Southern Laos

Wednesday 16 September 2009 | By Ros Bulat |

A Land for All Seasons

When most travellers think of Laos, they think of Luang Prabang its picture-perfect setting. Meanwhile, southern Laos, specifically Champasak Province, is rarely mentioned. However, the mighty Mekong running through the heart of its landscape, offers a combination of astounding natural beauty, spectacular waterfalls, friendly locals and delightful accommodation that is rarely matched by its neighbouring countries.

Quirky Pakse, the capital of Champasak, with three flights a week from Vientiane, is the starting point for anyone wanting to explore southern Laos. Although you can visit many of the attractions by taking day trips from Pakse, it is far more rewarding to explore these places as overnight stays.

Chasing Waterfalls

For a landlocked country, Laos boasts an impressive number of rivers and streams at Champasak. It is also where most of the country’s coffee plantations and spectacular waterfalls (Tad in Lao) are.

Of the three main, dramatic waterfalls, the best known is Tad Fane, twin waterfalls located on the edge of the Dong Houa Sao National Protected Area and gushing down a 250-metre deep gorge in a thundering crescendo.

Tad Hang is the lowest level fall, the smallest and gentlest and where most of the accommodation can be found.

Tad Suong is the most impressive of the three, but requires transport and a steady set of knees if you are planning to walk up to the top.

Cultural Treasures

Champasak Province is also home to some of the least visited – and hence still beautifully intact – ancient ruins. The two must-see places are Phou Asa Mountain in Xe Pian National Protected Area and Wat Phou in the former royal seat of Champasak town.

Xe Pian, is about 1 hour from Pakse, is one of the most important biodiversity areas in Indochina, known for its large mammals and rare water birds.

Elephant trekking to Phou Asa is part of the Mekong Development Tourism Project (MTDP) to develop the capacity of local communities. These graceful creatures gently transport you under the forest canopy, through lush rice fields and steep climbs, until you reach the summit with stunning panoramic views.

Wat Phou is more intact and believed to be one of the most impressive Khmer ruins outside Cambodia.

There are no shops, restaurants or tours, no paved road to the temple located at the foot of a steep mountain, the only thing other than the amazing temple is a group of giggly Thai ladies and local worshippers.

Wat Phou is around an hour and half from Xe Pian, 8km from the charming riverside town of Champasak and requires a ferry crossing.

The Serene 4,000 Islands

Sii Pan Don, more commonly known as 4,000 Islands, is the southernmost part of Champasak province, and so called because the mighty Mekong splits itself into numerous channels, forming islands of every imaginable size.

The largest of these islands is Don Khong, the birthplace of the country’s former President and a truly chilled out place. The best way to see this beautiful island full of paddy fields and small winding roads along the riverbank is on a bicycle or a moped.

Khone Phapeng, is known as “The Niagara of the East” and said to be the largest waterfall by volume in South East Asia. The falls, a kilometre wide and 30 metres deep, not only lets out a booming roar but also separates the upper and lower Mekong.

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