Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pakse and Bolaven Plateau

Working our way south through Laos, our next stop was in Pakse. While being one of the larger cities in Laos, Pakse is still relatively small and is mainly a staging point for treks in the surrounding countryside. Our first evening after arriving in Pakse, we did spend some time walking around the city and checked out some of the main temples. Additionally, the hotel where we stayed at was owned and operated by some Indian people, so we took the opportunity to break from our diet of Laotian food to eat some excellent Indian cuisine.

Temple in Pakse

Monks in Buddhist Temple

 Local Soccer Game

Our main purpose in going to Pakse was to take another motorcycle trip. Near Pakse is the Bolaven Plateau, an elevated region formed by a huge ancient volcano. Because of the volcanic lava flows long ago, a lot of drop offs and rocky slopes were formed, which has resulted in numerous waterfalls around the Bolaven Plateau. It's a great place to cruise around on a motorcycle for a few days, stopping to check out waterfalls or villages in the area.

After spending a night in Pakse, we started off around one of the main loops on the Bolaven Plateau. It was a pretty nice way to spend a day, riding on a motorbike between stops at waterfalls.

E-Tu Waterfall

One of our favorite waterfalls on the trip was the Thamchampy Waterfall (see below), which had a rounded out cave area that allowed you to walk behind the waterfall.

 Thamchampy Waterfall from Above

Thamchampy Full View 

 Phil at Thamchampy

 Behind Thamchampy

One of the biggest waterfalls in the area is Tad Fane. While there is a resort built near the waterfall, actually getting down to a good view of the waterfall is really tough. It was a muddy and steep path, during which I slipped and fell into the bushes, sliding down the mountain for a ways. However, we did get some pretty good views of the waterfall to reward us for the effort. The pictures don't show how big it really is, but apparently the falls are over 100m or over 325 feet, so they're pretty big.

Tad Fane from a Distance

 Full View of Tad Fane Falls

The last major waterfall of the day was the Yuang Waterfall. It was another great waterfall to check out.

Yuang Waterfall

We stopped for lunch in a small town named Paksong, which was about the halfway point of our driving that day. In Paksong, a Dutch guy randomly has a nice coffee and tea plantation and small cafe. We stopped to chat with him for awhile, then headed on our way. The rest of the day we spent driving to Tad Lo village, where we were planning to spend the night. The drive was some of the most scenic of our trip and we had some great opportunities to see open countryside and small villages.

Cow Questioning Our Authority 

 Countryside on Bolaven Plateau

Open Road

We finally arrived in Tad Lo village, which has a nice river and series of waterfalls nearby. There are several guest houses in the village because it's kind of a nice stopping point for people doing the loop around the Bolaven plateau. That night, we grabbed some dinner at a small local restaurant, and then headed to one of the bigger hotels in the area, the Tad Lo Lodge, to watch the Netherlands vs. Brazil world cup game with some Dutch people. The Dutch won, which was cause for great celebration.

Our Bungalow in Tad Lo

The next morning, we took a short trek to visit four local villages and the major waterfalls in the area. The weather was perfect that day, nothing but blue skies to highlight the green countryside. Unfortunately, the biggest waterfall didn't have enough water when we visited, so it was just a drizzle. However, the trek and smaller waterfalls were still really great. After the trek, we were pretty filthy from constantly sweating in the Southeast Asian humidity and having dust stick to us from either hiking around or motorbiking on dusty roads. We took a nice dip in the river to clean up a bit, but it only lasted a short while before we got back on our bikes and got blasted with some more dust.

Filthy Wes on Trek near Tad Lo

Village near Tad Lo

Crossing Paths with the Locals

Muddy Road

Drying Leaves at Village

Blue Skies and Green Countryside

 Phil Walking Down Dirt Road

Swimming In River at Smaller Waterfall

 Biggest Waterfall Nearly Dried Up

After our morning trek, we hopped back on our motorbikes and started on our way back to Pakse. There were still a few waterfalls to visit on the way back, so we took our time getting back to the city.

Wes at Phasouam Waterfall

Finishing up our short loop around the Bolaven Plateau marked the last of our motorbiking trips. Riding around for those two days was a great trip and we enjoyed seeing all the waterfalls and the beautiful countryside. Having never before ridden a motorbike long distances, I was surprised how much I enjoyed traveling that way. Phil and I both agreed that if we did our trip through Laos again, we would probably just ride a motorbike across the whole country. We met a few people doing that and it seemed like they were really enjoying it. It lets you take in the countryside at your own pace and gives you a lot of freedom to see some things off the main path. You also don't have to worry about bus schedules, which is especially nice in a developing country where things aren't always on schedule. Riding a motorbike might even be cheaper than taking the buses, although some of the roads with sharp curves up and down steep mountains might not be that safe. 

There's only one more post coming for Laos, then hopefully I can finish up the couple posts for Cambodia and Malaysia before too long, so stay tuned.

For more pictures of Pakse and the Bolaven Plateau: