BootsnAll Travel Network

The Motorcycle Diaries (On and Around the Bolaven Plateau)

After having so much fun (despite the dust and knee injury) renting a motorbike in Ban Lung, Andreas and I decided to rent motorbikes again and do a tour of Southern Laos. We rented bikes from our hotel in Pakse for 70,000 kip/day. Our bikes were two nearly brand new 110 CC Honda’s. My bike had only 500 km on it. Waking up early on Wednesday morning, we set out for our first stop of Tad Lo. Leaving early meant that the traffic was light. We stopped at a hardware store before leaving Pakse and bought some chains to lock the bikes with at night. It was about 85 km to Tad Lo which we covered in a few hours. At first, I was a bit uneasy on the bike, but was soon comfortable enough to cruise along at 60-80 km/hr. We stopped for a rest in a small village where Andreas had coffee (Laos produces its own coffee beans at plantations on the plateau). I bought some bread made by a local lady that tasted as if it contained some sort of blueberry. We could see the high cliffs of the plateau rising in front of us. After the break, we began the climb up the plateau reaching an elevation of 900 feet by the time we were in Tad Lo. I immediately liked Tad Lo as soon as I saw it. Accomodations consisted of thatch bungalows set along a dirt road. The more expensive ones faced the waterfall for which Tad Lo is known. There were very few tourists around. After checking in, we set out to look around the waterfalls and the area. There were a series of waterfalls so we had to walk upstream to view them all. There were children swimming and fishing all along the falls. After viewing the falls we began to look for a place to cross the stream to take a shortcut back to our bungalows. While doing this, the branch that I was holding onto keep my balance on a rock broke, and I went falling into the water. Everything on me got wet (money, camera, hiking boots, etc.). Fortunately the camera case had enough padding to absorb most of the water keeping my camera mostly dry. Since I was now wet anyway, I just walked across the stream to the other side. During the walk back to the bungalow, we ran into an elephant (two actually). They were just standing around contentedly munching on bananas. They had saddles on the their backs, so I assumed that people rode them, but there were no handlers in sight. After bidding farewell to the elephants, I went back to the bungalow, changed, and spread all my things in the sun to dry. In the evening we took the motorbikes to a waterfall about 10 km distant. We passed through a village with a group of men playing a Laotian game much like volleyball. The main difference is that one can only use their head and feet to get the ball over the net. Because it is the dry season, there wasn’t much water. The view more than made up for it though. The waterfull plunged over a 100 meters down a cliff. From the cliff, we had an excellent view over the whole valley below. In the evening, I was shown a bomblet casing from a cluster bomb. Laos was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War with American cluster bombs. From inside the main bomb casing, individual bomblets are sprayed over a wide area. The bomblets are metal spheres with fins. They detonate after so many revolutions. If they aren’t dropped from a high enough altitude they fall to the ground without exploding. Children find undetonated bomblets and think they are balls to play with. As they throw them around, many of them explode after the required number of revolutions are complete. Two years ago a group of children were killed in Tad Lo.

On Thursday we left Tad Lo and set out for Sekong which was to be our next stopping point. As with the day before, the drive started on a nice asphalt road. Soon though we had to turn south on a dirt road to continue the climb up the plateau. The dirt road extended for 30 km or so. As this is the main route to Sekong, many buses and cars took this route. By the time we reached pavement again, I was very dusty and slightly disgruntled. When we stopped to rest in Tha Taeng, I went to the bathroom and tried to remove as much dust from my face as I could. After Tha Taeng, the road descended from the plateau to Sekong. There were many villages consisting of simple wooden houses on stilts along the way. Upon arrival in Sekong, we refueled, had lunch, and looked around the town. Even though the town itself wasn’t much of an attraction, the setting was very pretty. Right on the edge of the town were massive cliffs on top of which the plateau sat. Since it was only lunchtime and there didn’t appear to be much in the way of things to do in town, we decided to press on and head for Attapeu (translates to donkey crap). This town is the capital of Attapeu province which is on the border with Vietnam. Heading out of town, we first noticed a sign pointing to a waterfall. We had been skipping looking at waterfalls since everyone appeared to charge an entrance fee. This no longer appeared to be the case as we left the main tourist trail further behind. We turned down the dirt path into the jungle. Despite asking several people we saw walking, we never found it. After passing through several intersections, we decided to give up to avoid getting lost. Back on the highway, we drove on until we crossed a large bridge over a river. After the river, I saw a sign indicating another waterfall (Tat Hua Khon – Waterfall of heads). The Japanese beheaded some Laotians here and threw their heads into the waterfall) . It also indicated that there were bungalows by the waterfall. As we were looking for an interesting place to stay we went for a look. We first had to take a dirt path through a village full of children waving and screaming Sai-ba-dii (hello in Laotian). After the village, the path became really rocky and entered a forest. Not long, we came upon the waterfall and sure enough there were bungalows with fall views. The waterfall itself was very impressive. While it wasn’t very tall (maybe 5 meters or so), it stretched for over 100 meters. During the wet season, it must be absolutely massive. I think that at some point in the past an earthquake, or something, caused the ground to drop in this spot creating this huge shelf over which the river now falls (just my theory).

We parked the motorbikes and went to look for someone from whom we could book two bungalows. We finally found a lady, but were unsuccessful in communcation until her 8 or 9 year old son showed up. He didn’t speak English either, but could at least work a calculator so we could get the price. (In Laos much less English is spoken than in Cambodia. It is similar to China in this regard. In China, as long as one has a phrasebook for them to look at and a calculator you can usually communicate. Laos is much harder in this regard. In the rural areas many people are illiterate, so a phrasebook or calculator isn’t much help, and I still can’t get the hang of these tonal languages. In Cambodia, the language isn’t tonal so I can usually speak it much easier). We were told that the bungalows were 30,000 kip. They had their own bathrooms, big soft beds (Laotion beds are usually hard), and great waterfall views. After checking in we walked around exploring. There were many fisherman throwing nets into the water and children swimming. In the evening, we walked back to the village we had passed through to see if we could buy some water and fruit. We had to wake people up but were able to accomplish this task. Before dark, three more tourists showed up (people I have been seeing since Cambodia).

Friday was spent at the waterfall. We liked the area so much that we decided to spend two nights. I spent a good portion of the day reading under the shade of a pavilion near the waterfall. We did make a few forays into the village again to buy more water. There was water for sale at the restaurant by the falls, but it was expensive. I also didn’t trust my chlorine solution to be adequate to treat the water from the tap as it came right from the river. That night we had the place to ourselves. We were informed by the owner who spoke English but wasn’t around the first day that foreigners had only started showing up there in the past year. Her place wasn’t in guidebooks yet. I am sure that within a few years the area will be full of bungalows and people. Friday night’s entertainment came from a cat and a very shaggy dog. The cat appeared to have amorous feelings for the dog. She kept rubbing on him, mewing loudly whenever the dog (too hairy to know if it was a he or a she) was around, and kept trying to lay on top of the dog. The dog was having none of this and kept growling at the cat and running away. Later that night I did hear a loud dog howl making me wonder if a midnight rape had occured.

On Saturday, we set out for Attapeu. The trip was very nice. For most of the trip the road hugged the edge of the cliffs of the plateau. The terrain was much more arid than I expected it to be. I guess the late in the dry season plants are starting to have trouble staying green. We reached the town and found a guesthouse to spend the night. The town was a bit more interesting than Sekong to walk around in. After perusing through the market, we walked down a tree lined dirt road along the river. We saw a ferry carrying people and motorcyles to a village. Like in Champasak, the ferry consisted of two canoes with a raft built across them. The engine was an outboard motor with a propeller on a long metal shaft. We decided to cross and sat next to an elderly Laotion lady after a polite hello. After we sat down, a mentally handicapped man came on the ferry. The lady was watching him warily. She didn’t like it when he decided to sit next to her, and she quickly got up and moved to the other side of the ferry sounding quite indignant. We crossed the river and paid our $0.10 (1000 kip). After walking around and looking at a small monastery, we decided to try to find something to eat. We headed to a place where we saw lots of people and tables. As soon a we approached you could almost hear (figuratively, of course) the music stop and the record scratch. Everyone stopped talking and turned to look at us. There were only men present. We decided after this strange welcome to go look elsewhere for food. As soon as we left the murmur of conversation started up again. We crossed the ferry to try our luck on the other side of the river. None of the restaurants appeared to have food. We finally found a place near our guesthouse to eat. After eating, we took off on the motorbikes to look at some surrounding towns. It was quite fun to walk and ride through areas with little tourist traffic. Despite the one strange occurence at the restaurant, most places are happy or at least interested to see you. There are many smiles and waves (even a few people running into things as they swivel their heads to stare at you). In the evening we found a very cheap restaurant. I had a big mound of noodles with some sort of meat for about $0.50. A meal like this is usually at least $1.50. Andreas had three fish that had been grilled on sticks and some rice for $1.00.

On Sunday, we had to backtrack about 50 km to reach the dirt road that would take us to Paksong which is at the top of the plateau at about 4000 ft or so. We refueled our bikes at a village at the intersection of the highway and the dirt road. The fuel came from a drum with a hand cranked pump. After fueling up we stopped to look at the roadside food stalls full of fried somethings on a stick and various dead mammals just waiting to be eaten. While looking, Andreas lost his motorcycle key. We started looking for the key, and it soon became a group project. It was eventually found by a little girl. We left the village and set off on the 70 km dirt road to Paksong. This dirt road was much nicer to drive on in the beginning as we had it to ourselves. It climbed steeply through jungle and over rivers. There was the occasional small village. We stopped at a waterfall which came crashing out of the jungle. We accessed it via a small unmarked side path off the main road. The weather got progressivly cooler as we climbed. As we got closer to Paksong, the road widened and the traffic increased. We passed coffee plantations. The trees only had a few berries on them. The dirt path soon gave way to a paved road which was badly potholed. This is the worst paved road I have seen so far. Many of the potholes (canyons, craters, bottomless pits of doom) stretched over the entire road. We and many others often gave up on the road and drove along the sides. Some potholes were unavoidable, and I am still surprised I didn’t blow out a tire. We finally reached Paksong dusty and tired. We found a guesthouse outside of town with wooden rooms built of cedar. The weather was quite cloudy and very cold. The town itself was very small but had an interesting market selling everything from toilet paper to CD’s.

In the morning (today), there were two gibbons (one adult, one infant) in the tree behind the guesthouse. I believe they may have been pets. The adult was quite entertaining and kept hoppping from branch to branch. A group of us gathered to take pictures. The adult kept hanging from the lower branches holding on with only one hand. Other times it would hang upside down from one foot staring at us. It allowed us to get quite close. Leaving the gibbons, Andreas and I set off for the final leg of our trip back to Pakse. We stopped at the Tat Fan waterfall on the way back even though we had to pay. This was one of the few times it was worth it. The waterfall plunged off a cliff down a distance I can’t even begin to guess. During the wet season it must be spectacular. There was a small market outside the fall from which I bought a scarf that had caught my eye. We arrived back in Pakse about midday where I started typing this blog after eating. Tomorrow we will head to Savvanakhet.

Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “The Motorcycle Diaries (On and Around the Bolaven Plateau)”

  1. Tony Garren Says:

    Noticed you hadn’t had any comments in a few days, didn’t want you to think folks had quit reading your blog! Riding around the Cambodian countryside with a brave english girl on your motorcycle, sounds like fun. You’ve been gone almost a year now sounds like you are doing pretty good on your budget. Be safe have a good time. The job market is really strong right now when you get home it will be really easy to get a job. All the more reason to take your time and see as much as you can, right.

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. Preeti Says:

    It doesn’t appear that you’re practicing much motorcycle safety if at 40 and 50 mph you are getting dusty from no helmet. Be careful!

    The waterfalls sound spectacular. I can’t wait to see pictures.

  4. Posted from United States United States

Leave a Reply