It’s the views that make Pakbeng more than just a convenient stopover: this is part of one of Asia’s most stunning river journeys, with lush and verdant mountains rising either side of the broad, coffee-coloured waters of the Mekong.
Pakbeng is a small village in the northwest corner of Laos that owes its place on the tourist map entirely to its convenient position on the Mekong River. Located roughly halfway between Luang Prabang and the Thai border, this is a popular overnight stop for cargo and passenger ferries alike, with most visitors typically arriving in the evening and leaving early the next morning.
This passing traffic lends the town something of a frontier vibe, and Pakbeng has the attendant tourist-based hustle: a few bars and restaurants cater to arrivals in the evening, while a gaggle of stalls springs up to sell drinks, baguettes and pastries to departures in the morning. But if the village is unassuming, the surrounding scenery is anything but. In fact, it’s spectacular -- with fluffy clouds brushing the tops of the mountains as they rise lush and verdant either side of the broad, coffee-coloured waters of the Mekong.
We usually like to stay in one of the lovely, Lao-style lodges a few minutes’ drive out of Pakbeng, which lets you bypass the town altogether. As you disembark at the private jetty, it’s a matter of a few steps to the lodge, where you can sit out on a teakwood terrace and enjoy a quiet Beerlao as you watch the sun go down over the river.