A highlight from Central Laos is motorbiking around the Bolaven Plateau
Very much a stop-over town. There is not much to see or do here. People use this as a place to stop over en route to the 4,000 Islands or to start the Bolaven Plateau loops. There are a number of guesthouses and hotels so book ahead as it can get quite busy depending on what time of year you are there.
The most popular is the Lankham Hotel where we stayed. If you book ahead you do end up paying a slightly higher rate than if you walk in, however, we found a lot of the cheaper rooms with air-con were full by the time we arrived.
The Bolaven Plateau route starts in Pakse and is broken into a small and large loop. You'll wind in and out of nature on dirt and sealed roads, meet minorities going about their day's work, have delicious locally sourced coffee and tea and see some epic waterfalls. The question is which loop to ride. We decided we would see how we felt after our first night on the road.
Tip: Visiting Laos in March means you will come upon 'slash and burn' season, where the smoke makes it hard to see the scenery.
We met some other travelers as we started the small route who said that there wasn't much to see on the large loop aside from a couple of nice waterfalls. Fortunately you can divert from the small loop to see these. Running a bit short on time anyway, we decided to cut down our trip by completing the small loop in just two days, spending one night in Tad Lor, a small village that is quickly becoming popular on the backpacker route.
Tip: Rather than doing the big loop it could be more interesting to head east to Tayicseua. There is an amazing homestay run by a woman who has 15 private waterfalls on her property.
RENTING A MOTORBIKE
There are many options for motorbike rentals in Pakse. They all run about the same price per day(s) - 60,000 Kip for 1 day, 50,000 Kip for 2+ days for a semi-automatic, 90,000 Kip for 1 day, 100,000 Kip for 2+ days for a automatic. The rental companies provide you with an illustrated map with locations of the waterfalls, coffee plantations and recommendations for places to stay and eat. Most provide storage for your luggage so you can stuff a small backpack with the essentials, perfect if you are only planning to go for a night or two. Some will even provide a hot shower when you return. Just in case you're departing Pakse the same day.
If you aren't super comfortable riding a motorbike, or haven't experienced a semi-automatic, but want to give it a try, they also offer lessons for free with the rental. You can take a spin around Pakse to get a feel for the road and get comfortable with the bike.
Pakse Travel (Miss Noy) is located next to Lankham Hotel and seem to own a couple of the rental companies in the area. The prices were all the same so we rented from here. Motorbikes started at 50,000 Kip per day and you don't have to reserve for a specific amount of time. Just give them a rough idea of when you might be back. Pay upfront for two days and pay the remainder, if any, when you return.
WHERE TO STAY
There are a number of guesthouses here, and it seems to be growing. Follow the signs for Tad Lor Waterfall which will take you to the main street.
Fandee's Guesthouse - one of the nicer accommodations on the main street. Book ahead if you can. They have wifi and a small restaurant starting at 60,000 Kip per night
Sailomyen Guesthouse - very basic bungalows on the river with no wifi or restaurant. Shared squat toilet and a bucket shower starting at 50,000 Kip per night
Mama Pap's Guesthouse - very much a backpacker dorm consisting of two rooms with beds on the floor including mosquito nets. There's a restaurant attached that's known for heaping plates of noodles and fried rice. Starting at 25,000 Kip per bed.
WHAT TO SEE
Kuta Coffee & Homestay
An early stop on the loop, but worth it. A lovely Laotian man named Mr. Vieng runs a small homestay and organic coffee and peanut plantation. His wife makes beautiful textiles, bags, scarfs etc. He does not distribute his coffee around Laos so this is the only place you can enjoy it.
Located in Paksong run by an American from Seattle, this not-for-profit company is focused on investing in the local coffee plantations. They pay above fair trade prices for coffee and the profits go back into the community. You might pay a bit more here, but it is well worth it. The owner is also very knowledgable in brewing techniques and can answer any questions you have.
Tad Lor Waterfall
You can drive to the top or bottom of this waterfall, we preferred the bottom as you can swim and there are many rocks to hang out on. You can also jump from the top. Just follow the locals and jump where they jump from to be safe.
Tad Hang Waterfall
The first waterfall you will see in Tad Lor village where the town bridge crosses. At the base of the falls the local children play all day in the water. You can walk or take your motorbike up a bit and swim in the pools at the top.
Tad Soung Waterfall
We visited this in dry season (March) and it was very unimpressive, however in the wet season it would be very beautiful and the lookout point gives you a great view of the plateau and the surrounding area.
Cost: Free, 5,000 Kip for parking
Near Paksong, very impressive and although not the highest in the area, it has beautiful grounds where you can hang out for a couple of hours. This one was our favorite.
Cost: 20,000 Kip per person, 5,000 Kip for parking
Also near Paksong but much smaller than Tad Yuang. It has a nice little restaurant at the top and is cheaper to enter than Tad Yuang. This waterfall is more for swimming and they have tube rentals and some wooden sun loungers free of charge.
Cost: 10K kip per person, 3K kip for parking
The highest of the three waterfalls near Paksong, 120m high, but not suitable for swimming. We skipped this one as other travelers didn't recommend for dry season.