Departure taxes at the airport..
Just before leaving the terminal building for your flight, you are asked for 10 USD per head.
Most people use this airport to go to Siem Reap, to see the Angkor complex. The waterfalls, quite far from the town, but an enjoyable journey, especially if travelling by a private air-conditioned luxury van.
Pakse, appealing non-touristy town
Pakse is a shabby, down at heel former French colonial town founded in 1905. If that sounds a fairly dismissive description I found it a comfortable, laid back town where you can relax and unwind for a day or too without any hassle from the local populace who are nevertheless very charming and friendly when you feel the need for help or just a chat. There are no massive tourist attractions but the principal buildings of note are the Champasak Palace Hotel and Wat Luang. Accessible from Pakse are the pre-Angkor temple of Wat Phu at Champasak, the Bolaven Plateau and 4000 islands some way south on the Mekong River. That river is joined by the Sedon river at Pakse which almost surround the town and provide attractive views.
This lovely Temple was built in 1935 contains the remains of Prince/prime minister Katay Don Sasorith who was a staunch anti communist. The communist regime lost no time in removing his statue from the Wat but wisely refrained from removing his remains and offending the gods.
"The two rivers"
The town is almost surrounded by the rivers Sedon and Mekong which present lovely views with the added attraction of the ever present fishermen.
One Last - ahem - Adventure, Part Two
I made my way south to Pakse. I arrived after dark. As is usual, I was surrounded my tuk-tuk drivers. They don't wait for you to plant your feet on solid ground, grab your bags and get your bearings. They blitz you on the steps. But this time it was especially silly. The station was right downtown. These thieves will insist they can take you to a guesthouse, settle a price equivalent to a crosstown fare, and then drop you off around the corner. I just walked. I checked into a closet. A swanky closet with private bath and satellite TV, but a closet nonetheless.
The other annoying breed of tuk-tuk driver is the one that speaks English. They always leverage this fact by appearing friendly, smiling and offering to help the hapless tourist. Until of course you point out to them that the price they've quoted is double the going rate. They want you to feel ridiculous for asking what is in fact the real price, basically preying on travellers who find minor language barriers to be insurmountable.
I got on perhaps the most rusted-out heap of the entire trip for the short journey up to the Bolavens Plateau, an area of ancient villages and coffee fields. I got off the bus at the turnoff for Tad Lo. There was a small village at the turnoff, all thatched huts and free-range chickens. Now this is more like it, I thought. I was all set to check into one of the guesthouses, but they said they couldn't help me with regards to visiting a coffee plantation so I walked the 2km to Tad Lo.
I am glad I made that walk. The roadside village was nice, but Tad Lo is a tiny little paradise. As yet it remains off the beaten track. A resort - that is to say not a backpackers' guesthouse - is in most of the guidebooks but there are cheap bungalows as well. There are a handful of these and I grabbed one overlooking the river. It's not Jurmo or Pakruojis, so I didn't have the place to myself, but it's still lacking in tourists, or any commercial development really.
"Hello goats, you are goats"
A hike to the big waterfall (which was dry) is as strenuous as it gets in Tad Lo. The falls at Tad Lo were still in full force and made for great viewing, hiking and swimming. Otherwise, hammock-napping, drinking Beer Lao and wandering around the local villages constitutes entertainment. If you wish, you may engage the cows, chickens and pigs in conversation. The cows are especially talkative. If you wish to confound a goat, just say "Hello goats. You are goats." It leaves them speechless every time. Try it if you don't believe me.
Now, it may be that ten years and three editions of Lonely Planet later, Tad Lo is no longer a well-kept secret. The road may be lined with souvenir shops and a large Thai hotel might grace the spot where my $2.50 thatched bungalow presently sits, but for now, bathed in the golden setting sun that brings out the best in rural Laos, it is undiscovered paradise.