If you are thinking of taking a trip to Laos, you should definitely plan a few days itinerary of the Bolaven Plateau. This lush plateau south of the country, extending from the Mekong River up to near the border with Vietnam, offers truly unique landscapes and encounters.
Our experience begins when we rent scooters in the city of Paksè, and from there we head east towards our first stop: Paksong. After only a few kilometers, we get thrown into a charming rural environment: the road is a succession of small villages, bazaars and Buddhist temples. At the first major intersection (National Road 13 with National Road 20) after a drive of several kilometers, we stop for a break alongside some stalls. There we taste exquisite, colorful and fresh fruit; it is here that I eat for the first time Jackfruit, the largest fruit in the world, a must try.
The road now begins to climb gently and after a few kilometers we are attracted by a large sign that invites a detour to visit the Tad Yuang waterfalls. The whole of Laos is rich in fast-flowing streams, but it is here, on the Bolaven Plateau, where you can find the most spectacular ones. A hike, even if a short one, is a must; after visiting the waterfalls, be enchanted by the local bazaars where you can admire the beautiful silk fabrics of the local population.
Finally we arrive at Paksong shortly before lunch, and here we make one of the most interesting encounter of the whole tour. In a small guest house on the main road we get to know Cana, an American girl who, together with other people, pursues an interesting volunteering project aimed at the local coffee producers, gathering them in a cooperative. I really invite you to linger in this magical and welcoming atmosphere. While you enjoy their different types of coffee prepared with art, make sure Cana tells you the story and the reasons of their program. You’ll be impressed.
Personally, it was from her tales that I started to understand the tragedy of the Vietnam War for this country. In nine years, the United States poured on Laos more than 270 million tons of the notorious cluster bombs. Once the conflict ended, the civil population discovered at their own expense and tragically that many of these still unexploded ordnance continue to claim innocent victims, many of which children.
We left Paksong and started the most adventurous part of our tour. Driving east, the road becomes less and less busy. We are catapulted in an environment quite different from those seen so far. The road continues to rise to around 1300 mt above sea level, at times looking more like an alpine environment than an Asian one, were it not for the endless coffee plantations. There are forests of pines and conifers on both sides of the road, very few isolated houses and even fewer cars on the road.
We arrive to our final destination almost at dusk, after driving more than 100km. The Tayicseua area is outside of the classic tours organized on the Bolaven Plateau and perhaps thanks to this it is still one of its most wild and unexplored.
We take a dirt road of a stunning red clay through bamboo reeds and isolated villages from which some children peep at us, intrigued by our passage. The view is breathtaking, there are forests everywhere, and in the distance the sound of a river anticipates next day trekking.
We arrive at a guest house, the main wooden building located at the center of a few bamboo huts. The place is mystical. We are welcomed by a nice lady hailing from Vientiane (Laos capital) who, in excellent English, tells us the story and philosophy related to her choice of life in a place so isolated.
There are only a few guests: some lie on colorful carpets and read, helped only by the light of a gas lamp; other practice meditation and yoga. All around, a wonderful feeling of tranquility, interrupted only by the sounds of the forest. It is already dark when we finish the excellent dinner, and we retire to our cozy hut for the night.
The next morning we leave early for what will be the most adventurous part of our tour on the Bolaven Plateau. We trek down through an easy path that leads towards the roar of a river. The walk that starts there and continues alongside the river offers breathtaking scenery: waterfalls that flow down for dozens of meters until their next stretch, through gorges that offer no end in sight. We are surrounded by forests and large patches of bamboo, with alternating views of the underlying falls. A well-deserved stop allows us to enjoy a cold but invigorating bath in these waters.
After several hours of walking, we decide to take the path back, sadly aware of having left behind at least another fifteen spectacular waterfalls. Back to the guest house, we say goodbye to the affable manager and we ride our bike for the return journey. It is after a few hundred meters that I am left behind by our little group of bikers. From the forest suddenly rises a gentle yet noisy wind that completely runs through me. It is not cold at all, but it makes me shiver. I feel as if this magical place is waiving goodbye to me, and in return I make a promise that I will be back.
On the way back we stop for a visit to a nice community of daggers and knives makers, most of whom willingly and proudly show us how they work the iron on a coal forge.
We arrive in Pakse at sunset, and after crossing a long bridge over the Mekong river, almost accidentally we enter a road which leads to the top of a hill. There, a huge Buddha statue overlooks the city; behind the statue, the call of the evening prayer come from a temple. It is a worthy ending of an exciting tour.
For a Bolaven Guided Tour, click HERE
Asian Itinerary stayed at Pakse Hotel
Book a room at discounted rates in Pakse HERE