Founded by the French in 1905 as an administrative outpost, Pakse sits at the confluence of the Mekong River and the Se Don (Don River) and is the capital of Champasak Province. The town has grown quickly since the Lao-Japanese Bridge across the Mekong was opened in 2002, facilitating brisk trade with Thailand. Its position on the way to Si Phan Don in the far south, the Bolaven Plateau and remote provinces to the east, and Thailand to the west means anyone choosing to travel in the south will almost certainly spend time in Pakse.

The centre of Pakse retains the sort of Mekong River–town lethargy found in Savannakhet and Tha Khaek further north. Fewer colonial-era buildings remain, though do look for the Franco-Chinese–style Chinese Society building on Th 10 in the centre of town.
The vast Talat Dao Heung (New Market) near the Lao-Japanese Bridge is one of the biggest in the country, famous for its selection of fresh produce and coffee from the fertile Bolaven Plateau. Short day trips from Pakse can be made to Ban Saphai and Don Kho, weaving centres 15km north of town.