A province of southern Laos, 325 mi/525 km southeast of Vientiane, Champasak was a part of the Khmer Angkor Empire between the 10th and 13th centuries. Starting from Pakse, the burgeoning provincial capital founded by the French in 1905, Champasak's heritage is best explored by riding a riverboat (both public ferries and private charters are available) down the Mekong to sleepy Champasak town. From there, you can hire a three-wheeled tuk-tuk to nearby Vat Phu, the impressive hillside ruin of a temple complex that was once an outpost of Cambodia's Angkor civilization. The ancient temple dates from the sixth century. Constructed on several levels, visitors can enjoy fantastic views across the plains. The temple complex has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most important cultural sites in Laos.
If time allows, continue by boat to Si Pan Don, a stretch of islands in the Mekong also known as the Four Thousand Islands for the sandbars that form in the river during the dry season; then proceed to Don Khong, a charming island of rural villages, and Khon Pha Pheng, a series of thundering waterfalls just above the border with Cambodia (about a half-day's journey from Wat Phu).
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