Anyone who has traveled to Laos has probably experienced the feeling… when you think of Laos your mind instantly wanders to the intricate temples, the delicate scent of frangipani petals, the meandering Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, and the lovely textiles of Luang Prabang. It’s undoubtedly a travelers’ paradise.
Luang Prabang will always hold a special place in my heart, however, I'm here to tell you that there is so much more to experience in Laos… places which will leave you feeling fulfilled, as if you got special access to see something truly unique. With a variety of different climates and subcultures, Laos has it all, so I was eager to taste a little bit more of this amazing country.
I particularly savored my experience in southern Laos, a region teeming with beautiful scenery, interesting culture, fascinating history and a slowed-down and simple way of life. My visit to this region still feels like a dream. I visited during the off-season so while this meant sporadic heavy rains most afternoons, it also came with the benefit of lush, green landscapes and the feeling that I was the only tourist around for miles.
Upon arrival into Pakse in Southern Laos, meeting with my guide and heading out of the riverside city by car, one of the first places we visited was Tad Fane waterfall – a spectacular scene comprised of two vertically impressive falls pouring out of the jungle environ into the depths below.
At nearly 400 feet it is the tallest waterfall in Laos, and with the perspective of looking straight across to the top of the falls, it provides a truly breathtaking moment for onlookers. With any expectations I had come here with already surpassed, the excitement of what to come was imminent.
Next up was the nearby Tad Yuang Falls, which felt like the quintessential waterfall, pouring gracefully off of a rock wall and misting below into the bright green foliage. I got pretty wet walking down so I got into the water and I loved every minute of it. One of the best parts was that there was no one in sight!
After soaking (literally) in the magic of the waterfalls, it was off to the coffee and tea plantations of the Bolaven Plateau. This fertile area is home to quality coffee beans and delicate tea leaves due to its minerally rich soil, thanks to a volcanic eruption millions of years ago.
As a coffee and tea lover, this was my version of heaven! Enjoying a freshly brewed cuppa, I overlooked the bountiful flowering plants from which these beans had come. Many local families depend on coffee farming for their livelihood and it felt good to contribute to the local economy.
Meandering along the plateau with a sense of ease and a bit of a caffeine buzz, we made a stop near Ban Houay Hun for a local produce market and peruse traditional textiles from Katu artisans; their gorgeous textiles are distinct to the region and this ethnic tribe. Intermingling with women smoking their massive water pipes, we learned about the interesting (and delicious looking) fruits and vegetables they were selling.
The next day it was off to the Champassak region to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Vat Phou, an impressive pre-Angkorian Khmer temple ruin which represents the easternmost border of the Khmer empire. The ruins are situated on a hillside offering spectacular views of the surrounds. It was a stunning setting, and much less chaotic than the ruins found at the Angkor complex in Cambodia.
From here we continued along to Ban Nakasang where we caught a long tail boat. Gliding along past thatched roofed bungalows, hammocks and abundant foliage, we made our way along the 4,000-island archipelago to Don Khon. Here we paid a visit to abandoned French colonial buildings and what is left of Lao’s French railway; with my guide’s explanation of the history which unfolded at the rusted remnants, I took a step back in time and envisioned what life was like in the late 1800s when the rail network was built to navigate the impassable Mekong.
Hopping onto another boat, we then started our quest to catch a glimpse of the elusive Irrawaddy Dolphin. We lucked out and saw some of these endangered beauties frolicking in the serene river waters. What a special moment. On our way back we ran into some teenagers selling massive bags of fresh mushrooms they had foraged, which we later had cooked into a nice spicy mushroom soup for lunch.
The last point of interest on my trip was the mighty Khone Phapheng Waterfall, known as the “Niagara of the East.” It is currently listed as having the greatest volume of the world’s waterfalls. Everywhere I looked water was gushing over rocks and through trees and it was hard to tell where the waterfall ended due to the sheer quantity of water pumping through the area.
All in all, I left Southern Laos feeling a profound sense of wonder, with a smile on my face. It felt like one of those beautiful undiscovered gems, just enough outside of the tourist circuit for my liking…my very own secret slice of paradise.