Southern Laos: Mekong Cruise and the Bolaven Plateau
Think you've been everywhere? Southern Laos is waiting for you to discover!
Four thousand islands in the Mekong river... Mist-shrouded colonial coffee and tea plantations... Wild orchids in a tropical forest... Countless thundering waterfalls... A once-magnificent city that was the furthest outpost of the Khmer Empire... A deliciously-relaxing luxury cruise that visits landlocked villages and natural wonders. Purple Dragon's Southern Laos offers all of these things and more. Isn't this what you have been dreaming of?
Southern Laos is still unspoiled and relatively undiscovered, and this unique adventure has been designed to show you a special part of Indochina that few people get to experience.
Welcome to Pakse
Begin in the tidy, miniature city of Pakse, on the banks of the Mekong River. Pakse still has a frontier town flavor, with only a handful of buildings taller than two stories. While there really are no tourist attractions in the town, you may want to hire a tuk-tuk to take you for ride around the town, and make a stop for a bowl of the world's best noodle soup at the famous, no-name restaurant "across the bridge."
Do not bother with breakfast at your hotel the next morning. Your pre-cruise meeting point is Sinouk Cafe, which grows and roasts its own coffee in nearby Bolaven Plateau and serves the best pastries in town.
Your cruise director will escort you to a pier about one block away, where you board a long-tailed boat upstream as you begin your three-day, two-night Mekong Cruise. (The itinerary described below is the downstream trip. The identical itinerary is done in reverse upstream on alternate departure dates.)
The Vat Phou Cruise
The Vat Phou awaits your arrival. Once you settle into your cabin, you will have time to explore the vessel. Lunch will be served on the upper deck as you cruise towards the town of Champasak. When you arrive, transportation is waiting to take you to the remains of the eleventh century Khmer temple of Vat Phou, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a distant outpost of the empire that built Angkor Wat.
The imposing complex sits at the foot of a small mountain with splendid views of the town and river below. Much of what remains of the temple and palace complex is remarkably intact and offers a wealth of early Hindu art carved into expansive architectural stone pieces. Buddhists also revere the temple and often leave floral offerings and incense.
Before you return to the boat you can stop in funky Champasak town for a photo or two. Once you are back on board there is time to relax and enjoy a cocktail and a spectacular sunset before dinner in the main salon below.
Sail along the lazy river most of the following day. The upper deck has plenty of comfy places for you to watch the scenery slip by. The first stop of the day is Huei Thamo, a landlocked village along the river. Here you can see what remains of Om Muang, a 9th century Khmer temple. Far more interesting, however, is the chance to wander through the village. No cars here! Life is simple except for the occasional satellite dish, giving you the perfect snapshot of rural Laos. Later in the evening, you dock at another small village for the night. You will have plenty of time to explore before dinner.
The highlight of your final day is a trip by a smaller boat through an archipelago of "four thousand islands" in this broad part of the Mekong. There are indeed many islands, although some of them are no more than floating masses of flora. Stop at Don Khone and Don Det islands, connected by a concrete bridge. After lunch along the riverside, your final stop is the breathtaking Pha Pheng Waterfalls, where the mighty Mekong thunders down into Cambodia. Continue by road to Pakse, where you say good bye to your companions on the cruise.
The Bolaven PlateauFrom Pakse it is a short 50km drive into the cool mist of the Bolaven Plateau, a broad, high-altitude expanse of great natural beauty that sits atop a massive, long-dead volcano. You arrive around dinner time at the charming Sinouk Coffee Resort, where you spend the night. This boutique hotel is surrounded by magnificent gardens, ponds, and streams. It is also a working coffee plantation.
Spend the following day exploring magical Bolaven. The area is filled with coffee and tea plantations and home to some of the country's 18 National Biodiversity Conservation Areas. There are also ethnic minority villages and working elephants, so there is plenty to see. Most of Bolaven is still old growth forest with some of the planet's most spectacular waterfalls. Among the most impressive is Tad Fane, where twin waterfalls plunge 200-meters into the jungle of Dong Hua Sao. A good stop for lunch is Saise Resort, adjacent to the Tad Lo waterfalls, where you can eat outdoors and may see mahoots bathing their elephants in the river below.
Pass through sleepy villages before you stop at Pakbeng, the largest town in the area, to visit the bustling outdoor market before you continue to Pakse mid-afternoon. You have the option of spending an extra night in Bolaven so that you do not have to rush through one of the most beautiful places in Asia.
Planning and LogisticsThis program begin and ends in Pakse. You need to spend at least one night in Pakse (or Bolaven) because arrival flights do not arrive early enough to begin your cruise the same day.
There are flights to Pakse from Bangkok, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Luang Prabang and Vientiane. However, none of these flights operate daily, so this occasionally poses some logistical headaches when trying to coordinate flights with a cruise that departs only three times a week. You can cross the Lao border near Ubon Ratchathani in Northern Thailand. The trip by road takes about three hours. However, the border does not open early enough for you to drive from Ubon and begin your cruise on the same day.
Because of irregular transportation to and from Pakse it may be necessary for us to schedule the Bolaven Plateau segment of this program before the cruise instead of after. It may, under some circumstances, be necessary for you to spend one extra night in Pakse or Bolaven, depending on departure flight times to your next destination.
This program is ideally suited as a continuation of our Isaan tour that begins in Bangkok, travels through Northeast Thailand, and ends in Ubon Ratchathani. We can join the two tours seamlessly.
About The Vat Phou Vessel
Your cruise is aboard a former ferry boat built of sturdy timber from the local forests, and now fully restored as a luxurious cruising hotel. The boat is appointed with everything for your comfort, safety and enjoyment.
There are twelve air-conditioned cabins with private bathrooms, two large open shaded air decks, a bar, a dining room, and a friendly, helpful crew. A cruise director and trained local guide travel with each sailing.
All meals are included on the cruise. Like most cruises, there will be a great number of dishes at each meal, which suits every taste. Let us know in advance if you are vegetarian or have other special dietary requirements.
The Cruise Schedule
From from October through April: