South Laos - 2 Around the Bolevan

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by Jurgen, Sep 3, 2011.

  1. Jurgen

    Jurgen Ol'Timer

    Excerpt: Coffee plantations, stunning cascades, fresh air, a sense of remoteness and the secrecy of forgotten wars are ingredients of a Bolevan plateau tour. Interesting itineraries expect bikers in the East, outside Champasak's tourist trails. Salavan and Sekong provinces are just waking up from a destruction nightmare along the Ho Chi Min trail, with the obliteration of many cities. Infrastructures are now improving and enough facilities are available for a pleasant trip.


    Foreword: Time is flying faster than my bike, and my writing runs behind. Pictures from journeys are stuck in my box, long waiting for a write-up. I will never catch up, and this venture is already one year old; it is the second chapter after “Ferry Tales” (Champasak province).


    South Laos Trip

    Part 2 - Around the Bolevan


    See also the first part – Ferry Tales (Champasak province): http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/34187-South-Laos-1-Ferry-Tales?p=264916#poststop

    and my other posts about North Laos (footnote 1)


    The complete photo story can be found at :
    https://picasaweb.google.com/111845057494533452431/LaosSouth2Bolavens

    Map - Attapeu to Pakse:
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    The waterfalls

    After the lazy day on Kong island, I jumped up early. Haze dimmed the morning light but, despite the grey shades, the sky was empty of clouds. After breakfast at Pon's terrace, I moved to the pier. A big ferry was ready to leave, so I lost no time to board it.

    From the east landing point, two stretches lead to route 13. I took the paved, slightly longer southern branch, and was rapidly on my course toward Pakse. At “Lak 30” I passed again the intersection with route 140, the link to Champasak east ferrry terminal.

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    Route 13 to Pakse is straight, with low traffic; however, many cattle amble at slow pace, crossing at ease, without caring about vehicles. After Houaysae, I bifurcated on 16E, toward Pakxon, a road with more vehicles. Whilst I was climbing toward the Bolevan plateau, haze again curtained the sun and the temperature became fresher.

    Taking a small trail, I bifurcated from the main road, toward Dong Hua Sao national park and the famous Tad Fane waterfall. Thick mud, wet from last downpour and heavily kneaded by lorries, covered the surface and was no bliss. Twice I collected my mount from the ground, were we had smoothly landed.

    From Fane resort, the view of the twin cascade, majestically falling one hundred meter down from the plateau, is well worth the trip. It is possible to hike closer to the waterfall but I did not attempt this adventure, particularly risky in the rainy season.

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    Shortly back on road 16E, I bifurcated again, taking route 20 toward Laogan and Salavan. After leaving Champasak province, I continued to my destination, the Tadlo waterfalls. As it passes hamlets and crosses rivers over small bridges, the road becomes more attractive and the sense of remoteness increases.

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    In Kieng Than Lei village, I checked in to “Tim's Guest House & Restaurant”. More scenic places are available, but this one is conveniently located, near the road, and offers Internet connection. Customers from other accommodations gather there in the evening to go online. The local owner is friendly and fluent in several languages. He runs a computer school for kids, and the fees, collected for public wifi access, contribute to support his education activities.

    My wooden bungalow was slightly isolated, in the middle of the pasture, with only cows as neighbors; my motorcycle, however, was safely locked, inside the main building.

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    Tadlo has three waterfalls, on the Sexet river. Tad Hang, the smallest one, is the closest to the village. The second one is located one kilometer upstream. This 20 meters high cascade is more spectacular, but none pretends to showcase the most breathtaking sight of the Bolaven. I did not hike the last eight kilometers, leading to the third, and, as I was told, most scenic fall; the region would deserves more time, on another visit, for exploration and relaxation.

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    A substantial part of the tourist's “package” in the region is the observation of local people, in their simple daily chores and activities. The Bolaven plateau has a rich ethnic diversity, with population perpetuating the craft and labor of their ancestors.

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    In Kieng Than Lei, a crowd of people, young and old, was assembled to help out for peanuts harvest.

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    It was Sunday morning, I was not in a hurry and enjoyed the sight of a young monk and novices walking for alms in front of the guesthouse. The serene equanimity of this millenarian custom, always put me in a content mood to start the day.

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    The early light, colored the cascades with a warm hue and I paid a last visit to the waterfalls, before taking leave from peaceful Kieng Than Lei village and starting my journey on route 20.

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    Salawan is the next city toward the North. I wanted to get an overview of the place, and crisscrossed streets lined up with administrative buildings and small shops. At the town's entrance, the road was under construction, an example of the ongoing improvements made to the Lao roads network.

    Unfortunately, route 15, the shortcut to reach route 13, north of Pakse, was still deteriorated; once upgraded, it will provide a pleasant loop, on the north rim of the Bolaven plateau.

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    Back on route 20, I reached Benq and took shortcut 1H, toward Thateng, were I followed route 16 to Sekong. This link was recently renovated and is in good conditions. It drives through several small settlements, like in North Laos, with small shacks decorated by huge satellite antennas.

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    Sekong, on the shore of the river wearing the same name, is a lonesome place, with simple infrastructures, some official buildings, scattered accommodation and a big market. The river scenery is picturesque, and the attraction is to observe the local fishermen's skills.

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    Few vehicle animate route 18, a scenic drive on the North of the Bolaven plateau, leading through villages showcasing traditional Lao life. As I glided down this link, I remembered a text written by Tiziano Terziani (in “ A Fortune Teller Told me”(2)), after his visit to the region:

    “...I was in the forest of Bolovens … This was the most heavily bombed region in the history of the world, … Not one building has remained standing from the colonial period, not one pagoda, not one village... Nature itself has been obliterated: the forest has become a scrubland, and even today you seldom hear a bird's call.” (2)

    This was in 1993; twenty years have passed, not healing all wounds but, nevertheless, rising hope for normal life, at least in places were UXO have been cleared and bomb scrap recycled.

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    A Bolevan shortcut

    Attracted by a glimpse to the Annamite mountain range, I crossed Attapeu city, toward the East, on the bridge to Xaysettha. Route 18B leads to the “Last Frontier”of Laos, a smooth link to Vietnam. Soon, however, I changed my mind, turned back to the city, and searched for a lodging place.

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    My hotel choice was “Attapeu Palace”, nothing luxurious, but a good shack for a comfortable night. The price, at 130000 kip, including breakfast, was a good deal, and free Internet, an added bonus.

    The rest of the afternoon I ambled through small streets and spent time on the rim of the Sekong, near his confluence with the Se Kaman. A small ferry crosses to Ban Maman, fishermen launch their nets, dragon boat teams train their muscles and people, as well as animals, take a dip in the cooling stream.

    As dusk coloured the sky and the water, a fresh breeze flew down from the Bolaven hights. It was time to patronise a riverside restaurant and to relax, with Lao food and beer, for the last hours of the day.

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    Thunder and drumming rain woke me up a couple of times during the night and my first thoughts, in the morning, were for the sky. As black clouds curtained the horizon of a dark morning, I put my hope in lighter shades, far away, toward the South. When I left the hotel, after breakfast, blue colour begun to dominate, drawing a backdrop for scattered cumulus.

    The outskirts of the city were animated with people running errands, walking or paddling to work or school and driving cattle to pasture. When I crossed the intersection with route 18, a possible south link around the Bolevan, I regretted that the road conditions were not suitable for a street bike. Once that stretch is made available, it will complete an interesting circle itinerary.

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    Further down, I reached another intersection. At Phoukham, a small trail cuts through the mountain toward Pakxon. Encouraged by the shade of the sky, I was tempted to try my luck on that route. My only information about the pavement's condition was a “thumbs up” from locals at the intersection.

    The link starts as a dirt road and remains in that condition for seventy kilometres, till his destination. The only variations are the size of the potholes, the thickness of the mud and the granularity of the stones; all way long, a vibrating affair. Fortunately, the recent rain kept the dust glued to the ground, without too much degradation to the surface.

    Fiew “Falang” travel along this road and locals are still amazed and amused by the sight of foreigners drifting through their hamlets.

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    A pristine landscape, lush forests, majestic hills and cascading waters are rewards for enduring the shaking driving through this shortcut. It is, by the way, only shorter in kilometres, as I certainly spent more time on this trail than by returning through route 16.

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    I stopped frequently to take pictures, sometimes including my bike in the shots. I would need one of these pictures later on.

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    After a couple of strong jerks, I heard a metallic bang behind me. A little further, I stopped to check my bike and her license plate was missing, gone with its frame. I went back for a quest, but quickly abandoned the hope to find it, in the dense vegetation boarding the road.

    When I finally reached the intersection with route 16E, the last 48 kilometres segment toward Pakse, the dark sky began to fall on me. The pavement, however, was again smooth, and I was thankful to my luck who spared me from a downpour on the dirt shortcut.

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    Pakse

    I checked in to “Paksé Hôtel”, a historic building, nicely renovated and well located in the city center. The Lao-French couple, owning the place, offer a good value for an international style service and food menu.

    After my shaking through the Bolavens, I had now to consider some administrative matters. Without her license plate, my bike had lost her identity; I also discovered that the entrance stamp to Laos was missing in my passport These annoyances, however, might well wait for a day, and I climbed to the hotel's top floor terrace, for a relaxing evening.

    As I starred over the city roofs, watching the dimming light of the days and the scattered illumination of Pakse, I enjoyed red wine and French legacy food, while reflecting that this was probably the closest I could come to Nirvana.

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    It is worth to take a rest in Pakse, and I started my day with comfortable breakfast. The hotel then offered to send my passport to the police for advice. I still felt uneasy to circle the city without a number on my bike, and convinced a local artist shop to produce a metal foil, resembling a Thai license plate. At first, they were reluctant to engage in an apparently illegal activity, but accepted, when I produced a picture of my mount, with the number. The result was approximate, at least for Thai eyes, but would serve the purpose in Laos.

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    Everything was settled and, as I am attracted by handicrafts, I went to visit Ban Saphai, a village famous for silk weaving. It is an appealing short ride, to the North, outside Pakse, on the rim of the Mekong. Don Kho, a tiny insulated island, is just on the other side of the river.

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    Bahn Saphai is a small and charming showcase for various activities. Boats are crossing the Mekong toward Don Kho, locals are busy around small shops and the temple runs a school with two classes for boys, novices and laics, teaching the first four primary years. The main attractions, however, are the looms. The silk weaving activities can be observed in a central place or under various private houses.

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    Back to Paksé Hôtel, I was asked to rapidly travel to the Chong Mek border, a short 40 kilometers trip. The police had recommended to get the missing entrance stamp immediately, without fine or penalty, as long as I handled quickly.

    Finally, the story was not exactly so straightforward. As a warning for people, like me, forgetting to double check the documents at border crossings, I have described the procedure on GTR blog, a sidekick to this trip report, under the title “Walking into Laos” (this is the link for interest readers):

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/entries/8-Walking-into-Laos

    Next report, third and last part: “Central Laos”

    See also a first part – Ferry Tales (Champasak province): http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/34187-South-Laos-1-Ferry-Tales?p=264916#poststop

    (1) My other posts about North Laos:

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/33280-An-Easy-Road-to-Laos-1-Crosing-the-border

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/33379-An-Easy-Road-to-Laos-2-The-Road-to-Luang-Prabang

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/33573-An-Easy-Road-to-Laos-3-Plain-of-Jars

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/33925-An-Easy-Road-to-Laos-4.-Back-to-Nong-Khai

    (2) A Fortune Teller Told me
    Tiziano Terziani, Harpers Collins Publishers, 1997

    SOUTH LAOS TRIP

    1 Ferry tales

    11 Crossing at Chong Mek
    12 Champasak – Wat Phu
    13 Kong Island


    2. Around the Bolevan

    21 The waterfalls
    22 A Bolevan shortcut
    23 Pakse


    3. Central Laos

    31 Savan and Tha Khek
    32 Route 8 and Tong Lo
    33 Back to Thailand
     
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  3. David Learmonth

    David Learmonth Ol'Timer

    Good photos & write up - as ever, Jurgen!
     
  4. brian_bkk

    brian_bkk Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Nice post and lovely pictures..

    The Attapeu Palace is no more. Last May I was asking people where it was.. They gave me directions alright.. Which i thought.. Where is it, as I could not see it..
    Then out side main wall the old name is still there but they are constructing a new hotel inside.
    We then found a Vietnamese hotel up the road not far from the river and a few other guest houses.. Big pink building looks recently built.
    Rooms are good and cold beer Lao in the fridge and walk down the end of the road to the river side restaurants. Away from the noisy, dusty main road.
     
  5. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    As always a great read. The memories of some of the very best touring SE Asia has to offer come flooding back.
    I'm coming back from the Vietnam side next time.
    We've travelled many a similar route; bring those reports of trips of days gone by to fruition.
     
  6. Ryan Kuo

    Ryan Kuo New Member

    You've make me realized how much pictures & discover I can look in the place I live as well. Thanks again Jurgen :)
     
  7. Jurgen

    Jurgen Ol'Timer

    Thank you friends, I appreciate your comments and the additional information from Brian, about Palace hotel. Laos is not yet running fast, but, as I am very slow with my write-ups, improvements are steadily made, in the roads network and accommodations. Finally, my reports might be a « worse case » situation and the surprises mostly positive, maybe with slightly more traffic.
     

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