By: Jas Mitch
The Bolaven Plataeu - the highest form of flattery
Having rediscovered our love for Laos, its people and its culture, the decision was made to stop off at a medium sized town called Pakse, in Southern Laos. The region is famous for its amazing waterfalls and delicious coffee. To see all of this, the best thing to do is hire a scooter, or two in our case, and head out to the Bolaven Plateau for a few days, to do the “loop”. And that is exactly what we did.
We had arrived the night before in Pakse, after an unexpected 11 hour bus ride, at about 3am. So we were pretty tired and ended up getting a pretty late start to it but made perfect timing for all the things we wanted to see along the way.
Our first stop was Mr Vieng’s Coffee & Homestay. Such a cool little retreat off the main road. Set amongst a small coffee bean farm, with piglets and chickens running around and his homestay, a traditional Laos style thatched-roof home elevated off the ground on stilts. His coffee totally hit the spot after a few hours riding and the food he served us was possibly some of the best I have had in Lao! Noodle soup with fresh herbs, a very tasty broth, boiled eggs and some other vegetables! We almost stopped our trip right there and then just to stay longer at Mr Viengs!
His inclusion of hammocks definitely didn’t help.
After a while we decided to continue on. Our major stopping point for the day was to make it to Tad Lo, about mid-way through the plateau. The Frenchman who had rented us the scooters had mentioned that at about 4.30pm “Laos time” there is a place where locals bathe Elephants at the top of the Tad Lo waterfall! This is something we simply couldn’t miss. So onwards we continued.
And then we got lost… Something that is pretty easy to do in Lao where they only sometimes like to signpost things… Thankfully we only missed our turn off by a few minutes and made it to Tad Lo just in time to see an Elephant dunking itself in the water and then wandering through some trees to another part of the waterfall! I’m still amazed everytime we see an Elephant around here.
We figured the Elephant and its handler would probably return in the same direction that it went, so we decided to chill out on the rocks and wait for its return. What a peaceful place Tad Lo is. I’m not even sure how long we were there! It was just the perfect place to relax after a day of scooting around.
Our theory was wrong, however, and we didn’t get to see the Elephants again…
But we did get pretty cool bungalow accommodation right next to the waterfall. It was pretty basic, but super cheap and its balcony views made up for all of its shortcomings. We just relaxed on the balcony with a BeerLao watching local kids play in the water.
For dinner we ventured out to the township of Tad Lo, a very small rural village. Mitch noticed a carnival type thing not too far away at a temple filled with what looked to be all the kids from the area.
The first thing we saw when we got in was a group of kids playing a game. We got in and it turned out to be gambling. The rules of which I have no idea but our experience was Mitch being taught to gamble by a 12 year old girl and something about dice and animal pictures. Mitch put all his loose money on the chicken and won, yelling out “winner winner, chicken dinner”. The locals were as confused as we were…
Next up we noticed a bunch of boys up to no good near the temple, engaging in the time old tradition of “blowing shit up”. Mitch fondly remembers a time in Australia when kids used to “blow shit up”
They even had the lesser known variant of “stick shit in someone’s tailpipe and blow it up”
Day 2 of our Bolaven Plateau adventure was something completely different to the previous day. The weather took a turn for the crazy and we were bucketed with rain for most of the trip to the next town, Paksong! At times it was pretty intense on the road and we had to stop after our visibility went to zero! What a crazy ride!
Eventually we found a coffee shop to stop at and get our wits back…also to drink coffee… Which gave the weather a chance to clear up. We were only a few minutes away from our next waterfall, Tad Fan, the highest of all in the area at 120m. We met a couple of tourists at Tad Fan who had visited earlier on in the day and couldn’t see a thing so thankfully the change had dramatically increased visibility. Tad Fan was spectacular, and violent! The bottom looked like a witch’s caldron with mist swirling around.
Then we walked on to Tad Champi. We had been warned not to drive and rather just to walk to 2kms to get there as the road is clay and weather conditions had not been great. Thank god we didn’t drive! It was hard enough to walk on the road without slipping. About halfway there we start to hear what sounds like a waterfall… it wasn’t… up ahead we see a wall of heavy rain coming for us very quickly (and of course our rain coats were in the scooters). We had no choice but to take shelter in the surrounding coffee trees. Lesson for the day, coffee plants give no protection from the rain. After a few minutes we just accepted that we were soaked and continued our walk.
Tad Champi was cool but not nearly as cool as the other waterfalls we’d seen. In the dry season you can swim but it looks way to rough at this time of year.
Exhausted from our two days adventuring, we headed back to Pakse, found some accommodation and completely crashed for the night.
For our last day in Pakse we wanted to check out Vat Phou, the site for the Angkor-like Khmer ruins from the 5th century AD. We picked up a scooter again and headed about 35kms outside of Pakse to the Champasak region.
The ruins are suppose to be in a similar style to those of Angkor Wat… although obviously no where near the size of Angkor. We arrived, paid the hefty fee of 50000 kip each and were motioned towards the museum filled with parts of the ruins all from the Angkor period.
We then took an electric bus-like thing up to the base of Vat Phou and began our hike up to the top! Unexpectedly when we got out of the bus there was a band playing music, looked like they were recording a music video. At first we thought it was pretty cool but by the time we had finished walking around the Vat it had kind of started to grind us… the same song over and over again…
There are stairs the whole way up to the top, passing through different parts of the area, they were all very beautiful. And the view from the top was just spectacular, looking out onto the ruins, and then further out to lush, green rice paddies, huts on stilts and a glimpse of the Mekong river snaking its way across the country-side in the background.
We had the intention of returning to Pakse and heading to Si Phan Don in the afternoon but we spent such a long time exploring Vat Phou that we have decided to spend one more night in Pakse, and will be checking out a cool looking local Indian restaurant instead.