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  • Laos Highlights

Destinations

CHAMPASAK * PAKSE

Champasak is a province in southwestern Laos, near the borders of Thailand and Cambodia. It is bordered by Salavan Province to the north, Sekong Province to the northeast, Attapeu Province to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. The river Mekong forms part of the border with neighboring Thailand and contains Si Phan Don (Four thousand Islands) in the south of the province, on the border with Cambodia.
 
 
Area: 15,415 sq.km
 
Population: 607,333 inhabitants. The ethnic group composition consists mainly of Lao, but also Chieng, Inthi, Kaseng, Katang, Kate, Katu, Kien Lavai, Laven, Nge, Nyaheun, Oung, Salao, Suay, Tahang and Tahoy ethnic groups.
 
Topography: The topography consists of low hills, lowlands, rivers, and seasonal streams.
 
Administrative division: 10 districts
 
Climate: Champasak  is influenced by tropical monsoon climate. Rainfall is heavy from May to October; it's dry and cool from November to February; and hot and dry in March and April. Usually, the monsoon occurs simultaneously throughout Laos. There's even a variance in the amount of rainfall in the different regions. The highest annual rainfall - 3700 mm was noted on the Bolaven Plateau in Champasak Province.
 
Sights of interest
 
Champasak has played a central role in the history of Siam and Laos, with frequent battles taking place in and around Champasak. Its rich cultural heritage includes ancient temple ruins and French colonial architecture. Champasak has some 20 wats (temples), such as Wat Phou, Wat Luang and Wat Tham Fai. Freshwater dolphins and the province's many waterfalls are tourist attractions.
 
Pakse is the capital of Champasak Province, founded by French colonialists in 1905. The kingdom was destroyed in 1946 after which the Kingdom of Lao was created. Pakse is located at the mouth of the rivers Xedong and Mekong. The term Pakse means the ‘Mouth of the River Se’. This city is inhabited by 70,000 people and the Pakse International Airport serves as a link to the Bolaven Plateau. The construction of this airport was completed in November 2009, and has connections to Siem Reap, Vientiane and Bangkok. The distance from Vientiane to Pakse is 610 kilometers by Route 13 (south) via the provinces of Borikhamxay, Khammouane, Savannakhet and Saravane.
 
  
                           Pakse Airport                               Street in downtown Pakse                      Street in front of main market
 
4000 islands. Known also as ‘Si Phan Don”, the Four Thousand group of small islands are scattered across the Mekong. The southern islands of Don Dhet and Don Khong are the two most visited as the remaining majority stay wild and uninhabited, largely due to their minute size. Both islands are situated close to the Cambodian border and  provided a vital connection between Saigon (Vietnam) and Laos during the French Colonial times when a railway was built to connect the two sides.
 
  
Activities at Don Khong island
 
Don Dhet is the most laid back of the two, although it has some bars and restaurants, Don Khong is the biggest and easier to reach and often a little busier with accommodation getting overcrowded at times. The waters surrounding the islands are home to the rare and illusive Irrawaddy dolphins and provide plenty of fish to the local villagers. The islands are best visited from November to January. March through May brings very hot dry weather whilst the monsoon rains beat down and wash out the small roads from June to October.
 
Self-sufficient villages survive on local produce including rice, coconuts, sugar cane and vegetables, with clothing and textiles made by their own weaving techniques as and when required. The islands are a great place to discover a new very rural side to Laos, rich in tradition and culture with old buildings, walking trails and a choice of places to sleep and eat.
 
 
Ban Khone. The village of Ban Khone is located on Don Khon island (not to be confused with Don Khong the big island also called Khong Island). This well known fishermen’s village of Ban Khone is also famous for its cultivation of coconut, bamboo and kapok (cotton). Villagers make their own incense from local aromatic woods for worship days. Several French colonial villas are still standing in this village. The French even built a short railway to link Ban Khone to another island called Don Det to convey goods and even whole boats with their cargoes beyond the rapids where they could then go up the Mekong River to as far north as Vientiane. The trains stopped running in 1945 when the Japanese demolished the railway line. However, the bridge and piers are still impressive. A Lao style temple called Wat Khon Tai is built over a Chenla Khmer site whose lingam on a pedestal still stands erect next to the temple. At the western end of Ban Khone village is a cluster of raging rapids called Tat Somphamit (or Liphi Falls). Irrawaddy river dolphins can be spotted south of the village in the early morning or late afternoon from December to May.
 
 
 
                                                    Ban Khone                                                               French rusted locomotive
 
 
Liphi waterfalls, (officially known as Taat Somphamit), is located about 15km by river south of Muang Khong. From the village of Ban Khon, 1km further down a path, the Liphi Falls rage over ragged boulders. The falls have a drop of only a few metres but their volume and power are awesome. A second set of falls is located 500 metres downstream. Fishermen use traps and nets to catch fish in the pools at the base of the falls. A unique attraction are the Irrawaddy Dolphins, held sacred by the Lao. The center for protection and conservation of freshwater dolphins is located on the border of Laos-Cambodia. The freshwater dolphins are called "Pla kha" in Lao, and inhabit only this part of the Mekong River. They are not afraid of people and would frolic around when they see people. Tourists can observe the endangered freshwater dolphins by chartering boats from either Ban Khon or Ban Veunkham (located at the southern tip of the islands).
 
 
Li Phi (Tat Somphamit) Waterfalls
 
 
Khone Phapheng Falls. The jewel of Champassak province, Phon Phapheng Waterfall, is located in east of Don Khong on the Mekong River. Further downstream, the Mekong cascades across a wide mound of rocks which slopes in curvilinear pattern and coloured rainbows as the sunlight hits the sprays. It's the Niagara of Asia, the widest waterfall, more than 20 kilometers in width. A place where the Mekong River takes a turn before continuing its course into the South China Sea after passing through Cambodia and Vietnam. It's also renowned as a fish basin. These spectacular waterfalls render this section of the Mekong River enviable.
 
Khone  Phapheng Falls
 
Bolaven Plateau. The Boloven plateau is a very fertile plain to the North of Pakse. Coffee and Durian are grown. Durians are harvested from May to July; at that time nowhere in the world Durians are cheaper than here. The most important town on the plateau is Paksong. South Laos is home to a number of hill tribes descending from Southeast Asia's original inhabitants. These tribes are by far not as numerous as the Hmong, Karen or Akha, and most of them are on a lower level of civilization. But they were in Southeast Asia far earlier than the Vietnamese or the Thais (both migrants from central Asia), and earlier than other hill tribes. The indigenous tribes, and their ancestors, belong to the Proto-Malay group of people, closer related to Malays than to Thais, Vietnamese and Chinese. Until around 800, before the rise of Angkor, Javanese (Indonesian) and Malay kingdoms ruled Southeast Asia.
In the Boloven plateau are some scenic waterfalls , some of which are Pa Suam waterfall and Tad Fane waterfall.
 
 
Tad Fane waterfall located on the edge of the Dong Houa Sao National Protected Area on the Bolaven Plateau can be seen from the Tad Fane Resort. The trekking can also be arranged from the resort.
 
The Tad Fane Resort overlooks the Tad Fane waterfalls, thundering down in a 200 meter deep gorge. Beyond the waterfalls stretches the extensive jungle of Dong Hua Sao, one of the 18 National Biodiversity Conservation Areas in the country. Open since 2000, Tad Fane is one of Laos' pioneering nature resorts. Thanks to its location on an elevation of 1100 meters and surrounded by forests, temperatures are much lower than elsewhere in Laos. Even in the hottest period of the year, March and April, temperatures in the daytime usually do not reach over 27oC, while at night it cools down considerably.
 
 
                                         Tad Fane Waterfall                                                                   Pa Suam Waterfall
 
 
Pa Suam waterfall. This waterfall is located on the Bolaven Plateau and is a great spot to spend a lazy afternoon or a quiet overnight stay. The Uttayan Bachieng Lodge overlooks the waterfall and offers a wide range of accommodation options, from unique tree-house type bungalows to homestay in an ethnic Lave village.
 
 
Wat Phou temple is situated on the Phou Kao mountains slope, 6 kilometers away from Champasack District and about 45 kilometers from south of Pakse along the Mekong River. It is also important as an historic and cultural site and was acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on December 14, 2001.
 
The temple complex of Wat Phou was begun as early as the 7th century AD, though its present form dates mostly from the 11th and 12th centuries. Of all the Khmer temples, Wat Phou is considered one of the most beautiful because of its setting. The temple complex measures 1,400 meters in a line running east to west up the lower part of Phou Pasak Mountain. It was built over the course of several centuries, beginning in the 7th century. The Khmer rulers continued to maintain the temple through the 14th century, even after they had moved the capital from the Champasak area to Angkor in present day Cambodia. Most remains of Wat Phou can be seen today date from the 11th century. The temple is built on six different levels or terraces, connected by steps and a central walkway. Most are man-made, but the uppermost level is a natural terrace where a spring flows out of the mountain. Standing structures within the temple complex include baray, quadrangles, Nandin hall, small pavilions, brick towers, stairways and the main shrine. The main shrine was dedicated to Shiva. Inside, where today there is a statue of the Lord Buddha, there would have been a Shiva linga. Converted from Hinduism to Buddhism in the 13th century AD, Wat Phou still plays an important role in local religious life today. On the full moon night of the third lunar month, Champasak residents hold their traditional Wat Phou festival including many activities such as elephant race, buffalo fighting and cock fighting and also performances.
 
 
                                        Wat Phou landscape                                                   Ruins of Prayer room at Wat Phou
 
 
Tormor Rocky Channel archeological site, listed as National Heritage Site in Laos, is located about 11 kilometers southeast from Wat Phou Champasack, on the left bank of the Mekong River.
 
The Tormor Rocky House, as is known by the locals, was originally built in the 9th century with bricks and carved stone during the 7th and 8th centuries. These were later destroyed with the Gopura artwork now on display built with layered rocks in the 11th and 12 centuries.
 
 
Ban Khiet Ngong is a good example of how the Lao Government is trying to develop a smooth-running, ecologically friendly tourist infrastructure that brings much-needed income to increasingly remote regions of Laos without impacting negatively on the traditional life-ways of the locals.
 
When entering the village, visitors will see the elephant platform on the left, which makes it possible to get on and off the mammoth beasts, and the one 'tourist friendly' place is stay is well-removed from the village. There are no signs of the hawking and pandering among locals that tends to rise up when cash-laden tourists show up in relatively impoverished places. A visit here is recommended, not only for the beauty of the landscape and novelty of the elephant treks, but also to support the future of such low-impact development in Laos.
 
  
At Ban Khiet Ngong
 
Ban Khiet Ngong is part of the Xe Pian National Protected Area, 24,000 square kilometres of wildlife and forests reaching through Champasak and Attapeu provinces to the border with Cambodia. The area is rife with bird-life, but also larger mammals like the Asian Black Bear and yellow-cheeked crested gibbon--not that you'll necessarily spot any of these on your trek, but they're out there! The area is also home to the Brow ethnic group, inhabiting Ta Ong and other villages in the area.
 
The road that leads to Ban Khiet Ngong is also the start of the rough-and-ready trail that leads eventually to Attapeu. While there is no public transport along this road, experienced motorcyclists may want to give it a go.
 
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