Off the beaten track in Laos: The Bolaven Plateau by motorbike

Following on from my highly successful adventures on a Motorbike in Thakhek, I decided to embark on a new adventure on a bike, this time with a Belgian Girl called Liesbeth, in an often unexplored area called the Bolaven Plateau, in Southern Laos.

This was an area that I had only briefly heard of, and as it is the road less travelled, I wanted to travel it.

I  met Liesbeth in Savannakhet, which is a sleepy wee town, and I passed through it in two days. It was a mere stop over to rest from my previous adventure and get some laundry done.

We travelled south together to Pakse, where both of us had no plan. Again, it is a place many people come to spend the time before heading North or South.

We ended up getting the last room in one of the best Guesthouses in the city, (in my opinion – Nang Noi Guesthouse).

After a 10 minute discussion over a cold Beer Lao, I had convinced Liesbeth that seeing the area by Motorbike was the best way, rather than an overpriced tour, so we had a discussion with the owner (whose name escapes me right now), and he advised us the best way to see the Bolavan Plateau in a few days. We were given maps, and great directions.

Note – there is a small loop that you can do, and a more larger one, but we only had a few days to get to see as much as we could before heading South. The short loop is approximately 180km.

The next day we stored our bags at the Guesthouse, and paid 150,000 Lao Kip for a three day rental, which was great for bikes which had less than 30,000 km on them and were pretty much brand new. Our passports were used as insurance, and we were off.

 

Day one: Pakse to Tad Lo

Distance – approximately 90km 

Navigating through Pakse was a little more challenging, the roads appeared busier than in Thakhek, and much poorer in terms of their condition, but our bikes could handle the rough terrain, and we were soon off. It was almost one straight road to Tad Lo, with only a few small waterfalls to stop at on the way.

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Halfway into our journey, we found a cafe, and had whatever was going – Noodle soup; a much needed refuel and a shelter from the rain.

As we approached Tad Lo, there is a small village area that you pass through. Lots of Children were playing outside, and shouted Sabaidee (Hello!) to us. Liesbeth had purchased books from Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang, and so decided to give a few out. The children were a little small, but seemed to appreciate these, but  were a little confused as to why some white people would want to give them books.

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We later discovered another Ethic Village, with a few more waterfalls. There you can meet local people, and support them by buying hand-made products. Here, Liesbeth gave away and few more of her books. This time, the children were delighted. It was like we had given them $1 million. Their faces lit up as they discovered what was written on each page. The mother of the children came over and started reading one to the younger children. It was a really cool moment, knowing that this was the first book these kids may have seen in their life. This interaction made me realise how privileged I was to have been brought up where I was, and I am not just saying this in a typical cliché traveller way, but really – it is difficult to grasp how different life in Laos would have been for me.

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We reached Tad Lo quicker than we thought, and hunted around for somewhere to sleep. We ended up at the Fandee Guesthouse, which is a family run business. Their owners were away, so a German guy was running it for them. The Guesthouse supports the local village Children who come to play with the ‘foreigners’ help out with cooking, and later have a shared meal together.

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We paid 50,000 Lao Kip per room. It was simple but had a clean bathroom, a large bed with a mosquito net, and cute hammocks outside.

We had planned to go off and explore all the waterfalls, but in the end, played with the Children, had amazing Lao Coffee, caught up with writing in our diaries and were just content being where we were at that moment. The children didn’t seem to need much, and were content with just drawing on paper, or in my case me, this cutie sat and drew rings and a bracelet on my hands for a good 20 minutes.

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The shared meal later was lovely. Papaya salad, and a chicken broth with sticky rice. The children didn’t join us at the table, but happily sat on the floor, listening to music and chatting happily. It was a great moment being there; I felt very much apart of the community, and was very content.

 

The next morning, we ventured out to find breakfast, as the Guesthouse didn’t serve much. We went found another cool Guesthouse around the corner, which served amazing pancakes, and home-made oats with yoghurt. So we indulged, and even took some home-made cheesecake and cookies to snack on later.

Day two – Exploring Tad Lo back to Pakse via Paksong 

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Distance- approximately 90km

Exploring: Tad Fan Waterfall

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On our way out of Tad Lo village, we went to see the actual waterfall – Tad Lo. It was quite impressive, but we couldn’t see a proper entrance way. We walked through some bush area, and saw it from the hill. It was beautiful.

 

 

Moving on toward Paksong, we rarely stopped. The weather was overcast, so I had no sunscreen on – bad mistake, as I ended up with very burnt arms later.

On the map, Paksong looked like a happening village, but we drove through it, and later said to each other “Was that Paksong?”

We were glad that we had done the loop the other way around, and stayed near Tad Lo instead.

Although there are a few waterfalls to see in the area, we were told that Tad Fan was a good one to see in the afternoon, and that you could swim at it.

The entrance fee for this waterfall was 13,000 Lao Kip, and included parking our bikes in a secure area. We didn’t find much of an area to swim in, as the waterfall was very powerful and fast flowing, but whilst we were there, a beautiful rainbow appeared.

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We found a small grassy spot, to relax at in our swimwear (despite not swimming), eat our cheesecake and chat about life. This was the moment that Liesbeth and I discovered that we shared birthdays; not only date and month, but year also.

 

We returned to Pakse by the evening and again stayed at Nang Noi Guesthouse.

Day three: Pakse to Champasak

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Distance (there and back): approximately 76km 

I really wanted to go to Champasak, as I had heard about Wat Phu; Khmer ruins, which are not common out of Cambodia, so this was our mission for day two.

It was a fairly straight road out to Champasak. The owner of our Guesthouse directed us, out of the city, and we made it there pretty quickly, despite the cows that lay on the ground.

 

On the way, there are beautiful rice paddies – everything was so green, and beautiful.

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During our drive, it rained for about 15 minutes, so we took shelter with a few locals in their wooden hut at the side of the road, and waited for it to pass.

 

Entry to Wat Phu cost 35,000 Lao Kip.

We got there nice and early (before lunchtime), which was perfect, as it was before the bus load of tourists arrived. We saw the area at a quiet time.

The walk to the ruins takes about 20 minutes, you can pay an additional fee for an electric cart to take you there, but the walk is lovely, and you’ll save some money.

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The first ruins you’ll come to is at ground level, and is a large Temple with various smaller Temples around it; you can’t get inside it, but just walk around.

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The rest of the ruins lie on the hill, and is quite a hike to see them, but it is totally worth it. The view from the top is incredible. You can reward yourself with a drink, sold by a local lady, and even some Lao pancakes if you wish.

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So although this was a much shorter loop, and adventure on a Motorbike, it was successful, beautiful and well worth the trip.

You can read about my not so successful adventure on a Motorbike in Vietnam soon!

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