You have heard of Laos, haven’t you? If you have, you are still deciding whether to go there or not. Eventually, after hearing a lot of backpackers say Laos is their favorite, you made it to the North of it.
However, did you know the treasure lies in the South? With far fewer tourists making it to the South, it still remains one of the least visited places in South East Asia.
Southern Laos alone is so full of experiences that it makes for a complete itinerary in itself. From exploring the caves to chasing the waterfalls. From walking through pre-Angkor ruins to lazing around in the most beautiful 4000 Islands. Here is a perfect Southern Laos itinerary for you!
Southern Laos Itinerary Route Map
Tha Khaek – Pakse – Bolaven Plateau – Champasak – 4000 Islands
Tha Khaek Loop and the Kong Lor Cave –
Vientiane has to be your last stop in Northern Laos, hence, we shall take that as the starting point. VIP bus is the best way if you are on a budget. The journey is not too long and the bus quality is comfortable enough. Otherwise, you can also hire a private taxi.
Tha Khaek has two major offerings. One is a 450 Km long route starting and ending in Tha Khaek and is called the Tha Khaek Loop. It is one of the two major biking experiences in Southern Laos – the other being the Bolaven Plateau Loop. One takes several days to explore the route and 5 is the ideal number that will allow you to experience at leisure. The loop offers some of the most amazing scenery in this untouched part of Laos.
The other offering and very unique in nature is the Konglor Cave. In how many places in the world, let alone South East Asia, can you boast of going through a pitch dark cave for more than 7 Kms! Well, this is Konglor for you. The ride is on a traditional Lao boat called ‘Sampan’, now motorized. You shall be wearing a headlight to see whatever you can (and figure out the rest) in the dark; while your incredibly expert boatman steers you through.
You can see the stalagmites and stalactites formations in the cave. Also the cave is quite high at certain points, giving this dark void a dimension in your mind. It is an experience to remember and can only be explained in words to an extent, so here we stop.
Word of caution – you have to sometimes help the boatman to push the boat from shallow waters, hence do not wear loose footwear or you shall lose them. Barefeet is not a good idea given the rocks, so wear good shoes.
If you are doing ‘The Loop’, you can keep this for the end, going in the anti-clockwise direction. The cave can also be done as a standalone and you can stay in one of the guest houses or village home in the Konglor village.
Bolaven Plateau loop and its waterfalls –
Get ready to see some of the most amazing waterfalls of your life on this Southern Loas itinerary.
Pakse, a nice small town is the base of this waterfall chasing journey of yours. The town has some quaint temples by the Mekong with the friendliest Monks in them. So, do visit at least one (I recommend Wat Luang) and attend an evening chanting session – zoning out of a different level.
Hop on a bike to do the entire motorbike loop if you haven’t already in Tha Khaek. This one can be completed in 2 to 3 days (short and long), so you might as well. For a complete guide, refer Travelfish.
You get to see small villages with different communities – of basket weavers, knife makers, bee keepers, farmers etc. Depending in which season you are visiting, you can see mountains of Pineapples lining the roads, Durian stalls and local honey.
The scenery again is something beyond words and the people, very very friendly. There are tons of coffee plantations around the Plateau because of highly fertile volcanic soil. The owners themselves shall give you a short tour with the free coffee and tea tasting.
The best Cappuccino I had on my whole South East Asia trip, was here. And later I heard it’s a common experience between visitors. Lao know their coffee and everybody else’s, and they know how to make it well.
Best waterfalls of the Plateau are within a day trip distance of Pakse, so you don’t necessarily have to do the loop to see them. You can also hire a Tuk Tuk from the same Miss Noy in Pakse who is famous to rent out bikes.
As per Miss Noy herself, Tuk Tuk is a safer option in the Monsoons.
Pathways can be very slippery specially towards the waterfalls and the tuk-tuk driver saves you from all that trouble and tension. Plus, you have to walk up and down while at the waterfalls, so just sit back on the Tuk Tuk and relax. It is not the cheapest option, but for sure the most convenient and you can enjoy the scenery all the same.
Not to be missed waterfalls are Tad Fane, Tad-e-tu and Tad Yuang – all in close distance to each other.
Wat Phu in the Champasak Province –
Even though you are heading towards Cambodia to see the world famous (and justly so), Angkor Wat, Wat Phu (or Vat Phou) in the Champasak province won’t disappoint you. The next best stop in our Southern Laos itinerary, Wat Phu is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The complex is spread out in a vast area so get ready to walk a lot. Also, the complex is one of its own kind with the location decided by the natural shape of the hill as a Shivalinga (symbol of the cycle of reproduction).
It was built way before the Angkor Wat complex (in the fifth century) and is a huge complex itself. The main temple being perched at the top of a hill, it can be a tiring tour. Do not just make it a day trip, it is better to stay the night at Champasak. Do not venture on a bicycle, again because the tour can be very exhausting.
If you wouldn’t like to spend a night in Champasak, take a packaged tour from Pakse including all conveyance. Thank me later.
Si Phan Don or the 4000 Islands –
A perfect end to your Southern Laos Itinerary, Si Phan Don or the 4000 Islands are a riverside dream come true. The recommended activity here is to do nothing, seriously. This is where the Lao PDR really comes in to being – It is 4000 Islands – please don’t rush.
Even though there are kayaking tours, cycling tours and sorts available on the Islands, I found it hard to peel myself from my hammock. People are super nice and there are lots of choice in food within walking distance.
Don Det gets the first batch of tourists, so to get the cream, head to Don Khon 😉
Don Khon is larger and upmarket. Hence it can still give you the real river side vibe of 4000 Island on your hammock. Most of my sunsets were on my hammock and they were splendid! Why wont you pay a tad bit more for lesser tourists and lesser trashiness with better accommodations.
Also, for most waterfalls or even places of historic importance, tourists from Don Det have to come to Don Khon. So it is better to stay here and take a scenic walk to any of those. Also saving the money that you have to pay on the French bridge to come from Don Det to Don Khon every time. You would rather use that for a sundowner at Sala Don Khone 😊
Have a good time in Laos and please remember – PDR. Please dont rush!