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Champasak Province in the southwest corner of Laos is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls, jungles and islands in the entire country. Bordering Cambodia and Thailand, it has been culturally influenced by both. It is accessible by motorbike, organized tour or bus and well worth the trek down to see everything southern Laos has to offer.
Pakse is the current provincial capital and a former French outpost. The French influence on the architecture and culture is still readily apparent in this charming riverside city that sits between the Mekong and Xedong river. Visit Wat Luang and the adjoining monk school early in the morning for almsgiving in a less frenetic and touristy setting than what you’ll find in Luang Prabang.
Pakse has dozens of tour companies and motorbike rental shops for visitors wanting to get out of town and see the beauty of the plateau. Here you’ll find coffee fields and tasting rooms, beautiful waterfalls like Tad Lo and Tad Fan, as well as ethnic villages know for textiles and woodworking.
Wat Phou predates the Angkor Temple Complex in Cambodia. It’s a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest Angkor temple in Laos. The museum on site has beautifully preserved carvings and excellent information about the history of the Khmer people, and the discovery and restoration of the ruins.
Si Phan Don means 4000 Islands in the Lao language. Many of the islands are more like boulders in the middle of the Mekong River, but their presence creates rapids and waterfalls. Several of the islands are large enough to be habitable. Don Khong is the largest island, Don Som, Don Det and Don Khon can also be visited. When you go, don’t forget to be on the lookout for the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin.
Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area is 425 square miles (1,100 sq km) full of butterflies, birds and monkeys. Illegal poaching and logging is a problem here, but there are companies such as Green Discovery Tours that are promoting sustainable eco-tourism. Spend two or three days out in the jungle hiking, zip lining and enjoying nature.
Tad Fane is the tallest waterfall in Laos, plunging 394 feet (120 meters) into the basin below. The visitor center is located across the gorge from the twin cascades and is well-developed with souvenir shops, cabins to rent, modern bathroom facilities and a coffee shop. For those who want to experience the falls from above, there is a zip line course that takes visitors across five lines in 30 minutes back and forth across the falls.
While waterfalls and unpredictable water levels make the Mekong unnavigable for the entire length of Laos, there are areas where the river is calm and perfect to be enjoyed by boat. From the town of Champasak you can hire a water taxi or take the ferry to take you around and drop you off on Don Daeng. The five mile (8 km) long island is sparsely habited and rarely has tourists. Stay for the day or book a guesthouse or homestay.
Tad Lo is about 56 miles (90 km) from Pakse and is a multi-tiered waterfall with areas to swim, rent inner tubes and scramble on the rocks. Several restaurants surround the waterfall and a bridge connects the two banks of the river. Bungalows and guest houses offer serene accommodations for those who want to sleep to the sound of the falls.
Xe Pian National Protected Area borders Cambodia in the southeast of Champasak Province and crosses into Attapeu Province as well. Home to wetlands and forests, it has many species of birds, fish as well as endangered mammals such as tigers, bears, elephants and gibbons. The park entrance is 30 miles (50 km) south of Pakse, making it a great day trip or overnight.
While Wat Phou is the most famous and largest Khmer temple in Laos, several other smaller ruins are worth checking out if you have the time and energy for an off-the-beaten-path experience. Ho Nang Sida has a small lake by it and is close to Wat Phou. Hong Tha Tao requires a 30 minute walk through rice paddies to find.