The Bolaven Plateau in Champasak Province, isolated from the bustle of the more obvious destinations in Laos is an area of outstanding beauty, sitting in the southern corner of this much overlooked country. Laos with its neighbours, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand is now learning to sing on its own. A road trip to this enigmatic spot, with its myriad of waterfalls and enchanting forest walks, is a must on any Laos itinerary. Leave behind the more touristy spots like the Kuang Si and reach those falls, where one feels one is transported back to a time when explorers first discovered many of those places now so well known. Whilst floating through this landscape of lush vegetation and cool, crystal water, one can stop at the many coffee plantations, offering a variety of freshly roasted, aromatic coffees.
The Bolaven Plateau is a truly remote and enchanting addition to a Laos itinerary, which will make one feel as though one is walking in the footsteps of great explorers.
Below demonstrates a map of The Bolaven Plateau, very similar to the one we used (if a little more detailed). The bottom left corner indicates a key for the map. I have marked our route and blue dots at the waterfalls of interest.
After landing in Pakse, following an early morning flight from Luang Prabang, we made the adrenaline fuelled decision to embark on this adventure road trip around The Bolaven Plateau - one of the best travel decisions I have ever made!. We rapidly separated our belongings, leaving some in Pakse, crammed the rest onto one automatic moped and set off at high speed to make sure we arrived at our destination before sunset.
Since it was already mid afternoon, we knew we had to press on and bypass Tad Champee and Tad Pasuam and reach our final destination of Tad Lo, before it got dark. We were met with a charming little village neighbouring the waterfall and sat drinking beers whilst the sun went down. There were many sweet little basic cabins, with private bathrooms, available to rent for the night.
We kicked off the day with a shower in the Tad Lo waterfall which was very chilly and refreshing. Setting off nice and early we embarked on the next leg of our journey. We stopped, for breakfast, in Thateng and enjoyed a classic Asian noodle dish with the locals. Sekong was not the interesting little town we expected it to be and so we pressed onto Tad Faek, a small waterfall suitable for a quick swim.
A short distance down the road we found Tad Se Noy, a shallow waterfall, spread out over a large area. Here, a modern homestay and cafe was under construction and had a very quirky 'up-and-coming' feel to it. We sampled some of the tasty coffee and then went to explore the waterfall itself.
It was between 2pm and 3pm and we still did not know where we were going to settle for the night. We pressed on and were thoroughly appreciating the magnificent scenery when we found Tad Katamtok. We spotted the fantastic waterfall through a gap in the trees and had a very quick deliberation on whether we had the time and daylight to make the trip. We were determined to get closer and before we knew it, we were clambering down the near vertical path, at high speed, to reach the bottom. After a rapid dip in the waterfall lake we scrambled back up the path to the top. [NOTE: not for the fainthearted - it was very tough and we had scratches everywhere. Also, it is approximately 250m to the bottom. However, well worth the pain!].
With the sun going down we wildly hunted for our next place to stay. We were trying to find an eco lodge type accommodation, as marked on our map, however, we had no luck finding this. Instead, we found Tad Saulin homestay (indicated by the purple arrow), owned by the brilliant and lovely Nittaya Sanithavong, who settled us into a couple of tents within bamboo huts.
I kid not, Nittaya makes the best fried rice and noodles in the entirety of Asia!!
We spent many days here chatting away to Nittaya and hearing about her fascinating life (ask her about it). She would send us off on adventures to discover the huge array of magnificent secret waterfalls hiding in amongst little nooks of her land. It was absolutely magical and a must for anyone who appreciates nature, waterfalls and exploring. At the base of the valley, there was a huge natural pool in which you could swim. We spent many hours here messing about in the fresh, cool waters and stretched out to sunbathe on the smooth, flat rocks.
A fault with our moped, meant that we were delayed and spent a glorious New Years Eve here, stargazing, whilst wrapped in our duvets looking out for shooting stars.
It truly is a spectacular area of land
On a tight timeframe, we reluctantly said our final goodbyes to the other interesting travellers we had met and, of course, our lovely host, Nittaya, and pressed on back to Pakse.
We had more than enough time to stop on route to view the waterfalls (marked on the map) and taste the coffee from the plantation cafes before the sunset in Pakse. Unfortunately, many of these waterfalls were overrun with people and had that built up 'tourist attraction' feel - once we had experienced the quiet magnificence of the waterfalls on Nittaya's land, they simply did not compare. The coffee plantation cafe, 'Jhai coffee house', we stopped at was very cool and rustic. Jackie Thao, the Roastmaster, spoke very good english and brought us a selection of coffee, made from different types of coffee beans. He demonstrated how the coffee was made and gave us a detailed explanation of each flavour.
The above photo demonstrates an interesting flow diagram of how a locally built business, providing a service that appeals to tourists, can supply the local community with clean water. Read more about this fantastic enterprise here.
Arrived back safely in Pakse, we dropped the bike off and then prepared for our journey down to the 4000 Islands.