Champasak’s Top Attractions

Champasak oozes with heritage, from Khmer ruins dating before Angkor Wat to French colonial influence.

 

Much of the province’s past can be seen along the Mekong at Vat Phou and throughout the 4,000 Islands, where the local’s riverside lifestyle shines. You’ll find plenty of natural attractions on the Mekong, but a trip to the Bolaven Plateau unveils waterfalls, forest treks, a forest canopy experience…and the highland’s famous coffee.

Heritage

While staying in Pakse Town, visit the Champasak Palace Hotel, the would-be home of Prince Chao Boon Oum, who left Laos around 1975. The elaborate seven-storey structure with 115 rooms and arched balconies, also boasts 1,000 doors and windows in traditional Lao style, thus its nickname, “The Thousand Door Pavilion”. 

However, the real heritage show starts near Champasak Town at the pre-Angkor ruins of Vat Phou UNESCO World Heritage site. Investigate the 5th-century complex that supported the Khmer civilization, with its ancient temples, water channels, reservoirs, rock quarries, irrigation systems, settlements, and the ancient road to Angkor Wat.

Take a look around the Vat Phou Museum at the site’s entrance to view a collection of relics and sculptures, and introduce yourself to the complex. After your visit, head to the Ancient City of Shrestapura near Vat Luang Kau. The city once acted as a capital of the Khmer Empire dating to the 5th century.

A short walk from Vat Phou along the old Khmer road to Angkor Wat leads to the ancient Temple of Nang Sida. Also close by stands pre-Angkor Vat Tomo on the Mekong and the 13th-century Vat Thao Thao with a tower in a central courtyard surrounded by a wall.

On Don Khong, a French stronghold on the Mekong, take a tour of the District Museum, and inspect displays of the area’s history in a well-preserved, two-story colonial structure, built in 1898 to house the governor and royal family member, Chao Anou.

While on Don Khong, check out Vat Phou Khao Keo dating to 1364, with a golden Buddha and colourful murals, and stones carved in Sanskrit and Khmer designs. Along the way, view Vat Hin Siew’s sacred stone, and the colonial-style Vat Vieng Thong’s ancient stupa and monuments containing cremated remains.

Downriver on Don Khone and Don Det, explore what’s left of the French colonial presence and the infrastructure built to sidestep the impassable Mekong rapids and waterfalls. You can inspect the 500-metre-long teak diversion wall built in 1903 to funnel logs along Dan Khone’s east bank to a diversion dam that straddles a waterfall.

Examine the Hang Khone Pier on the island’s southern tip. You can see the pulley system and 100-year-old steam locomotive that once teamed to bypass the Mekong’s rough waters by hauling cargo, passengers, and disassembled boats on the islands’ railway.

Retrace the railway’s path from Hang Khone as it cuts through Don Khone’s jungle to Ban Khone, where you can investigate the rusty remains of another original locomotive. The train’s route continues 3 km across the still-standing railroad bridge to Don Det and on to the loading gantry at the island’s northern tip.

Culture & Buddha

Champasak’s culture intertwines with Buddhism, especially along the Mekong. In Pakse Town, you can wander around Vat Luang on the Xe Don riverbank near its confluence with the Mekong. Constructed in 1935, the temple features ornate décor, intricate murals, and a golden Buddha. Arrive at sunrise to witness Buddhist monks collecting alms.

Across the river, explore the secluded Vat Sop Se Chinese Temple, which presents a rich collection of Chinese Buddhist artefacts with a detailed history of Chinese influence in Pakse. Locals believe the spirit of the Xe Don River (naga) resides there, and people come to make offerings to the spirit and ask for good luck.    

The Dao Heuang Market, the largest in Southern Laos, presents today’s local culture. Make your way through its noisy, crowded maze and watch the haggling over a range of products from housewares and fresh food to handicrafts made by ethnic groups. Stop at a stall and sample local specialties or seek peace amid the chaos with a cup of Bolaven Plateau coffee.

Travel north of Pakse to villages with artisans dedicated to a particular craft. A Mekong riverboat cruises to weavers in Don Kho and Ban Saphai, who create silk garments in the shade under their houses on stilts.

Stop between the weaving villages at Don Khor, home of Buddha Stone Carvers at the entrance to Vat Chompet, with its 30-metre high Buddha. Ponder the craftsmanship, as artisans chisel out beautiful Buddha carvings.

South of Pakse, you’ll find Laos Wind Trace Art Museum and its displays of traditional and modern art in a forest setting. You can ponder paintings by students at the Pakse Art School, and relax at its café in nature.

For those heading to Champasak Town and Vat Phou, stop at Ban Nong Bueng, some 43 km south of Pakse, and get an up close look at traditional woodcarving. They use techniques handed down through generations of the Ta Oy ethnic group, who moved from the region’s eastern mountains. 

While in the heritage landscape, visit the 19th-century Vat Muang Kang, featuring white columns and high sloping roofs, reflecting influences from Europe, Siam, Burma, and China. The compound sits in tropical environs covered with frangipani and banana trees, bamboo forests, and coconut palms, and offers views of the Mekong. 

Enjoy a show at the Shadow Puppet Theatre in the centre of Champasak Town. A small troupe of artists, musicians, vocalists, comedians, and puppeteers presents a show infusing humour into the classic Ramayana tale. The theatre’s Cinema Tuk Tuk shows the famed film “Chang”, a 1920s motion picture depicting life in northern Laos.

Immerse yourself in the local culture with a bicycle ride around Don Daeng Island across the Mekong from Champasak. Stop in villages for local food and treats, visit Buddhist temples and a forest stupa, and take in rice fields with buffaloes, cows, and goats wandering around. Several biking routes lead you to all points of the large tranquil island.

Downriver on a Don Khong tour, take a break at the Palm Sugar Village and watch the entire production process, from locals climbing ladders to the treetops, to extracting the juice, steaming it, and creating sugar cakes known throughout Laos. You can also immerse yourself in Don Khong’s laidback lifestyle, meet the locals, watch fishermen, and enjoy a refreshing break at Muang Saen.

On Don Khone, cross a suspension bridge at the base of a waterfall and follow the path to Pa Soy to watch fishermen climb on a bamboo matrix to inspect their traps.

For those heading to the Bolaven Plateau, visit the Jhai Coffee House, which educates local farmers on specialty coffee growing methods. You will learn which coffee cherries to pick, meet the farmers, inspect the coffee process, and learn how to roast, before sampling the finished product. 

The Sinouk Coffee Resort and Plantation offers a relaxing coffee experience by combining a resort on its grounds. Wander around the organic coffee plantation, and learn about the French influence on this industry in Laos. Spend the night in a chalet and absorb the surrounding gardens, ponds and waterfalls.

Nature

Most of Champasak’s natural attractions are on the Bolaven Plateau, but there is plenty to see along the Mekong. In Pakse Town, head to Phou Salao Viewpoint and catch the sunrise over the Bolaven Plateau and sunset over the Mekong from a platform. While there, visit Vat Phou Salao with its golden Buddha.

Catch the Li Phi Waterfalls power through a twisted maze of rocky channels in the Mekong at Don Khone in the 4,000 Islands. Just downriver, you can admire rare freshwater Irrawaddy River dolphins lazily surfacing for air.

Closer to the Cambodian Border, Khone Phapheng Waterfall, Southeast Asia’s largest waterfall by volume, thunders over a wide mass of boulders in a sea of mist.

Watch more of the water show on the Bolaven Plateau between Pakse and Paksong. Stop at Tad Pha Suam, a 6-metre-high, U-shaped waterfall formed by the Houay Champi River dropping from the plateau as it runs towards Salavan Province. 

Next up, you’ll find the famed Tad Fane Waterfall, a breath-taking feat of nature. Tad Fane combines two rivers to form stunning twin 120m-high waterfalls that meet at the pool at its base. Treat yourself to glorious views from a forest setting at the Tad Fane Resort.  

Further up the plateau, stop at Tad Yuang Waterfall, and enjoy the vista from viewing platforms as you climb the stairs to the top. You can swim in the pools above and below Tad Yuang, and trek through the forest to Tad Champee and other hidden falls.

For a great view of Champasak’s nature, sign up for Green Discovery’s Tree Top Explorer. Fly on zip-lines that crisscross gorges and waterfalls. Then, take on the via ferrata that climbs steep cliffs, and explore the forest on a canopy walkway.

Head to the heart of the province’s nature at the Xe Pian Protected Area. You can ride an elephant, trek through the NPA’s 2,400 km2, or relax at an eco-lodge at Ban Kiet Nong, and watch birds at the wetlands.

 

Champasak: Heritage on the Mekong

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