Pakse, Laos

Photo: Tango7174 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Tango7174 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
After years of traveling throughout Southeast Asia, Laos is finally on your radar. Thailand first hooked you with its crazy capital and its golden-sand beaches. You fell in love with Vietnam’s bustling markets and interesting street food. You were inspired by Cambodia’s temples. Then you moved onto Laos. Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Vang Vieng were your first stops. But now you’re ready to dig deeper.

It’s the perfect time to visit Pakse, the capital of Champasak Province. The country’s second-largest city, along the confluence of the Mekong and Don Rivers, was founded by the French in 1905. Colonial architecture still dominates the skyline. Its strategic location—along the rivers and near the Thai border—made it an important transportation and commercial hub, as well as the home of Champasak royalty, long before the French arrived. But even after unifying with Laos, it’s been largely overlooked by tourists. It’s the ideal place to start exploring the southern corner of the country though.

Start in the center of city. The Champasak Historical Heritage Museum displays Buddha heads, jewelry, and instruments. The grand Champasak Palace was abandoned before completion when the communists arrived; it’s now a popular hotel. The Lao Nippon Bridge expanded trade both over the river and into other countries. While the markets are overflowing with colorful fruit, fresh fish, and unidentifiable sweet scents.

Once you get your barings, head to the temples; there are about 20 around Pakse. Wat Luang, one of the largest, is home to a monastic school, and you may be able to witness an alms giving ceremony. Wat Phabad, easily recognizable by its funerary monuments, is the oldest temple in the city. While Wat Phu, a ruined Khmer Hindu temple, sits at the base of Phu Kao Mountain. Ban Keosamphanh—a former French army camp now surrounded by beautiful green rice fields—and the Bolaven Plateau—home to coffee fields, orchards, and waterfalls—are nearby as well. Just don’t miss sunset cocktails along the Mekong at the end of each day. Laos will never be at the end of your list again.

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