Things to Do in Champasak
Take in the religious shrines and handicraft villages Around Pakse Town, and investigate the Champasak Heritage Landscape starring Vat Phou. Explore the remnants of French colonial France’s stronghold in The 4,000 Islands, and discover nature in The Bolaven Plateau & Xe Pian.
Around Pakse Town
Start your stay Around Pakse Town with a tour by foot, tuk tuk, bicycle, or motorbike. Wander around Vat Luang on the Xe Don riverbank near its confluence with the Mekong. Constructed in 1935, the temple features ornate décor, intricate murals, and a golden Buddha. Arrive at sunrise to witness Buddhist monks collecting alms.
Across the river, explore the secluded Vat Sop Se Chinese Temple, which presents a rich collection of Chinese Buddhist artefacts with a detailed history of Chinese influence in Pakse. Locals believe the spirit (naga) of the Xe Don River resides there, and they come to make offerings to thank the spirit and ask for good luck.
Visit the Champasak Palace Hotel, the would-be home of Prince Chao Boon Oum on the Xe Don that he abandoned in 1974. The elaborate seven-storey structure with 115 rooms and arched balconies, also boasts 1,000 doors and windows in traditional Lao style, thus its nickname, “The Thousand Door Pavilion”.
Scour the Dao Heuang Market, the largest in Southern Laos, for a real local experience. Make your way through this noisy, crowded maze, and view the range of products from housewares and fresh food to handicrafts made by ethnic groups. Stop at a stall and sample local specialties, or seek peace amid the chaos with a cup of Bolaven Plateau coffee.
Enjoy the sunrise over the Bolaven Plateau or sunset over the Mekong from the Phou Salao Viewpoint. Ride a tuk tuk or hike 4 km up the hill to a set of stairs leading to Vat Phou Salao with its golden Buddha. You can soak in the fresh air from a platform with views over the vast landscape.
Take a 10-km trip north of Pakse to villages with artisans dedicated to a particular craft. Cruise in a Mekong riverboat to watch Don Kho’s weavers create silk garments under their houses on stilts or in the craft centre. A further 8 km up the road, you’ll find Ban Saphai’s weavers.
Stop between the weaving villages at Don Khor, home of Buddha Stone Carvers, at the entrance to Vat Chompet, with its 30-metre high Buddha. Ponder their craftsmanship as they chisel out beautiful Buddha carvings.
Catch a ride or cycle 7 km south of Pakse to Laos Wind Trace Art Museum and its displays of traditional and modern art in a forest setting. You can ponder paintings by students at the Pakse Art School, and relax at its café in nature.
For those heading to Champasak Town, stop at Ban Nong Bueng, some 43 km south of Pakse, and get an up close look at traditional woodcarving. They use techniques handed down through generations of the Ta Oy ethnic group, who migrated from the region’s eastern mountains.
Champasak Heritage Landscape
Tackle the Champasak Heritage Landscape on a bicycle, tuk tuk, motorbike, or Mekong River cruise from Pakse, with Champasak Town as your base. View the sites around the old town before heading to Vat Phou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then, check out other remnants of this ancient civilization and the local lifestyle along the river.
Start with a 2.5-km, shaded riverside hike or quick drive through paddy fields to Vat Muang Kang. The 19th-century temple, with its white columns and high sloping roofs, reflects influences from Europe, Siam, Burma, and China. The compound sits on lush, tropical environs covered with frangipani and banana trees, bamboo forests, and coconut palm, and offers views of the Mekong.
While in Champasak Town, enjoy a show at the Shadow Puppet Theatre. A small troupe of artists, musicians, vocalists, comedians, and puppeteers presents a show infusing humour into the classic Ramayana tale. The theatre’s Cinema Tuk Tuk presents the famed film “Chang”, a 1920s motion picture depicting life in northern Laos.
Relax and re-energize yourself with one of Champasak Spa’s wellness packages. All the products used at the spa are natural and organic, and are based on homemade recipes. Treatments take place in a Mekong riverside pavilion.
Enter Champasak District’s main attraction, the pre-Angkor ruins of Vat Phou UNESCO World Heritage Site, about 10 km from town. Take a tour or venture by yourself on a tuk tuk, motorbike, or bicycle, and experience the 5th-century complex that supported the Khmer civilization through the 14th century. The greater Vat Phou landscape presents ancient temples, water channels, reservoirs, rock quarries, irrigation systems, settlements, and the old road to Angkor Wat.
Visit the Vat Phou Museum at the entrance to view a collection of relics and sculptures, and introduce yourself to the temple complex. After your visit, head to the Ancient City of Shrestapura, established in the 5th century, and now located near Vat Luang Kau.
Walk 30 minutes south of Vat Phou to the Temple of Nang Sida from the same era. The trail follows the ancient Angkor Wat road. Also close to Vat Phou stands pre-Angkor Vat Tomo on the Mekong amidst rice terraces. Nearby, 13th-century Vat Thao Thao presents a tower in a central courtyard surrounded by a wall.
Pedal around Don Daeng Island across the Mekong from Champasak. Stop in villages for local food and treats, visit Buddhist temples and a forest stupa, and take in rice field with buffaloes, cows, and goats wandering around. Several biking routes take you to all points of the large tranquil island.
The 4,000 Islands Explorer
Stay a day or two on Don Khong, once Laos’ southernmost French colonial base. The pier to the “Gateway to the 4,000 Islands” sits just 14 km north of Nakasan, and a short ferry ride or bridge crossing leads to the peaceful island’s Buddhist heritage, colonial past, and laidback lifestyle.
Rent a bicycle and take a lap of the island. Kick off your tour at the District Museum, and view displays of Khong District’s history in a well-preserved, two-story French colonial structure, built in 1898 to house the governor and royal family member, Chao Anou.
On your tour, visit Don Khong’s Buddhist temples, sacred stupas, and Khmer ruins. Inspect Vat Phou Khao Keo dating to 1364, with a golden Buddha, colourful murals, and stones carved in Sanskrit writing and Khmer designs. View Vat Hin Siew’s sacred stone, and the colonial-style Vat Vieng Thong’s ancient stupa and monuments containing cremated remains.
Take a break in Palm Sugar Village and watch the entire production process, from locals climbing ladders to the treetops to extracting the juice, steaming it, and creating sugar cakes known throughout Laos.
You can also immerse yourself in Don Khong’s laidback riverside lifestyle, meet the locals, watch fishermen, and enjoy a refreshing break at Muang Saen.
Explore one of colonial France’s greatest obstacles in navigating the Mekong – the rapids and falls rushing past Don Khone and Don Det Islands – and examine the remnants of the transportation system engineered by the French to defeat them.
East of Ban Khone Village, follow the 500-metre-long teak diversion wall constructed in the river by the French in 1903 to funnel teak logs along Dan Khone’s bank to a dam alongside a waterfall.
Cross the suspension bridge at the fall’s base and follow the path across Pa Soy to watch fishermen climb on a bamboo matrix to inspect their traps.
Continue to southern Don Khone and inspect the Hang Khone Pier, where a still-visible pulley system and 100-year-old steam locomotive once teamed up to bypass the Mekong’s rough waters by hauling cargo, passengers, and disassembled boats upriver on the islands’ railway.
Retrace the train’s rail route from Hang Khone, on which 4 km of tracks cut through Don Khone’s jungle to Ban Khone. Here you can investigate the rusty remains of another original locomotive. The train’s route continues 3 km across the still-standing railroad bridge to Don Det and on to the loading gantry at the island’s northern tip.
On the way, stop at Don Khone’s easy-to-access western bank with views of Li Phi Waterfalls’ twisted maze of rocky channels, which blocked France’s attempt to navigate the Mekong. While there, sample the local fish dishes at one of Li Phi’s food stalls.
Back in Hang Khone, choose from a menu of soft adventures and explore a natural network of channels, islands, rapids, and fishing villages.
Spend an activity-packed day on the Dolphins & Rapids tour that begins by inspecting Hang Khone port and spotting freshwater Irrawaddy River dolphins lazily surfacing for air. Next comes a short trek on Don Sadam Island to the Tad Pho Rapids and Hu Sahong Channel. A swim at Tha Houa Phou precedes a fresh-fish lunch and an afternoon boat ride up the Sanian Rapids to the quiet, rock-lined Tham Ee Daeng canyon, and on to the Grand Rapids.
For a closer look, sign up for the Island Hopping & Home Stay tour. A boat ride to Don Sahong and short trek along the Hu Xang Pheuak Channel to its waterfalls kicks off this 2-day adventure. Continue by boat up rapids to Don Kassoum and on to Don Khone Yuak for a village visit. After lunch in Hang Khone, board small boats for the Sanian-Tham Ee Daeng-Grand Rapids trip. Return to Hang Khone for dinner and overnight home stay.
The second day starts with dolphin watching before breakfast and a baci ceremony. Head out to the Don Sadam rapids and a trek to Tad Luang Rapids. Hike further to Khan Champa to see an ancient Dok Champa tree and mysterious Khoum Thong Daeng hole. After lunch, cross the island to Hu Sadam Channel and return to Hang Khone.
Wind up your 4,000 Islands trip at Khone Phapheng Waterfall near the Cambodian Border. Feel the thunder of Southeast Asia’s largest waterfall by volume, as millions of litres of water cascade over boulders in a sea of mist.
Bolaven Plateau & Xe Pian NPA
Head east into Champasak’s natural bounty on the Bolaven Plateau and in the Xe Pian National Protected Area (NPA).
On the way from Pakse to Paksong, the plateau’s centre, stop at Tad Pha Suam, a 6-metre-high, U-shaped waterfall. It is formed by the Houay Champi River dropping from the Bolaven Plateau as it runs towards Salavan Province. Take a swim in the falls’ rock-lined pools, visit an ethnic handicraft village, and hike around the surrounding forest.
Next on the Bolaven waterfall route, you’ll find the famed Tad Fane Waterfall, a breath-taking feat of nature. Tad Fane combines two rivers to form stunning twin 120m-high waterfalls that meet at the pool at its base. Treat yourself to glorious views from a forest setting at the Tad Fane Resort. From here, embark on trekking tours in Dong Hua Sao National Park.
Looking for more adventure? Climb into a kayak at the bottom of Tad Fane and tackle the fast-flowing Houay Bang Lieng River. Battle rough rapids and paddle through the jungle on your way through Dong Hua Sao and on to the Mekong. As the waters get calmer, you’ll see local fishermen on long wooden boats hauling in the day’s catch.
The road to Paksong also leads to Tad Yuang Waterfall, where you can enjoy the vista from viewing platforms as you climb the stairs to the top. You can swim in the pools above and below the Tad Yuang, and trek through the forest to Tad Champee and other hidden falls.
Coffee is king on the Bolaven Plateau, and plantations around Paksong welcome you to observe the coffee production process from growing beans to filling your cup.
Take a 3-hour tour of the Jhai Coffee House, which educates local farmers on specialty coffee growing methods. You’ll learn which coffee cherries to pick, meet the farmers, inspect the coffee process, and learn how to roast, before sampling the finished product.
The Sinouk Coffee Resort and Plantation offers a relaxing coffee experience by combining a resort on its grounds. Wander around the organic coffee plantation, and learn about the French influence on this industry in Laos. Spend the night in a chalet and absorb the surrounding gardens, ponds and waterfalls.
Thrill seekers can fly through a forest on Green Discovery’s Tree Top Explorer. Start your adventure with a trek through coffee plantations and thick forests before reaching zip-lines that crisscross gorges and waterfalls. Then, take on the via ferrata that climbs steep cliffs, and explore the forest on a canopy walkway.
Enter Champasak’s natural wonderland at the Xe Pian Protected Area. You can ride an elephant, trek through the NPA’s 2,400 km2, or relax at an eco-lodge. Base your adventure at Ban Kiet Nong next to wetlands, meet local villagers, and enter their lifestyle. From here, you can venture to the rocky peak of Phou Asa Mountain and inspect ancient temple ruins, or join a choice of 1-4-day treks.