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  1. Experience
  2. Highlights
  3. Prepare for the activity
  4. About the Bolaven Plateau
  5. My Ride
  6. Photo Gallery
  7. Day One
  8. Day Two
  9. Day Three
  10. Day Four
The old trustworthy Grace

After buying my motorbike and riding around Vietnam and Cambodia, I decided to keep it a little while longer to make the trip to Laos, a decision which I definitely did not regret. I entered Southern Laos from Cambodia and planned on selling my bike in the capital, Vientiane. After visiting the Four Thousand Islands, I had heard about a loop for motorbikes around a plateau near Pakse that was full of incredible waterfalls, tribal villages, and lush coffee farms. So hearing nothing but good things, I decided to check it out.

Map of the Bolaven Plateau with both routes.

A little bit about the Bolaven Plateau

The Bolaven Plateau is an elevated region in southern Laos, at its peak reaching 1350m above sea level. It is spread across all four southern states, with the main portion being in Champassak. The plateau is crossed by several rivers, this is why there are so many spectacular waterfalls. With a temperate climate and regular rainfall I would suggest bringing along waterproof clothing and something to keep you warm if you plan on riding early in the morning. Once you reach the Plateau the temperature change is noticeable, also due to the flat surroundings, there can be some pretty chilly winds.

I wouldn’t say that there is a wrong time to visit. The waterfalls are more spectacular between July and October, which is the rainy season, whereas those visiting between October and February can observe and even participate in the local coffee harvest. I visited in August 2019 and be warned the heavy rain can make some parts of the ride challenging especially for those that do not have much experience on a bike (more on that later).

Now you don’t need a bike to explore the Plateau. There are day tours from Pakse, and you can also rent cars or even a taxi for the day, if you don’t feel up to riding on Lao roads. If you are after adventure and getting away from the tour groups, then renting a bike and riding the big loop is what I would suggest. I did notice that the further from Pakse on the loop the quieter it got, with waterfalls such as Tad Fan or Tad Yuang being very touristic with restaurants, souvenir stands and even ziplines crossing the valley. In contrast, Tad Tayicseua didn’t have any of this, just a sightly overgrown walking path. The bonus of this is that once you get to the other side of the loop you usually have the place to yourself.

The starting point to get to the plateau is Pakse. There isn’t really much to say about Pakse itself, there isn’t a whole lot to do in the city. What there is to do I will put on another blog.

Viewing the spectacular Tad Fane.


Day one:

The night before leaving, we attended the daily brief from Mrs. Noi. I found it extremely useful, packed full of information about the trip. There we met a French-Canadian couple that were also starting the route the day after, so we decided to go together. We set off on a cool, drizzly morning. The ride up from Pakse isn’t anything special. The route is flat and straight, and it didn’t take long to reach the start of the loop. We decided to do the loop clockwise. Well, I say decided. What I mean to say is that I took the left fork when the road split for no particular reason. We set the goal of reaching Tad Lo before sunset (I always try to avoid driving at night, especially on rural roads).

Along the route, we stopped at a few small waterfalls, such as Pha Suam, which honestly weren’t that impressive. On a side note, one thing that was mentioned to us was to always find somewhere to pay for parking, never just park somewhere and walk off. There have been some previous issues with bikes being stolen. Most of the waterfalls have a parking place, usually with an attendant. Needless to say, we followed this advice and had no problems; the cost of parking, even in the more touristic waterfalls, is less than a dollar, which is a bargain to keep your bike from being robbed in my opinion.

Around 10km before Tad Lo village, we stopped at Tad Soung. It was most definitely the best waterfall that we visited that day. Here you can stand at the top of the 90-meter-high cliff face and watch as the water plummets to the rocks below. Make sure you stay away from the edge, and if you are more inclined to be at ground level, there is a path to view the falls from below. I was fortunate to have my drone with me, so I managed to snap some great shots.

A drone shot of Tad Soung. There wasn't much of a flow when we visited.

Afterwards, we started to get a little hungry, so we decided to head to Tad Lo, a short 10km ride away. As we arrived in the village, we searched for a place to stay. After a brief look, we settled on the Pakeo guesthouse for the price of 40,000 KIp ($4) for a private room, which is an absolute steal. After dropping our bags off, watering and eating, we walked the short distance across the bridge to see Tad Hang. This differed from the other falls we had seen during the day. It’s a multi-tiered, wide and powerful waterfall. We could even hear it at night from our rooms. A small walk up the hill, past the falls and past Tad Lo lodge, is the area of the river in which the local elephants get their daily bath. We arrived a little early and waited for bath time. There we, the four of us, and another couple. I think that not many people knew about this daily occurrence, which was good for us and the elephants. As the sun set, the elephants retired, as did we. After dinner and a few beers, it was time to sleep, ready for an early start the next day.

Watching the elephants bathing just up from Tad Hang

Day two:

We set off from Tad Lo early on the second day as we were heading to the small village of Kok Phoung Tai. Here we were going to meet Mr Hook for a tour of his village and the Katu community that live there. It was fascinating to learn about their culture and way of life. Some of their customs seemed quite strange, but I am sure that they feel the same way about me. They believe that I have blue eyes because I drink to many fizzy drinks and that my skin is white because I do not work. The children in Katu communities start smoking bongs with tobacco at the age of three to help keep the mosquitoes away. Read more about the Katu people in my blog dedicated to them. After a few hours spent with Mr Hook and drinking some delicious bamboo coffee, it was time to get on the bikes and head back to the open road.

We didn’t set a target for this day, we just thought we would see how far we got and find a place to stop close by. We started along the long part of the Bolaven Plateau, there wasn’t a whole lot to see, but the road was quite good and we managed to make good time. We stopped just after noon at Tad Faek, you could tell that this was a waterfall that wasn’t frequented by many people. The route down to the fall was quite precarious, and if you aren’t confident on a bike, I would suggest walking (both passengers had to do this for the way back up). The area around the waterfall looked abandoned and was covered in rubbish. The waterfall itself was probably the worst that we stopped at on the loop. If you are doing the big loop, I would suggest just riding past this and not even bothering. After the letdown that was Tad Faek we took shelter in a fuel station as it began to rain. Luckily, it only lasted for 20 minutes or so and then we were back on our way once again. We stopped in the small rural town of Sekong for a bite to eat, there is a fuel station as you enter the town and a few shops dotted throughout. It’s a good place to fill up and grab some food and water.

About 15km south of Sekong, we turned off road 11 and headed towards Ban Houaykong, a village 20 km away. Most of this road was paved, and some of the views we encountered were stunning. There are some areas which are gravel or dirt road, I suggest caution on these parts, we were lucky the morning rain had dried up and the track was nice and solid. Upon reaching our target we looked around and decided that we didn’t really like anywhere in the village, the hotels were overpriced, so we turned around and made for Tad Tayicsua Homestay, which the other couple had heard good things about and suggested (I am glad they did).

Just before a bit of off-roading.

We did encounter one problem on the way. While looking for a hotel in Ban Houaykong, the heavens had opened and the dirt tracks were now a boggy, thick, muddy mess, other parts were like riding on ice rinks. We ventured on slowly, I had driven my bike through Vietnam, Cambodia, and now Laos so I was confident and steady. Unfortunately, our friends weren’t quite as experienced and a few hundred meters after the last turning toward our homestay, I noticed they were no longer behind us. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, all the time worrying, and then we saw them. They had taken a tumble a little while back. Luckily, they were going so slowly that no damage was caused to body or bike. Before we reached our stop the same thing happened again. I too almost lost control as the rear of the bike slid out. We reached the homestay in the late afternoon. This homestay had a few friendly dogs to keep us company and beautiful jungle views from the dining hall. It was more than double the price of the previous night’s stay but not what I would class as expensive. After some delicious homemade, large portioned food and of course, a few beers we hit the hay.

Day three:

After a fairly early night, I was awoken at sunrise by the sound of the jungle. I jumped into the cold shower, packed away my things, and headed down for breakfast. It was a cold, foggy morning and after breakfast we decided to head down to the waterfall before leaving. With two dogs in tow, we began down the dirt track to Tad Tayicsua. The walk isn’t very far, but be sure to watch your step, parts of the track are uneven and I do remember a few random steps that can easily catch you out. It took around 25 minutes to reach the waterfall, while it was quite an impressive fall, the weather did hinder the view somewhat, so I feel as though the magic was lost a little on us. We tried to get closer to snap a few shots and ended up regretting it as the whole walk back I was pretty drenched. The walk back up took a little longer and is almost all upstairs or uphill.

We left the homestay at 9.30 and cautiously got back on the dirt track, heading up to the paved road. Having learnt from the day before, we took it very slow and steady, well maybe I did push it a little, but it was fun and my bike was able to handle it. I could almost hear the sigh of relief from our friends as we reached the paved road again. We arrived at Tad Yuang (10,000 kip entrance fee) late in the morning, parked the bike and headed in. At the top of the falls are a few huts and a scenic area in which you can walk around, for me it wasn’t very interesting but I suppose it could be quite relaxing when not busy. On the right side of the falls there are steps that you can take down to view the magnificent entirety of Tad Yuang. We walked down to a small hut just upstream from the falls that was engulfed in mist from the very powerful falls. I did run down the stairs from here to get closer to the falls as I thought it would make a good picture. This was not a good idea, I walked back up absolutely drenched to a laughing girlfriend and no photo. It wasn’t long after that, the sun came out and dried me off nicely. We all left feeling a little peckish, and it being almost lunch, we stopped off at a small restaurant on the side of the road. I actually had one of the best Pad Thais of my entire Asia trip here, the only problem I have no idea what this small restaurant was called.

The mist from Tad Yuan battering this little view point. Be prepared to get wet!

A few kilometers down the road is Tad Fan (10,000kip entrance fee), probably the most famous waterfall on the Bolaven Plateau and for good reason. The waterfall is actually two waterfalls that meet and cascade 120 meters off the cliff, the whole area surrounded by the dramatic jungle. This is also the most touristic of all the falls we visited, complete with a zipline that crosses the valley below. If are short on time and can only visit a few waterfalls on the loop these are two I would defiantly recommend seeing these two.

The impressive double waterfall of Tad Fane, Bolaven Plateau, Laos.

After driving to the blacksmith village, we decided to grab a coffee, learn a little about the crafts and discuss what to do now as we had finished the loop faster than planned. We agreed to head south to Champassak with the plan of seeing Wat Phou the next day. We set the target for the village of Muang, getting a “ferry” across to Pha Pin and finding somewhere there to stay for the night. You can head back to Pakse and cross the bridge there, but the alternative seemed more fun. Around halfway to the ferry crossing we witnessed a kid (baby goat) get hit by a car, who then proceeded to carry on driving. Being the animal lovers we are, I slammed on the breaks and my girlfriend ran to the rescue. After a few minutes calming the kid and its mother, they were both on their way, luckily just with a bloody nose and shock. Ximena also received a thank lick from mum.

We were back on our way again and soon enough, we reached the boat crossing. The cost is between 10,000 and 20,000 kip ($1-2) depending on how hard you push for a deal. The boat itself didn’t look up for the trip, it was just a slightly wider fishing boat and looked as though it might sink on the way across, but I wasn’t prepared to drive all the way back up to Pakse, so we loaded the bikes and boarded. Our friend was a little worried about driving his bike onto the boat, so a local was kind enough to do it for him. The boat ride is a short one and in less than 10 minutes we were on the other side. The offloading of the bike was quite perilous; we had to drive down a wooden plank onto the river shore and straight up a steep incline to reach the road. In this instance, I felt speed and power were necessary, and at the speed of a thousand gazelles, I was off the boat and back on the road.

On the bike ferry.

We drove down through Pha Pin looking for somewhere to grab some food and maybe to stay the night. After searching around we settled on Champasak With Love. We paid 40,000kip ($4) for a double room with a fan. After dropping the stuff off and finding a place to eat it was beer o’clock. We sat on the terrace overlooking the river for the sunset with an ice-cold large beer Lao in hand

A local community taxi.

Day four:

After waking with a slightly sore head from a few too many beers in Lao, I jumped into a cold shower (my own choice), had a quick bite to eat, and felt much better. I feel as though this hotel is somewhere you could easily spend a few days. They rent bikes, do tours, and have some great food. We left the hotel and drove in the direction of Wat Phou. After driving down a few random roads in search of other temples, we had a small issue. The welding on my luggage rack snapped. It seemed like bad timing as we were in the middle of nowhere. As luck would have it, just a few hundred metres down the road was a makeshift garage. I explained the situation the best I could (a lot of pointing and miming) and within 20 minutes it was fixed, all for the princely sum of $2.50. Crisis averted, we were back on our way. It didn’t take long to reach Wat Phou. The entrance fee here is 45,000 kip (including golf car shuttle) and 5,000 kip for parking ($3 in total). Not a bad price to pay for visiting a UNSCEO site. As the parking is quite far from the actual temple, there is a small shuttle to bring visitors to the entrance and back. You can choose to pay 30,000 kip ($1.50), but then you will have to walk 1 km to the ruins and 1 km back. I would plan to spend between 2 and 3 hours at Wat Phou.

Ruins at Wat Phou.

Even after visiting Angkor Wat, I still enjoyed exploring the ruins here. They have a similar story to those in Cambodia, starting as Hindu temples of the Khmer empire and later becoming Buddhist sanctuaries. Wat Phou is actually older than its cousin in Cambodia by over 100 years. It was connected to the Angkor complex by a road that stretched from the south of the complex 400 km to the heart of Angkor. After reaching the temple’s peak (take water with you), you can gaze down at the beautiful landscape and inspiring ruins below. After a good few hours, we caught the golf cart back to the bikes and started the drive back to Pakse. It was only around 50km back up to the city and it was a scenic ride as the road shadowed the river the whole way back. We crossed the bridge back into Pakse in the mid afternoon, and with that our loop was over. We returned back to our hotel to pick up our bags and prepare for the journey to Thakek. Our friends returned their bikes and headed south.

A small temple at the top of Wat Phou.
A view of Wat Phou from the highest point.

My final thought on the Bolaven Plateau is that it’s completely worth doing. Even if you are travelling from the stunning landscapes in north like Vang Vieng or Nong Khiaw it should still be on your list. Of course the landscape isn’t on par with other places in Laos but the waterfalls are incredible, the people and culture are remarkable. There is also the chance here to get away from the crowds and feel the tranquility of nature without going too far off the beaten track.

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