Pak Beng is a small town in northern Laos which is actually more of a village stop-off than anything else. The reason for its fame however is that this is the place where the boats stop on the way from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai or the other way around.
Most boats arrive in Pak Beng in the afternoon or evning, which means that most travellers will get to spend the night in town before getting back on the boat the following morning. As a result, there are not many tourist attractions in Pak Beng, but this adds to its overall sleepy charm.
There are a few temples here that are worth seeing however, and if you have time you can also venture into the neighbouring villages for a slice of local life.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Pak Beng…
1. Walk to Wat Kok Koh
Pak Beng is a very sleepy town which is the reason that many people come here.
That said, if you are looking for sights when you are in town then you will want to head to the two famous wat, one of which is called Wat Kok Koh.
This wat is the less famous of the two in Pak Beng, although it is still worth a visit if you are in the area.
It is an especially nice hike if you have travelled to Pak Beng by boat (which most people do) and want to do some exercise before continuing on.
The wat in itself is not particularly noteworthy but it does have pretty views over the town.
With that in mind, try to come here around sunset so you can enjoy the vermillion skies around Pak Beng.
2. Take the slow boat along the Mekong
Pak Beng is known as the stop off point between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, and many people choose to make this trip using the slow ferry.
If you choose this option, then it will take you two days to travel between the two cities, but this is part of the charm of this mode of transportation.
The slow boat harks back to a different era of travel when people were in much less of a hurry than they are nowadays and you will be able to take in the gorgeous views along the way which makes this the trip of a lifetime for many.
3. Try the local tipple
Many visitors tend to think that the local tipple in Laos is Beer Lao.
If you want to try something a little different however, and a little more authentic, then you may want to ask for the ‘lao lao bong’ which is a kind of local moonshine.
This is made from water which is added to fermented rice, and while it may not sound very appetising, it is one of the local delicacies in the country.
Just make sure you drink it through a straw as is the local custom.
4. Trek to a local village
There is not much in the way of tourist infrastructure in Pak Beng but a few tours have started up in the area in recent years.
These include treks which will take you out into the local area.
The countryside around Pak Beng is covered in small villages which are the homes of local communities and you can now hike out to these and see how people have loved here for centuries.
A few of the tours offered from Pak Beng also give you the chance to stay overnight in the village.
6. Have a drink overlooking the water
As Pak Beng is a well known stop off between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, you will find a clutch of restaurants and bars in town.
One of the most famous is Hive Bar which is located on the main strip and this is known as the liveliest in Pak Beng.
Hive Bar is open later than most other spots in town and they serve cold drinks and play dance music if you want to enjoy the only real nightlife on offer in Pak Beng.
7. Shop at the market stalls
As you would expect, there is not much in the way of shopping in Pak Beng.
If you want to buy some food however, before you take the boat either to Luang Prabang or Huay Xai, then you need to check out the local market stalls that are located along the main road.
Here you will find crunchy local baguettes which are filled with an array of ingredients like omelets or cheese and these will keep you going on the long boat journey.
Also note that some of the boats do not have food on board so you will need to plan accordingly.
8. Take a river cruise
If you want to travel between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang then you can get a slow boat or a speedboat.
A third option however is to take a river cruise which offers you a more leisurely way of enjoying the trip.
The highlight of a river cruise as opposed to the other boats is that you get to stop off en route from Pak Beng and visit local sights like craggy caves and hillside villages.
9. Eat at Hashan
There are only a few real restaurants in town in Pak Beng but one of the best is called Hashan and sells delicious Indian food and snacks.
You will probably smell Hashan before you find it, as the smell of the divine curries wafts onto the road in front of the restaurant.
As well as the usual curries and dhal, they also do toothsome Indian flatbreads like roti with a curry dipping sauce.
Another great thing about Hashan is that it is located on the Mekong so you get to dine with a view of the water.
10. Take a tuk-tuk into the countryside
Depending how long you plan to stay in Pak Beng you may want to head a little further afield.
The best way to do this in town is to hire a tuk-tuk which is a motorized trishaw and then zoom off into the surrounding area.
Here you will pass lush rice paddies as well as charming little local villages and as the area around Pak Beng is rather hilly, this is a much easier way of seeing everything there is to see quickly and easily.
11. Admire Wat Sin Jong Jaeng
Of the two wats in Pak Beng, Wat Sin Jong Jaeng is the more famous.
This temple dates from the French colonial period, although keep in mind that it has also been renovated since that time.
There are a number of murals here which are of interest, especially as some of them appear to include Western figures said to be former French colonialists.
The wat is also on a hill so try and plan to be here around sunset for the best views.
12. Have breakfast at D.P Bakery
Laos is known for its delicious baked goods and one of the best places to find these in town is at D.P Bakery.
This is one of the few cafes in town that serves up reliable Western fare such as pastries, sandwiches and cereal and fruit for breakfast.
If you are visiting in the afternoon then they also do milkshakes, iced coffee and freshly pressed juice.
13. Walk around town
There is not much to see in Pak Beng but it makes a nice spot to go for an afternoon walk, especially if you are fresh off the boat.
There is a central main road in the town which is lined with restaurants and bars, and you can also head off the beaten track and visit spots such as the two main temples which are a little way out of the center.
One thing to note is that Pak Beng is rather hilly, so you need to have a relatively good level of mobility (and some good footwear) if you want to get out into the countryside.
14. Eat at Khopchaideu
Also located along the Mekong River is Khopchaideu which has some truly delicious Indian fare.
Laos is actually famous for its Indian curries, flatbreads and sauces, so make sure not to miss these when you are in the north of the country.
They also give Indian classics a local twist, such as serving up imaginative plates like buffalo masala.
Definitely if you are in Pak Beng then this is one not to miss.
15. Take a speedboat to Luang Prabang
One of the ways that you can get between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai is by taking a speedboat through Pak Beng.
This is the quickest way of travelling between the two and will cut your travel time down by about half.
If you want to explore Pak Beng, and also bag the best room in a guesthouse, then it is well worth paying a little more and taking the less scenic but more efficient speedboat service to Pak Beng.