Southern Laos: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
One of the regions of Laos, and probably the most diverse one. Southern Laos is rich in natural beauties, such as Bolaven Plateau, 4000 islands on the Mekong River, many waterfalls, Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area, Xe Pian National Biodiversity Conservation Area, ancient sites and temples, such as of Wat Phou, etc. The capital of the Southern Laos is Pakse, the country’s second largest city and also a capital of the Champasak Province. Pakse is also one of three cities in Laos which is served by an international airport, although still not many flights arrive here.
Other provinces, besides the Champasak Province, which constitute Southern Laos, are: Khammouan Province, Salavan Province, Savannakhet Province, and Xekong (Sekong) Province.
Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung Lao Theung, are predominant in the southern Laos. There are many tribes and ethnicities populating this region, most notably Mon-Khmer people. The Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung Lao Theung constitute about 30 percent of the population.
Exploring Southern Laos
Although tourism in Laos is only starting to expand, many of the sites located in Southern Laos already have international attention, and there still many more that are yet to be discovered and explored. From freshwater dolphins of the Mekong River, to the pre-Angkor temples of Wat Phou, the Southern Laos is a touristic gem.
The Bolaven Plateau is an elevated region in southern Laos. Most of the plateau is located within Champasak Province of Laos, though the edges of the plateau are also located in Sekong and Attapeu Provinces. It is located between the Annamite Mountain Range, along which runs Laos’ eastern border with Vietnam, and the Mekong River to the west. The landscape of the Bolaven Plateau is characterized by coffee and tea plantations and dramatic waterfalls surrounded by lush vegetation. The plateau is crossed by several rivers and has many waterfalls. The Tad Lo Waterfalls in Pakse is a popular destination. In addition, one can go beyond Paksong on the way to Pakse, another spectacular waterfall, the 120 meters Tad Fane Waterfall (or Dong Hua Sao) in the Bolaven Plateau is the country's highest waterfall. Moreover, other tourist attractions include the villages of ethnic minorities who have grown accustomed to sharing their culture with visitors to the region. The Dong Hua Sao mountain range is a major one of the 20 National Protected Areas in Laos. Its area spans over 1,100 sq km.
Attapeu is the capital of Attapeu Province, Laos. It is the southernmost among provincial capitals in Laos. Two of South East Asia’s last protected forests, Dong Ampham and Xe Pian are located in this Province. Much of this great natural land is untouched and pristine, home to hundreds of rare species of birds and animals.
Champasak is a province in southwestern Laos, near the borders with Thailand and Cambodia. The capital is Pakse, but it takes its name from Champasak, the former capital of the Kingdom of Champasak.
Si Phan Don, or 4000 Islands, is a unique river archipelago situated in the Mekong River near the Cambodian border. Only 33 islands are inhabited, the smallest settlement being on Don Xang with only a few families. The biggest island is Don Khong with a length of 24km and a width of 8km. Around these islands live the endangered river dolphins of the Mekong River. Don Khong also has a number of small villages, temples and caves. A French-built bridge on the abandoned railway line provides the link with two smaller islands, Don Deth and Don Khon. There are many waterfalls in the province such as the Liphi Waterfall at Don Khon to the west of Ban Khon village; below the falls, in the calmer waters of the Mekong the fresh water dolphins can be seen. The Khone Phapheng Falls to the east of Don Khon, also on the Mekong, cascade along a broad mouth of rock slopes in a curvilinear pattern. Xe Pian National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA) lies in the southeastern part of the province, while the Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area is in the eastern area. The Center for Protection and Conservation of freshwater dolphins is situated at the Cambodian border. These freshwater dolphins are known locally as “Pakha” in Lao, and are found only on this particular stretch of the Mekong River.
The Khmer ruins of Wat Phou are located in the capital of the Champasak District. They are situated on the Phu Kao mountain slopes, about 6 kilometers from Champasak District and about 45 kilometers to the south of Pakse along the Mekong River. At the same location are the ruins of other pre-Angkor monuments. Vat (Wat) Phou is a ruined Khmer Hindu temple, and also a UNESCO World Heritage listed temple complex. One temple in the site was constructed around the 5th century but most buildings found in the complex date back from the 11th to 13th centuries. Like other notable Khmer architecture in Southeast Asia, it was constructed using sandstone, laterite and bricks. It is interesting that this complex has later been used as a Buddhist temple, since Hinduism was replaced by Buddhism in Laos in the mid 13th century. Wat Phou Asa is an ancient Hindu-Khmer pagoda, built on flat rock on Phou Kao Klat Ngong Mount in Pathoumphone District.
The Champasak Historical Heritage Museum in Pakse provides insight into the history of Laos as well as its cultural and artistic heritage. In this museum, treasures dating back to the Stone Age can be seen. The museum has few artifacts and many old documents, three old Dong Son bronze drums, 7th century lintels made of sandstone, textile and jewelry collections including items such as iron ankle bracelets, etc.
Konglor Cave is the biggest and longest cave in Laos. This 7.5 km-long limestone cave was formed by the Hinboun River which still flows through the cave year-round.
The Xe Pian National Protected Area, covering over 240,000 hectares in the southern provinces of Champassak and Attapeu, and touching the national border to Cambodia, is one of the most important nature reserves in Laos. It is home to abundant and rare wildlife such as elephant, gaur, Sun bear, Asiatic black bear, and famous for its extensive wetlands, most famously the Kietngong Wetlands.