24 hour electricity arrived relatively recently in Pakbeng, but you'll still find most of the town is shut down by 22:00. What Pakbeng does have to offer is a good night's sleep and sunset views over a particularly scenic stretch of the Mekong.
By boatThe boat landing is at the end of Rte 2 on the Mekong. Slow boats leave in the morning in both directions. They depart when full but expect to start at around 09:00. Arrive early to get one of the better seats (as far away from the loud engine as possible). The in-bound boat normally arrives at about 17:00, but this is Laos, so bear in mind that this is a guideline. Laos transportation goes when the driver can be bothered. It's best just to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. And have a beer, of course.
Slow Boat Transport (Express Boats)Slow boat are long and narrow boat with a big and loudy engine. They are run by a family. You will usually find a snack bar behind the sitting area and toilets further down the boat. Further down the boat the family's private area.
- As of May 2017, it costs 110,000 kip for the upstream ride for foreigners. Apparently the downstream price is the same. In Pakbeng you can buy your ticket on the boat as they will come around just before departure to check for tickets. The boat schedule is variable as the boat will stop on the way to drop off / pickup villagers.
- Upstream slow boat trips to Huay Xai depart each morning at around 08:30. The trip takes about 9 hours with arrival in Huay Xay around 17:30-18:00 which usually makes it too late for passengers to make the border crossing to Chiang Khong, Thailand the same day.
- Downstream slow boat trips to Luang Prabang depart each morning at around 09:00 from Pakbeng. The trip takes about 8 hours with arrival at the boat landing 10km upstream of Luang Prabang around 16:00. A tuk-tuk to the center will cost around 20,000 kip. The downstream trip is about 2 hours faster but the upstream boats depart earlier so the arrival times at PakBeng are about the same.
- Buying Tickets : there is no need to book ahead a 2-day ticket all the way to Luang Prabang in Huay Xay. You are better off just buying a ticket to Pakbeng (110,00 kips) and buy the next ticket to Luang Prabang when you get on the boat in Pakbeng (105,000 kips).
Speedboat TransportIf you choose to travel on the speedboat (a light canoe with a very powerful engine), a crash helmet and life-jacket should be provided.
It is also recommended that you make your bags as waterproof/water-resistant as possible and wear a rain jacket. The boat can generate quite a bit of spray, plus any showers you might encounter along the way will sting like needles against any exposed skin. On sunny days, sunscreen is invaluable as there is no roof/shade on these speed machines. The journey to Huay Xai can be reduced to as few as 4 hours in the wet season, with a lunch stop at Pak Beng. However, some consider this means of transportation less safe, especially in the dry season. Earplugs are strongly recommended. Those who are concerned about creating as little environmental impact as possible may want avoid speedboats, as they are heavier polluters than the slower options. Travel agents in Luang Prabang will sell the tickets for 320,000-370,000 kip. You will need a minivan to take you the 10 km north to the fast boat pier in Luang Prabang.
Pakbeng Bus Station
Pick-ups make the trip to Udom Xai around 07:00 and leave at the northern end of town on Rte 2.
A bus for Muang Xay leaves around 09:00 at the bus station.
A bus leaves at 12:00 from Muang Ngeun (near the Thai-Lao border), costs 30,000 kip, and takes 1.5 hours.
With the roads and particularly the rocky riverbank just above the boat landing being very steep, it might seem tempting to accept an offer for someone to carry your bag for you. Ensure that if you do, you agree on the size of the tip beforehand.
Wat Khok Koh
Wat Sin Jong Jeang
Recently a local guy named Mana started offering treks, with a sleepover in a hilltribe village. Could be nice before you get on that slow boat again.
Mekong Elephant CampElephant treks.
Locals set up small sandwich stands along the road to the waterfront each morning. You can buy basic sandwiches of bread and Laughing Cow cheese. If not, ask your guesthouse to provide you with a packed lunch, as you are going to be in for a 9 hour boat ride without meals. Some boats do have some food and drinks for sale too.
Hive BarOffers some music to dance to and seems to stay open later than the other bars.
Drugs: everyone's selling in Pakbeng, and they happily double their profits by scamming you. After having sold you drugs, someone will appear with a police badge, and ask for a hefty bribe in exchange for not taking you in.
Touts are prevalent in Pakbeng, and you will be bothered. However, these touts are very laid back, especially compared to Thailand. If you are after a really cheap option, it is possible to get a mattress and a mosquito net under a veranda for about USD0.50. Just watch out for monkeys.
It is possible, but not necessary to book accommodation in Pakbeng in advance, as there are plenty of guesthouses and almost all visitors stay only one night.
The exception to this rule is if you're looking for something a little more upmarket, in which case you have only two choices.
Thip Phavanh Guest Housephone: +856 20 98076677new Guest House run by a young couple (with kids), they speak a very limited English but are very helpful. WiFi is available; All the rooms have not been finished in June 2018
Luang Say LodgeUp-market option, offering luxury bungalows mostly for passengers on the Luang Say cruise boat.
Pak Beng LodgeFrench-run hotel offering smart rooms, river views from the balcony and French wine in their restaurant.
Pheksokxai LodgeHas very basic rooms with a non-functioning TV, but the lodge has a fantastic pavilion, great views of the river and the mountains as well as a great balcony, plus a nice restaurant with spicy noodles and bamboo shoots.