May 22 2013

Champasak, southern Laos

Published by at 6:48 am under Southern Laos

People visit Laos for different reasons. Some for luxury, some for a party, some for culture and others still for adventure. You really can have it all in Laos, but one town regularly overlooked from a cultural perspective is Champasak.

The main street of Champasak is sleepy and charming.

So hectic.

Set on the banks of the Mekong in one of its wider sections, Champasak is a small town with a single main street running parallel to the river. It’s on this main street that most guesthouses have sprung up, with a handful taking advantage of the wonderful serenity that is the Mekong. It’s the kind of town that you come to looking for something to do and end up staying a few days just reading a book and recharging.

Surprisingly, it’s not really on the tourist trail despite being close to Pakse and home to a UNESCO World Heritage site — Wat Phu.

When the frangipani are in full bloom, Wat Phu really comes into its own.

When the frangipani are in full bloom, Wat Phu really comes into its own.

Wat Phu is an impressive Khmer temple that was constructed by the same person as Angkor Wat — Suryavarman II. The layout is impressive, commencing with two massive barays, a series of old crumbling buildings constantly being restored and then climbing up a set of ancient steps to the side of a mountain where a cluster of other structures sits. It’s from atop this vantage point that you can experience the fantastic sweeping views of the surrounding area including the Mekong.

The view from the top of Wat Phu is quite impressive.

The view from the top of Wat Phu is quite impressive.

Most people will be happy swinging through Wat Phu in a couple of hours in the morning so they can retire to their riverside accommodation or a nearby restaurant to finish reading their book or writing up notes from previous days’ experiences.

Aside from Wat Phu and reading a book beside the river, Champasak is also home to a spa which is extremely professional and great value for money. In fact, it’s so good for the price that we’d argue that it’s one of the best value spas in the country. Western-operated, the spa hits all the right notes with drifting soft music,friendly staff, free hot tea and a massage that makes you melt right into the soft recliner. The spa usually isn’t very busy, but that also means there are usually few staff on duty and if you really must go there in a group of two or more, best to book in advance.

If you’re looking to take your Champasak laziness to another level, you could always visit Don Daeng. It’s the massive island directly across from Champasak in the middle of the river. Walking its perimeter is nigh on impossible, but a motorbike does the trick nicely. It’s a basic kind of place where things slow right down to a snail’s pace, which is quite unbelievable given how slow the pace of life around Champasak already is. It’s possible to stay on the island in some budget accommodation as well as a weird luxury hotel, which seems completely out of place, although happily it keeps a low profile.

The perfect place to unwind alongside the Mekong.

The perfect place to unwind alongside the Mekong.

Champasak is a wonderful place to relax and take in a bit of Lao culture. It’s likely you’ll only run into a handful of other tourists, making it the perfect stop on your southern Laos excursion.

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One response so far

One Response to “Champasak, southern Laos”

  1. Violetson 28 May 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I visited Champasak more than 10 years ago but it sounds as if it has changed little. Getting there was not so easy, I had to wait by the side of the road for a ride to the river, then a very interesting trip across the river by ferry; a truck got stuck in the sand as it left the ferry and everyone helped to get it out again. Just one main street and the cheapest hotel room, at just $2, but some difficulty with meals. There was only one restaurant open at night and the food was pretty awful. The temple was well organised with its own dvd to buy and lots of domestic tourists. Getting back to Pakse was easy, i just waited by the side of the main road and a truck came by and took me on board. We were all able to buy soup from a seller on the ferry and had a very jolly ride into Pakse, where I missed the tourist bus to Vientiane and caught the local bus, a great, slow, meandering trip that was perhaps the most enjoyable bus trip ever.

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