher than the bus, around USD30, but they bring you to your destination faster and – well –give you water.
Minivan companies between Siem Reap and Pakse
Asia Van Transfer (AVT)’s minivans cover the distance in 9 hours, arriving around 6pm, and offer pickup from your guesthouse. The minivan will drop you on St.13 in Pakse and costs USD30
Balaha Asia Express also have minivan which take 9 hours, arriving at 4.30pm for USD34.
Flights from Siem Reap to Pakse
Flying to Pakse is the quickest option but the most expensive. Siem Reap airport is easy to go through and quite small as in Pakse. The only drawback of this trip is its cost which is considerably higher than you would spend if travelling overland. Expect to pay from USD100 up for one way. The trip only takes a little more than an hour and is offered a few times a day.
Lao Airlines fly directly from Siem Reap to Pakse but often make stops in Luang Prabang, Vientiane or Saigon.
Other airlines will also be able to offer indirect flights but Pakse airport is not very busy so these will be limited and take almost as long as the bus due to layovers and connecting times.
Most nationalities will need a visa for Laos, and it is cheapest to do in advance. That being said, it may take a few days to process and perhaps easier to do on arrival.
You can get a visa for Laos on arrival at the airports or overland at the border crossings, it is better if you have a passport photo ready otherwise they charge you extra. The airports in Laos have a formalized process and indicate prices by country on the signage; however if you are crossing overland the price may vary depending on the driver, company or weather for anyone knows.
Usually there are extra fees that nobody knows what for, but there is no other option and it only costs USD10 more to process on the spot, so maybe just consider it a convenience fee. It is a good idea to have USD cash on you to cover the costs as there may not be any ATMs or credit/debit machines or receipts.
Why go to Pakse
Although the historical colonial remnants are barely visible anymore in Pakse as the city focuses more on business than tourism, there are still many day trips to surrounding areas that can be a nice visit rather than passing right through the transit hub.
Bolaven Plateau is a hilly area east of the city full of jungle, waterfalls and coffee that is perfect for exploring on a motorbike or organized tour for a day or two. More for nature enthusiasts, Ban Khiet Ngong is a lush wetland at the edge of the Xe Pian National Park. Pakse is the take off point to the park where you can easily book canoeing, trekking or zip-lining through the jungle for a few days while at homestays. For another day trip, Wat Phu is a popular trip from Pakse, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and had importance to the civilization of Angkor in Cambodia during the 11th century, located southwest of the city.
Onward travel from Pakse
As the hub of Southern Laos, Pakse is very well connected to all other destinations in Laos and nearby points of interest.
Coming from Cambodia, many people stop in 4000 islands, Savannakhet or Tha Khek as they make their way to the capital of Vientiane along the Mekong river.
Pakse is also an entry point to Southern Laos from Thailand, so it is also easy to cross over the border to Ubon Ratchathani in only 2 hours. Travel agents and guesthouses can easily book your onward travel as Pakse is well connected by bus, minivan and flights in the region.