Monday, 24 March 2014

The Bolaven Plateau

A Canadian called John who we met on Koh Lao Liang had recommended a few things to stop off and see on our way through Laos. Many of these things we realised we weren't going to be able to fit in, such as the 4,000 islands, but we decided that we would pay a visit to the Bolaven Plateau. This also meant that we could fly quickly from Siem Reap instead of making what sounds like an epic journey, almost all the way back to Phnom Pehn before going back north to eventually reach the border, which would have taken a couple of days at least.

Tasty looking coffee beans
Setting forth from Pakse

We hadn't heard much about the Bolaven Plateau before researching it after hearing about it from John, our Lonely Planet guide only gives it a very brief mention. The plateau is a fertile area of southern Loas, close to Pakse, where the Lao people now grow a lot of coffee since their days as a French colony. It's also known for its waterfalls and a tour of the area on a motorbike is now a classic activity for backpackers, and this is what we did. After a bit of googling we chose to ride the 'short loop', a popular route that normally takes a couple of days. We found some really helpful blogs describing this trip, especially the nice map here.  

Cat cruising...
First waterfall 
Nice break at Tad Pasuam

Arriving in Pakse we stayed in a great little guesthouse call Nang Noi that also has rental bikes at a good price that are in great condition. Because we were still learning how to ride a motorbike and because these semi-manual bikes were a step up from the automatic scooters we'd gotten started on in Cat Ba, we opted for a bike each. Leaving our bags with the guesthouse and armed with bikes and map we were set to head up to the plateau the morning after we arrived.

Coffee stop near Patsong
More tasty coffee

These two days on the Bolaven Plateau turned out to be a real highlight of our trip for both of us. We had great fun riding the bikes, enjoyed stopping in villages and at waterfalls, drank lots of nice coffee and met only very happy and friendly people. On our first day we took a long break at Tad Pasuam to see the waterfalls, explore in the forest and see the 'mock' cultural village. We also stopped at Mr Vieng's coffee farm for a break and some tasty coffee. He also does a home-stay here if you're needing to stop the night. Afterwards we made our way straight to Tad Lo where we were hoping to catch some elephant washing. We found some elephants and they were very dirty, but sadly they were chained to a tree and no one seemed about to take them to the river. Tad Lo is a nice village of mainly home-stays and guesthouses from what we saw, and clearly a popular place to stay on the Bolaven Plateau. We stayed with a nice Loa family who kept a couple of simple and incredibly cheap rooms, and also serve tasty food. Id recommend staying somewhere like this because I worry that these people might struggle to compete with the western run guesthouses in the village.

Cheeky kids at the homestay
Tad Lo homestay

The next day, we went early for a rematch with the elephant bathing, but they were still in the same place, looking forlorn and in need of a wash. Instead, we headed up-river to give ourselves a wash by finding a part of the river deep enough for a dip. Higher still, we found a lovely pool below a waterfall where couple of local of people were diving under with sticks festooned with hooks and we decided to leave them to it. Back on the road we aimed for Patsong, the largest town we would be passing on our journey. There, we came across a restaurant/coffee shop owned by an American couple. This is a really nice place to stop if you need food or a drink in Patsong and they said that they work with the only Laos owned coffee growing co-operative on the plateau.

Coffee stop just beyond Patsong
Our favourite spot for a swim
Last waterfall of the day

A few miles, and coffee stops, further we enter the stretch of road along which there are lots of waterfalls. We make a stop at the first one we come to and, unsure of whether to pay the small entrance fee, go and take a look. We are very glad that we did, this was a stunning waterfall, but even better was the huge, cold and deserted pool at its base that was perfect for a swim (see photo). After this it had been a brilliant day and we didn't have a lot of time left in order to get back to Pakse, but we quickly went to see one more of the waterfalls. This was also beautiful, especially in the evening light and we were then completely content to tackle the final stretch back to Pakse having really enjoyed the Bolaven Plateau.

No comments:

Post a Comment