Bolaven Plateau – The Loop
Once you are in Pakse you have the opportunity to rent the motorbike to go on the Loop around the Bolaven plateau, which is located in an ancient volcano that erupted millions of years ago. Depending on the days you want to spend you can either choose to go on the Small or the Big Loop. For the small one you will need around 3 days and for the big one 4 to 5 days are recommended.
Small Loop or Big Loop?
But from the experience we made following the big loop, we highly suggest that you don’t do it. Instead we recommend a mix of both which lets you enjoy more time on the cool top of the plateau and less time on steaming hot dusty roads. In our opionion going to Sekong and doing the Big Loop is a waste of time! Additionally, the roads from Bane Beng Phou Kham towards Tad Soulin (or Paksong) are in really bad condition.
Don’t go to Sekong or Attapeau, instead head down from Bane Beng through Thateng to Paksong. From there you can still go to the remote homestay in Tad Soulin and visit the waterfalls on the way. This way, you save much time and energy, while enjoying the best part of the big loop.
Bolaven Plateau Map:
First Day of the Loop:
You should consider leaving Pakse in the morning in direction Paksong if you plan to enjoy your stops at the waterfalls or coffee gardens along the way. Just follow the main street of Pakse eastwards on the Number 13 South Road.
Shortly after leaving Pakse the road splits, stay left! By doing that you left Road 13 and changed to Road 16E on which you continue in direction Paksong until km 21. There you turn left on the road Nr. 20 direction north towards Salaven. Following that road you will pass after 38 km (remember the km counter on your motorbike after you take important turns, that is very helpful throughout the entire trip!) some waterfalls (Tad Pasuam and Tad Champee) where you can also go for a swim. They are indicated by a sign on your left so it’s hard to miss them. Still, knowing when to look out for sights by checking your km counter helps a lot.
The next attraction in your way is going for a stop at Mr. Vieng. He owns a little Café and homestay, which you will find on your left hand side at km 60 saying “Katu Homestay”. We didn’t stay the night, but the place is very pleasant (hammocks, fancy wooden furniture) and the owner is such a delight. He gladly shows you around and explains you all about the coffee he grows on his plantation – the night is only 20.000 Kip. They serve very delicious self-grown and freshly-roasted coffee as well as tasty Laotian food and in retrospect we regret not having slept there the first night.
Instead we stayed overnight at the obvious choice of almost all travelers, in Tad Lo.
Tad Lo is beautifully situated directly at a waterfall and offers plenty of accommodation options.
Shortly after passing a Bridge at km 86 make sure to watch out for a wooden sign to the Tad Lo Resort on your right hand side. Follow that small dirt road, at the T-junction turn left and cross the Bridge to be stunned by the view.
Accommodation in Tad Lo:
In Tad Lo you can either rent a bungalow in different price classes (60.000+) or choose one of the many homestay option (15.000 – 40.000 per double bed)
MAMAPAP (15.000 Kip)
That is the cheapest option. In one big room with several comfortable double bed mattresses, each is set up with Mosquito nets and linen view blockers. This place is our personal tip, we slept great and all the food we tried tasted amazing, was cheap and came in gigantic portions. A must try is the super-sized Pancake with chocolate and bananas. Mama is also really looking out for her guests and makes you feel welcome.
Mamatian (35.000 Kip)
PACAMEI (40.000 Kip)
What To Do in Tad Lo:
Explore the waterfall and go for a refreshing swim. You can ask the staff at the nearby restaurant to guard your belongings. If you climb up the waterfall you will reach some rapids with a pool in which you can actually swim, jump into or play in the currents. It’s easy to find, just follow the noise of the local kids. It is also reachable by walking on the riverbank.
A giant waterfall with a big and deep pool is 500 meter further up the stream. It is best reached by walking on the right side of the river, but it’s also possible on the left side if you are prepared to climb down a falling-apart bamboo latter.
Enjoy the day in Tad Lo, it will probably be the nicest place you’ll see on the Loop. You have time until midday or early afternoon before you should leave Tad Lo. Head back to the main street, turn right and follow the street up north until Bane Beng. There you take a sharp right turn and follow the street up the mountain to Thateng. If you left late on that day you can find a few Guest Houses in Thateng and stroll over the local market. There are even nicer guesthouses on the road a few kilometer further south in direction Paksong. Stay there. On this altitude air condition is not needed.
Drive south towards Paksong and enjoy the great view and cool climate. Between Thateng and Paksong you can visit the Thateng Integrated Organic Farm which is run by a non-profit Organization as a teaching center. In addition to a tour you also can have lunch there or just enjoy fresh juices and coffee.
Once you reach Paksong you can either turn right (if you want to do the small loop) towards Pakse or turn left and stay one night in Tad Soulin.
In Tad Soulin you’ll find a small, remote homestay that is only surrounded by nature. There you can sleep in little bamboo huts (1 person: 30.000 Kip, 2 persons: 40.000 Kip) and explore the nearby waterfalls – there are 11 in total. The owner of the homestay offers guided treks to those waterfalls. You don’t need to see all of them, he charges 1 $ per waterfall per Person. There are two waterfalls which are close to the homestay (10-20 min) and you can visit them on your own. Just ask the family to show you the beginning of the path. But beware, although the view is worth the climb, the way down is very steep and slippery.
How to get to Tad Soulin:
To get to Tad Soulin you have to carefully follow these instructions: Leave Paksong in direction east and follow the main paved road to B. Nong Oy. In B. Nong Oy the road will split shortly after a gasoline station on your right. The paved road will take a left slight turn but you need to take a right turn on a gravel road. You will pass the Tad Alone and Tad Couple waterfalls, but they are not worth visiting. Follow that road almost until the end. When you see on your right a sign saying “Power Dam” marking straight, you should also see a small soil road going off to the left – Turn left and take that road. Follow the road for a few kilometers until you see on your right sight a simple wooden sign saying “Nature Homestay”. Turn right and follow that narrow path through the forest which leads to the homestay (stay on the soil-path that seems most used).
We recommend breaking your day with a stopover in Paksong to enjoy freshly roasted Bolaven coffee. Some coffee shops even invite you to visit their plantations and learn more about the locally harvested coffee beans.
In between Paksong and Pakse you will find many beautiful waterfalls in all sizes. In our opinion Tad Yuang (km 40) is really worth the trip. It is impressive, has a big pool and you can go for a swim into the spray.
Interested in reading more?
Why don’t you check out our blog entries: Bolaven Plateau – Astonishing Waterfalls & Freshly Roasted Coffee | Towards New Horizons