Crossing the Mekong
Paklay is strategically located as a important crossing of the Mekong river, first with a ferry boat and now with the newly build bridge that openend for traffic the end of 2017. It’s more or less the halfway point on the road from the capital Vientiane to Sayaboury town.
Paklay is a buzzing town that originated at the banks of the mighty Mekong river and now is expanding rapidly to outer parts. The street right at the Mekong still features the old guesthouses and restaurants where one can sit and sip a drink in the afternoon and ponder about life overlooking this great water. There is still a collection of great restaurants that run professional kitchens with a great variety of foods especially steamed fish from the river.
Historians trace Paklay’s first permanent inhabitants to about 500 years ago, when a group of ethnic Khmu from Burma settled in the area that had been a stopover for Thai traders heading north. Shortly after in 1544, the Lane Xang Kingdom absorbed the region, which later fell under Siamese control until the French arrived in 1904.
Unfortunately, a fire razed the district center and destroyed much of the colonial-era architecture, though a French prison and about 10 houses remain, as does the 120-year-old home of the royal family. The last Lao king regularly frequented Paklai and continued coming until 1963. In fact his son married a Paklai woman, who currently lives in obscurity in Luang Prabang.
Exploring the district center’s side streets reveals several old wooden buildings and temples, led by the Mekong riverside Vat Sisavangvong in the northern quarters. Like the similarly named Sayabouli District temple after the king who built them, Vat Sisavangvong is one of Laos’ three highest regarded temples, and aspiring novices strive to study and meditate there for the monkhood. Alongside the temple stands a three-storey, red-and-gold bell tower.
Besides the Phavet and Rocket Festivals, the district hosts longboat races with 50-to-70-person squads throughout the year, and these competitions draw fans from Thailand and Myanmar.
Cave Clusters & Hot Springs
Several caves hide in Paklai’s more remote areas, though three of the caverns and hot springs are huddled in a 3-km radius some 50 km north of the district center. Prior to reaching the Tham Nam Lot wet cave near Ban Nachan, stop at nearby Ban Muong Pa to explore Tham Peo Pong Pha Cave (Sky Cave), with the sun peaking through a roof slit over the entrance chamber, and Tham Kok Ma, considered by locals as the Wind Cave for its natural air-con. A local hot springs that can reach a temperature of 30º C offers a soothing respite after inspecting the caves.
Some 32 km southwest of Paklai town is Tham Pa Keo Cave, and a further 3 km lands at Khun Lou Cave. Just 16 km from the district center near Ban Phon, you can inspect Tham Nang Phom Hom Cave and the wide tunnel-like Tham Phabon Cave with a Buddha image in its alcove.
Good to Know
Where to Sleep?
Where to Eat?
Public busses depart at 08:00 from Vientiane Capital’s Northern Bus Terminal – located about 5 km west of the airport on the Luang Prabang Road – for the five-hour, 300-km rough ride to Paklai. A five-hour public song taew drive connects Sayabouli Town to Paklai with morning departures when the vehicle fills with passengers.
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