Xae Pong Lai: hidden waterfalls delight in Attapeu
Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.
In southern Laos, there are numerous amazing tourist attractions as it’s the best region for adventure seekers to explore the waterfall wonderland.
Recently I made a trip to southern Laos with my photographer colleagues in order to discover and capture some new and less known tourist sites around Champassak, Attapeu, Saravan and Xekong provinces.
One of the impressive locations was the Xae Pong Lai falls, deeply hidden in tropical jungles of the dramatic Bolaven plateau in Attapeu province; a location largely untouched by the outside world.
As the Xe Pian River pours over a colossal, ancient geological formation the drama results in the Xae Pong Lai falls.
They lay within the Sanamxay district, and there are only two ways to get there. One is from Pakxe via route 16E 173 Km to Attapeu and continuing another 68km along unpaved Road 18A and can be accessed in the wet and dry seasons roughly around a two to three-hour journey - with four-wheel drive vehicles recommended in the wet season.

A bird’s-eye-view of dramatic Xae Pong Lai falls in dry season with the Bolaven plateau in the background.

We decide to use another way, which is not so recommended - well, kind of discouraged - by local people because of the incessant river crossings and road conditions being pretty rugged.  But we were here to tread the road less travelled and all up for serious adventure – and by map it was a little shorter.
From Pakxe, we drive to the south on route 13 until km 46 Ban Thang Beng, turn left, and continue about 75 km on unpaved road on route 18. 
The locals were totally right, and we certainly did need to ford many rivers, but luckily we managed to cross all.  The group’s consensus was that the road would be impossible to travel during the wet - even in a big 4 wheel drive.
After 4 hours of dirt, and into the deep forest, we were excited to finally catch a glimpse, through the dust-blurred windshield of our destination; the huge, beautiful waterfall.
Xae Pong Lai waterfall is over 130 metres wide. To the left side, it rises over 20 metres high, and the right ranges from an amazing 35 to 40 metres in height. It must be a totally stunning sight in the rainy season with tens of metric tonnes of water pouring over each second, but the amount drops to just the right amount for swimming and waterfall showers in the dry season.
The waterfall was actually discovered by the outside world in 1998 when an independent tour group came across it, and still to this day few people know about it- the falls are far from villages and there was no road access.
The waterfall forms part of the Xe Pian National Protected Area, which spans about 240,000 hectares in the provinces of Champassak and Attapeu. This region is one of the most important natural reserves in Laos.
Apart from Xae Pong Lai waterfall, visitors can stop off at the province’s second biggest waterfall called Xae Pha which is about 23 metres high and 120 metres wide, and about 7km before reaching Xae Pong Lai.
All the adventurers who came on the journey totally agree that we consider Xae Pong Lai well in the top five most beautiful waterfalls in southern Laos, and maybe the best for adventure travellers and waterfall lovers.

By Phoonsab Thevongsa
(Latest Update April 28, 2018)

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