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Southern Laos: The Highlights

| Words by Laura Gordon-Duff |

Southern Laos’ Highlights: the jewel in Asia’s crown

For those who enjoy the beauty of Asia, exploring Laos is often the jewel in the crown. And for those who love Laos, the south is the ultimate treasure. Boasting World Heritage temples, the world’s only freshwater dolphins, stunning Mekong waterfalls, and some of Laos’ loveliest places to stay, it’s obvious why.

With regular flights from Laos’ capital, Vientiane, to the southern staging post of Pakse (just over 1 hour), southern Laos is criminally easy to access.

A sleepy town, Pakse is the launching point for any tour of southern Laos. The town has a handful of guesthouses and 3-star hotels to choose from, alongside markets and restaurants. A two hour drive from Pakse visit verdant coffee plantations in the cool temperatures of the Bolaven Plateau, admiring Tad Fane waterfalls en route, which cascade over 100 metres.

Magnificent scenery en-route to Tad Fane Waterfalls

Nearby Kingfisher Eco lodge in the nature reserve of Xe Pian is a fitting place to stay in southern Laos, and is fully powered with solar energy. Elephant rides up Mount Phou Asa deliver breath taking views over the Bolaven Plateau and short guided forest treks provide some meaty content to the areas natural spectacles. But with such stunning surroundings, simply enjoying the views from your private balcony may be more than enough!

A short local ferry crossing takes you across the Mekong to Champasak province, home to the Wat Phou World Heritage temples; a captivating experience. The ancient ruins are all that remain in Laos of one of Southeast Asia's most mysterious and least understood kingdoms, the Khmer Empire.

Monks at Champasak, southern Laos

A superb example of Khmer architecture, the Hindu-influenced Wat Phou complex rivals Cambodia’s. But unlike Angkor Wat, the temples are unchanged since French explorers first came upon them in the late 1800s, enhancing the slightly eerie atmosphere. Wat Phou was the crux of the Khmer Kingdom, which spanned much of Southeast Asia.

Wat Phou was the crux of the Khmer Kingdom, which spanned much of Southeast Asia

The Mekong continues to flow south past this ancient Khmer religious site, as it has for centuries, to fan out at Si Phan Don, the remarkable 4,000 Islands, which straddle the Cambodian border. Among this breathtakingly beautiful maze of waterways are a multitude of tiny, perfectly formed palm-lined islands. The area is secluded and empty – with any luck you’re more likely to spot a rare Irrawaddy dolphin than a fellow tourist.

The three day Vat Phou Cruise is a wonderful way to explore the Mekong’s 4,000 Islands. With only 12 cabins, the atmosphere on board this beautiful Laos cruise boat is serenely peaceful and luxurious.

Although Laos is remote and undeveloped, Insider Journeys works with local tourism projects that make getting under the skin of Laos life easier than ever. Charming accommodation awaits in Southern Laos.  Sala Don Khone on Khone Island enjoys a stunning position on the Mekong, and La Folie Lodge on Don Daeng sits on a secluded beach opposite the Wat Phou ruins. Both are idyllic spots to soak up the sunsets from your hammock.

If you can prise yourself out of your hammock, the Mekong’s 4,000 Islands area has some of the best scenery in Asia. Whether by bike, boat or foot, soak up the sights of ancient Khmer ruins, Khone Phapheng and Li Phi Falls, and local Laos life. Not to mention the beautiful Mekong beaches, deserted but for the buffalo.

A slow boat cruise through the 400 Islands of southern Laos

So whether you’re seeking an off-the-beaten-track adventure in Laos or are happy just lazing by the Mekong riverside, prepare to stay longer in Southern Laos than you planned.

Southern Laos in video