Population: 100,000 in the district but a much smaller unrecorded population in Xe Champhone.
Vibe: Really off-the-beaten-track! This remote area of wetlands is an amazing place to see Laos wildlife in their natural habitat. It supports the largest population of the critically endangered Siamese Crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis) in the country and protects other species such as the endangered Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata). On Stray it’s unlikely you’ll see crocodiles, but we do visit four sites of interest within the Xe Champhone area: Monkey Forest, Hotay Pidok Temple, Turtle Lake and Old Wat Talaeo.
Must Do: Monkey Forest to see the Rhesus Macaque monkeys.
Known for: Flooding. The Xe Champhone Wetlands are a remote and difficult to access flatland area of marshes, swamps, flooded woodland forest and mats of dense floating vegetation. When it's really flooded the Stray bus can't come with us so we take a boat!
Top things to see and do in Xe Champhone
DONG LING (“MONKEY FOREST”)
A spiritual, picturesque and quite incredible patch of sacred forest in Ban Dong Muong Village is home to approximately 2000 Rhesus Macaque monkeys. This means that there's too many monkeys for this size forest, so we have a 100% chance of seeing them! The monkeys are protected, and the locals believe they are the spirits of people that used to live there; therefore, their customs and taboos protect any monkeys from be harmed, bought, traded, and eaten. It’s even said that when a monkey dies, the other monkeys bring the body into the middle of the forest and perform a somewhat human like funeral. It’s really incredible to see wild monkeys in their natural habitat in Laos. The village is very small and basic with one temple and a couple of dozen houses. Because of the over abundance of monkeys in this patch of sacred forest, there isn’t enough food for them. Locals tend to feed them sticky rice and candy and the patch of forest near the village is littered with rubbish. Stray plays its part by educating and helping the village clean up the rubbish and feeding the monkeys only bananas and not sticky rice and candy!
HOTAY PIDOK LIBRARY
A beautiful and very unique wooden structure built over 200 years ago to house Buddhist scriptures that are written in Burmese Pali, Khmer and ancient Lao script on palm leaves. In excellent condition today, this structure high on stilts and raised above a pond is very different to other temples in Laos today. There are approximately 4000 palm leaf books in the library. The rest of temple complex is quite large and active today with monks, novices and villages frequenting the property. It overlooks the Xe Champhone river and the sacred Monkey Forest on the other side.
NONG DAO (“TURTLE LAKE”)
In this truly special village, called Ban Done Deng, there exists a natural pond that houses the vulnerable Asiatic Softshell Turtle. The pond is 90-100 years old, and home to over 200 softshell turtles - some of which are up to 100 years old! They're believed to be sacred by the villages, and some locals believe that if you harm a turtle or even speak ill of them, you will be cursed and get sick. As such, the village has set up a fund to protect the turtles and of the $0.25 entrance fee, part goes to the village, part to the guardians who protect the turtles by night and part to the ticket seller. The turtles are left to their own will but if one escapes the village they put it back. They are so revered in superstition that if a turtle dies; the village gives them the same funeral in a temple as a human would receive. It’s an amazing place and you can see many turtles, who are even called to the surface for food by the locals who sing at them from a board walk!
Many travellers skip Southern Laos because it's a bit hard to get to, but there are many gems to be found in Southern Laos!