Not really, but that was the beauty of paksong, a desolate marketplace on a cool plateau.
Off the songthaew, i stood there on the road shoulder, backpacked and capped, biting my lip that perhaps i’d submitted my poor partner on a 2h butt-numbing, spine-bending, dust-eating ride up to nothingness, where the only way out is the same. It was pleasantly cool and very quiet, but still, complete utter nothingness. But i found Paksong and around quickly filled me up to realise within nothing was plenty.
Paksong offer vast tracts of scrubland to explore, gravel roads leading off to dirt roads diverging off to seemingly no where (well, there is somewhere and something: villages in Attapeu, Ta Theng, Tad Lo Sekong and coffee plantations to the east, and waterfalls to the west), and you will likely be the only tourist you see. The people, usually kind and gentle, are even more so here- and they observe you with gentle curiosity rather than eye you as a moneyed walker.
And the air. Besides being cool on the skin, it imparts a tranquility to your mind and to the land as far as the eye can see. Laos is different, but paksong felt different within different.
The inconveniences were those that sprung from the nature of place itself, and which i was very happy to bear. Here are some tips:
Have enough water with you because the convenience store you last passed by will likely be the only one for another multi-kilometre.
Food places are rare, but you will find food at tourist ‘spots’ at the waterfalls and at your guesthouse.
Savannah Guesthouse sits splendidly between two local restaurants. That is considered a smorgasbord in the local food distribution. Cross the short bridge to the restaurant on the river. My carnivorous partner was happy with the food, and i’ve never eaten such good fresh spicy kangkong (called morning glory) in my life.
There are currently 5 guesthouses in paksong, located on all ends of the village. Two along the entrance right before you enter paksong, which was where we were dropped off and looked like the middle or beginning of nowhere. We thought there had to be a ‘centre’ and decided to trudge on along the straight road. A rare English sign pops up in bold print ‘Coffee’ and ‘Wifi’; it belonged to an european man who was roasting coffee beans with one hand, and with the other, pointed out the only-5 on a plain map (like this). I find out later his cafe also does treks to the coffee plantations, which would have been a good option as roads get forebodingly bad and dusty the further east one bikes. No hard-sells from this guy! 2km further down would be Borlaven Guesthouse, strategically placed east near the beginning of nothing route to the coffee plantations. We took the perpendicular road up instead, quiet and bare with sleepy shophouses that didn’t seem to sell much. We chose the newer looking Savannah guesthouse over Paksong GH. It was a piece of heaven.
Bring a long-sleeved shirt and a scarf at the very least for survival. The temperatures hung a low 18-22degC while we were there; december is SEA’s cool monsoon season. This can get chilly when you’re buzzing at 20km/h on a bike, and bone-numbing at night. In fact, it did go down to 7degC. The good thing is: there is nothing to do (partly because there is no night market; mostly because it is pitch-black with no street lights) at night so you won’t be needing to go out after light fades. You might want to go out to check out the stars though. Another reason to choose Savannah Guesthouse.
The scarf will double up as a mask to protect against the orange dust kicked up by any vehicle ahead of you on the offroads. Your clothes will get clogged, but you don’t have to inhale it.
Be brave and rent a motorbike. In a tuk-tukless town where the ‘bus’ is an inter-village/town bus that comes in the morning, it is far more convenient to ferry yourself, license be damned. Which you should, to the coffee plantations and villages in the east, and gorgeous waterfalls in the west. It is also very safe and near-impossible to get into an accident: (most times) barely any cars or motorbikes, hardly any people, and all very considerate giving wide swerve of way to the solo tourist putting about. Gain courage from the locals speed-zooming their way down the dusty offroad curves to the waterfall.
Start early in the day. You don’t want to be driving back in pitch darkness.
Go west for the waterfalls. The twin falls Tad Fane provides a gorgeous look-out, and 1km down, Tad Yeung easily takes a mesmerising hour.
Buy the coffee. They don’t come in pretty souvenir wrappers, but the smell is heavenly rich and the weight dense and substantial. I never got to taste it, but i can believe when they say this is home to some of the world’s best coffee.
I didn’t do, but would have:
Trek down to the waterfalls. Go further south-east to Daoheuang Coffee Plantation and the local tribal village, about 17km and 13.5km away.