l Southern Laos travel – A rough guide to exotic and adventurous places

Southern Laos travel – A rough guide to exotic and adventurous places

Cập nhật: 01-01-1970 12:00:00 | Blogs about Laos | Lượt xem: 1360

Southern Laos travel is not the most popular among travelers compared to other parts of the country, but it actually deserves better than that. If you have enough time, don't forget to dedicate part of your Laos adventure trip to discovering this area, which is very different from the north in some ways. With countless ancient temples, lovely islands, splendid waterfalls, lush green nature and numerous coffee plantations, Southern Laos will surely capture your heart in the most pleasant way possible.

southern-laos-travel-map

This hidden gem used to be well-known among young backpackers only. But today it’s enthralling more and more mature travelers who are searching for comfort and peace. However, you should not wait too long to visit this region, because the construction of new roads and hydroelectric plants is changing its landscape rapidly.

About Southern Laos

Southern Laos is an area surrounded by Thailand in the west, Vietnam in the east and Cambodia in the south. To the west flows the Mekong River, which marks the border with Thailand and then cuts the Champasak province in half. Further south, near the border with Cambodia, the Mekong widens and forms a large number of islands, islets, waterfalls and rapids. Meanwhile, the plateau extending to the east Bolaven is crossed by rivers flowing from the Annamite mountains that separate Laos from Vietnam.

This region includes only four provinces (Attapeu, Saravane, Sekong, Champasack) and is less developed than Central Laos, economically. However, the Lao government is having plans to develop its economy based on the East-West Economic Corridor that connects Southern Laos with Thailand and southern Vietnam.

southern-laos-history

Southern Laos history

Southern Laos has a long history of many ups and downs. After Lao settled in the fertile alluvial valley of the Mekong in the 8th century, Southern Laos stood at the crossroads of great empires that ruled Southeast Asia, from the Champa to the Khmer. When the Khmer empire was in its heyday, this land was a part of Khmer territory. The impressive ruin of Wat Phou in the southern part of Champasak Province is one of typical left architecture by the Khmer. 

After Lan Xang (the first Laotian state) was established in the 14th century, Lao gradually pushed back the Khmer forces and took over Southern Laos.

From 1778 to 1904, the region was part of an independent Laotian kingdom called Champasak. A small province of Southern Laos today is named after this era. The isolation of Southern Laos made this region an ideal hiding place for the anti-French in the first Indochina War (1946 – 1954) and the anti-Americans in the second (1955 – 1975). 

In the centuries that followed, Southern Laos was under control by the neighboring Siam or Thailand. The invasion lasted till the late 19th century when the French colonial had control all over Laos. Southern Laos then became a separate administration with Pakse as capital. During the occupation, the French brought some new renovations for southern Laos such as building, road and bridges constructions; also cultivations of cash crops such as rubber, coffee, etc. 

As a result of the Second Indochina War, the Japanese took over the Indochina regions including Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Shortly, Laos achieved its independence; and southern Laos became a part of the Kingdom Laos. 

In the 1960s, trails along the eastern border with Vietnam were used to form the Ho Chi Minh Trail and were heavily bombed by American forces as well as their allies. Three million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos, but they slowed down without seriously interrupting operations along the trail.

Best time to visit Southern Laos

Just like the rest of the country, Southern Laos has a typically tropical climate with two main seasons: the rainy season runs from May to October, and the dry season runs from November to April next year. It’s yearlong warm or hot, and is even a little bit hotter than other parts of Laos with an average temperature of 33°C.

The best time to start your Southern Laos itinerary is from late November to early February during the dry season, when the weather is cooler (ranging from 20 – 30°C) and the views are pretty green. This period is also the harvest season for both coffee and rice.

southern-laos-travel

How to get to southern Laos

The easiest way to get to Southern Laos is to fly to Champasak province’s Pakse International Airport. Pakse airport is served by Lao Airlines and can be reached by internal flights from Vientiane or Savannakhet in Laos, Bangkok in Thailand, Siem Reap in Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

There are also frequent buses from Vientiane to Pakse, but trips on Laotian buses are always very long and require great patience. The price per person is about $26 for a 10-hour journey. You can also catch direct buses from Bangkok Thailand, which leave routinely from Ubon Ratchatani and Mo Chit station. The estimated travel time from Bangkok to Pakse is about 12 hours, and the cheapest price is about $31.

Another option is to reach Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand first, which can be accessed easily by plane, bus and train. From Ubon Ratchathani, you can take one of the frequent minivans to the border at Chong Mek, and then take another minivan once you cross the border. The border is approximately 100 km from Ubon Ratchathani and 50 km from Pakse.

Things to do in Southern Laos

Pakse-travel-southern-laos

Spend a night in Pakse

As the gateway to Southern Laos and the capital of Champasak province, Pakse is the first place that visitors should set foot in during any Southern Laos travel. Founded by French colonists in 1905, the city served as the capital of the Champasak Kingdom until it was unified with the rest of Laos in 1946.

Pakse is located at the confluence of the Mekong and Xe Don rivers. This town has managed to preserve the typical tranquil atmosphere of Mekong cities in general, which also characterizes other towns located further north such as Savannakhet and Tha Khaek. Despite not having any particular tourist attractions, it is worth spending at least one night in Pakse town to enjoy the leisurely atmosphere here.

Traveling in Pakse, you can visit a few colonial-era buildings that are still standing as well as over 20 Buddhist temples around the city. Among which, Wat Luang, Wat Tham Fai and Wat Phou Salao are the three most famous. While Wat Luang and Wat Tham Fai stand out for their incredibly impressive architecture, Wat Phou Salao features a giant Golden Buddha statue that overlooks the whole city and the Mekong River.

Beside exploring the exotic town near MeKong River, Pakse Travel Guide also recommend tasting Beer Lao in a rustic bar on the bank of the Mekong while admiring the beautiful sunset over the river. 

wat-phou-champasak

Visit Wat Phu – Champasak town

About 40 km south of Pakse is Champasak, Wat Phu is a small town situated between the Mekong river and the Phou Kao mountains. From what it looks like now, it’s really hard to believe that Champasak was once the seat of a monarchy that lasted up to 30 years ago. Today, it is a wonderfully peaceful place and only the circle of fountains located in the center of the main street can vaguely recall the great past that disappeared together with the former royal family. 

Of all attractions lying near the region, Wat Phu Champasak is the most interesting archaeological site that dates back to the Angkor era, when Champasak province was occupied by the Cambodian Empire of Angkor between the 10th and 13th centuries. Located at an altitude of 1400 m on the slopes of the Phu Pasak mountain range, this Khmer Hindu temple complex is one of the most beloved Laos travel destinations. It showcases a unique structure that features a lingam dedicated to Lord Shiva bathed in water from a mountain spring. Wat Phu is the oldest temple in Laos according to many historians. And this temple was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

There is no regular bus service between Pakse and Champassak, but you can take a songthaew for $4 – $5.

bolaven-plateau-southern-laos

Explore the vast Bolaven Plateau

Stretching from Champasak to the southeastern provinces of Salavan, Sekong and Attapeu, Bolaven Plateau has a well-deserved reputation for its cool climate, towering waterfalls, fertile soil and innumerable coffee plantations of prime quality.

Needless to say, visiting a plantation and tasting the local coffee is probably a must during your Bolaven Plateau trip. With an ideal climate and suitable soil characteristics, this plateau is a perfect region for growing coffee. On the Bolaven Plateau, two different coffee plants can be distinguished based on their size: the Arabica (about 2 m high) is more valuable and expensive, and the Robusta (about 5 m high or over) is more widespread and cheaper.

In addition to one of the greatest coffee in the world, Bolaven Plateau also attracts visitors through charming villages and magnificent waterfalls that descend to the surrounding plains. You will come across many spectacular waterfalls along the way. The most major ones are Tad Hang, Tad Lo and Tad Suong near the village of Tad Lo. If you visit Bolaven Plateau in the dry season, you can also swim in large natural pools formed by Tad Hang. 

Bolaven Plateau can be visited in a day from Pakse or Champassak with a rented scooter, a private jeep car. Some plantations also provide homestay accommodation if you want to stay here overnight and venture the plateau’s loops. Depending on your interest, you might spend a day or up to a week on the plateau for insightful Bolaven Plateau travel. 

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Traverse the Four Thousand Islands

Si Phan Don is one of the must-see places of Laos with a pristine beauty that makes the name of Southern Laos islands. The name Si Phan Don literally means “Four Thousand Islands” in Lao. It derives from the fact that during the dry season, the level of the great Mekong river drops, and a real archipelago is formed by thousands of large and small islands in the province of Champasak, creating a breathtakingly peculiar and fascinating landscape.

From Pakse to Si Phan Don, the cheapest way is to catch a bus to Nakasong and then take a local boat to Don Det, which costs $11  –  $14 and takes about 3.5 hours. If you are traveling from Bolaven Plateau, the most recommended method is taking a private bus, which costs $30 – $60 and takes 4 hours. You can also grab a taxi for $130 – $160 to get there in less than 3 hours.

In this archipelago, the three islands most visited by foreign travelers are Don Khong, Don Det, and Don Khon. Don Khong is the largest and also the most serene and relaxing, probably due to the very small number of visitors. Meanwhile, Don Khon and Don Det are two main attractions for backpackers as they offer the opportunity to indulge in a large number of outdoor activities, including cycling, swimming, dolphin watching, boating and kayaking… More interesting things to do in the Four Thousand Islands can be found at Si Phan Don travel guide.

Southern Laos is still a hidden gem in tourism that its exotic pristineness is still alluring. Hopefully the above guide of Southern Laos travel urges you to plan a trip. Reach out to Bonzer Tour when you need to draft an itinerary for southern Laos.

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