Lao motorcycle diaries

While the four guys came up to the fence, the fifth one hid behind a tree

Bolaven Plateau is an area located at an altitude of 1000-1350 meters in southern Laos. The region is famous for its picturesque waterfalls. Making your way to the waterfalls you will pass little scattered villages inhabited by ethnic minority tribes. We pack our luggage to bare minimum, which is a shared towel, toothpaste, a spare T-shirt and a sleeping bag. The goal is to explore the Bolaven Plateau on our Japanese-made moped, an indestructible Suzuki 110cc. This little bike will soon undergo a harsh endurance test on steep and difficult dirt roads.

Abundant rainfall and lower temperatures as compared to the other parts of the country create ideal conditions for growing coffee. Hence most Lao coffee plantations are located  in the province of Champasak on Bolaven Plateau. Currently Laos produces about 15-20 thousand tons of coffee per year, 80% of which is a high quality robusta. As a result, the well-being of aforementioned ethnic minorities depends on the coffee production.

From the very beginning we admire nature and villages scattered around. Somewhere in between we find Tad Paxuam, the first waterfall en route. People enjoy their slow lives, still remembering about everyday duties such as drying coffee beans spread on vast mats in front of a house.

Pets casually stroll at large in the village. Everything is vibrant with life and two distinctive generations of animals are visible. There are calves milking cow, puppies faithfully following their mum, a bunch of yellow chickens, a flock of geese, a few goats and even pigs with young piglets.

Some of the young children are able walk or even run, others walk on all fours, but all of them are curious about the unexpected guests. Sometimes the kids confronted with a white man instinctively cry. Then, just like a crying one, I also have no idea what to do.

A playful girl in rural Laos

Young boys from the village of Tiang Tatsung take us to some waterfall. We keep on hopping large, sometimes even huge stones. Jumping with my camera and a spare lens causes a problem, but I admire the young eight- or ten year olds, who can easily jump two meters forward or a meter and a half downwards from one stone to another. A huge, nearly one hundred meter high waterfall appears to my eyes. I wonder how is it possible that the waterfall has not been described in any travel guide, the good thing is there is no other tourists here.

We stay in a friendly village nearby the Tad Lo waterfall for a night. The following day we start with a long walk upstream river. Cascades of the waterfall get amazing reflection at dawn. Going forward we reach a remote indigenous village, where I am quite shocked. No matter how much remote from the world as we know it is the place, once the electricity is connected, there has to be a satellite! It’s a really interesting thing about Lao people, every single house, even very modest bamboo thatched huts have their own satellites!

Gravel road leads to the next lost village, or perhaps it is us who is already lost. I get to know the host. He is a friendly guy, with no T-shirt on he disappears for a moment in the darkness of his house to reappear wearing an official military uniform with a rifle in his hand.

The wife of the military man is filling a big pipe with tobacco and she starts to lazily smoke it. Their children are getting accustomed to our presence, once slightly timid this shyness is soon bygone – even if the initial instinctive reaction to seeing a white man with a beard is crying, again.

Sekong surroundings are still beset with unexplored areas contaminated by UXO (Unexploded Ordnance). I accidentally meet a UXO removal team and spend some time together. Their work is a systematic routine. Poles with ropes are set in a logical pattern to facilitate control of the study area, then step by step examined by a metal detector. If you are interested to read a bit more about it I would like to recommend a separate article about UXO problem in Laos – which doesn’t exists yet, but soon I will finish it.

Tad Lo waterfall, Bolivean Plataeu

We visit another waterfall Tad Hua Khon and at this point we enter the gravel road. The scenery is a truly deep jungle, the infinity of which you can understand only by observing the vast valleys and hills covered with an impenetrable bush. We pass a cascading waterfall, but only a few kilometers away appears to our eyes Tad Katamtok and if I had to describe it simply, it is a one hundred meters high marvel of nature. This hidden deeply inside the jungle waterfall, along with the surrounding scenery resembles paradise which gives your all senses a chance to feel the wild, absolutely wildest and untouched nature. The stream of water just after leaving the ridge looks like massive drops from a distance. After a few dozen meters the water is dispersed into smaller particles, then it becomes a dense steam to hit the bottom with a great noise. After the collision with surface the water is transformed into foam. The view is majestic and absolutely unique. You get the impression the place is one of the elements, just like the work of Mother Nature. There is no buildings, no power lines or any other traces of civilization.

Due to the unique findings, the follow-up of out motorcycle trip is slightly delayed. Therefore we will not be able to reach our next destination before the dusk. The quality of further paved road reminds me of Congolese trade routes. Hungry and nearly frozen we continue our travel and having headlights as powerful as two candles we reach Paksong in complete darkness.

We continue visiting other waterfalls such as Yeuang Tad, Tad Fane, both of them being quite high, Tad Yeuang, a cascade one and Tad Fane, a bit higher with a large vertical drop. Tad Champi a bit low and wide, but is located in a remote oasis scenery. Tad Itou is the only toll waterfall, but it is still worth to stop by.

Well.. I think it is enough waterfalls for a while. All these wonders of nature are like private enclaves.

No tourists, complete freedom to plan actions and make decisions are incentives encouraging going for a motorcycle trip on the Bolaven Plateau. My top choice is Tad Katamtok, which I deliberately skipped on my pictures, because nothing but a personal visit can impress you so much!

laos bolivean