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Air

The Pakse International Airport is 2.5km northwest of the Souphanouvong Bridge. A tuk-tuk to/from the airport will cost about 40,000K.

Lao Airlines has direct flights to the following cities in Asia:

Bangkok US$115, four weekly

Ho Chi Minh City US$105, three weekly

Luang Prabang 1,010,000K, three weekly

Savannakhet 375,000K, four weekly

Siem Reap US$100, five weekly

Vientiane 770,000K, two daily

A cheaper way to fly to Bangkok is to travel overland to Ubon Ratchathani and catch a budget flight from there.

Boat

A tourist boat motors from Pakse to Champasak (one way per person 70,000K) at 8.30am, provided there are enough punters – in the low season there usually aren't. The return trip from Champasak is at 2.30pm. It's two hours downstream to Champasak, and a bit longer on the return. Book through Miss Noy or call Mr Khamlao, who runs his own separate boat.

Bus & Sŏrngtăaou

Pakse, frustratingly, has many bus and sŏrngtăaou (passenger truck) stations. The vast majority of tourists simply book bus journeys through their guesthouse or a travel agency, and since these are either special tourist buses that pick you up in the centre or include a free transfer to the relevant departure point, the prices are usually reasonable.

Note that on long-distance routes to Cambodia and Vietnam you'll want to be careful which company you use: choosing the wrong one could cost you several hours and cause a lot of pain. Buy your ticket from a travel agency that actually knows the details of the route, rather than a guesthouse, which probably does not.

There are six main stations:

Southern Bus Terminal Pakse's main bus station with departures to most places. Also known as khíw lot lák pąet (8km bus terminal) because it's 8km out of town on Rte 13.

Northern Bus Terminal This is the most orderly of the stations and is usually called khíw lot lák jét (7km bus terminal); it's – you guessed it – 7km north of town. Only for northern destinations. The English-language signs on departures are frequently wrong.

Talat Dao Heuang Vans and sŏrngtăaou to nearby destinations, such as the Thai border, depart from a very chaotic lot in the southeast corner of the market and also from Th 38 in front of the market.

2km Bus Station Also known as Sengchalern station after the company that owns it; the office is in the lobby of SL Guest House, which is in front of Friendship Mall.

VIP Bus Station Also called Thasalakham station, it only serves VIP night buses to Vientiane and towns along the way.

Kiang Kai Bus Station This small, hard-to-find station, in a red-and-yellow building set back well off Th 38, is 1.5km past the Japanese bridge. It's used by buses to/from Thailand, though these also use the Southern Bus Terminal.

Vientiane & Points North

Most travellers prefer the comfortable 'VIP' night sleeper buses to Vientiane (170,000K, 10 hours). You can book these through your guesthouse or head to the conveniently located VIP Bus Station, from where there are several nightly departures, all leaving at 8.30pm; or the 2km Bus Station, with one departure at 8pm. It's possible to take these buses to Tha Khaek (130,000K, 4½ hours) and Seno (for Savannakhet; 100,000K, three hours).

If you prefer day travel, slower-moving, ordinary air-con buses (110,000K, 12 to 14 hours) depart throughout the day from the Southern Bus Terminal, stopping occasionally to pick up more passengers at the Northern station. These buses also go to Tha Khaek (50,000K, five hours) and Seno (60,000K, seven hours).

Bolaven Plateau & Points East

Transport to the Bolaven Plateau and points east consists of air-con buses from the Southern Bus Terminal and ordinary fan buses from the 2km Bus Station. The last departures to all cities are at 4pm, except for Sekong from the Southern Terminal, which is at 2.30pm. Buses to Salavan (fan/air-con 30,000/40,000K, three hours) can drop you at Tat Lo. Buses to Attapeu (fan/air-con 45,000/50,000K, 3½ to five hours) pass through Paksong (fan/air-con 15,000/20,000K, 90 minutes) and about half use the long route via Sekong (fan/air-con 35,000/40,000K, 3½ hours).

Champasak & Si Phan Don

Regular sŏrngtăaou leave Talat Dao Heuang for Champasak (20,000K, one hour) until noon or so – sometimes even as late as 2pm. There's also a morning tourist bus-boat combo to Champasak (55,000K, 1½ hours) offered by most travel agencies. Be sure your ticket includes the boat crossing from Ban Muang. The regular price for the boat is 10,000K per person or 30,000K if you're alone.

For Si Phan Don, tourist buses and minivans – including pick-ups in town and boat transfer to Don Khong (60,000K, 2½ hours), Don Det (70,000K, three hours) and Don Khon (70,000K, 3¼ hours) – are most comfortable and convenient. Book these through any guesthouse or travel agent. All departures are in the morning around 8am.

If you want to leave later in the day, take a sŏrngtăaou from the Southern Bus Terminal to Ban Nakasang (for Don Det and Don Khon; 40,000K, 3½ hours). These depart hourly until 5pm and go via Hat Xai Khun (for Don Khong).

One sŏrngtăaou services Kiet Ngong (30,000K, two hours), leaving at 1pm.

Neighbouring Countries

Travelling to Cambodia is a guaranteed hassle, while entering Thailand is a breeze. Travelling to Vietnam falls in between.

The most comfortable way to Hue (200,000K, 12 hours) and Danang (220,000K, 14 hours) in Vietnam is to catch a morning sleeper bus from the Southern Bus Terminal, which for legal reasons use the long route through the Lao Bao border east of Savannakhet. Note that these do not go every day – sometimes a regular bus goes instead and sometimes there is simply no bus. Up to three hours faster for the same price are the modern, comfortable minibuses that go via Salavan and use the Lalay border, through the drivers tend to be reckless. Then there are the slower and truly crappy cargo buses that only save a few of their seats for passengers. These make for a very uncomfortable and much longer journey. If there is no large bus, some unscrupulous travel agencies will book passengers on these buses without telling them, so be sure you know what vehicle your ticket is really for. For Kom Tun or Ho Chi Minh City you travel via the Bo Y border. Some travel agencies sell direct buses to Ho Chi Minh City (450,000K, 15 hours), but these go via the southern route so you need to buy a Cambodian visa. It takes several hours longer, but is actually much cheaper to travel to Kom Tum and take a connecting bus (240,000d) from there.

Border Crossings

Getting to Thailand: Vang Tao to Chong Mek

Getting to the border Other than finding the right counters to use at immigration, crossing at the Vang Tao (Laos)/Chong Mek (Thailand) border (open 6am to 8pm) is straightforward.

The easiest way to get there is on the Thai–Lao International Bus (60,000K, 2½ to three hours, 8.30am and 3pm) between Pakse's Southern Bus Terminal and Ubon Ratchathani's bus station. It picks up more passengers at the little Kiang Kai Bus Station on the way. If you're travelling to Pakse (departures from Ubon at 9.30am and 1.30pm, 200B) note that this bus does wait long enough for people to get Lao visas.

There are also frequent minivans from Pakse to Vang Tao (20,000K, 45 minutes) departing from the street in front of Talat Dao Heuang and also sŏrngtăaou (passenger trucks) leaving from inside the market until about 4pm. Vans to Vang Tao also depart hourly from the Southern Bus Terminal. You'll be dropped off in a dusty/muddy parking area about 500m from the Lao immigration office.

If you're headed to Bangkok (225,000K, 13 hours), a direct service (that sometimes involves changing buses at Ubon) departs the Southern Bus Terminal daily at 4pm. Pakse travel agents also offer a combination bus/sleeper train ticket to the Thai capital with prices starting at 310,000K for 2nd-class fan carriages and going much higher for better service.

At the border Laos issues visas on arrival (around US$35, depending on which passport you hold), while on the Thai side most nationalities are issued 30-day visa waivers free of charge. You walk between the two countries using a pointless underground tunnel for part of the way.

Although it seems like a scam, there is a legitimate overtime fee on the Laos side after 4pm weekdays and all day on weekends and holidays. The real scam is that the officials demand 100B even though the actual price is 10,000K. Just tell them you want a receipt and you'll pay the correct price.

Moving on Minivans head to Ubon (100B, 1¼ hours, every 30 minutes) from Chong Mek's bus terminal, which is 600m (20B by motorcycle taxi) up the main road. Alternatively, informal taxi drivers hang around immigration and charge 1000B to anywhere in Ubon Ratchathani city.