Fewer visitors take the time to visit the south which has however many wonders to discover, from the Bolaven plateau and its stunning waterfalls and lush forests landscape, the world heritage site of Wat Phou, and the famous 4000 islands on the Mekong River
So, my article will highly a few (non-exhaustive) places to see between Pakse and the South border toward Cambodia, following the riverbanks of the Mekong River …
Sporting a cool climate, an astounding quantity of magnificent waterfalls, many ethnic communities, and the best coffee in all of Laos, the Bolaven Plateau has become a mainstay in any Southern Laos itinerary.
Tad E-Tu waterfall
This is the first waterfall you reach driving up from Pakse, just 1 km away from the main road route 16. The waterfall is less visited than some others but still beautiful with a 40m impressive drop
At the time of my visit (November 22), the fall access was closed, and the resort was abandoned post covid. But there is always a way to get the key from the guard with a bit of tipping 😊.
From the resort (with a view of the falls from above), you’ll find steep and slippery steps are then leading to the bottom of the falls
Worth the effort but be careful and have good shoes -that can and will get wet and muddy in all cases 😢.
Tad Fane waterfall
Tat Fan is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Laos. The twin streams of the Huay Bang Lieng plunge out of the dense forest and tumble down more than 120m.
One of the two viewing points is at Tad Fane Resort, a jungle lodge that looks down onto the falls from the top of a cliff opposite. They can as well organize guided treks to the top of the falls in the morning.
The lush forest around and its inhabitants, like the giant Woodspider below remind visitors that this is a real jungle up here 😰…
Tad Yuang waterfall
There is a steep descent (stairs) to the bottom of the fall that provides you with great views on the way (and likely a lot of water on your camera depending on how the wind is blowing 😢).
But the effort -and the shower- are worth the effort 😂
Bolaven plateau plantations
Of course, this is an opportunity to see coffee and tea plantations and taste the best coffee in Laos
Pakse is one of the biggest cities in Laos and the main gateway hub for southern Laos. There is not much in Pakse honestly, but a few places are worth a visit
Phu Salao temple
The ginormous Golden Buddha on the hills looking over Pakse (8-10 km from downtown, across the bridge) can be seen almost from almost anywhere in town.
The temple can be entered by climbing up the front or by driving the extra 5km around to the rear entrance. Hundreds of Buddha statues will welcome you …
This is a recent temple (still under construction, when donations permit) but really worth a visit.
This is a very popular sunset spot for good reasons, the best in Pakse in my view.
The view over Pakse and the Mekong is very beautiful and peaceful at twilight
Wat Luang Buddhist temple
Wat Luang, which was originally built as a Buddhist school, is worth a visit when passing by Pakse
You can find there is a large selection of beautifully contemporary wall art about the life story of Buddha and other myths…
… as well as some richly decorated stupas/tombs
Inside, a large golden Buddha image is presented in the “Calling the Earth to Witness” mudra. According to the locals, Buddha has left his footprint on the temple grounds, which attracts devotees from all over the world.
For completeness, if you have time, you can have a quick look at that new temple and its gigantic 30 meters high Buddha, north of Pakse (nearby the airport).
As often, construction is still ongoing, at the pace of the donations received by the temple
Around the temple is Ban Saphai village, known for its handicrafts and buddha statues making
Wat Phou (or Vat Phou) is an ancient Angkor temple ruin located on the banks of the Mekong River south of Pakse and is clearly one of the main highlights of a trip south of Laos
Wat Phou means mountain temple in the Khmer language and is therefore built on seven elevated terraces aligned in the direction facing the Mekong and the mountains.
The site has a history from the 5th Century (Shresyapura city before the Kmer time), but the temple was built in the 10th century and is one of the oldest temples constructed in the Khmer empire, even before Angkor Wat.
This is a UNESCO World Heritage site for good reasons and a paradise for photography
The most beautiful part of the complex is the central sanctuary uphill
The walls are lined with statues of Dvarapalas (gate guardians) and devatas, with clearly an Angkor Wat feel
The sanctuary is, as well, an active Buddhist temple, making that place a stunning mix of Buddhism and Hinduism
To really enjoy that place and its spirit, I strongly advise you to get there very early and explore the site before the tourist buses arrive 😢, especially if you want photos without crowds on them
The 4000 islands are a unique place nestled at the foot of Laos on the Cambodian border, consisting s of lots of tiny islands scattered in the vast Mekong Delta.
Here are a few things to do and see in that laidback, sleepy, and charming part of Laos
Explore the Mekong River banks
On the way down toward the 4000 Islands, you’ll have the opportunity to cross beautiful rice fields (in season, the main harvesting is in October / November)…
… to discover the rural life in that remote part of Laos…
… and to get a feel of how colonial life was, through some vintage ruins or renovated places
Li Phi falls
Situated on Don Khon Island, Tad Somphamit (known as Li Phi falls) is an amazing 1.5 km long flowing waterfall
The falls at sunrise and sunset is clearly a paradise for nature lovers and photographers
Those falls have two sets of falls 500 meters away from each other, with a drop of only a few meters but an impressive volume and power
Fishermen use traps and nets to catch fish in the pools at the base of the falls.
some of the traditional fishing ways are still used there
clearly a paradise for photographers 🤩
If you’re interested in photography, I advise sleeping on Don Khon to be able to access (by bike) the falls at the right morning and evening time
Beyond the falls, that pleasing and peaceful island can be easily explored biking around and discovering the rural life …
… the beautiful and friendly people
… some of the historic landmarks from the colonial (French) time, like the railway that was built to carry the boats in order to bypass the falls …
One thing you can’t really see anymore is the highly endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. Apparently, nobody saw them since the covid time. Perhaps, the implementation of the Don Sahong hydropower dam in the middle of their habitat finished eradicating them so here is an image of a fu…g statue of that poor animal, as an artifact of one more of the Million species dying because of human smart activities 😡
On the west side of the island (e/g ferry pier or other random riverbanks 😊), you can find some nice places for beautiful sunsets as well
Explore the Mekong River and the islands
Renting a boat to cruise the delta is an obvious must in the 4000 islands. To manage expectations however and stay on sustainability considerations, it is honestly difficult to see a lot of birds and animals due to hunting and huge pollution of the Mekong River, but you can still spot some
The river and the lush forest are as well beautiful ….
… and a great opportunity to see the locals at work or have fun
Don Det is known as the backpacker paradise of Laos 😎.
Comprised of a mixture of cheap hostel bungalows and rural villages, that place with no cars and full of hammocks remains the place to be for true backpackers.
This is the place if you want to take it easy and … do nothing. Swimming in the Mekong is as well popular there. With the unbelievable level of pollution of the river, this is clearly in my view a much more dangerous thing to do than testing the strange stuff they smoke over there 😂
Anyway, exploring the riverbanks and the islands is a fantastic (and safer) experience…
Last but not least, Khon Phapheng, the largest fall in Laos is another must-see in the south of Laos
Laos’ biggest waterfall is a combination of two waterfalls one called Khone Falls and the other Pha Pheng Falls. This is why it is said that they are the widest waterfall in the world (spanning more than 10,700 meters ride) and the largest in Southeast Asia. I believe this is a bit of a marketing statement, but this is still a great and impressive place to see 😊
So here is my takeaway from South Laos, hoping it can engage you to visit that part of the world. If you’re interested in other great areas for travel photography, you can have a look at my post about Luang Prabang or Vientiane (and the amazing That Luang Festival).