In the south of Laos, there’s a little slice of paradise that most travellers haven’t discovered yet. It’s called the Bolaven Plateau, a land filled with tribal villages, enormous waterfalls, coffee plantations and unexplored jungles.
Before going there, I’d spent two weeks in Laos, visiting the three cities most backpackers end up in: Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. While I’d enjoyed myself, I knew that these tourist hot spots were a far cry from your typical Lao town.
I wanted to see more – to get off the beaten track and explore rural Laos.
That’s how Gilles and I find ourselves in Pakse, a small but lively city in Southern Laos, the starting point of our four-day motorbiking trip on the Bolaven Plateau.
Armed with a photocopy of a hand-drawn map and some tips we’d received from the bike rental shop, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what was going to happen to me.
Little did I know that these would be the best and craziest four days of my life.
So. What happened exactly?
I had my first motorcycle accident
I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later.
We picked the worst day ever to leave the city. It was the day of the Boat Racing Festival, a huge event held after the end of Buddhist Lent. Villagers from all over Southern Laos were making their way to Pakse. Traffic was out of control.
People were driving even worse than usual, which I didn’t think was possible but I was wrong.
I saw dozens of ten year old kids on the highway, driving motorbikes on the wrong side of the lane.
Many bikes didn’t have 3, but 5 people + a tent + a kitchen + a chicken crammed on them.
And then it happened. As we were overtaking another motorbike driver, he abruptly turned left and crashed straight into us. We got pushed to the side of the road, almost colliding with a mini-van.
Everyone was fine, minus a few scratches. The kid riding the other bike must not have been older than 12. He’d crashed his bike and broken his mirror. We stuck around for a while to make sure he was fine (he was, but did his best to avoid eye contact, knowing this was 100% his fault) and headed back to Pakse to mend our wounds.
We got very lucky. It could have been so much worse.
I stayed in a small Lao village in the middle of nowhere
After riding in the countryside for hours on end, we stopped in Tad Lo for the night. It’s a modest little village about 85km from Pakse, surrounded by forests and waterfalls.
When we checked in to our bungalow, we didn’t realise we’d have company. There were farm animals running around everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean everywhere. I was kept awake all night by the sound of cattle and water buffalos and god knows what other creatures lurking outside of our door.
I slept inside a tent in the jungle
Given that our only travel itinerary was the rapidly deteriorating map I’d scribbled a couple of guesthouse names on, we were bound to get lost at some point. It was the end of day 2. The sun was starting to set and we still hadn’t found a place to stay.
That’s when we stumbled upon a sign advertising tents for a couple dollars a night.
The tents belonged to PS Garden, a sort of camping site next to the Tad Faek waterfall, in the middle of the jungle. We could barely fit in the tent and there was no mattress. I didn’t get any sleep, courtesy of all the mutant insects and wild animals that scared the shit out of me all night. Does anyone else sense a pattern here?
I saw things I’ll never be able to unsee (in a good way)
A few people in Pakse told that Tayicsua and its surroundings was the best part of the Bolaven Plateau. They weren’t lying.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to in my life.
Blue skies, lush green forests, waterfalls everywhere. Only a dozen other travellers, if that. We spent the afternoon in Tayicsua, trekking through the jungle and searching for waterfalls.
It felt like I’d stumbled upon an undiscovered corner of the earth.
I attended a local Lao Karaoke night
Upon arriving to our guesthouse in the tiny village of Ban Nong Oy, we asked the owner to recommend us a place to eat. He told us to check out a place near a petrol station. Apparently, it was the best restaurant in town. Five of us headed there, looking forward to eating some local Lao cuisine.
Turns out it wasn’t quite a restaurant. It was a karaoke bar.
It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. All of us stuck out like sore thumbs amidst a group of drunk locals getting hammered on Lao Lao rice whisky (that thing is lethal).
I spent a day swimming in waterfalls
As you can probably tell by now, there’s no shortage of waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau.
On our last day on, we hopped from one waterfall to the next, spending the whole time swimming in them.
One of the waterfalls had a raft next to it – you could use to pull yourself closer. It was so much fun. We got soaked straight away and laughed while wondering how close to the falls we could get before getting thrown off.
I drank vodka with a centipede in it
Yep, that’s exactly what it looks like. A bottle of vodka with a centipede in it. And yes, I drank from it. I was offered to me at the Tad Yuang waterfall by the restaurant owner, Mr Impong, who entertained who was determined to get us drunk. I mean look at that thing. It’s an offer you can’t refuse right? Right.
In case you’re wondering, it tasted exactly what you’d imagine a centipede to taste like.
I know it sounds cheesy, but getting off the beaten track and exploring the Bolaven Plateau changed my perspective on travel.
While visiting big cities and ticking off popular tourist attractions off my list is great, nothing compares to adventures like these. I got out of my comfort zone and embraced the unknown instead of fearing it like I usually would.
Since exploring the Bolaven Plateau in Laos, I’ve adjusted my travel plans to include more destinations off the beaten path. I know it will be worth it.
Have you gotten off the beaten path in South East Asia? What was your favourite spot? Leave a comment below to let me know!
WANT TO EXPLORE THE BOLAVEN PLATEAU? HERE’S SOME TRAVEL INFO:
How long should I stay? There are two roads circling the Bolaven Plateau otherwise known as ‘loops’. For the small loop, you’ll need 2-3 days depending on how much you stop. I’d definitely recommend the big loop though as there’s so much more to see but you’ll need 4-5 days for that.
What should I see? The waterfalls are the main attraction of the plateau. The ones I found the most impressive were Tad Lo, Tad Champee, Tad Yuang as well as all the ones in Tayicsua.
How much money do I need? The equivalent of $20/£17 should suffice for a day, including motorcycle rental fees.
Any other travel tips? Rent your bike in Pakse from a shop called Miss Noy’s. They’re incredibly helpful and will provide you with a map to help you navigate the plateau.