Sunday, December 26, 2010

Southern Laos - Coffee, waterfalls and Khmer ruins

Champasak, the southernmost province of Laos, is currently best known for its UNESCO World Heritage site of Wat Phou, a pre-angkorian Khmer ruin complex, situated 10 kilometers outside of Champasak town or around 40 kilometers south of the provincial capital Pakse. Wat Phou is located at the base of mount Phou Kao, some 6 km from the Mekong River.

There was a temple on the site as early as the 5th century, but the surviving structures date from the 11th to 13th centuries. The temple has a unique structure, in which the elements lead to a shrine where a linga was bathed in water from a mountain spring. The site later became a centre of Theravada Buddhist worship, which it remains today.

Another, yet less known temple of Champasak town, is the on the Mekong riverside located temple of Wat Muang Kang. Wat Muang Kang, also known as Wat Phuthawanaram is the oldest temple in Champassak town. Its French colonial and Lao fusion style library (tripitaka) is quite unique architectural example of the colonial past. Wat Muang Kang can be reached by following a small path through lush bamboo, coconut and banana tree vegetation along the riverbanks of the mighty Mekong downstream for about 2 kilometers.

By crossing the Mekong River and cruising downstream, the nearby forest temple Oum Muong also known as Wat Tomo can be reached. Wat Tomo was built in the 13th or 14th century, probably as a rest house for visitors to Wat Phou. Covered by big trees and located on a tributary river to the Mekong, Wat Tomo has a unique charm and atmosphere.

Wat Phou Asa, a ruined Buddhist monastery, is located on the top of a sandstone hill next to Ban Kiet Ngong in the area of Pathoumphone (Phia Fai). Wat Phou Asa was built during the 19th century. The temples unusual shape and layout is probably inspired by Indian models. One hundred eight cylindrical stone piles made of slabs without mortar surround the centrally located sim. Many champa trees have been planted along the walls. The place, isolated in a dry and rocky area, inspires through mystery and wild grandeur. Although its origin is still in the dark, legends say that Wat Phou Asa is the burial place of the jewels, sent by the "Kha" to adorn the palace that Prince Kammatha was building near Wat Phou. When they learned that Prince Kammatha died without finishing the palace, Wat Phou Asa was built as citadel to protect the buried jewels.

The Bolaven plateau, an area well known for its high altitude and therefore all year round cool climate, is best described in two words: coffee and waterfalls.
In the near future coffee will not only contribute to Lao’s economic income as an export product but also as a major tourism attraction. Already today many oversee clients visit the coffee plantations during their stay in Pakse or on the Bolaven Plateau.
Mr. Sinouk Sisombat, the president of the Lao Coffee Association is currently building a resort on a 50 hectare coffee farm near Pakxong, about 80 km outside of Pakse. He plans to offer an agro-coffee tourism package, where clients staying at the resort can pick and process their own coffee beans during their stay…

Champasak is already today one of the top tourist destinations in Laos, with an annual tourism growth of around 10% over the last five years. In absolute figures around 300’000 people visited the province during 2009 and 2010. Most of these people visited Wat Phou, the Sipandone area and the province many waterfalls.
Coffee tourism is a new idea for Champasak province and could and would be a welcomed addition to any tour program in the area. Khiri Travel Laos offers already today some interesting tours and programs in the province and on the Bolaven plateau…

The Bolaven plateau offers also some very nice accommodation: Tad Fane Resort, which is hidden amidst the dense rainforest and overlooking the foaming twin waterfalls. The water of Tad Fane plunges 200 meters down a gorge which is really an amazing sight. Other nearby waterfalls such as Tad Yeuang, Tad Champee and Tad E Tu can be discovered during a day tour or on own along with coffee and tea plantations.

More reading information can be found here:
A tour program can be found here:

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