Overflowing with attractions, yet still left off most traveller itineraries, Attapeu is a province virtually untouched by tourism.
Set in a valley, on the river bank, wedged between Sekong province to the north, Champasak province to the west, Vietnam to the east, and Cambodia to the south, languid Attapeu has a lot to offer the intrepid visitor, although very little in the way of tourist infrastructure has been developed to take advantage of this, even in the capital of Attapeu itself.
The capital of Attapeu province is predictably Attapeu the city. It’s the sort of place where you might see a few other foreign tourists, but usually only those searching for a more authentic version of Laos. Few tuk tuks seem to traverse the streets of the capital, but walking is the best way to explore anyway, ideally in the early morning or late afternoon, and the town grid is unusually straightforward. Mosquitoes are abundant in the rainy season so be sure to protect yourself as malaria is a seasonal risk here.
Within reach of the town is a range of natural sights -- including the Dong Ampham Forest and Xepian Forest. These two national biodiversity areas are among the last bastions of Southeast Asian wilderness. Other attractions include a portion of the historically important Ho Chi Minh trail, cultural items of interest and villages home to many ethnic groups, including the Oye, Tallang, Yae, Lavenh, Yaheune, Lavae, Cheng, Ta Oy, Hmong and Lao Lum.
Local entrepreneurs offer treks to villages in the hills around the town, which are still novel for this region and should be considered by the adventurous and culturally sensitive only. Dress conservatively and take adequate sun protection, water and mosquito repellent. Your best bet for a guide is to head down to the Dockchampa Hotel who are set up to cater for adventurous tourists.
Two main impediments have stymied tourism development in the region: unexploded ordnance (UXO) and poor roads. Considerable clearance of UXO has been undertaken but as you'd expect in one of the most heavily bombed nations on earth, plenty remain and unescorted bush-bashing is strongly discouraged. Established tracks are considered safe and while it's not compulsory to explore with a guide, it would be prudent to take one.
There is a newish hospital in town which is located at the roundabout which serves as the junction of routes 11 and 18. It’s so new that it's one of the most modern facilities in the whole of Laos outside of Vientiane. Still, it’s rudimentary by Western standards and a mad dash to Thailand or even Vietnam if you have a visa may be worth considering if you have an emergency.
A BCEL ATM is located across the road from the Dokchampa Hotel along the main road about a kilometre west of the market. Currency exchange is also available here during business hours. A better place for currency exchange, however, is the Duc Loc Hotel. The hotel currency exchange is open outside of business hours and the rates on offer are quite good. Dong, baht and dollars can all be exchanged.
The post office is two blocks back from the main road towards the eastern end of town in an overgrown and oversized block of land.
By Adam Poskitt