Tag Archives: Lao PDR

Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), Laos

Finally I have arrived at Don Det, one of many islands making up the Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) archipelago on the Mekong river. Si Phan Don is located on the southernmost of Laos, next to the Cambodian border. It is extremely laid back place – you can easily relax yourself in the hammock and watch the days go by. I got myself a comfy bungalow on the riverside, with bathroom inside, small veranda with hammock and such pleasure costed me just 30,000 kip (about 3 euro, October 2014).

On the first day I only took some walk around the island and caught the sunset. On the second day I went out on a full day kayaking trip (price: 150,000 kip, about 15 euro). The main purpose of that trip was to see the largest waterfall in South East Asia – Khon Phapheng. It is not the most beautiful nor the highest of waterfalls. Being the largest cascade in South East Asia, Khon Phapheng offers impressive views on its up to 15 m high and 1 km wide rock formation, forcing the usually calm flow of the Mekong to roar through its narrow gorges and forming a natural obstacle for shipping. It is one of the reasons why China can’t be reached by Mekong only. Aggressive waters are crashing millions of litres on the rocks and into Cambodia every second.

The next day I went to Don Khong island, which at the time saw even fewer visitors than Don Det. I rented a bicycle and rode around the whole island – and apart from some modest temples I didn’t notice anything exceptional. I stayed there one night and came back to Thailand on the following day.

This way we have come to the end of my Laos trip in 2014. During this trip I have visited only the southern part of Laos, as I’ve seen the north earlier – I will surely post my photos and reports from previous trips later on.

Laos, Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands, A – Don Det, B – Don Khong)

Bolaven Plateau, Laos – Sekong to Pakse

I woke up early morning and left Sekong pretty fast – as there is not much to see here. You can see my very cheap (and a bit run down) guest house on the photos – it doesn’t mean, however, that there were no other hotels around – quite the opposite, there is a large choice for such a remote town. The way back to Pakse was surprisingly smooth – just few kilometres were not paved. I have made a stop to see the main attraction and my purpose of this trip – breathtaking Nam Tok Katamtok waterfall. It is very easy to pass by without noticing it, the only sign pointing to its location is very small and barely visible. I am not sure if it is possible to come any closer to the waterfall itself – probably not – and I would never try just going there through the forest on my own, as it could be tragic if there were any UXOs (unexploded ordnances) left from the Indochina war.

On the way to Pakse I stopped by few coffee plantations and some other waterfalls – Tat Cham Pee and Tat E-Tu. My return to Pakse was delayed some good two hours, as it started to rain heavily while I was at one of those waterfalls – and it just wouldn’t stop for the entire two hours.

Next day morning I valiantly climbed the stairs of the neighbouring hill, where a large Buddha statue is located, together with a viewpoint. I took photos of Pakse from the other side of the Mekong river and continued my journey to the southernmost part of Laos – Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands).

From Sekong (A) to Pakse (B)

Bolaven Plateau, Laos – Pakse to Sekong

Bolaven Plateau is famous for its dramatic waterfalls, fertile soil, high-grade coffee plantations and its own micro climate. It is noticeably cooler than in neighbouring Pakse. Similar to Tha Khaek, there is also a “loop” available for adventurous tourists. It takes more time though (6 days which I didn’t have). But I really wanted to see the most beautiful waterfall in the area – Nam Tok Katamtok, which is also one of the more remote ones. In order to achieve this, I decided to go in one day from Pakse all the way to Sekong and then the next day come back using another route, going next to that waterfall.

I rented a new motorbike and made my way towards Bolaven Plateau in the direction of Paksong. I’ve made my first stop to see one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Laos – Tad Fan waterfall. Two parallel streams of the Huay Bang Lieng come out of dense forest and down more than 120 m. I saw the waterfall from the viewpoint at Tad Fane Resort. There is a possibility of taking a path to the waterfall itself, unfortunately I couldn’t take it as a real downpour came just minutes later. So I saw another popular waterfall nearby – Tat Yuang. Tat Yuang is 40 m high and there is a gazebo that allows you to enjoy the view.

I have tried the local coffee (delicious!) and continued my journey. I had to stop few times on the way as it rained once in a while – one of those stops I did in a very local restaurant where nobody spoke any English but kids were happy to pose for photos. I arrived in Sekong after dusk. There I had supper at Pha Thip restaurant which has interesting photos from Sekong province hanging on the walls. Since this is one of the most remote areas in Laos, photos show how scrap metal from the war is utilised in everyday life. I took photos of those photos and uploaded them at the end of the gallery as I think many of You will find them interesting (I also abstained from retouching them). I have spent the night in rather old an run-down (but very cheap) guest house, where my money supported malaria education group.

Bolaven Plateau – from Pakse (A) to Sekong (B)

Pakse, Wat Phu Champasak, Laos

As I ended my adventures in Tha Khaek, I moved on further south in Laos – to Pakse (or Pakxe), located a bit less than 350 km away. The bus ride takes about seven hours, though. Pakse was made in 1905 by French as an administrative outpost. The city is located at the confluence of Mekong and Se Don (Don river) and is the capital of Champasak province. The city has quite attractive location – to the west there is Thai border, to the east there is the fertile Bolaven Plateau (famous for its coffee plantations and many waterfalls), to the south is the way to Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands). The construction of Lao-Japanese bridge on Mekong in 2002 sped up the city’s development thanks to faster connection with Thailand. The city itself is just another lethargic Mekong city – it is more about being than seeing, so there is not much to see in the city itself. It is the perfect base to visit Wat Phu Champasak complex or Bolaven Plateau.

On the first day of my stay here I have rented a motorbike and went on in the direction of Wat Phu Champasak. It is an ancient Khmer (so the same style as Angkor in Cambodia) religious complex, I think the largest one outside of Cambodia. In 2001 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex spreads across 1400 m up to the lower slopes of Phu Pasak mountain range – 46 km away from Pakse. I got onto my freshly rented motorbike and hit the road. I followed the signs easily and everything looked nice until I have approached a small crowd of people. I asked for direction and was told that the main road is impassable, hence I have to take the small dirt path (on the photos). Intrigued by what was the reason behind all this, I stopped and came closer to the spot in which there should be a bridge – there I saw a reason for the road being impassable. The bridge was collapsed, and on what was left of it, in the valley there was a truck (just check out the photo!). The funny thing is, the trucks were in a convoy – the first one made it across the bridge but the second one wasn’t that lucky. The sign in front of the bridge said “No trucks with trailer” and “No vehicles over 15 T” – we can only guess how heavy the trucks were and for how long this ban was ignored by local drivers.

I continued my way then using the very local, narrow path (it’s hard to call it a road – see the photos) and happily arrived at Wat Phu Champasak. The site was worshipped since the 5th century but the remaining ruins are dated between 11th and 13th century. The entrance fee was about 5 euros (October 2014). Upon my arrival, it started to rain – luckily it stopped after some 30 minutes. It wasn’t heavy, but heavy enough to make photo taking really troublesome. In front of the ruins there are two large water ponds separated by the promenade. The ruins are quite well-preserved and are impressive – especially if you didn’t see the Angkok Wat in Cambodia. The location next to the mountain slope adds some charm. There are long stairs going uphill – and those stairs themselves make very interesting sight, especially in those places where trees are growing within them. At the top there are some objects connected to the site – like holy water spring, elephant stone or crocodile stone.

Before heading back I’ve noticed that my back tire was completely flat. In the village nearby I found the shop where a guy patched my tube for 1 euro. But upon arrival in Pakse there was almost no air left in the tube – I am not sure whether it was because of patching or I got a flat tire again – as I managed to return the motorbike before the tire went completely flat again.

From Pakse (A) to Wat Phu Champasak (or Vat Phou, B)

Tha Khaek Loop, Laos – Day 4

The last day of my stay in Tha Khaek I have spent on seeing those things that I have skipped on the third day – namely the Khoun Kong Leng lake (‘Evening Gong Lake’) and one, not too fancy temple. Khoun Kong Leng lake is located on the southern edge of Phu Hin Bun NPA – almost one hour drive from Tha Khaek city. It takes one hour not because of the distance, but because of the road quality – which you can see on the photos. There are also virtually no signs that would point you in the right direction – but since I knew the location from guidebook, I found the place without problems. The lake is located next to limestone mountains. The emerald-green water flows from subterranean river that filters through the limestone, making the water crystal clear. The lake is about 21 m (70 ft) deep. The locals believe that lake has mystical powers and it is named after a legend that describes a gong sounding on the full moon each month. Swimming in the lake itself is not allowed – but it is possible in the stream that flows from the lake, apparently after getting permission from the locals. However, when I arrived in Ban Na Kheu (about 1 km from the lake), there was nobody there to even notice my presence. The Lonely Planet guidebook describes the lake as ‘stunningly beautiful’ but I would be more careful when choosing words – it is beautiful, indeed, but not jaw-dropping. And as it is not the most accessible place to get to, it can be easily omitted if you are not into it.

On the way back I have made a brief stop to take photos of local people. Laos is the most bombed country in the world (per capita) and even 40 years after the war ended, it is still taking its toll. There are still ongoing projects clearing the unexploded ordnance (UXO) – mostly land mines and other bombs. The elderly man that can be seen on the photo almost surely has lost his hand because of UXO. I cannot be 100% sure of it since the family didn’t speak any English – but knowing the facts this is the most likely scenario.

After seeing the lake I went towards Pha That Sikhottabong – on the way I have stopped briefly to see the ‘Great Wall’ – a kind of huge piece of stone wall, which used to have some sort of defending purpose in the past. Now it is mostly forgotten and hidden in the woods not far from the main road (but there is about 15 km of the walls preserved to this day). Pha That Sikhottabong is a stupa that sits on the grounds of a 19th century monastery of the same name. The stupa was raised in place of thâat (Buddhist reliquary) dated 6th to 10th century. It is considered one of the most important thâat in Laos and was first renovated in 16th century by king Setthathirat, when it got its general shape. Later it was restored in 1950s and further augmented in 1970s. It is a place of a major festival in February. The monastery itself, same as the stupa, didn’t really get into me – it’s just a standard monastery/temple in Asia. If someone happens to be here for the first time though, then you are more than welcome to visit the place – especially since it is located only 6 km from the city and very easily accessible.

From Tha Khaek (A) to Khoun Kong Leng (B)

Tha Khaek Loop, Laos – Day 3

Imagine a river disappearing inside a monolithic limestone mountain  and running 7 km through pitch-black, winding cave –  and you have a glimpse of what Kong Lo cave is (sometimes spelled as Kong Lor), truly one of the natural wonders of Laos. This cave-cum-tunnel is quite impressive – up to 100 m wide in some places and almost as high. Boat is naturally a mean of transportation for visiting the cave – a motorised canoe, to be exact. The canoe is operated by two guides (the entrance ticket was 20,000 kip, hiring a boat with guides 100,000 per boat for up to 4 people, so altogether I had to pay 120,000 kip – about 10 euros – as there was nobody around to share the boat with). To pass through the cave one have to spend almost an hour in the canoe (one-way).  I had to change the shoes for flip-flops, as it is not possible to make the journey without going in the water. In the main cavern there are some lights which enable us to get a better look for stalagmites and limestone formations. It pays to bring your own torch – I had my faithful head light with me. It is really a pity that the only light in the cave is only in the main cavern – if there were lights along the entire tunnel, it would definitely make it more attractive and the boat trip would be much more interesting. The visiting to the cave includes going all the way to the other side and a short walk to the local village – there we had a short break for a sip of water – and of course, going back. It all takes about 3 hours. The village itself looked just like any other village – the guide took me to his friend’s house, where they had a little chat about this and that – of course in local language – we had some boiled water and went back. On the photos you can see how locals live in the village.

On the way back to Tha Khaek I have made a stop at the sala viewpoint near Km 36. One should never miss that spot, as the scenery is indeed dramatic (the panoramic photo is just a fraction of how it really feels). I have arrived in Tha Khaek early evening, skipping some places that I was about to see the next day.

From Kong Lo cave (A) to Tha Khaek (B)

Tha Khaek Loop, Laos – Day 2

Ban Oudomsouk is rather large village located in not so high mountains of the Loop. Upon arrival I was welcomed with a nice, fresh and cool air. I stopped at one of the two (only two!) available guest houses, which was run by a German guy with his local wife. The guest house was in a quite picturesque location next to some sort of lake. Since I was travelling alone, I got myself quite comfortable bed in a dorm – which I had all to myself – the dorm, that is (the bed costed me 30,000 kip, which is about 3 euros as of that time). In the evening and at night it was nicely cold so that there was absolutely no need to even use a fan. The next morning I continued my journey right after breakfast. Because of many dams that were built on Laotian rivers (in order to produce electricity), on the way one can spot flooded trees – which is quite a sight on its own and also reminds us that together with the progress, there is always some sort of loss. The road goes through various villages and quite a large part behind Ban Tha Long (one of the other villages on the way) is unpaved. The typical view of the village can be seen on the photos below.

One of the more interesting places on the way was the town of Tha Bak. There wouldn’t be anything special about it if not the fact that this is the only place where one can see bomb boats. The name is somewhat misleading, since the boats were made out of huge missile-shaped drop tanks that carried fuel for jets that were operating here in the 1960s and ’70s. Empty tanks were sometimes dropped and those that didn’t receive too much damage during the hit were turned into boats.

The second day was completed upon arriving in Kong Lo village (or Kong Lor). From here the next morning I was about to see the main attraction on the Loop – the Kong Lo cave.

From Ban Oudomsouk (A) to Kong Lo cave (B)

Tha Khaek Loop, Laos – Day 1

Tha Khaek was my first stop in central Laos, on my way to the south. The city itself is rather small and there is nothing interesting in there. It is located at the Mekong river, just next to the Thai border. Most tourists come here to do the so-called “The Loop” (or Tha Khaek Loop). The Loop is, as you can imagine, a road that goes through the province in a round and comes back to the city. It can be done on a bicycle (a good one, MTB is a must) or on a motorbike (which is the most popular way). The recommended minimum is 3 days, but for most people 4 days would be more suitable, especially if one wants to visit the most important sight in the area – the magnificent Kong Lo cave (spelled sometimes as Kong Lor). Obviously it is possible to find travellers who did the whole thing in 1 day and others who took 5 days. I did the Loop in 4 days. I arrived in Tha Khaek in the evening, the next morning I rented out a motorbike (faithful semi-automatic Zongshen S, 100cc made in China which was an obvious copy of Honda Wave S, as you can see on the photos) and hit the road.  There are many caves located in the surroundings of Tha Khaek. Below you can find photos of the most popular ones, taken on the way to Ban Oudomsouk (Oudomsouk village) – my first overnight stop on the Tha Khaek Loop.

From Tha Khaek (A) to Ban Oudomsouk (B)