Laos’ southern “tail” — where the country borders Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia — lies at the historic merging point of Southeast Asia’s greatest ancient empires. To the west of this area, the mighty Mekong River splits the jungle-shrouded Champasak province, skirting dozens of ancient Khmer temples before reaching a thundering conclusion in a series of picturesque waterfalls, four of which are major enough to be named and claimed on the tourist route.
Four Thousand Islands in the River
The compelling name of the location of Champasak’s major waterfalls – “Si Phan Don” – means “Four Thousand Islands.” Si Phan Don is where the Mekong River ends its long journey through Laos, and it’s a geological wonder in its own right. Thousands of sandbar islands crowd the water, some large enough to be inhabited and others just large enough for a critter to sit and sun itself. Tourists may only officially visit three of the island villages, but these are sufficiently developed to act as a stopping-off point to visit the nearby waterfalls.
Measured by volume, Khone Phapheng is the largest waterfall in the Southeast Asian subcontinent. The locals fish in its multitude of narrow chutes and perch on a system of stone outcroppings that the water has carved over the course of centuries. Roving food and drink kiosks keep the fishermen and visitors well-supplied.
Just north of Khone Phapheng, Li Phi’s clear cascade is much smaller. Despite its more petite stature, Li Phi has one notable feature that makes it well worth the extra trip: the water turns bright green in winter months, tinted by algae growth. Food and beverage facilities are also on hand here.
Overnight in the tree house bungalows at the Uttayan Bachieng Lodge, which overlooks the waterfall at Pha Suam, for a unique sunrise view of the cascade. Rimmed by several pavilions and perches, the Pha Suam waterfall invites a lazy afternoon of exploration. Also near the waterfall is an ethnic village that purveys local food and crafts.
Tad Fane is not one waterfall, but two. This double cascade pours from the cliff edge of the Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area, a wildlife reserve atop the Bolaven Plateau. Stay at the Tad Fane Resort, which overlooks the double waterfall and books guided treks into the reserve and waterfall zone.