Southern Laos

With Andy away on a work trip to Bhutan, I decided to take a trip to southern Laos.

I flew to Pakse and stayed in the Pakse Hotel, a good, simple hotel in the middle of town with the added bonus of a great rooftop bar and a generous sunset happy hour. Pakse is a very nice town, with old buildings and wide, quiet, tree-lined streets. I imagine Vientiane was similar 30 years ago.

The next day I took a bus down to Si Phan Don, the Four Thousand Islands, where the Mekong flows from the highlands down to the lowlands in Cambodia. On the way I stopped to check out the most impressive of the rapids at Khon Pha Pheng – it was spectacular! Later, I took a boat over to Don Khon via flooded forest and islands of all sizes. Even the bigger islands like Don Khon are quiet, with dirt tracks and just a few motorbikes and the odd truck to get around. I stayed at the Sala Don Khone, an old colonial building dating from the 1890s that used to be the hospital.

The next morning I went for a run to Khon Pa Soi (Fisherman’s Falls), then rented a bike to go to the beach to take a boat to see the Irrawaddy dolphins. These freshwater dolphins are found across SE Asia; this is the only population in Laos and they are threatened by construction of a dam nearby, across the main fish migration channel of the Mekong. The trip was meant to be an hour but we spotted the dolphins 58 minutes in so we stayed out a bit longer to get a good look. After lunch I rode down to the old French port: one of several attempts to produce a navigation route up the Mekong. On the way home I called in at Tat Somphamit Falls, which was also very spectacular!

The next day I started again with a run and then took a boat and a bus back to Pakse. In the afternoon I hired a car and driver and went to visit Wat Phou, a Khmer-era temple complex. It was the annual festival and it was busy with a market, blaring music, and hoards of people climbing to the upper temple to make offerings. The music was briefly turned down for the candlelit procession led by monks before the party restarted. It was great to see it so busy and being used but the trash lying everywhere was unbelievable!

The final day was spent on a tour of the Bolaven Plateau. The highlights were waterfalls and the tea of coffee plantations. I didn’t so much enjoy the slightly awkward traditional village visits. I had dinner in the evening with To, a Lao friend I met in Vientiane, and the next day we went to see the enormous gold Buddha outside Pakse before it was time to fly home.

I really recommend this part of Laos – lots of interesting things to do. Photos here.

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