Motorbiking Southern Laos: Bolaven Plateau

Southern Laos is generally skipped by backpackers and instead they heads straight for Four Thousand Islands and onto Cambodia or up to Vientiane. With it’s countless waterfalls, many swimming opportunities, tribal villages, local cuisine, and having children run up to you screaming Sabaai-dii (Hello in Lao) as you drive on the dirt roads – Why would anyone want to skip this?

Before renting a motorbike, do a bit of research on other peoples experiences renting them. Read: Why I Recommend You Rent A Motorbike. The journey starts in Pakse going west into a loop and back into Pakse. Accommodation can be found easily throughout the journey. There are many options available for bike rentals, just remember the tips provided in the previous article.  The most popular path is taking a two day trip around the loop, though you can take several more days which I do recommend you do so you can stop at more locations. It can be exhausting if you do too much too quickly. Bring only what you absolutely need with you for the trip and leave the rest with the hotel or guest house in Pakse.

Bolaven Plateau Dirt Roads
Bolaven Plateau Dirt Roads

Each day, I had driven roughly 6 hours and stopped at several locations along the way. Most bike rental stores have a map of Pakse and of the loop. On the road, there are several small signs of how far you are from the next town. The scenic views are alone worth the entire trip. There are a ton of waterfalls including the tallest waterfall in Laos known as Taat Fang dropping at 400 feet (~120 meters). Swimming opportunities are everywhere. The more popular waterfall is Tad Lo for it’s lush green surrounding area.

The main road is paved until you reach the road from Tha Teng to Ban Beng. In the summer of 2009, there were talks of paving the road and as far as I know – it’s still not paved. The paved road has many other roads along the way which allows you to go on off-the-path dirt roads and into local, small, rural villages. They are literally just in the middle of the jungle. Children will wave and want to approach you as you drive past the village. Take your camera out and prepare to take a massive amount of pictures.

Just remember that you’ll have to go back the way you came from so try not to go too far unless you know for sure where the road leads you to. The road between Tha Teng and Ban Beng isn’t safe during rainy conditions. If you do decide to go anyway, expect a very muddy, wet, slippery, and slow drive. This area becomes much more rural than the paved roads. You’ll notice families working to survive each day building homes for themselves and working on the farms.

This was easily the best thing I could have done in Laos. Meeting locals and browsing the markets quickly reminded me of my purpose of my travels. Below is what I had wrote on July 9th, 2010.

Bolaven Plateau People
Notice the peace sign as I took the picture
Bolaven Plateau Waterfalls
Bolaven Plateau Waterfalls

My Personal Experience From The Blog

[pullquote]It really put me a whole new state of mind of appreciation of life itself.[/pullquote]The next two days were perhaps the best experiences I’ve had in Laos. The experience was very similar to Tiger Leaping Gorge in China. What I felt to be the real purpose of travel. From Pakse, Chris and I rented motorbikes for the next two days and decided to ride all across southern part of Laos. We did have a map and the road signs were very simple to follow. There was a circuit that took us all the way around and lead us back to Pakse. Beautiful weather allowed us to ride for hours on end from west to east part of Laos.

It did rain but like usual it stopped very quickly. During our 6 hour ride on day one, we made several stops on small town villages. The people at each of these villages were the friendliest people I have ever encountered. Willing to just give you everything they have to make you feel comfortable. You simply cannot just buy a soda or water without sitting down at their table and having a short conversation with them. The shops are very small usually within their own home selling some beverages, chips, and perhaps fruits.

Small Market on Bolaven Plateau roads
Small Market on Bolaven Plateau roads

[pullquote]Their living conditions may not be the best but they seemed happy.[/pullquote]The kids though! I was greeted by every single passing kid during the whole ride. When the kids noticed me coming by from a mile away, they would run out to the streets to scream Hello and wave with the biggest smile. It really put me a whole new state of mind of appreciation of life itself. It was as if I was an alien passing by but they loved it. Their living conditions may not be the best but they seemed happy.

Bolaven Plateau Landscape
Bolaven Plateau Landscape

Everyone in the family contributes to the table working and helping no matter the age. Passing by the villages we also made a few stops to some beautiful waterfalls along the way. As it was getting dark, we made a stop by a guesthouse with our own bungalow. The next day was much like the first one and were heading back to Pakse. We have been spoiled by the kindness of people. In a total dream with the wind blowing on my face and the beautiful views riding down an empty road surrounded by nature itself with a fantastic blue sky made me think to myself:

“How in the world did I get this lucky”. Then again by the time I got back to Pakse I had the absolute worst sunburn. I’ve under estimated the sun because with the wind blowing on the motorbike, you don’t really realize the strength of the sun. It’s ok though, I did find a shop that sold Aloe.

Bolaven Plateau People
Bolaven Plateau People

Have you been to Bolaven Plateau? How was your experience compared to mine? Any tips?

Michael Tieso

Michael Tieso travels around the world writing, photographing, and filming his adventures. He is the Editor-in-chief of Art of Adventuring.
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