South Laos - 2 Around the Bolevan

Jurgen

Moderator
Oct 23, 2009
676
118
43
www.chopard.org
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): https://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:
SL%252520attapeu.jpg


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.

DSC_7847.jpg


DSC_7854.jpg


DSC_7858.jpg


DSC_7859.jpg


DSC_7863.jpg


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.

DSC_7864.jpg


DSC_7871.jpg


DSC_7873.jpg


DSC_7882.jpg


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.

DSC_7892-Edit.jpg


DSC_7893.jpg


DSC_7894.jpg


DSC_7896.jpg


DSC_7897.jpg


DSC_7899.jpg


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.

DSC_7985.jpg


DSC_7925.jpg


DSC_7969.jpg


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.

DSC_7905.jpg


DSC_7907.jpg


DSC_7908.jpg


DSC_7921.jpg


DSC_7928.jpg


DSC_7931.jpg


DSC_7940-Edit.jpg


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.

DSC_7924.jpg


DSC_7941.jpg


DSC_7944-Edit.jpg


DSC_7947.jpg


DSC_7950.jpg


DSC_7951.jpg


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

DSC_7957.jpg


DSC_7958.jpg


DSC_7959.jpg


DSC_7960.jpg


DSC_7963.jpg


DSC_7965.jpg


DSC_7966.jpg


DSC_7967.jpg


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.

DSC_7970.jpg


DSC_7972.jpg


DSC_7977.jpg


DSC_7984.jpg


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.

DSC_7986.jpg


DSC_7988.jpg


DSC_7989.jpg


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.

DSC_7995.jpg


DSC_7999.jpg


DSC_8004.jpg


DSC_8008.jpg


DSC_8010.jpg


DSC_8012.jpg


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.

DSC_8016.jpg


DSC_8017.jpg


DSC_8018.jpg


DSC_8022.jpg


DSC_8023.jpg


DSC_8024.jpg


DSC_8030.jpg


DSC_8031.jpg


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.

DSC_8033.jpg


DSC_8037.jpg


DSC_8038.jpg


DSC_8053.jpg


DSC_8055.jpg


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.

DSC_8056.jpg


DSC_8059.jpg


DSC_8061.jpg


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.

DSC_8066.jpg


DSC_8072.jpg


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.

DSC_8118.jpg


DSC_8073.jpg


DSC_8076.jpg


DSC_8078.jpg


DSC_8083.jpg


DSC_8085.jpg


DSC_8099.jpg


DSC_8100.jpg


DSC_8103.jpg


DSC_8105.jpg


DSC_8106.jpg


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.

DSC_8121.jpg


DSC_8120.jpg


DSC_8123.jpg


DSC_8126.jpg


DSC_8132.jpg


DSC_8138.jpg


DSC_8139.jpg


DSC_8145.jpg


DSC_8151.jpg


DSC_8156.jpg


DSC_8157.jpg


DSC_8158.jpg


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.

DSC_8163.jpg


DSC_8164.jpg


DSC_8166.jpg


DSC_8174.jpg


DSC_8175.jpg


DSC_8178.jpg


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.

DSC_8180.jpg


DSC_8181.jpg


DSC_8185.jpg


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

DSC_8187.jpg


DSC_8192.jpg


DSC_8197.jpg


DSC_8198.jpg


DSC_8204.jpg


DSC_8206.jpg


DSC_8210.jpg


DSC_8215.jpg


DSC_8224.jpg


DSC_8227.jpg


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.

DSC_8230.jpg


DSC_8231.jpg


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.

DSC_8265.jpg


DSC_8336.jpg


DSC_8339.jpg


DSC_8341.jpg


DSC_8239.jpg


DSC_8247.jpg


DSC_8254.jpg


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.

DSC_8346.jpg


DSC_8348.jpg


DSC_8350.jpg


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.

DSC_8331.jpg


DSC_8271.jpg


DSC_8272-Edit.jpg


DSC_8275.jpg


DSC_8289.jpg


DSC_8290.jpg


DSC_8292.jpg


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.

DSC_8296.jpg


DSC_8298.jpg


DSC_8310.jpg


DSC_8311.jpg


DSC_8324.jpg


DSC_8303.jpg


DSC_8304.jpg


DSC_8309.jpg


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):

https://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): https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/threads/34187-South-Laos-1-Ferry-Tales?p=264916#poststop

(1) My other posts about North Laos:

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

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

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

https://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
 

brian_bkk

Ol'Timer
Mar 30, 2010
2,139
278
83
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.
 

Rod Page

Ol'Timer
Jan 7, 2010
823
72
28
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.
 

Ryan Kuo

New Member
Apr 22, 2011
3
0
0
You've make me realized how much pictures & discover I can look in the place I live as well. Thanks again Jurgen :)
 

Jurgen

Moderator
Oct 23, 2009
676
118
43
www.chopard.org
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.