Nestled atop a bucolic hill in the southern Laos panhandle, overlooking the mighty Mekong River and the sleepy town of Pakse, with cultivated rice paddies as far as you can see, is the majestic Champasak Palace Hotel. Commissioned by monarchy in the 1960s before the communist revolution, the impressive palace was designed for governance and to befit the sovereign needs of its ruler, the Prince of Champasak. Alas, due to a history of contemporaneous inevitability the regional ruler never got to use his new digs. Nonetheless this Champasak chateau has continued to oversee the Laotian landscape with majestic splendor for a half century.
Today it is a three-and-a-half-star hotel that pops up online offering free breakfast and wifi for the intrepid internet-enabled traveler. And it is fabulous. Along with the Golden Buddha and the immense stone Buddha the Champasak Palace is a must-see for every Paske visitor. You have to ask yourself, when was the last time you stayed in a real palace for $30? My first-cousin-once-removed and I had two separate rooms, which pretty much commanded the entire fourth floor of the sprawling compound.
One must, however, accept some of the little vagaries that come with hostelry conversion of a Laotian citadel. The staircase leading to the inviting but strangely uninhabited rooftop bar is pitch black and the walk from the rooms to the elevator is completely exposed to the elements. Perhaps most noticeable, however, is the outright absence of glass windows throughout the royal residence. You see, the prince had in mind the extensive use of wooden slatted French doors, which in a palatial heyday would have opened up each room to magnificent views and an abundance of sunlight. But today, in a standard hotel bedroom configuration, each French double door is blocked in entirety by a clutter of furnishings thereby denying all solar access, ceding one’s eminence to the Prince of Darkness.