On this episode of Talk Travel Asia podcast, we’ll talk about one of our favorite areas in all of SE Asia – southern Laos – specifically the ancient Khmer temple of Vat Phou and 4,000 Islands, near the border with Cambodia. Laos, a country of 5.5-million, landlocked, and sandwiched between China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, is little-known to most travelers. Sure, they’ve heard the name, but don’t know much about what it has to offer, or for that matter, often where exactly on the map it’s located. In a day and age when over-tourism is becoming a problem at many traditional sites and countries, now is a great time to strike out from the masses and discover this charming land-locked nation. 

  • Trevor & Scott banter about when we visited these areas.
  • Impressions before we visited.
  • How we felt while being there.
  • Impressions now that we’ve been there.
  • How to get there/in/out/around.
Talk Travel Asia podcast episode on Southern Laos including Vat Phu and 4000 islands

Trevor at the base of Vat Phu

Vat Phu: According to Michael Freeman in A guide to Khmer Temples in Thailand and Laos, a Chinese 6th century text mentions ”near the capital there is a mountain called Ling-chia-po-p’o (Lingaparvata), on top of which there is a temple which is always guarded by a thousand soldiers. It is consecrated to a spirit named P’o-to-li, to which human sacrifice is made. Each year, the king goes into this temple and himself offers a human sacrifice during the night”

There are inscription from 5th and 6th centuries, buildings from 9th and 10th centuries that were renovated in 12th and 13th centuries, which spans the founding of Angkor to Javarman VII, making Vat Phu one of the most holy sites even through the entire Angkor era.

Talk Travel Asia podcast about Southern Laos

Wat Phu Elephant

Rajendravarman 2 (10th century), when he returned capital to Angkor traveled to Laos to pay homage here as in part of a campaign to reunify disparate religious beliefs but also to gain legitimacy for his ancient royal lineage. 13th century would be the grand builder of Javarman VII who built Angkor Thom, The Bayon, Ta Prohm etc. so this style is particularly prevalent in the carvings adorning the main structure but there is evidence of centuries of carvings, in addition to the natural spring, the boulders, and the mountain itself. 

The natural linga on the top of the Phu Kao Mountain (Lingaparvata) marks the spiritual centre of the ancient Srestrapura area. The linga is only observable from outside the temple area of Vat Phou. After having passed the eastern baray it disappears.

Scott and Trevor then discuss:

  • How it relates to other Khmer temples in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos
  • Impressions / Experience
  • Getting there/away
  • Other nearby smaller temples: Wat Umong, Kandi

Talk Travel Asia podcast about Southern Laos

Mekong River rapids near 4000 islands

4,000 Islands

  • Li Phi Falls – nice view – need to pay about US$5 to get in now – building a zipline
  • Don Det
  • Don Khon
  • Chez Fred et Lea – great food
  • Adam’s Bar and Restaurant – good spot for drinks, a chillout view and happy stuff
  • Anloung Chheuteal Dophin – can get boat rides from this southern port where the French railroad started
  • Khongyai Beach – get boat rides here – nice salas at a simple restaurant next to the falls to chillout and relax
  • Champasak
  • Khon Phapheng waterfall park – over-rated and you have to pay US$8 to get in just for a view – see Li Phi instead and give it a miss – felt like a cash-grab
  • Don Det – Don Khon Railway: It opened in 1893, and closed in 1940 or 1949.
  • Mad About the Mekong Book: French – Mekong Exploration Commission – 1866-68; got all the way into southern China, near Dali

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Talk Travel Asia podcast about Southern Laos

Scott in Southern Laos

Bolaven Plateau

  • Tad Yuang Waterfall
  • Zipline over some falls – you can have fresh coffee
  • Visit coffee farms
  • Minority villages
  • Allow at least one full day from Pakse or you can overnight in a village



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