FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

The Sanctuary Pakbeng Lodge Review

by Richard Newton

Feb 14, 2024

© Hayley Newton

eFlyer Reviews

Why would anyone go to Pakbeng? This little village in northwest Laos seems to have little to recommend it, except for a happy geographical accident. It is located on the Mekong River, roughly midway between the border with Thailand and the Laotian tourist center of Luang Prabang. Every evening, long wooden boats dock on the Pakbeng riverbank, disgorging dozens of tourists for an overnight stay. The village provides a natural break on the popular two-day Mekong voyage between Thailand and Luang Prabang.

Several guesthouses and hostels offer beds, not all of them comfortable or even clean. Young backpackers have no issues with substandard accommodation, but me and my wife have put our backpacking years behind us. We’re strictly wheeled suitcases and en-suite bathroom travelers now. So, we opted for the Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary

© Hayley Newton

A packed, fume-huffing tuk-tuk took us the short distance up to the hotel, which sits above the river among its own vegetable and fruit gardens. In accordance with local tradition, we removed our shoes before entering reception, situated on an expansive deck overlooking the river. We were greeted with fresh fruit juice and the Laotian word for “welcome,” sabaidee.

The Sanctuary

© Hayley Newton

By the time we reached our room, the view from our private balcony was ceding to darkness. After a full day on a boat, the room was comfortable and quiet, and the shower was revivingly hot. (A delicate note about Laotian hotel bathrooms: Toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilet. Basic hygiene is taken care of with a small, hand-held hose – known to seasoned travelers as the “bum gun.” You’ll probably spray the wall, and yourself, before getting the hang of it.)

We ate in the village, a 10-minute walk away down a haphazardly lit lane. For such a small place, Pakbeng offers an impressive array of restaurants, some near empty, others crowded to overflowing with tourists off the boats. We opted for the extremely popular Sabaidee Sivilay, with great local food and cold beer.

Sleep came easily, with our alarms set for daybreak at 6 a.m. It was then we could appreciate the view. We gazed down on a bend in the Mekong. Eerie patches of mist clung to the water and wrapped the surrounding hills.

The Sanctuary

© Hayley Newton

Breakfast was served on the reception/dining deck. Mornings here are often cold, and we wrapped up warm. Fried eggs on toast were served, together with waffles and fresh fruit. As the day brightened, a sign across the river was revealed: Mekong Elephant Sanctuary.

On some mornings, the elephants can be seen bathing and drinking in the river. Not for us, sadly. By 8 a.m. we were back on our boat (operated by Nagi of the Mekong), heading downstream with 30 other passengers. The Sanctuary gleamed in sunlight above us as we cast off. We had barely known it, and yet we were sorry to see it recede. Such is the nature of travel. So many fleeting encounters.

The Sanctuary Pakbeng Lodge

Ban Done Khame, Pak Beng, Oudomxay Province, Laos
tel 856 81 212304

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