With our Vietnamese Visa mission complete, our next stop was the Southern town of Pakse-recommended to us by a Belgian couple we met at the beginning of our trip in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia. Specifically they had told us to go to Pakse, hire a motorbike from Ms Noy, and do the Bolaven Plateau motorcycle tour. Not something that had crossed our minds prior to the trip, but given the manner in which they enthused about the experience, we thought that we should give it a go!
All that stood between us and our destination was a mere twelve hour bus journey….Whoop! Fortunately as soon as you hit Southern Laos, the roads both straighten and flatten out-so it was time to get on our first night bus, lie back and relax….As you can see, once settled I was pretty excited about the prospect of 12 hours on the ‘disco bus’…
Even though there was a lack of leg room and the sleep was intermittent at best, it was better than I expected. We arrived in Pakse on schedule, albeit pretty tired, and set about finding Ms Noy to organise our motorbike trip.
It’s at this point that we have to give a huge amount of kudos to the guys at Ms Noy, and here’s a fantastic example of brilliant ‘non-customer’ service! They have 30 motorcycles for hire, and when you hire a bike from them they don’t give you any time restraints as there are a couple of different options on the route that may add a day or two to the journey. As such, they never actually know how many bikes are going to be returned on any given evening, so they get all people interested in hiring bikes to meet at the shop for a ‘route briefing’ the evening before they want to go. They then spend at least an hour going through a map of the Bolaven Plateau, giving their insights and recommendations for things to see and do, which you note on your own copy of the map that they provide. This is done irrespective of whether they will be able to hire you a bike, then the following morning you go there at 8AM to see how many had returned the previous evening. Should there not be anything available, they recommend another hire shop for you and let you keep the map and all of their tips. It may sound trivial, but the information that they shared was invaluable, we were one of the unlucky few that had to hire a bike elsewhere the following day-so they got no business out of us, but hopefully through reading this someone else will go there and we will have repaid them in some way!
The Bolavan Plateau ranges from 1000-1300m above sea level, is crossed by several rivers and has a number of picturesque waterfalls on the main route which circles the area. Armed with Ms Noy’s map, we set off to see what we could find…And boy were we glad that this was something that we followed up on-it was absolutely incredible! The first day would be a 82km ride from Pakse to Tad Lo, a stunning little village where we would be spending the night and, hopefully, seeing some bathing elephants; before making the 103km return journey to Pakse the following day. The entire route punctuated with various picture perfect waterfalls, and opportunities to sample the wonderful local coffee.
Katu Homestay deserves a special mention as we’re talking about coffee, the first stop on our outward trip and what a great find! You’re met by the owner, Mr Vieng, and for a nominal fee he will give you a tour round his farm giving you a fantastic insight into coffee production and other crops that are traditionally farmed here, and of course you get to sample his delicious self-grown and freshly-roasted Arabica coffee. It is possible to stay at Katu as well, but it’s a little early on the route to be practical for the tour that we had chosen-so back to the bike and onwards we went.
What ensued is best described in pictures, for I have no words that can do it justice…
As I’m sure you can appreciate from the pictures, our two days on the bike were absolutely incredible. Even though we were following a well established route, it really felt like we were exploring a little off the beaten track-and Tad Lo was a wonderful place to spend an evening, it has a really laid back and very local feel to it; not to mention how cheap it was to stay there-our room only cost 30,000kip (around £3), and we were fed and watered that evening for less than 50,000kip!
Feeling invigorated on our return to Pakse, we set about our most important mission yet-choosing the next location where we would be spending my birthday!