Champasak and Pakse
Champasak is one of the most culturally rich provinces in Laos, as well as offering astounding natural beauty. There is so much to see and explore here, such as the impressive ruins of Wat Phou, the coffee plantations and rural life of the Bolaven Plateau and the waterfalls and Irrawaddy dolphins of the 4,000 Islands. The capital of the province is Pakse, which was founded in 1905 by the French.
Whilst many of the sites are possible to see as a day trip from Pakse, staying in the local areas can provide a more in-depth experience and opportunity to soak up the laid back atmosphere and catch a glimpse of rural life.
Wat Phou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and pre-dates the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. The oldest temple at the site is from the 5th century, but most of the other buildings were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries. The name ‘Wat Phou’ means ‘Mountain Temple’, and so it is unsurprising that the site is located on a hillside, offering incredible views over the surrounding countryside.
The Bolaven Plateau ranges between 600 to 1,350 metres above sea level, offering a mild climate, fertile soil, dramatic waterfalls and beautiful scenery. Coffee is Laos’ biggest export, and many of the beans are grown in this area, and there are also tea plantations. The soil is watered by many rivers which emerge over the edge of the plateau as stunning waterfalls, with some falling more than 100 metres. There are many ethnic minorities in this area, with hilltribes including the Laven (for which the plateau is named), Suay, Taoy and Alak.
The 4,000 Islands are right down in the south of Laos at the border with Cambodia. The two main islands for visitors are Don Dhet and Don Khong, with most of the other islands remaining uninhabited. This is one of the best places to try and spot the elusive Irrawaddy dolphins, with the most likely time for sightings being between December and May. There are also wonderful waterfalls, and picturesque rural scenery dotted with villages, rice fields and old temples.