This is in no way an attempt to boost my credentials as a backpacker. This journey was just pure bad luck. Travelling from Savannakhet to Pakse was easily one of the hardest stretches I’ve done on the road. The only journey I can think worse was 8 hours on a local bus in Sri Lanka. Terrifying. Anyway there is only one feasible way of travel from Savannakhet to Pakse. By bus. Or to be specific a mix of public transport and freight shaped as a bus. Before I start on the journey I have photographed all the routes leaving Savannakhet bus station. From Savannakhet you can travel to Vientiane, Pakse, Attapeu, Sekong and Salavan. On this journey I travel from Savannakhet to Pakse by bus.
There are two daily trips from Savannakhet to Pakse. 7am and 5pm. I arrive to Savannakhet bus station close to 1pm hoping to find others. No luck. Fortunately the bus station is not far from Savannakhet city centre so travel back and forth is easy. A 10,000 Kip ($1.30) Tuk-Tuk brings me to the main street of Savannakhet where I kill time with Lao massage and internet cafes where I book my Pakse hotel. To motivate my journey I book a night at the Champasak Palace Hotel (Hotel Review Here). I return to Savannakhet bus station close to 4pm arriving early to secure a decent seat. Again no luck. While few people have boarded the bus – the seats were all claimed by bags and luggage. I grudgingly take a back seat and sit sweaty and miserable with cramped leg room. The back of the bus packed to bursting with a freight of mattresses and other junk. No air-con of course. Things continue to get more cramped by the minute as a large front van bumper is jammed past my head. The back seats of passengers sit shoulder to shoulder conjoined by sweat. The 6 hour journey from Savannakhet to Pakse feels increasingly awful.
To be fair it wasn’t that bad. Certainly a new and unique experience. I sit next to the back window feeling relaxed and comfortable once moving. Window breeze and rattling seats surprisingly therapeutic. En route to Pakse we make a number of stops to pick up locals and added freight. One guy climbs on-board with a box of two live chickens and a bag of one. A scenario I believed only existed in movies. The further we travel the more packed the bus becomes. The central aisle now lined by plastic chairs to create an extra aisle of seating. During roadside stops between Savannakhet to Pakse hawkers pass the bus windows to peddle grilled meats, quail eggs and other local treats. With a decent bus on an express route the distance between Savannakhet to Pakse could be covered in 3 hours. The roads are actually very well maintained. The bus however is no. This journey takes six hours. The sun sets over rice fields and rural wooden huts light up with congregations of locals and evening eating. I easily fall asleep.
A couple hours before reaching Pakse we stop for a feed and bathroom break. The break takes roughly 20 minutes where local hawkers sell tasty Lao treats and Western snacks. I fill up on grilled pork, pork jerky and sticky rice. I then squeeze back on the bus. The next hours pass quickly and soon we arrive to the central area of Pakse. I leave the bus at the same as most locals (possibly the central market stop). Here I pay a Tuk-Tuk 17,000 Kip (US$2.18) to drop me at my hotel. I was likely ripped off. Haggling not top of my agenda at the time. Pakse is asleep at this time and finding another Tuk-Tuk may not be an easy task. After dropping others at their destinations the tuk-tuk drops me at the front doors of the Palace. A rather unique and slightly bizarre welcome to the hotel. Also check here for Things to do in Pakse city.