What to Do in Champasak, Laos
If you’re traveling in Laos, Champasak province is one of the most popular parts of the country for hiking and sightseeing. It is located south of Vientiane and is easily accessible by bus. In Champasak, you’ll be able to see stunning protected areas, visit coffee and tea farms, see ancient temples, swim in the pools of beautiful waterfalls, learn about local village culture, and much more. Keep reading for information about where to stay, where to go, and what to see.
About Champasak Province
Champasak province consists of about 6,000 square miles in southwestern Laos, bordering Cambodia and Thailand. It has a rich and storied history and has been a part of many important kingdoms, including the Funan and Chenla kingdoms and the Khmer and Lan Xang empires.
Many impressive temples were built in the Khmer Empire between the 10th and 13th centuries, which is one reason Champasak province is one of the best places to see ancient temples.
For people who don’t know yet, when you see names with “Wat” in it, it probably is a temple or some sacred place since “wat” means temple or monastery. In conflicts between Laos and Siam, Champasak was often the center of conflicts.
Then, in the 20th century, the French established Pakse, Champasak’s capital, as an administrative outpost. For this reason, Champasak boasts impressive colonial architecture in addition to beautiful Buddhist temples.
Despite this impressive history, Champasak province is perhaps best known for its landscape. The Mekong river flows through the province, and many of the area’s most scenic sites are located along it.
If you visit Champasak, you should expect to spend some time relaxing and sipping a coffee or beer overlooking the river. You may even travel by boat along the Mekong. The province is also home to some of Laos’s most loved natural sites, such as the Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands), Bolaven Plateau, multiple national conservation areas, and a number of other beautiful waterfalls and picturesque villages.
Although I will cover most of these in separate posts and some more personal escapades I will give you an overview here of some have to visits and whatnot. Champasak is a great place to organize a trekking trip or to rent a motorcycle and explore on your own.
What would be your main reason to visit Champasak?
Interesting Towns In Champasak Laos
Much of Champasak has a substantial tourist infrastructure. If you are visiting any of the well-known sites, you will not have a problem finding a nearby guesthouse or hotel to stay in. If you are looking to base your travels somewhere, the towns of Pakse or Champasak will serve you well.
Pakse, the capital city of Champasak, serves as the gateway to southern Laos. It’s more laid back than Luang Prabang, but it still has plenty to offer tourists in the form of restaurants, hotels (some of them very nice), and transportation rentals.
Situated along the Mekong and Sedone Rivers, it is a beautiful town with plenty to see within its borders. It has its own beautiful temples, Wat Luang and Wat Phabad, and you’ll find a good selection of hotels and restaurants overlooking the river.
Pakse is a good starting point for visits to Champasak province’s natural sites, and a number of tourist companies organize trips leaving from the town. Are you wondering what to do in Pakse? The town itself is full of beautiful views and is a pleasant place to spend a while.
Temples in and Around Pakse
One of the highlights of Pakse is its collection of excellent Buddhist temples. A short motorcycle or bus trip away, you’ll find stunning ruins at Wat Phu. The buildings at this temple date all the way back to the 5th century, qualifying the temple as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll see the ruins of beautiful sandstone and brick buildings, all with a beautiful view of the Mekong River and the surrounding countryside.
Right within Pakse, you can visit Wat Luang, a large temple that houses the Buddhist Monk School. If you keep a respectful distance, you can even observe an alms ceremony. Another impressive temple is What Phabad, a large temple and old temple with impressive architecture.
Day Trips and Treks
Pakse is an excellent base for exploring through day trips and overnight trips. There are a number of tourist companies that offer organized trips with guides and supplies. One of the most popular places to visit is Si Phan Don, also known as the 4,000 Islands.
This group of islands, located on the Cambodian border, is a beautiful and tranquil setting full of winding streams, waterfalls, and river views. You can visit for a day to wander around or go biking, kayaking, or swimming. Many travelers prefer to stay in one of the cheap guesthouses and enjoy some time relaxing in a hammock.
Another excellent place to visit is the Bolaven Plateau, a terrifically scenic area full of coffee farms and waterfalls. Other trekking tours might take you to parts of the Sepian National Protected Area or to villages around Champasak.
Shopping and Entertainment in Pakse
Within Pakse, there is plenty to keep you busy and entertained. The Champasak Provincial Museum is worth a visit. You’ll find exhibits on the history of the province, including interesting artifacts, photographs, clothing, jewelry, and more. You can also find a great place to enjoy a massage in Pakse. A handful of saunas and spas are located south of Road 13.
If you’re looking to do a bit of local shopping, there are two main markets: Dta lat Dao Heuang close to the Japanese bridge, with a wide selection of clothing, local jewelry, vegetables, and meat (earlier in the day is better); and the Champasak Shopping Center Market, where you’ll find cheap home goods and food.
The other great thing to do in Pakse is enjoying a coffee or meal overlooking the river. Simply head to the Mekong riverfront during the evening, and you’ll find a variety of restaurants offering local dishes and live music. Road 42 is another popular place for dining and nightlife.
Another excellent place to stay is Champasak. Although it shares the name of the province, this town is a bit smaller and even more laid back than Pakse. Champasak, like Pakse, sits right on the Mekong River, offering some beautiful views.
It places you close to Wat Phu, making it easy to visit what is probably Laos’s most impressive temple site. Champasak has a decent selection of guest houses, although it is typically not crowded with tourists. This makes it an excellent place to relax in between site seeing.
Bolaven Plateau Nature and Waterfalls
The Bolaven Plateau is one of Champasak province’s best-known areas. It is an elevated plateau that was formerly the site of an ancient volcano. With lush jungle, beautiful waterfalls, coffee plantations, and welcoming villages, Bolaven Plateau should be high on anyone’s list of places in Laos to visit.
The plateau is crisscrossed by a number of rivers, making for a collection of beautiful waterfalls. The tallest is Tat Fang, which falls for 120 meters. To get a close look at the falls, there’s a short hike over a nicely maintained path that should take you about half an hour.
Another popular one is Tat Cham Pee, a broad waterfall that cascades into a wide pool. This is a good place to go for a picnic, to swim, or to float along in a tube.
Other popular waterfalls include the Tad Yuang, Couple Falls, and Tad Lo. As you travel around the Bolaven Plateau, you’ll be sure to catch sights of these and other waterfalls.
Coffee Farms Bolaven Plateau
While you are in the region, make sure to stop by a coffee plantation. This is a great chance to see the way coffee is grown locally and to try different kinds of excellent coffee, if you’re interested. If you’re already visiting the Tat Fang waterfalls, there is a shop called Koffies Coffee Shop that offers informative tours demonstrating the coffee-making process.
The Bolaven Plateau is also known for being the home of diverse ethnic groups, both in the center of the plateau and in the hills along its edges. If you’d like to learn about local village life, you can stop into one of the villages to go for a walk and perhaps shop at the local market. Many villages even offer guesthouse stays to tourists, if you’d like to immerse yourself in village life.
Protected Wildlife Areas
The Champasak province is home to a number of Laotian protected areas, where you can see beautiful landscapes and wildlife. The Xe Pian National Protected Area, located in southeastern Champasak, is a great place to see diverse animal life.
The park is made up primarily of forest and wetlands, and the animals who live there include elephants, tigers, sun bears, Asian black bears, pangolins, crocodiles, turtles, and more. On the eastern side of the province, you can visit the Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area. This is a forested region that stretches from the Mekong River to the Bolaven Plateau.
The evergreen forest is home to animals such as gibbons, deer, and many kinds of birds. If you’re interested in seeing dolphins, you can visit the Center for Protection and Conservation of Freshwater Dolphins, located along the Mekong River near the Cambodian border. Here, you can hire a boat to see a rare kind of endangered dolphin called Pakha.
Temples in Champasak Province
In addition to its natural sites, Champasak province is known for its beautiful temples. The most famous of these is What Phou, a Khmer temple complex. The site was founded in the 5th century, although most of the surviving buildings date from the 11th–13th centuries.
Although it was originally a Hindu temple complex, it was later incorporated into the Buddhist faith and contains evidence of both religions.
If you visit the site, you can see ruins of the complex’s palaces, shrines, and courtyards, all standing over impressive views overlooking the Mekong River. Other temples worth visiting include Wat Luang, Wat Tham Fai, and Wat Amath.
© 2019 Sam Shepards