Southern Laos is the place to discover the full diversity of landscapes this landlocked country has to offer! Champassak province for instance will take you from the smooth hills of the Annamite ranges to the Boloven Plateau and down to the plain of the Mekong. Without forgetting the sandy islands and islets of the “4,000 islands” area, locally known as “Si Phan Done”.
So, yes indeed, Laos is the only South-East Asian country that has no access to the sea. But this does not mean it does not have beaches! When the water level in the Mekong is low, it leaves pristine sandy beaches emerge. We wouldn’t recommend swimming in the Mekong itself. There can be strong currents, but lazing under the sun on a beach towel would be no problem at all! In some spots, the palm fringed river fronts makes it a picturesque landscape. The amazing beauty of such areas is that one will hardly be disturbed by the crowds and one will actually more likely encounter farmers looking after their grazing buffaloes!
So, here are more highlights of what you can you expect while venturing southern Laos…
- Tasting some of the finest Arabica, Robusta and Tipica coffees ever produced in the world! And of course, do not miss out to get a tour of a plantation to know all about what some coffee lovers consider Lao coffee as “The Champagne of coffees”.
- The Boloven Plateau, with its cooler climate year round produces some of Laos’ most delicious tropical fruits and vegetables. In season, stop for the “king fruit”, durian. Farmers and vendors display them in road side huts. This is the place to “sniff” them, slice and dig your fingers into this fleshy-meaty-smelly mouth-watering fruit most Asians are fond of. Well, to some westerners, it may be slightly more challenging, but hey, don’t we have strong smell cheeses in the west? Dare it and make up your mind after you have tried it. Locals say that “it smells like hell but tastes like paradise”. That is said. Otherwise, you still have your chance with juicy pineapples or sweet lady fingers bananas,
- Visiting ancient ruins of civilizations that are anterior to Angkor with notably World Heritage Site of Vat Phou. Be there during the annual February festivities of the Full Moon and you will be blown by the fervour of the locals and visiting Thai neighbours. A large fair also takes place. Quite a unique opportunity to celebrate and taste local people’s favourite snacks and dishes all in one site!
- Stunning sunsets over a wide stretch of the Mekong,
- Elephant back riding to jungle areas,
- Bird watching in wet lands, from the balcony of your eco lodge,
- Xe Pian National Park is considered the 3rd largest bio diversity region of SE Asia by the World Wide Fund organization,
- Cruising the Mekong in style on-board a converted rice barge, with merely 12 cabins, on a 3 day/2night itinerary,
- Alternatively, a half day or full day excursion by covered low roofed boat is a great option to explore the “4,000 Islands”, then hopping around on foot or by local bicycle to spot remnants of the French colonial architecture, and simply mingling with the locals during their daily routine,
- Spotting fishermen in the rocky cataracts in the middle of the Mekong’s largest waterfalls of SE Asia,
- Spotting fresh river Irrawaddy dolphins, especially when the sun starts setting, at the border with Cambodia,
- Getting initiated to fishing techniques with local fishermen: the Mekong abounds of river fishes of all sizes, and no matter how it is cooked, it is always fresh and tasty!
- Kayaking the Mekong – gentle paddling around the islets and their mangrove-like sceneries,
- Zip lining, with jaw dropping waterfall backgrounds, sleep up high at tree top huts, crossing creeks over monkey bridges,
- Active walks to ethnic minority people villages, and for those with strong trekking abilities, reaching villages that do not see many westerners every year,
- Gentle 4×4 touring in the Boloven Plateau area, around tea and coffee plantations,
- Pakse and Champassak town still house many aesthetically appealing buildings dating back to the French colonial era,
- Snap shooting waterfalls that crush in ponds within which one can occasionally swim, taking all necessary precautions,
- Getting off road and taking on the tracks of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Attapeu, Sekong and Salavan.
Southern Laos can be a destination for itself. Especially if you have come to Laos once and done the north. Or of course, it can be the beginning or the end of an itinerant program. Depending on where you come from or where you want to go next, you will certainly pass by Pakse (PKZ). The provincial capital of Champassak province. Its international airport connects to Bangkok (Thailand), Siem Reap (REP, Cambodia) and Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon – SGN – Vietnam). Domestically, you can fly to/from Savannakhet (ZVK), Vientiane (VTE) and Luang Prabang (LPQ). Many visitors find it convenient also to fly in or out of Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani, just across the border, from where one can catch Thai low cost airlines to Bangkok’s Don Muang airport (DMK) and even regular scheduled flights on Thai Airways to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport (BKK).
A much less visited combination would be to link Laos and Vietnam from Attapeu to Kon Tum, in Gia Lai province, in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam. The interests there are mainly about ethnic minority people villages, treks, hilly cycling roads, tea, coffee and perhaps drive north or east to beach destinations like Hoi An or Qui Nhon.
It is also very easy to combine southern Laos with Cambodia overland. Both countries complete each other nicely, with the Mekong as common spine of life.