Beginning of Southern Laos

From Vang Vieng we headed South to explore. In the next 10 days we experienced the unknown of Southern Laos. Away from the regular tourist trail many backpackers travel in the North.

Vientiane

The first stop being Vientiane, known as the capital and the largest city in Laos. Located roughly a 4 hour drive from Vang Vieng. It’s the perfect place to have a quick stop off to admire the French architecture. Contrasted charmingly, by golden gleaming religious monuments and the almost identical Arc De Triomphe. Known in this city as Patuxai.

COPE

One stop you must do is the COPE Visitor centre. Here, if not done so already, is where you fully appreciate how Laos has become what it is today. The struggles, heartbreaks and poverty. To understand there’s more to this country then just the beautiful sites and scenery many tourists just come to see.

COPE is a centre that lets you into their history. To experience first hand and get involved. To enhance with all your senses to see, feel, hear and touch how it was for them only a mear 40 years ago. This centre is helping Lao citizens to deal effectively with what’s happened and give opportunities to further help them. This could be creating personal prosthetics, to aiding them with coping mechanisms to clearing land of UXO’s.

History

The history of Laos is purely heartbreaking. Millions of innocent citizens die by just going about their everyday lives. How? During the Vietnamese war, millions of cluster bombs where dropped and planted in order of attack. But, most of these are unexploded and therefore, are buried into the ground where people live and work from. In fact; ‘Between 1999 and 2008, there were 2,184 casualties (including 834 deaths) from UXO incidents’.

Free activities

Whilst our time in Vientiane, we visited the main temple – Pha That Luang. Standing high in its golden beauty, this monument is rewarded as the most important national monument in Laos – a national representation. Behind stands a magnificent golden reclining Buddha.

Patuxai is a monument you should see if you’ve got time, symbolised by the war. Exclusively for the Laos citizens for sadly died whilst fighting in the war to receive freedom from France.

Kong Lor

Our next stop was Kong Lor, a 6 hour very bumpy bus ride also referred to as a ‘free massage journey’. Just outside of the deserted village was an incredible viewpoint. Imagine, looking out onto mountains upon mountains in the middle of nowhere, beautiful flora surrounding you, incredible landscapes staring back at you and nothing but the noise of the cattle nearby and the wind.

The village

This tiny, sleepy village was a hidden gem. With only a handful of tourists including ourselves and only a couple of guest houses to choose from, it was easy to see that not many people come here. Walking around and engaging with the locals was welcoming.

Moreover, it was Luke’s Birthday here so unfortunately we couldn’t do much – but we will celebrate properly in time to come!

Caves

Easily one of South-East Asia’s most magical wonders. Limestone cliffs with an opening base on the river Hinboun. Magnificent in length, 7.5km to be exact – this is a geological masterpiece.

For only 120,000kip (£10), take a long boat down the river through these panoramic caves take you into complete darkness only guided by the small headlight of your boat driver. It’s eerie yet fascinating that a cave this deep and long exists as you venture further into its depths.

Half way through you disembark the boat and walk through what can only be described as partly lit cave formations moulded into a pathway. It’s here you feel most isolated, with spiders and most likely (not that you can see the ceiling) hundreds of bats.

Thatkek

Our next stop on the itinerary for Southern Laos was Thatkek. A small town in the north of Laos. There’s not much to do here apart from looking around, it was more a layover for our long journey. It was quite interesting to see that from one side of the river was us and the opposite site was Thailand.

Xe Champhone

The fourth place we were visiting in Southern Laos was Xe Champhone. A remote village, so remote that there wasn’t any restaurants to eat or hotels to stay as such. But, it was a nice way to see the traditional, yet isolated, Laos.

Temple with Buddha park

Here, they had a traditional Buddhist temple which we visited. Wearing a beautiful embroidery skirt and, what can only be described as a curtain net, as a sign of respect, we headed in. Whilst songs were playing all around, we awed at the beauty. Temples, monks and prayers showed that this place was honoured. Walking down a ricitiy bridge you find yourself in essentially a Buddha Park. It’s here, that you understand how important this religion is in this country. With a mass of 80% Laos citizens, it’s clear to see how important monasteries like this one is.

Monkey forest

Just a couple of roads down from the Buddha Park, you emerge yourself in a monkey forest. Bananas at the ready, hundreds of monkeys (and goats, weirdly) are ready to greet you. A surreal experience.

Pakse

This is a more well-known city of Southern Laos. Despite not having many food outlets, hotels or activities in the city. It’s a place where many travellers find themselves to explore the hidden depths and treasures of the country.

Waterfall

Tad Ngeuang is a magnificent waterfall, standing an impressive 120m high. The waterfall itself overlooks a dense forest to the south of the waterfall and as you look east to Pakse the coffee plantations are a short distance away. It’s not amazingly maintained around the area so expect some issues regarding getting to and from the base of the waterfall. Furthermore, you can sometimes be lucky enough to spot a rainbow on the falls itself like us!

Coffee and tea plantation

Nearby as stated above, are the coffee and tea plantations. Here, you can experience not only how they are made, but the effort it goes into making and you can even try it for yourself too!

View point and big Buddha

Another stop on our itinerary included the view point among the big Buddha just in time for sunset. Driving up the winding roads (thankfully, not walking!) we reached the summit. Here, are impressive, picturesque temples complete with loads of small gold buddhas that people have donated. Walking around, you get to see the big golden Buddha sitting on his mountainous throne. Overlooking the beautiful pinks, baby blues and warm oranges as the sun begins to set.

Wat Phu Temple

Our last stop for Pakse, included UNESCO Wat Phu Temple. Alegdenaly known as the mini-Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Astonishing greenery surrounds the area with a dazzling blue lake in its front. The temple is a steep, long climb up some, questionable looking stairs. But, once there you can admire the beauty of what it is, let alone what it used to be. A few steps further and you will embark on a elephant carved rock overlooking the wonderful sights.

Later, once safety down the steps. You have the option to view the informative museum which is full of details of its history and many artifacts in which people have recovered.

Journey to Don Det aka 4,000 Islands

Don Det, is known for the chilling part of Southern Laos. Situated on an island in the Mekong River. This is apparently only one of 4,000, hence the name. From Pakse, it takes 3.5 hours by bus to reach the port. Then, only a 20 minute long-boat ride to reach the pier on the other side.

Accommodation

Places to stay are spread widely across the strip when you first disembark. Fewer accommodation is around the island itself and on the neighbouring island of Don .. We stayed at a place called Dalom Guesthouse which was really pleasant for our 5 days here (and included breakfast – bonus)!

Nightlife

It hasn’t entirely made its name for nightlife at the moment but there is the option of many bars that you can visit just don’t expect too much. One of our favourites was the 4,000 island bar which overlooked the river. Completed with a pool table, hammocks, good Wi-Fi and a ping-pong table. Obviously, remember there is still a curfew in place in the country.

Exploring

Obviously, as previously stated, Don Det is more for relaxing and chilling, more so than adventures and thrill-seeking activities. Although there are a few things to do including  tubing, taking boat tours to explore nearby islands and boat tours for seeing the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins (although, bear in mind that you don’t always see them as ‘In the Mekong there are likely between 78 and 91 individual dolphins left’. However, some friends we met up with saw them and they were apparently so beautiful!)

We rented bicycles for 10,000kip each (£2) and explored the islands of Don Det & Don Khon. Cycling around, you can tell that this place hasn’t adapted fully to tourism just yet besides the main strip. There are some waterfalls to see but it’s mainly just to explore the wonderful countryside.

Food

There are many food outlets among the strip that you can choose and enjoy. The main ones we loved are in a list below;

  • Reggae bar – this place was mainly just for a drink and to chill. The music and atmosphere was nice just to kick back and relax.
  • Friends – this bar had unlimited episodes of friends playing whilst you dined and drank. Where we spend an incredible amount of time with our laptop – it’s just so easy to see the day away if you’ve not got much planned.
  • Kea backpackers – a tiny, cute restaurant which serves delicious foods
  • Mama Taron Cafè- an amazing restaurant with wonderful foods and staff who are so lovely and friendly. Travel books are available to read whilst you wait. Alternately, you can awe at the many travel quote placks that are displayed all around their walls and you can even take a ‘fortune’ yourself off of their napkin holders – a nice touch.
  • 4,000 island bar – as mentioned previously

What’s next?

Well that’s it for Laos for us! We will be entering Cambodia next full of surprising histories and magnificent masterpieces such as the incredible Angkor.

Tips

  • If you have time, visit Kong Lor and the cave, it’s honestly so breath-taking. Thongdam Guesthouse accommodation is also so lovely if you wish to stay!
  • All these places listed above, you really don’t need to spend long there – just flying visits
  • Take proper shoes when climbing the steps of Wat Phu Temple in Pakse
  • Don’t expect much from Don Det it’s lovely scenery and a place of chill

About The Author

Wanderlust Lab is a collaboration between Abbie and Luke for the sharing of travelling knowledge to help backpackers and travellers all across the globe. Live Wanderlust.

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