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Published: February 7th 2018
Rising leisurely for our 2 pm
flight to Laos we enjoy a lazy morning and after a splendid breakfast we get a Tuk Tuk for the 20 minute ride to the New International airport. We are to check in at the Garden Terminal, nbr 1. On arrival we are understandably a little disappointed, as from the outside it looks very traditional in design but the departures gates prior to check in are very sparse and utilitarian, not quite living up to it's promise. Nonetheless, the airport staff and immigration personnel are friendly and efficient. Our small 80 seater prop-Jet is comfortable, and for a short flight 50 minutes the Cabin Crew manage to serve Coffee and a filled Brioche roll. We barely have time to fill in our landing cards and Visa forms before landing with a loud bump and screech of brakes that is normal with this type of small aircraft as anyone who has had the privilege of travelling on this type of aircraft will know.
Disappointingly, the pollution is high, so little visibility for the whole flight. Pakse is a small urban sprawl, backed by high craggy hills, which today are swathed in mist, which look very romantic
but don't offer much in the way of views. Because of the slow immigration procedure here, taking an hour to process 70 people, by the time we arrive at the well known Pakse Hotel, it is after 5pm
, (having refused our first allocated room and accepting the second offer which is much nicer) so we decide to drop our bags and head for the panoramic rooftop restaurant for Sundowners and Dinner.
Well worth a visit, still some pollution obscuring the total view across to the mighty Mekong River and beyond, but spectacular sunset and even better French cuisine meals, best we have eaten in S E Asia anywhere. All cooked in full view of it's patrons and smells very enticing to the hungry traveler. With muted background music, perfect and Paula also likes the fact we can enjoy good French Merlot at a fraction of the normal prices in this region. Very satisfied, we retire to our nice room for an early night and anticipation of the trips we can book in the morning. Incidentally, we chose Pakse for it's close vicinity to the Bolivian Plateau, 4,000 Islands and trekking opportunities in the National Protected Areas of Southern Laos.
We wake predictably early after a good night's sleep, and after a satisfactory breakfast washed down with cups of great and famous Laos coffee, we get down to planning our time here. First though, a stroll around town. First impressions - where are all the mopeds/Tuk tuks/scooters and cars? These streets are like a lazy Sunday Morning
in Paphos. We can walk, cross over roads without fear of injuries and after an hour, have not passed a single pedestrian/tourist - feels safe but totally bizarre after our time in similar sized Cambodian towns and cities. There is a huge riverfront project underway, started June 2017, due for completion June 2021 whereby they are reclaiming/ artificially creating, a whole swathe of river bank land from the river with a new pedestrianised promenade. Sadly, until completion, the whole of the local tourist style bars and Cafe are mostly closed or derelict, god knows what has happened to the employment of the staff and workers who ran them, but it explains the lack of tourism generally.
After a coffee stop in uptown Pakse, we complete a round trip walk, locating a well-known Travel Shop where we are hoping to book tours
of interest while here.Booking the Full 1-Day Bolaven Plateau tour is simple, booked for tomorrow morning
, paid, easy. Next on our hit list is a trek to Xe Pian National Protected Area, not so easy. No public trips available, and a phone call later, we are quoted USD60 just for a driver, after which we had to find our own guide for the trek. Not keen. After research, Leo is not keen on the arduous travel to the 4,000 Islands, as it involves public minibuses, changes of transport and little time to explore/cruise when we get there, so another trip off the list.
This leaves us with the option of leaving Pakse a day earlier than planned, to travel to our next destination, Savannakhet, where we can add a day and incorporate another Protected Area hike, much closer and can be done easily by Tuk Tuk. Problem! we discover there are only public buses between Pakse and Savannakhet, with several stops, taking up to 7 hours, which neither of us relish. No mini-vans, and askiing the question for cost of a private car and driver we are told it is a staggering USD150, an immediate 'no' to this idea.
We conclude that apart from our trips to the National Park and the Bolaven Plateau, there is very little to hold us here until Sunday
After spending a pleasant hour lunching in a restaurant near our hotel in the downtown area, we decide to cancel our last day here and with the help of an ex pat French guy in a travel office, are advised that the cheapest way out is to fly! Cost USD45 each, as opposed to the previous option, we grab those seats! Checking the Lao Airlines site ourselves, it would have cost us over USD11 more, at last, we appear to have saved money on a transaction 👌 We vow to make the most of the next three days.
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