The Bolaven Plateau is an elevated region in southern Lao, and it is known for its cool climate, numerous waterfalls and coffee plantations. A lot of ethnic groups made their homes in the region, Laven (Bolaven means ‘Home of the Laven’) being the largest one. Several other Non-Khmer ethnic groups, including the Alak, Katu, Tahoy and Suay, also live on the plateau.
After some days of relaxation in the 4000 Islands, I was ready for a new adventure, so I went to Pakse, the starting point to the Bolaven Plateau Large Loop, 320km of huge coffee plantations, waterfalls, farmland, ethnic diversity and miles of excellent roads, split in 3 days.
It is important to take some considerations before doing this trip. First, be careful where you rent your motorbike and be sure that it is in good condition. If necessary, take it for a small ride before just to be sure that the motorbike is in good condition. I would also recommend that you take an extra chain lock with you, just to be sure. I’ve read some reports from people that had their motorbike stolen even when using the chain lock that the renter gave them. You’ll have to pay for a brand new motorbike if it gets stolen. To guarantee this money, people that rent motorbikes tend to ask for your passport during the length of your trip. It doesn’t matter if it is illegal or not, it is how it works over there. I rented my motorbike for ~7$ per day with +1/2$ of gas each day.
You should also bring some warm clothes with you, because despite Lao being a very warm country, the Plateau becomes very cool at night. This is the reason, along with volcanic soil, why the coffee beans of Lao are known across the globe. Also, you should have a rough idea of where you’ll be sleeping each night. There are a lot of places along the way where you can stop, but I chose to stay in Tad Lo (Fandee Guesthouse) 1 night and the other one near Tad Alone / Tad Couple waterfalls. I was supposed to stay in Tad Saulin Homestay, but they were asking for 15$ each person in a tent, so I said ‘no’ and went further to find a much better place for ~10$ a double bed room.
In Pakse I stayed in a place called Nang Noi Guesthouse and I totally recommend them. I stayed 1 night before going to the loop, rented a motorbike in perfect condition (only 8000km), left my backpack in there while in the loop, another night when I finished the loop and my night bus ticket to Vientiane. All of these went smoothly. I recommend you to send an email at least 1 day before getting there because they can be fully booked due to their popularity.
My goal on the first day was to reach Tad Lo and visit all the available waterfalls on the way, ideally before sunset. There are people leaving Pakse everyday for the loop, which means that the sooner you get to where you’ll be sleeping that day, the better chance you have to get the best price/quality room available. There is one stop at km-35 to see Tad Pasaum waterfall, 1.20$ admission fee plus 0.25$ for the parking (this is more or less the same for all the waterfalls). The parking fee is something that you should not try to avoid or else you can get your motorbike stolen. It would not be the first time that something like that happens.
I slept that night in Fandee Guesthouse, a place owned by 2 expats living in Lao for many years now. They have very few bungalows available so you really should get there early if you want to stay there. A really positive thing about the place is that they have a kitchen available where you can order your meals, the food is very good and we even saw some people from other places coming there for dinner.
The second day was the longest one. There are a lot of waterfalls along the way and if you want to stay in Tad Alone or Paksong you should try to cover the most ground possible, because chances are that it’ll be already night when you get to your destination.
On the way you’ll see tons of coffee plantations, along with rural villages where people live in very basic houses. The scenery of these villages by the road with the mountains on their back and with coffee plantations by their side is quite something and you should take your time to appreciate it.
When you reach the Tad Alone / Tad Couple you have like 5 different waterfalls that you can visit. It’s here where you’ll see the bigger ones, but it’s also where you’ll need to make the decision to stay or not. When I got here they asked 15$ each person for a tent to spend the night, so I decided to go and look for a place somewhere else. You need a bit of time to make it in/out of this area because you’ll need to navigate through a dirt and bumpy road.
In case you decide to go further, look for a place called Millenium Hotel (I’m not 100% sure that this was the name) and you’ll get a double room for no more than 10$. I was one of the firsts to get there, despite being almost pitch dark, but from what I can tell, the place got really crowded in the end. They don’t have a kitchen available, but there is a lady right next to the hotel that serves cheap and tasty food. There is also a proper restaurant across the street, but I didn’t go there.
On the third and last day you’ll be heading back to Pakse. On your way you can stop in Paksong (I didn’t) and you’ll have more waterfalls to see. Chances are that by now you must be sick and tired of waterfalls like me, and if that’s the case, just enjoy your last day on the Plateau, because once you’re back to Pakse there’s nothing more to see.
My next destination was the capital of Lao, Vientiane, but since the journey takes about ~8h, I decided to sleep one more day in Pakse and get a night bus for the next day. I didn’t have anything planned for this day so I just rented a motorbike again and went to Champassak, a lovely quiet village ~30km south of Pakse. Wat Phou is the main reason why people go to this village, a Khmer Hindu temple complex. Basically a sample of what you can see in Siem Reap in Cambodia.
I recommend doing this day trip only if you have some time to spare like I did. It is a calm and relaxing trip. At the end of the day I got a night bus to Vientiane. The bus station is not far from Nang Noi Guesthouse and you can go by foot.
How to get there and away
- To get to Pakse from Don Khone, you need to get a boat to the Nakasong Pier and there you'll have a lot of buses that will leave you in Pakse city center. ~9 dollars.
- Night bus to Vientiane. Got it in Nang Noi Guesthouse for ~15$.
What to do/see
- Do the 3 day Bolaven Plateau large loop, you will have tons of sights.
- Champassak, if you have the time available.
Where to sleep
- Nang Noi Guesthouse, ~10$ double room.
- Fandee Guesthouse, ~13$ double bungalow by the river.
- Millenium Hotel, ~10$ for a double room with private bathroom.