Often left off harried backpackers’ itineraries, Southern Laos can be a rewarding part of the country to explore. It offers some great obscure sites, underground rivers, towering waterfalls, ethnic diversity, ancient ruins and chilled-out backpacker havens. Far fewer travellers venture here and many of those who do tend to dash straight down from Vientiane to the southern hub of Pakse but there’s a lot in between that is well worth exploring. Slow down! This is Lao PDR (please don’t rush) after all.
The capital of Khammuan, Tha Khaek, offers fantastic options for exploration including caves, rock climbing, swimming holes and a deservedly popular motorbike route called the Tha Khaek Loop, which will take you to Konglor Cave. The seven-kilometre long pitch-dark boat ride on a river through the mountain is a must.
Further south along the Mekong is Savannakhet, where beret-wearing old men still play petanque in front of crumbling colonial buildings, charming remnants of a time when the city was a bustling French trading outpost home to both French and Chinese merchants.
From here you can head into the hinterland to explore rugged parks; that’s right, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can only go trekking in northern Laos.
Pakse in Champasak province is the hub of southern Laos and options for travellers continue to grow, including boutique accommodation, outdoor adventure activities and Mekong river cruises. It’s the gateway to the Bolaven Plateau, known for its cool climate, amazing waterfalls and coffee plantations. Paksong is the coffee capital of Laos and coffee lovers will appreciate the specialist farms doing great things and the city’s numerous cafes. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s the best cup you’ll have in Southeast Asia. Not to be missed is Wat Phu,a UNESCO-protected complex of pre-Angkorian and Khmer Empire ruins from the fifth to 15th century (it pre-dates Angkor Wat).
If you want to rough it and get well and truly off the grid, you can do it on the border with Vietnam in Salavan, Sekong and Attapeu.
In stark contrast, Si Phan Don, better known as the 4,000 Islands, attracts happy backpackers like lazy sun-drunk flies to honey. Just shy of the Cambodia border, the sleepy islands offer cheap bamboo bungalows with hammocks where zoning out is the primary activity. Wake up in time to catch the gorgeous sunset on the Mekong. There’s not much to do here except cycle around and delay leaving Laos for yet another day.
If you only have two weeks or less, we recommend you choose between northern Laos or southern Laos. Check out our “LAOS: North or south?” trip planner to help you decide which one.