Lone Wolves of Laos - Biking the Bolaven Plateau

Trip Start Jun 13, 2008
Trip End May 25, 2009

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The area surrounding Pakse is known as the Bolaven Plateau, and having a newly found love of moped riding, Tom, Mike and I decided that the best way to see it would be to rent mopeds for a few days and head off into the wilderness...

Day 1

We got up early to sort out bus tickets (to get to Vientiane when we get back) and bikes and rode out of the city.  It was a bit busy, but so much easier and quieter than Vietnam.  Being a newly formed biker gang, and in the spirit of our new found independence, we called ourselves 'The Lone Wolves' - from now on, Mike would be known as "Green Wing", Tom as "Falcon Speed" and me as "Pixie Dust" (as in, eat my!).  Green Wing's bike was called "Gold Wing", Falcon Speed's, "Tallon", and mine, "Star Dust" (as in... yeah, yeah... you get it!).

As we got further out of the city, the road narrowed and the scenery started to change, with lush green either side of us speckled with little yellow flowers.  After a while we came to a waterfall and had a brief stop to check it out.  The restaurant there was really expensive, so we went back onto the main road and stopped at a little wooden hut for an instant noodle lunch.  While we were sitting there, we slowly got surrounded by the local kids, who were very curious, but didn't seem to want to get too close.  We said 'sabadee!' and got a 'good morning' in reply.  They let me take a photo of them and then got really excited when I showed it to them on my camera screen. :)

From there we hit the open road again (a phrase I think will come up a lot in this blog) and rode through lots more lush countryside with the odd small town and market along the way.  We came across a couple of big trucks that were a bit difficult to over-take, but that just made it more exciting and once we'd passed and reached the top of the hill we were climbing, the scenery opened right up to reveal gorgeous green mountains in the distance.  (I'll be honest, I'm not sure whether to call them hills or mountains, but they were bigger than anything at home and reminded me of the Jura mountains in France, so I went with mountains.)  It was a breathtaking sight, so unexpected and made the whole day's ride worthwhile.

We had to stop at one point because Green Wing (so called because he sounds a lot and looks a bit like the blond doctor on Green Wing... that and it sounds a bit Native American) had been stung on his chest... as he tried to look at it more closely, he got a more painful sting on his side and as he pulled up his vest I could see something small and black on him.  He got it off though and he's fine - we were just glad it didn't sting him hard while he was riding. 
Speaking of creepy crawleys, along the way I took out a number of butterflies, which I was pretty sad about, and also nearly ran over what looked a lot like a tarantula...

When we set off again it wasn't long before we arrived at our destination for the evening, Tad Lo, a small and dusty village tucked away behind some dirt roads.  There were a few guesthouses, but not many tourists.  In fact, we overtook a half empty tourist bus on the way in that stopped at a resort on the edge of town.  We spent the night in a little bungalow that belonged to 'Tom's Guesthouse' - pretty apt really!!

Day 2

We got up early to get on the road while it was nice and cool.  We went back on ourselves slightly to check out a small waterfall we passed the day before, and Green Wing and Falcon Speed stripped down to have a wash in the river.  I washed my face but didn't strip off as there were kids about and women are generally covered from shoulder to knee around here.

Then it was back on the road, and it soon got very bumpy and dusty.  We took a small side road or two to check out some more waterfalls... we didn't find them, but we did come across some nice small villages and as we came past a whole school came running up to the hedges to wave at us - it was brilliant :)  We weren't too bothered about not finding the waterfalls that day - we were enjoying the ride way too much!

Green Wing had a small mishap when he went to overtake a slower moped on the dirt track, and the other driver didn't notice.  He then moved left, their bikes interlocked and Green Wing came off his bike.  Fortunately he just had a very dusty arm and leg and a bit of a cut on his elbow, and his bike was pretty much in tact.  The other driver checked to see if Green Wing was alright and then left before me or Falcon Speed even got there.  Later on we went to a petrol station to fill up and bumped into the other driver and discovered the likely reason for the mishap - a fairly strong smell of whiskey was emanating from his direction... he was incredibly glad to see Green Wing and even more glad to blow a raspberry on my cheek... a slight weirdo... anyway, it's like my mum always told me - you can be the best driver in the world, but you have to assume that everyone else on the road is an idiot! 

From the petrol station we decided to go for lunch in the town, called Thateng.  We spent a while wondering around the market, followed by some very smiley children calling 'sabadee!' at us.  We sat at a small stall and had a rice lunch and then got back on the road.  By now we were back on really smooth tarmac and once again the view opened up.  Yellow and green scrub lands sprawled to our left and right with bushes and flowers lining the way.  The villages we passed were made up of wooden houses that ranged from tiny and rickety to large and open, and all were on long stilts to protect them from the annual monsoon floods.

The most common obstacle we came across were pigs, goats, cows and dogs wondering into the road, but with a slow engine and a gentle toot they soon moved out of the way.... (from here I'm changing tenses because I wrote it imagining it was happening...)   As the obstacle becomes a dot in my rear view mirror I look on to the farm land coming up on my left and more lush green mountains ahead.  The sun is beating down on me, but the air is cool and I love it, despite it sculpting all my hair into one great big dreadlock.  I have dust mixed with sweat smeared across my face, leaving clean areas the shape of sun glasses and a chin strap, and all I want to do is ride on and see what's around the next corner.  As we follow the road together every now and then one of us overtakes another and lets out a 'hoooowwwwl!' to the Lone Wolves. (End of present tense!) (We were

At around 3pm we arrived in a town called Sekong.  It's a lot bigger than Tad Lo, though still a small town, but it lacks the character of Tad Lo.  We did, however find a very nice place to stay overlooking the river and mountains.  We overpaid for our food at a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant and felt a bit annoyed, but soon got over it.  Falcon Speed and Green Wing spent a large portion of the evening playing ticker in our room, wearing their motorcycle helmets and doing a lot of headers... bloody hilarious!!  We also visited the bar next to our room.  As we approached it sounded like horrible karaoke, but was actually a REALLY horrible band practice!  OK, it wasn't too bad... and we clapped at the end of every song, which seemed to make the vocalist's day :)

Day 3

We got up early again and headed straight out for breakfast, which was coffee at a cafe and a baguette from the market, and then it was back on the road in search of the tallest waterfall in Laos.  As we headed out of the town the scenery once again crept up on us and we all stopped to soak it in.  With mountains either side of us and a loose dirt road down the middle, we cut the engines to listen and all we could hear was the occasional bird song and the sound of huge dry leaves falling from the plants around us.

The ride to the waterfall was a challenging one, but we all loved it.  The road got less and less stable and we began to climb into the mountains we had been admiring for so long.  On the way, we decided to stop at a smaller waterfall for a morning swim.  Apparently there are puffer fish in the bottom pool that have frightening accuracy in locating and latching on to the human penis... not a problem for me, but the boys thought the top pool might be better ;)  It was absolutely stunning - not really a pool so much as a slow moving part of the river - we didn't even see the waterfall, but that made it all the more peaceful.  It was just us, icy cold, crystal clear water and the beautiful mountains around us.

When we set off again I had gone ahead of the boys for a while and noticed a bike quite close behind me, so I pulled over and let them pass, and waited for the boys.  It was a Western couple and the girl on the back gave me a wave as she went by.  Then when the boys came up behind me me I carried on and around the next corner I saw a car stopped in the road with the couple and their moped on the ground in front of it.  Fortunately everyone was OK - just a small graze on the girl's hand.  I couldn't help thinking that if I hadn't let them past it might have been me, or worse, all of us in a pile up - but the man driving the car was motioning for them to stay on the right side.  I think that perhaps they had gone onto the wrong side of the road to avoid a pot hole and been caught out by the car coming towards them.

Shortly after that we came to a really short, rocky path, from where we could see the tallest waterfall in Laos.  It was breathtaking.  Even though we were quite far away all we could hear was the booking sound of water crashing down 100m to the rocks below, but it was so peaceful and gentle at the same time.  I felt like the water was only falling and crashing because it had an audience to please, it couldn't possibly be like that all the time... but in the wet season it's probably even more impressive.

Shortly after we left the waterfall we pulled up into a small town for a lunch of noodle soup and the best coffee I have ever had.  We were entering Laos' coffee growing region, so it's possibly the freshest coffee I've ever had too.

Back on our bikes, we started making our way to Paksong - our destination for the evening.  The roads were still loose with red dust and rising up and falling down - it really reminded me of the Death Road in Bolivia.

We stopped for a little while at a coffee plantation to have a look at the plants.  If you had driven me in there blind folded, I could have guessed where I was because the coffee aroma was overwhelming and mingled a little with the scent of tobacco in places.  Tobacco is one of the flavours people identify in red wine - is it the same for coffee?  Answers on a postcard please... :)  Maybe they were just growing tobacco too...

From there the road got less rocky - it was flat, sealed tarmac, however, riding along it did resemble what I imagine trying to ride across the surface of the moon to be like (gravity not included, my physics-geek-friends!) - it was littered with huge craters, which are obviously very dangerous when hit at speed, but it was great fun weaving around them.

We arrived in Paksong and found somewhere to stay.  Paksong had even less character than Sekong, but the people seemed much nicer, so I liked it much more, AND our room had hot water, so I was able to have what felt like my first hot shower in months. :D

Day 4

A road trip isn't complete without at least one technical difficulty... and fortunately for us, it was a minor one.  Soon after leaving Paksong I turned a corner and felt the back of my bike drifting away from me... I am very lucky that I had slowed down for the corner and was able to control it to a stop, because my back tyre was as flat as a pancake.  Luckily there was a place not too far away that fixed it for me, and gave me some new brakes in the process - he showed me the old ones and they were actually shiny, so I paid the extra $3 for better functioning brakes :)

After that we spent some time going to more waterfalls in the area... one medium sized where we could sit near the bottom and feel the spray, one smaller one with a brilliant swimming hole at the bottom - there was a raft attached to a rope so you could sit on the raft and pull yourself along and then through the waterfall - that was pretty refreshing, and ever so slightly painful! The last waterfall we visited had a market next to it, so we stopped for a coffee and then had a look - it was almost as tall as 'the tallest' that we visited the day before, and really beautiful...  and now we're officially waterfalled out!

From there it was only an hour's ride into Pakse, so we headed back through the traffic of the city to return our bikes, eat some Indian curry (because we found yet another amazing and cheap curry house) and then got on a night bus to Vientiane to wake up to Christmas in Laos :)

The photos aren't coming out very clearly on this site at the moment for some reason, so for a better view check out my Flickr page
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