Must see attractions in Southern Laos

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pakse Region

    Wat Phu Champasak

    Bucolic Wat Phu sits in graceful decrepitude, and while it lacks the arresting enormity of Angkor in Cambodia, given its few visitors and more dramatic natural setting, these small Khmer ruins evoke a more soulful response. While some buildings are more than 1000 years old, most date from the 11th to 13th centuries. The site is divided into six terraces on three levels joined by a frangipani-bordered stairway ascending the mountain to the main shrine at the top. Visit in the early morning for cooler temperatures (it gets really hot during the day, and on the lower levels there isn't any shade) and to capture the ruins in the best light. Make sure to grab a map at the entrance as there is little to no signage here. Lower Level The electric cart takes you past the great baray (ceremonial pond; nŏrng sá in Lao) and delivers you to the large sandstone base of the ancient main entrance to Wat Phu. Here begins a causeway-style ceremonial promenade lined by stone lotus buds and flanked by two much smaller baray that still fill with water, lotus flowers and the odd buffalo during the wet season. Middle Level Wat Pu's middle section features two exquisitely carved quadrangular pavilions built of sandstone and laterite that are believed to date from the mid-10th or early 11th century. The buildings consist of four galleries and a central open courtyard. Wat Phu was converted into a Buddhist site in later centuries but much of the original Hindu sculpture remains in the lintels, which feature various forms of Vishnu and Shiva. A good example is the eastern pediment of the north pavilion, which is a relief of Shiva and Parvati sitting on Nandi, Shiva's bull mount. Next to the southern pavilion stands the much smaller Nandi Hall (dedicated to Shiva's mount). It was from here that an ancient royal road once led over 200km to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In front is a smaller version of the initial causeway, this one flanked by two collapsed galleries, leading to a pair of steep staircases. At the base of a second stairway is an impressive and now very holy dvarapala (sentinel figure) standing ramrod straight with sword held at the ready. Most Thai and Lao visitors make an offering to his spirit before continuing up the mountain. If you step down off the walkway and onto the grassy area just north of here you'll come to the remains of a yoni pedestal, the cosmic vagina-womb symbol associated with Shaivism, and two unusually large, headless and armless dvarapala statues half-buried in the grass. These are the largest dvarapala found anywhere in the former Angkorian kingdom. After the dvarapala a rough sandstone path ascends quickly to another steep stairway, atop which is a small terrace holding six ruined brick shrines – only one retains some of its original form. From here two final staircases, the second marked by crouching guardians also sans heads and arms, take you to the top, passing through the large terraces you saw clearly from the bottom of the mountain. Shade is provided along much of this entire middle-level route from dork jąmpąh (plumeria or frangipani), the Lao national tree. Upper Level On the uppermost level of Wat Phu is the sanctuary itself. It has many carvings, notably two guardians and two apsara (celestial dancers), and it once enclosed a Shiva lingam that was bathed, via a system of sandstone pipes, with waters from the sacred spring that still flows behind the complex. The sanctuary now contains a set of very old, distinctive Buddha images on an altar. The brick rear section, which might have been built in the 9th century, is a cella (cell), where the holy lingam was kept. Sculpted into a large boulder behind the sanctuary is a Khmer-style Trimurti, the Hindu holy trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Further back, beyond some terracing to the south of the Trimurti, is the cave from which the holy spring flowed into the sanctuary. Up a rough path to the north of the Trimurti, a Buddha footprint and an elephant are carved into a rock wall. Just north of the Shiva lingam sanctuary, amid a mess of rocks and rubble, look around for two unique stone carvings known as the elephant stone and the crocodile stone. Crocodiles were semi-divine figures in Khmer culture, but despite much speculation that the stone was used for human sacrifices, its function – if there was one – remains unknown. The crocodile is believed to date from the Angkor period, while the elephant is thought to date from the 16th century. Also look out for an interesting chunk of staircase framed by two snakes and some small caves that were probably used for meditation in ancient days. When you've seen everything here, just sitting and soaking up the wide-angle view of the baray, the plains and the Mekong is fantastic. A small shop sells snacks and cool drinks.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Si Phan Don

    Khon Phapheng Falls

    More a glorified set of rapids than a waterfall, but oh, how glorious it is. The largest and by far the most awesome waterfall anywhere along the Mekong, Khon Phapheng is pure, unrestrained aggression, as millions of litres of water crash over the rocks. While pricier than the similar Tat Somphamit, this place, with its gardens and walking paths, is more attractive. You can also get down closer to the rapids. There are several viewpoints in resort-like grounds, plus many restaurants and snack shops. With luck you can catch some rainbows in the early-morning mist. And like all the waterfalls in this area, there's a shaky network of bamboo scaffolds on the rocks next to the falls used by daring fishers. A free shuttle runs continuously between both ends of the park – a 500m trip. Be sure to check out the pavilion for the legendary Manikhote tree, which is 150m or so in from the entrance. You can't miss it, actually. Khon Phapheng is on the eastern shore of the Mekong near Ban Thakho. From Ban Nakasang it's 3km out to Rte 13, then 8.5km southeast to the turn-off and another 1.5km to the falls. A tuk-tuk from Nakasang costs about 50,000K return with an hour's wait time. You can also easily motorcycle down from Don Khong. The falls are included in kayak tours out of Don Det and Don Khon. Since amateurs can't kayak anywhere near these falls, you'll be taken there by vehicle as your kayaks are driven up to Ban Nakasang.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Don Det & Don Khon

    Tat Somphamit

    Now billing itself as the Don Khone Somphamit Waterfalls Park, vast Tat Somphamit (also called Li Phi) is a gorgeous set of raging rapids. Recent developments include clear walking paths and the Mekong Fly zipline. While local fishers risk their skin edging out onto rocks, don't try this yourself – the rapids are extremely dangerous, and there have been deaths. At the back end of the park, below the falls, is little Li Phi Beach (under water in the rainy season). A fundamental fear of ghosts means you'll never see locals swimming here. But even rationalists need to be wary as the current runs fast. Xai Kong Nyai Beach, a kilometre downriver, is a safer, year-round swimming option. Above the beach is a lovely thatched-roof restaurant and though it stops serving at 5pm, you can stick around to watch the sunset. There are lots of other, cheaper restaurants set back away from the falls.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tayicseua

    There are seven significant waterfalls (none of them named Tayicseua) and several smaller ones at this remote but easily accessible private nature reserve. Some sit right near the restaurant-parking area while others, such as postcard-worthy Tat Halang (aka Tat Alang), are down in the forest along a good set of trails, which you can walk without a guide. It's in the early stages of growing into a proper resort but, for now, crowds remain rare. Due to the size of the area and the serene setting, the best way to visit is to spend the night at Tayicseua Guesthouse. Tayicseua sits off the main paved road 43km from Paksong. Coming from the east it's 4km from the paved road to the signed entrance. For the most part, this dirt road is fine, but there are some steep, rough spots that require care on a motorcycle, especially in the rainy season. The longer dirt road from the west is much smoother.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tat Fan

    Tat Fan is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Laos. Twin streams plunge out of dense forest and tumble down more than 120m to form the Huay Bang Lieng. Early morning and late afternoon have the best sunlight, but the falls are often shrouded by fog. The viewing point is at Tad Fane Resort, a jungle lodge atop the cliff opposite the falls, and it's a near-mandatory stop for anyone in the area. One way to beat the crowds is to take a trek to the top or bottom. The price is US$10/15 per person for a half-/full-day hike, and this includes the national-park entrance fee. The half-day walk includes a visit to nearby Tat Nyeuang and an abandoned temple. The access road to the falls is in Ban Lak 38, which is 12km from Paksong.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tat Soung

    Tat Soung is a 50m drop over the edge of the Bolaven Plateau, and though the dam has affected these falls more than the others – slowing them to a trickle for most of the year – you can walk around the rocky top of the falls from where the views are fantastic. During heavy rains from August to October, when they reach their full width, the falls themselves are quite spectacular too. Tat Soung is 8km south of Tat Lo town, uphill almost the entire way. Along the way, 3.5km out of Tat Lo, you'll pass a sign for the bottom of the falls at Ban Kiang Tat Soung (Kiang Tat Soung Village). (Note that the sign inside the village saying 'top' is a mistake.) It's a fun walk and a beautiful destination, and young guides will offer to walk you there for a small tip. It's a round trip of about 1.5km. Definitely don't leave anything in your motorcycle basket; chances are it won't be there when you get back.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tat Sae Pha

    One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Laos, Tat Sae Pha, about 40km from Attapeu, is way off the beaten track and pretty well impossible to access in the rainy season, but in the drier months it's well worth the journey. Cascading down 20m in a broad horseshoe shape, the falls form a spectacular sight. It's possible to get close to the water and there are small pools for a refreshing paddle. Contact the Attapeu tourism office for an update on current travel options. A guesthouse and restaurant had been built here and access roads improved in preparation for opening it up to tourism, but the 2018 Attapeu Dam collapse effectively washed away everything that had been constructed and put the project back to square one. At the time of research rebuilding efforts were underway. The falls are destined for a much higher profile on the traveller circuit once the infrastructure is improved. To get here, take Rte 18A to Hua Se Pien village, then take a right on Rte 9005 to Paksong. This route will take you through the villages that were devastated in the dam collapse, namely Hinlat, Ban Mai and Ban Samong, before reaching the falls, about 9km past Samong village.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Prince Souphanouvong's Bridge

    Really only of interest to dedicated bike riders, this ruin of a bridge is way off the beaten track, about 10km west of Salavan and then 10km north. The 150m-long bridge was blown up by American bombers in 1968 due to its position on a supply branch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Only some concrete supports and a part of the steel span remain. The contrast between heavy war damage and the peaceful setting makes it quite interesting. The bridge is named after its builder, the 'Red Prince' Souphanouvong, who was a trained engineer. You can take a ferry (10,000K) to visit the other side; in dry months you can just walk across the river. Pretty well the only way to get here is by motorcycle. You can continue on to Toumlan, though there are lots of missing small bridges, so enquire in Salavan before attempting this route in the rainy season. The trip is interesting as it affords a beautiful drive following the mountains of the Se Ban Nuan NPA.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tat Hua Khon

    Three kilometres south of the Tat Faek turn-off from Rte 11 (just past the market), this waterfall is an impressive 100m wide. The P&S Garden resort, which runs this place, has done an excellent job of setting up rustic facilities, including good trails and boardwalks through the forest, and a restaurant. The name means 'Head Falls', referring to certain rock formations in the face of the falls that resemble human heads. The 2018 dam collapse in Attapeu had a significant impact on the place, with a planned natural herbal garden, as well as the resort's kayaks, washed away in the deluge.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tat Sae Pong Lai

    This spectacular waterfall was unfortunately heavily affected by the 2018 Attapeu Dam collapse. It's difficult to reach, lying about 7km north of Tat Sae Pha. Before the dam collapse, it was more appealing than Tat Sae Pha, but the deluge deposited masses of now-hardened silt around the base of the waterfall, although it is still a beautiful sight. Until approaching roads are improved, it's only reachable by motorbike or 4WD. Contact the Attapeu tourism office before attempting to get here.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tat Nyeuang

    Probably the most developed of the Bolaven Plateau waterfalls, Tat Yuang, as some signs spell it, is impressive, with its twin torrents falling about 40m into lush jungle. It's very popular with day trippers and there's a bit of a festive atmosphere on weekends, with handicraft shops and food stalls lining the path to the waterfall. A fun stairway leads through the forest to other viewpoints and a path leads all the way to the bottom. Swimming at the top is fine year-round, but don't try to swim at the bottom in the rainy season. The turnoff road is about 1km past Ban Lak 38, then 1.2km from the highway to the park.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tat Champee

    Not to be confused with the far inferior waterfall of the same name along Rte 20 on the way to Tat Lo, this is the smallest of the four waterfalls west of Paksong, but it's the most fun to visit. A good set of concrete steps leads down to an up-close viewpoint, then a sketchy wooden staircase or a longer footpath takes you down to the river, where you can swim and even go behind the waterfall. The 2km road leading to it (which begins directly across from the road to Tat Fan) is a bit rough, so it’s the only waterfall around Paksong that doesn't get crowded. The access road is 12km from Paksong.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Dong Hua Sao NPA

    The 1100-sq-km Dong Hua Sao NPA, south of Paksong, is home to large tracts of pristine jungle, where you might spot monkeys, large butterflies and rare hornbills. Poaching is a problem, as is illegal logging to plant coffee. Adventure specialist Green Discovery runs its Tree Top Explorer trips here, which are an excellent way to experience the park, though bookings must be made in Pakse. Treks run by Tad Fane Resort also get you into the park.

  • Sights in Pakse

    Wat Phou Salao

    The centrepiece of this hilltop temple across the Mekong from Pakse is the giant golden Buddha statue looking out over the city. The views from his perch are as fantastic as you'd expect, especially at sunset. To enjoy them, take the first left after the bridge and either climb up the long staircase or take the 4.5km road route up the back. The temple buildings are also a pleasant sight, making it a good place for a wander.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Tat E-Tu

    Just 1km north of the main road (Rte 16), this is the first large waterfall you reach on the drive up from Pakse. The waterfall is beautiful, and its 40m drop impressive, though it's less visited than some other waterfalls nearby. It's a short walk to the viewpoint from the parking area, with steep but solid steps leading to the bottom of the falls. The access road is 15km from Paksong.

  • Sights in Pakse

    Talat Dao Heuang

    This vast market near the Lao–Japanese Bridge is one of the biggest in the country. It's at its most chaotic in the food zones, but just about anything a person might need – from medicinal herbs to mobile phones – is sold here. It's well worth a visit.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Dong Amphan NPA

    The highlight of this 1975-sq-km protected area in eastern Attapeu Province is the fabled Nong Fa (Sky Blue Lake). This beautiful volcanic crater lake, also known as Nong Kai Ork, sits at an elevation of about 1500m. The view looking back away from the lake is just as beautiful as the lake itself. Unfortunately, until infrastructure is improved, travel to the lake is difficult if not impossible. Ask at the Attapeu tourism office about getting here. Used by the North Vietnamese as an R&R (rest and recuperation) spot for soldiers hurt on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, this beautiful lake was once only able to be reached via a difficult five-day trek. New roads mean you can make it here and back from Attapeu in a day if you have a 4WD (available through Dokchampa Hotel) or an enduro motorcycle. Typically, it's visited on a two-day trip, with your guide arranging an informal homestay near the lake. The park itself was, until recently, one of the most intact ecosystems in the country. However, logging, gold mining, wildlife poaching and hydroelectric projects on the Se Kaman and Se Su (Su River) have taken a toll on the pristine environment. Still, gaur, tiger, elephant and some 280 bird species, including the beautiful crested argus, inhabit the forests of Dong Amphan NPA. The 65km of dirt track off Rte 18B from Attapeu to the park has steep hills, lots of rock, and some streams to cross, making it tough in the dry season and impossible for much of the rainy season. Theoretically you could get here on your own, but it's a very remote route and you risk being turned back by officials before you reach your goal.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Saisettha

    Saisettha, 11km east of Attapeu on Rte 18B, is a sizeable village on the north bank of the Se Kaman (Kaman River). It used to be a small, quiet village with a good vibe, but it's mostly outgrown that; however, art lovers will appreciate some of the temples here. Just past the Houay Phateun Bridge, turn right to the peaceful riverfront Wat Siliawat That Inping (aka Wat Fang Daeng), which has a large octagonal stupa. Inside the adjacent hall is a rather complete set of paintings telling the Wetsandon Jataka (the Buddha's penultimate birth) tale. Just over a kilometre to the east, at the end of the road, the sala (open-sided shelter) of Wat Ban Xai has more adroit mural paintings, focusing mostly on the Buddha's life story. The old ubosot (ordination hall) has some original floral stucco work on the front. From Wat Ban Xai, go back to the highway and continue east. Take a sharp right at the first large road after crossing the Se Kaman bridge and continue to the second temple you meet (6.5km total) in Muang Kao (Old City). This is Wat Luang, famous because the Lan Xang King Setthathirat, for whom the district is named, is buried here. The temple was supposedly founded in 1571, the year of his death, and the stupa in which he is interred was erected soon after, though it has been rebuilt since then. There's also a crumbling old wihăhn (temple hall) with a large Buddha inside and some original woodcarving on the front gable and door. The little ubosot in front is in better shape.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Ta-Oy

    Though it's hard to justify a trip all the way to Ta-Oy on its own, it makes a good add-on if you'd like to turn a half-day trip to Toumlan into a full-day journey. The route here crosses a remote mountainous area with few villages, and – though most of the area has been intensively logged – there are still some beautiful moments. Ta-Oy was once an important marker on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and two major branches split off here. This is a centre for the Tahoy ethnic group, who number around 30,000 spread across the eastern areas of Salavan and Sekong Provinces. Other groups in this region include Katang, Pako, Kado and Kanay. The Tahoy live in forested mountain valleys and, like many Mon-Khmer groups in southern Laos, they practise a combination of animism and shamanism; during village ceremonies, the Tahoy put up diamond-patterned bamboo totems to warn outsiders not to enter. Keep your eyes peeled for some of their enormous longhouses in and around town. You'll see some in a village just before crossing the large bridge into Ta-Oy. Down below the town, upstream from the bridge, are beautiful rapids that can be easily reached by a short footpath. Ta-Oy is 80km from Salavan on a good paved road, and you could double the distance and continue to Samouy near the Vietnamese border. Both are small but developed towns with a few guesthouses as well as places to eat and fuel up.

  • Sights in Bolaven Plateau Region

    Pa-Am

    The area east of Attapeu was an integral part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – two main branches, the Sihanouk Trail continuing south into Cambodia and the Ho Chi Minh Trail veering east towards Vietnam, split here – and as such was heavily bombed during the war. One of the few visible reminders of this time is a Russian-made surface-to-air missile (SAM) set up in the village of Pa-Am (aka Ban Sombun) by the North Vietnamese to defend against aerial attack. It has survived the scrap hunters and, by government order, is now on display, surrounded by a barbed-wire fence held up, in part, by cluster-bomb casings. Next to the missile is a small handicraft shop with textiles and baskets woven by local Talieng women. If you drive around the village you might get lucky and see some women weaving. Pa-Am is 16km past Saisettha (follow the signs for San Xai off Rte 18B) and the two villages make a great half-day trip from Attapeu if you have your own wheels. There is no public transport to Pa-Am. North of Pa-Am the road quickly turns rocky and continues on to Chaleun Xai, 38km north, then northwest to Sekong. This route has been improved somewhat, but it's still rough and recommended for dry-season travel only.