Travelling in Southern Laos
We recently had a few days vacation so took up the opportunity to go travelling in Southern Laos, a region we had wanted to explore for several years. We booked flights to Ubon Ratchatani and from there took the bus from the city center to Pakse, 150km from Ubon and 80km from the Thailand / Laos border. The journey was more straightforward than I thought, with very few travelers the visa process took just 30 minutes and in just over 2 hours we had arrived.
Pakse is a very nondescript town but serves as the base for various excursions in the surrounding countryside. It is a modern town built on the banks of the Mekong river with a few surrounding hills, but other than some nice riverfront restaurants there was little to do. We negotiated a trip to Tad Fan for day two and left at 8am for the 50km drive up to the Bolaven plateau, a beautiful ridge surrounded by verdant jungle, waterfalls and small villages. The first stop was Tad Yuang (Tad meaning waterfall in Laos), which is a pretty waterfall, around 20m in height and surrounded by grassy areas to relax. It was perhaps the most touristy place we visited but despite that there were only a few groups of tourists. We stopped here for a couple of hours and had some som tam and grilled pork at the top of the falls before heading a couple of km down the road to Tad Fan, one of the largest waterfalls in Laos.
We were dropped off at Tad Fan resort which overlooks the steep valley where the waterfalls drop into. The view as you approach the resort is breathtaking and even though the waterfalls were still a couple of km away, the sheer scale of them was amazing. The spray from the falls rose above the jungle adding to the impressive vista from the resort. Had we known about the resort we would have chosen to stay, there was a nice restaurant and great Laos coffee so we stayed for another couple of hours taking in the amazing views.
We started the drive back towards Pakse, making a detour to visit another waterfall and ethnic village in the jungle called Uttayan Bajiang. Whilst nice, the village was a bit of a tourist trap, but it made for a nice walk around, and the falls whilst very small were pretty. After this we arrived back in Pakse in the evening and enjoyed a nice dinner on the river to round off a good day.
We decided to rent motorbikes on the 2nd day, the costs in Southern Laos were quite high (2,000THB for the van the day before), and so to cut costs the price of 2 bikes was 800THB (still expensive compared to Thailand). Our destination was Wat Phu, a Khmer temple 38km from Pakse heading South towards Cambodia. The drive was amazing, a long empty highway hugged the side of a mountain range with small paddy fields on either side of the road. As we neared Wat Phu, the road suddenly stopped and we had to navigate a couple of streams and drive along dirt tracks. They were in the process of building bridges but with the building site deserted it may be some time before it is easily passable. There was a detour though if you didn’t fancy a bit of off road.
We were surprised by how few people were at Wat Phu, there were no more than a handful by 10am so as we walked down the old Khmer path towards the temples we pretty much had the site to ourselves. Having been to many other Khmer temples in Thailand and Cambodia my expectations were not too high, but I was pleasantly surprised at the scale of the temples and the stunning carvings. Whilst the site is far smaller than Angkor Wat, the atmosphere is far more relaxing as you don’t have to fight through hoards of people to enjoy the best views.
The best part was hiking up the hill to enjoy the viewpoint and explore the smaller temples and rock carvings that were strewn all over the place. The canopy of the jungle provided some relief for the heat too as it hovered around 40 degrees C in the open. After a few hours we headed back onto the road and back to the hotel for our final night.
Southern Laos is a beautiful area and I would certainly go back again to explore the Bolaven plateau more. I was a hoping for a bit more of a culture shock but the food was more of less the same as Thai food and the it was developed as much as across the border, and there was not much in the way of culture, rather just beautiful scenery which was enough.