Bolaven Plateau Motorbike Tour

Bolaven Plateau Motorbike Tour

The Bolaven Plateau is situated in southern Laos between Pakse and the Vietnam border. Spectacularly, the landscape reveals magnificent waterfalls, mountain villages and fauna. Our Bolaven Plateau motorbike tour took us through Paksong, Attapeu and Tad lo. However, the landscape on the western plateau is a stark contrast when compared to the eastern plateau in Attapeu Province.

Unfortunately for Laos the country was colonized by the French. After the French were finally defeated in both Laos and Vietnam, the US then invaded Vietnam. At first the US used proxies which eventually led to direct military occupation. 

Technically, the US never invaded Laos however in reality the Vietnam war had a tremendously devastating affect on Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.  As a result of the blanket bombing conducted by the US military during the Vietnam war the entire region was devastated.

On the Bolaven Plateau, this devastation is heavily concentrated in the Attapeu Province due to its close proximity to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Thus, this area still has not recovered and the landscape is mostly wiped out. Fortunately, the western plateau remains intact for the most part.

Paksong Laos

The first day we drove from Pakse to Paksong where we would spend the night before continuing on. Paksong is well known for its coffee exports and there are a few local cafes where you can sample a few cups.

Tad Fane Waterfall, Bolaven Plateau

Paksong is surrounded by pristine jungle and it is also the location of the spectacular Tad Fane waterfalls.

Tad Fane Paksong Laos - Bolaven Plateau Motorbike Tour

The two Tad Fane waterfalls are in close proximity to Paksong. The descent of the walls is very dramatic because the water plunges 120 meters to the bottom of the valley.

Tad Gneuang Waterfall, Bolaven Plateau

In this area of the Bolaven Plateau there is another beautiful waterfall named Tad Gneuang. Fortunately, it is possible to descend to the base of the falls for some photos. Simply follow the trail into the valley below.

Tad Gneuang Bolaven Plateau

View from the top of Tad Gneuang. You can see the feint trail line at the base of the falls which was where we would be hiking to.

Tad Gneuang Bolaven Plateau

Posing in front of the Tad Gneuang Falls.

Animism on the Bolaven Plateau

The villagers of the Bolaven Plateau mostly practice animism in contrast with the rest of Laos which is predominantly Buddhist. Animism is the belief that all things have spirits. Generally speaking, in animism there is no boundary between the spirit world and the physical world. In animism, all things have souls including, rocks, humans, animals, water, wind and even certain words. It is easy to envision how the villagers of the Bolaven Plateau could develop a belief that their waterfalls have spirits.

Tad Lo Waterfall and Elephants

Tad Lo is the name of another waterfall on the Bolaven Plateau. We stayed at the Tad Lo Lodge which is located on the banks of the river. This place was spectacular because of several waterfalls in the area and also the resident elephants.

Photo Elephants at Tad Lo - Bolaven Plateau

The elephants are very friendly and they would come and take a bath in the morning in front of our bungalow.

Bathing Elephants Bolaven Plateau Laos

Bathing Elephants Bolaven Plateau Laos

The elephant’s morning bath was finished and they were going to work for the day.

Bathing Elephants Bolaven Plateau Laos

After their bath is finished they have breakfast in front of the lodge before going to work in the jungle.

 Elephants Bolaven Plateau Laos

The elephant breakfast preference is bananas.

Heading Up The River

From our lodge I could see that there was another waterfall a few hundred meters upstream. After hanging out with the elephants we took out the motorbike to do some exploring. Our first stop was this waterfall.

Tad Lo Waterfalls Bolaven Plateau

This waterfall was pretty nice and we stopped off for some pictures above the falls.

Tad Lo Waterfalls Bolaven Province

After enjoying the scenery we consulted with with some local experts and decided to head farther up the river.

Local Kids Bolaven Plateau Laos

Why Bring A Bolaven Plateau Guide Book?

I generally never refer to guide books such as the lonely planet unless absolutely necessary. Simply stated, if you use those guide books what you are most likely to encounter is something banal with a bunch of Australian backpackers drooling all over it.

Most of the stuff we did was by chance and it was not planned out. Case in point would be the encounter with the elephants referenced above, we had no idea they stayed at the lodge. In fact, we didn’t even travel with a map or make any reservations before we left Pakse. We just went and felt our way around.

What happened next was also completely unplanned, we encountered this village totally by chance.

The Village at Bolaven Plateau

Tour Guide Bolaven Plateau

We arrived in the village and were quickly recruited by the local tour guide (red t-shirt).

We hung out in the village for a while and took a few photos. However, the village is very small and it didn’t take long to see the sights.

Village Photos Bolaven Plateau

Photo of the village.

Local VIllage Photos on Bolaven Plateau Laos

Most of the villagers were out working in the fields. These two pigs are napping near the wood pile in the village.

HIking on the Bolaven Plateau Laos

Then at the behest of our guide we set out down the trail so he could show us something he felt was very significant.

HIking on the Bolaven Plateau

With our guide in the lead we set off down the trail. The trail led through the fields where the local villagers were working and our destination was now in sight.

HIking on the Bolaven Plateau Laos

The riverbed we encountered next was strewn with very large boulders. When the water flows this would be a more difficult area to pass through.

HIking in Tad Lo on the Bolaven Plateau Laos

We wondered through the maze of boulders and then emerged at the end of the trail, we were now very close to our final destination.

Hiking in Tad Lo on the Bolaven Plateau Paos

HIking in Tad Lo on the Bolaven Platea Laos

Our guide was indeed a very entertaining fellow.

HIking in Tad Lo on the Bolaven Plateau Laos

My female friend was also an aspiring comedian.

HIking in Tad Lo on the Bolaven Plateau Laos

Alas, she was a little bit nerve racked after the harrowing boulder experience so we took a smoke break as soon as we arrived back at the village.

Fortunately our unplanned travel itinerary had once again paid some great dividends.

Lapp Chicken in Tad Lo

They serve some great lapp chicken at the Tad Lo Lodge and we had that for dinner. I made it a point to avoid the backpacker food joints in town. The Tad Lo Lodge is a perfect alternative and I was fortunate to come across it.  

The Bolaven Plateau’s Best Cafe

My female friend had made a couple acquaintances whom she insisted that we visit on the way to Attapeu. This was a great idea and we stopped off there for a chat and some coffee.

This small cafe is run by an Austrian ex pat and his lovely Thai wife. We enjoyed some coffee and I also bought some locally grown coffee beans, a grinder and coffee plunger from them. This equipment would serve us well for the next several months. Unfortunately, the coffee plunger was tragically broken when we were in Sri Lanka.

Austrian cafe owner in Tad Lo Laos

I dubbed him the “mad scientist of coffee”.

Attapeu Province from Bolaven Plateau

The reason I wanted to go to Attapeu was because I wanted to observe the Ho Chi Minh trail. Portions of the trail do still exist, although I was unable to find them due to some navigational oversights.  However, I am certain that we must have crossed over it at some point because we nearly drove to the Vietnam border in search of it.

As mentioned earlier, this portion of the Bolaven Plateau is nothing like it western counterpart that we had just visited. It is very dusty, windy and overall a more arid landscape. Possibly because of natural factors? But we must take into consideration the fact that this entire area was flattened repeatedly by US blanket bombing over a period of several years.

Conclusion

A motorbike tour through the Bolaven Plateau is one of the world’s best adventures. Attapeu Province notwithstanding, it is an opportunity to see Laos in its natural state, both culturally and geographically. We were now going to return to Pakse and we would soon set out to visit Si Phan Don.

 

Additional resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolaven_Plateau