Southern Laos 10 days with the GF – “Madam Champa.”

DavidFL

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Southern Laos & 10 days with the GF – “Madam Champa.”

10th -20th January 2016.

On an extended ride through Laos it was time to show the GF the delights of the deep south of Laos

  • Pakxe
  • The Bolaven plateau – coffee & waterfalls
  • Don Khong / the 4000 Mekong Islands / Khone Phapeng waterfall
  • Champasak & Vat Phu world heritage site
Southern Laos is a longish ride from Chiang Mai & it’s a bit far to expect the little lady to sit on the back all of the way there, ride around & then ride back again as that would be about 2 weeks gone.
So the solution is to fly the GF into Ubon, she catches a taxi to the border at Chong Mek & you pick her up on the Lao side of the border. Tour around the deep south, then run her back to Ubon to catch the plane home.

Kan Air has a daily flight Chiang Mai – Ubon first thing in the morning & a ticket is about 2600 baht one way. Flight time is approx. 2 hrs, then its 90 kms & an hour and a half to the border in a taxi. The taxi costs 1,000 baht.

Day 1 - the border

Pakxe to Vang Tao / Chong Mek & the border is 46 kms & about 30-45 mins fast travel time.

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Pakxe - Vang Tao / Chong Mek. The good stuff

Some of the ongoing road improvements on the Pakxe - border road.

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They've been at it for a few years now & the locals complain about the slow progress & the number of companies hired to finish the job that is never quite finished.

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I arrive early in Vang Tao & have 40 minutes to kill before the GF arrives.

She eventually appears walking through the construction site & barrier with no bags & I wonder what the hell is going on.

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The Chong Mek - Vang Tao walk in / out border crossing

Everything is ok honey she calls out. Pointing to a push cart 50 metres away carrying the luggage & her riding gear. Talk about a good “no questions asked smuggling service” if you ever wanted one.

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The push cart- vehicle crossing

I ask about her passport & she says yes everything done already. I ask her again “passport stamped Thailand & Laos” and she says yes all done.

The bag is strapped on the bike, we kit up & are set to ride off. Then an official walks over & asks her if she has stamped her passport at the Lao immigration office. Well no, I did it back there at the border. Yes maybe, but that is only Thailand. Oh dear, now I know. Get down from the bike, riding kit off & on up to Lao immigration she goes.

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Lao immigration Vang Tao

15 minutes later we are on the road, lung is damn hot & sweaty; but there's still a twinkle n his eye. It's definitely good to be back together again with the little lady.....this is gonna be another amusing fun trip.

More to come.
 
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DavidFL

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Day 1 - Chong Mek

Now, an interesting bit of history on the Vang Ta/ Chong Mek border crossing:
In July 2000 there was an ill-fated attack on the Vang Tao border station by a mix of Thai & Lao “insurgents” who momentarily hoisted a Lao royalist flag. It was a bizarre attack & total failure with the attackers fleeing to Thailand & causing some diplomatic complications.

More info here: Yahoo

AFG Venture Group: Asian Analysis

Day 1 - Pakxe

Cross the bridge into Pakxe & madam is blown away by the width of the Mekong & the fresh air breeze

Opened in 2000, the Lao-Nippon bridge across the Khong in Pakxe is 1.38 kms long.

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The Lao - Nippon Mekong bridge at Pakxe

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On the east side of the bridge on the river bank is Madam Dao Heuang’s massive uncompleted mansion that looks like a palace.

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It’s been like this for a few years & the story is that MDH had consulted a fortune teller who told her that once the house was completed she would die; & that’s how its stayed - uncompleted.

But who is Madam Dao Heuang?

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She is the big boss owner of the Dao Heuang business conglomerate HQ-ed in Pakxe.
Dao Heuang was started in 1991 & the original company specialized in importing wine and perfume from France. You see Dao Heueang duty free shops at just about all the main Lao international border crossings where there is decent traffic.

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Dao Hueang duty free on the Lao - Cambodian border.

In 1998 DHG also got into coffee, tea, agricultural products and industrial goods.
In 2008 they diversified further into the service industry businesses for hotel and food and beverage establishments.
In 2010 they signed international partnership agreements to grow, refine, and package its coffee through all production steps in-country for the first time.

You could say they've sort of become the Nestle of Laos, perhaps.
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more to come
 
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DavidFL

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Day 1 - Pakxe

Was founded by the French in 1905 & used as an administrative outpost.
It was the former capital of the Lao Kingdom of Champasak until 1946 when the Kingdom of Laos was formed.
During the Franco-Thai war the French ceded Pakse to Thailand.

The city served as the primary seat and residence to Prince Boun Oum Na Champassak, an important figure in the Laotian Civil War, who built Champasak Palace.

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Champasak Palace Hotel

The former residence of the Prince of Champasak, Chao Boun Oum, building of Champasak Palace hotel started in 1969; but before it was finished, the communists took over Laos & the prince fled to France in 1975. The building was later completed & used for Communist party congresses and accommodation for visiting dignitaries.
In 1995 it was taken over by a Thai company & converted into a hotel.

An outstanding piece of architecture, the hotel has a main 7-floor building, & claimed 1,900 doors & windows.

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Since 1975, Pakse has become an economic power and of regional importance within the region.

The city is the 2nd biggest in Laos & booming at the moment - the hub of traffic between Thailand - Laos - Vietnam - Cambodia.
 

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Day 2 - Pakxe city

Pakxe has two main temples

Wat Luang Pakxe

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Wat Luang Pakxe

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Wat Luang Pakxe

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Wat Luang Pakxe

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Wat Luang Pakxe

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Wat Luang Pakxe

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Wat Luang Pakxe

Wat Phabad - the oldest & largest temple in Pakxe
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Wat Phabad, Pakxe

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Wat Phabad, Pakxe

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Wat Phabad, Pakxe

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Wat Phabad, Pakxe

Next stop in Pakxe was the massive Champasak market- 38 acres of it - & owned by none other than Madam Dao Hueang.

Unbelievably I actually think I manged to wear the GF out. It is that big!

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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

The smelly Pla Ra fermented fish section

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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

Something a little better & not so smelly...the fresh fish section

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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

Baguettes
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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

The beautiful traditional Lao costume section
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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

The meat section
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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

The silver section
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New Champasak Market - Pakxe

The food section - massive & clean too.
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Two days down in Pakxe & tomorrow time to move onto the Bolaven plateau & some waterfalls.

More to come...
 
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DavidFL

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Day 3 Pakxe - Tad Lo Falls

It's a slow GTR start to the day to meander out to the Tad Lo Falls on the Bolaven Plateau

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Tad Lo is 85 kms out from Pakxe & it's a leisurely cruise

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GPS Travel time Pakxe - Tad Lo

2 hrs for 85 kms.

The road is easy

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A drink stop for the over heating GF

The exciting Pakxe - Salavan road

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A typical Lao road hazard & a reason why it is not easy to carry any sustained speed on Lao roads.

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Whilst the road looks flat, it is generally one long "climb" heading out of Pakxe (with two exceptions. 55)

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GPS Profile - Pakxe - Tad Lo

60 kms out of Pakxe, the Katu Textile village, Ban Houay Houn-Tai, is a compulsory stop for madam

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It's a model healthy village too!

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Madam is always a happy shopper.

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25 kms further on up the road, you turn off the highway to Tad Lo falls & end up beside the Xe Set river.

There are actually 3 sets of falls here
Tad Hang - 10 metres
Tad Lo - 25 metres
Tad Suong - 90 metres
& it is the middle ones - Tad Lo that have the nice view + accommodation.

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Tad Lo falls

The place to stay (for me) is the Saise Resort - Guesthouse
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view from the Saise waterfall sun deck
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Saise waterfall side bungalows

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Saise waterfall side bungalows

but I have to say that whilst the rooms at the Saise are ok the service sucked this time round.

However once you've got your room, you either wander around & take photos / swim or park up eat& drink to enjoy the view. For food the GF & I ended up across the bridge at the Sipaseuth guesthouse - restaurant.
Info here: Tad Lo Restaurants

Wandering round the falls

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Tad Lo falls

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Tad Lo Falls

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Tad Lo Falls

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Tad Lo falls

Day 3 was down.

More to come..
 
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DavidFL

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Day 4 Tad Lo - Pakxong via the Bolaven plateau - continuing a Bolaven waterfall loop.

Distance 167 kms + a 12 kms (return) side trip to Suan Sinouk Coffee Resort.

From Tad Lo you get back on the main highway & head out another 7 kms to Beng & then turn right onto R1 towards Attapeu.

R1 Beng - Tha Teng

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Tha Teng city

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under going a boom because of new dam construction nearby.

In Tha Teng you take a left onto R16 & continue on another 73kms towards Attapeu. Then turn right on & you're on the Attapeu - Pakxong short cut road - 66 kms - across the plateau.

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The Bolaven short cut, up & over the plateau to Pakxong

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The Bolaven short cut road.

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The Bolaven short cut road.

17 kms along this road are the Xe Katam fall - the highest falls in Laos.

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Xekatam Falls turn off

There's a steep gravel trail that goes to the bottom of the falls, but madam was not keen to venture down there on the bike with me. Probably the right decision to I'd say. 55.
Has anyone ridden down there & got any photos to share?

So we made do with the captivating roadside view.

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Xekatam Falls

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Xekatam Falls

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Two very happy travellers

From Xekatam - Pakxong = 50 kms.

After leaving Tad Lo at midday, arrival time in Pakxong was 5PM & our day was done.

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Tad Lo - Pakxong elevation profile. 167 kms & just a couple of hills.

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Travel time Tad Lo - Pak Xong

more to come..
 

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Day 5 Pakxong – Pha Suam Falls – Pakxe

2 more waterfalls & an easy day return back to Pakxe
83 kms & 4 hrs travel time.

A fresh start to the day & the GF is surprised how heavy the load is
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The 2 waterfalls
1. Tad Gneuang
2. Pha Suam

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R16A from Pakxong towards Pakxe

From Pakxong you go down the highway 9 kms towards to Pakxe & there is a huge waterfall sign for Tad Gneuang.

Turn left at the sign & it is 1 kms to the checkpoint & car park. Motorbikes have to park outside & riders have to walk the last few hundred metres in down the hill, but cars & mini buses are allowed in “all the way,” despite paying the same admission fee. Grrrh!

First peak at Tad Gneuang waterfall & its pretty impressive

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Tad Gneuang waterfall

Its also a long way down

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There's a lot of steep steps
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Fortunately the GF is satisfied with the view half - three quarters of the way down
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(& the old fellah is more than satisfied.)

More to come...
 
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DavidFL

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Pha Suam falls are 34 kms from Tad Gneuang.
Back on the highway from Tad Gneuang turn left & head towards Pakxe.
19 kms from Tad Gneuang turn right onto the Salavan road R20 & follow it for 13.5 kms
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& then turn left at the Pha Suam sign

Follow the narrow asphalt road

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for 2 kms & you end up at the pretty Pha Suam falls.

The horse shoe shaped falls are 6 metres high & get their name from "suam" the Lao word for room, that they look like.

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The horse show falls of Pha Suam.

The GF was suitably impressed yet again. Such a great gal & so easy to please.

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a little downstream, there's an interesting little suspension bridge

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The waterfall resort is an amazing little place, with the restaurant very popular with Thai tourists on the weekend.

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The outside seating

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& here madam claimed she had one of her best meals in Laos.

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was it the environment, the extra bit of hunger, or was it really the food?

The  GF also discovered the resident ethnic grandma was a honey

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a woman of great character, even though short in stature

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The day's journey. Pakxong - Pha Suam - Pakxe

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83 kms & roughly 4 hours travel time, such is the hectic pace on the Bolaven plateau

& from Pakxong it is basically downhill all the way.

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Enjoy.

It's a nice day out, or just a small part of a Bolaven plateau waterfall loop.
 

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From day 4 - Sinouk Coffee Resort

Situated on R16 the Pakxong - Tha Teng road, 6 kms west of Tha Teng, Suan Sinouk is the original coffee plantation & resort of Sinouk Coffee.

Sinouk Coffee plantation started in 1995 & has not looked back since.

Recommended on GTR here



If you're ever passing by it is always worth a stop for a drink, bite to eat, or to even stay over night.

At an altitude of just on 1,000 metres, the place is a little gem on the Bolaven plateau.

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Suan Sinouk Restaurant

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Suan Sinouk restaurant

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Suan Sinouk restaurant

Traveling with a Thai lady, every meal has to include somtam

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Suan Sinouk restaurant

A spaghetti with veges for the old boy

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less than perfect it was too. Next time another dish.

A magnificent cuppa

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Suan Sinouk restaurant

The resort grounds

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Suan Sinouk resort

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Suan Sinouk resort

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Suan Sinouk resort

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Suan Sinouk resort

Check it out. Highly recommended.

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Suan Sinouk coffee resort
 
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DavidFL

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From Day 4

The road from Tad Lo - Tha Teng to the Pakxong Bolaven sort cut travels through some poor country around the edge of the plateau.

Riding past you sometimes have to wonder how the people survive out there, but they do. And I'm sure it looks a hell of a lot better when it is not dry.

Some images..

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Drink stop along the way

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A lovely old Viet shop keeper lady with some good broken English was delighted to speak to a Thai lady with a farang boyfriend. It was a very funny conversation indeed.

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The Viet shop keepers village. Makes you think life in Vietnam must be really tough to move here.

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Up on the plateau & not quite in the good coffee growing area

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more to come.
 

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The Bolaven plateau is famous for its coffee

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The first coffee on the Bolevan plateau had been planted by the French in the 1920s.
The French had recognized that the Bolaven soil was extremely rich - millions of years ago there had been a volcanic eruption in the south that caused soils to contain rich minerals ideal for coffee production.

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This first type of coffee planted by the French was Arabica Bourbon Typica. Coffee rapidly became the main crop in the area, especially after the construction of a research center near Paksong in 1930 (Ban Lak 42).

However by WWII most of it had been destroyed by rust. Not long after Robusta was introduced, but no great development happened until the end of the Indochina wars, when around 1975 Cuban and East German experts reintroduced Arabica again, but the Catuai and Catura varieties.

State owned farms, they struggled along slowly; in the 90s the farms were dismantled & sold off to the workers who are still the small holders of today.
In 1992 another strain of Arabica – rust resistant Catimor - was introduced most Arabica Lao coffee is the Catimor variety.

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In 2012 there were 70,000 hectares under coffee cultivation.
Bolaven coffee is now becoming world renowned & 2013 was a record year, with almost 30,000 tonnes

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Apart from the big commercial coffee producers operating on the plateau there is also a Lao Coffee Producers Co-op in 55 villages with 1,855 small scale farmers who have on average 3 hectares each.
The Co-op started in 2007 with assistance from the Lao government & the French Development agency.
In 2012 they exported 603 tons of coffee & this will soon exceed 1,000 tons a year at the current rate.

It takes 4-5 years for a coffee tree to reach maturity & produce a maximum harvest.
After the first rains in spring the trees flower & produce fruit buds.
The buds grow into cherries & as the dry season comes the cherries ripen and turn a bright, deep red. A bright red is the optimum time for picking. When picked to soon or to late you end up with either a green, sour coffee or a winey coffee.
Harvest time then is from November - January for Arabica coffee & February - March for Robusta coffe.
Picked at the optimum time Lao Bolaven coffee is as good as any coffee in the world.
 

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Day 6 - southward bound to Don Khong

Pakxe - Don Khong is only 141 kms & 2 hours ride.

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And its a generally boring flat road, with only one slight incline at the Pakxe end.

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The start at the Pakxe end

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Confirmation that's its a long boring ride south.

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The locals putting the power on

It's so dry & barren in the dry season you have to wonder how the locals survive.

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more to come...onto Don Khong
 

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Day 6 Don Khong

Don Khong"' is the largest island in Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands) in the south of Laos.

Once upon a time access to the island was only by ferry, but a new bridge was built in October 2014.

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Don Khong Mekong bridge

Around the bridge is obviously one of the # 1 fishing spots for the locals too.

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Don Khong Mekong bridge

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It is roughly 35 kms around the island which is about 18kms long (north-south) & up to 8km wide (east- west).

It's a pretty ratty narrow road around the island

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But I have to admit Madam Champa was not too happy with the 1.5 hrs required to bump our way around the island.

The 2nd biggest town is Muang Sene on the west (sunset) side, where the big ferry landing still operates.

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Muang Sene ferry

But the nearly all the guesthouses are on the east (sunrise) Muang Khong side.

With the number spot being the Pon Arena

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Pon Arena - Don Khong

Fortunately the Pon Arena put a huge smile back on the face of the GF

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Then just up the road a little is the budget Khong View

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The Khong View - Don Khong

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The Khong View - Don Khong

both places have magic stunning views  over the Mekong.

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Sunrise

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Don Khong Mekong sunrise
 

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There's not many significant & prominent old buildings on the island, but on the Muang Khong side just 150 metres from the river & 400 metres from the old ferry crossing is the "old white Brick House."

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This building initially served as the governor’s residence of Khou Abhay. Construction started in 1932 & was not completed until 1935. The construction was overseen by a Vietnamese living on the island, who made all the bricks.

The official name for the house in Laos was Santhanavoudthi, meaning Garden of Eden in English, but the local villagers simply called it the Brick House, because of is size & unusual construction.

Khou Abhay was the 11th in a lineage of 15 governors, spanning 8 generations from the 18th century until 1975.

The old Brick House  was used as the Muang Khong district office from 1975 – 2005.

In 2010 restoration started on the house & it is now the Muang Khong historical museum & is well worth checking out for information on Don Khong + the Mekong 4000 islands.

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Don Khong Museum

downstairs they have history & information about Don Khong & the Mekong 4000 Islands

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Don Khong museum

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The Abhay family lineage

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The Abhay family lineage

Upstairs are displayed some original furniture items of the family - governor

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Don Khong museum - Abhay family

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Don Khong museum - Abhay family

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Don Khong museum - Abhay family

Don Khong island was ruled by Champasak in the 1700s.
In 1778 Champasak became a tributary state of Siam; & Khong island was an independent entity whose governor reported directly to Bangkok as a result of the Siamese – Lao war in 1827-28

The French fought battles with the Siamese on the island in May 1893 & a treaty was signed that led to France having control of the East of the right bank of the Mekong.
Khong island then retained its own governor & maintained its own commercial importance as the trading port for the 4000 islands until the 1950s.

The French built the railway on Don Khone, the next island, in 1893, that was used until the 1940s.

Khong Island is the birthplace of Katay Don Sasorith. He was a member of the Lao Issara group fighting for independence from France. He became Finance Minister for the government & then Prime Minister from 1954-56.

But Khong Island is the birth place of more than one for Lao PM!

Khamtay Siphandon born in Houa Khong village on 8 Feb 1924, became a Lao PM, head the state party + President.
In his early working life he was a postman under the French.
In 1945 he joined the Lao Issara movement, Savannakhet from the French & was a prominent member of the patriotic Lao Issara movement from the early 50s. From 1952-54 he was head of the steering committee & from 1955 – 56 he was a member of the general staff of the Pathet Lao, the armed wing of the LPF party. In 1960 he became the military commander until 1975 when the communists gained control of Laos. Then from 1975-76 he was deputy PM + minister of defense. In 91 he became PM. In 92 he became PM & LPRP party president at the same time. In 98 he became State & Party President. He retired in 2006, but his son became governor of Champasak province.

Little Don Khong island has turned out some important people in its day.

Almost adjoining the Don Khong museum is Wat Phuang Kaew, built 1805 - 1826.

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Its an old wat with some interesting structures

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An interesting mural

Like most Lao temples there are numerous little chedis for deceased people around the wat.

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One of these caught me by surprise - for a farang.

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Claude Vincent - the original pioneer of Lao Tourism

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The Claude Vincent Story

After the communists took control of Laos in 75, most westerners were forced to leave.

Claude Vincent was one able stay. Claude was able to take over a company Flamant Transpac Lao that catered mainly to foreigners – diplomatic staff - living in Laos.

When Laos started to open the doors to tourism in 88 he was appointed head of the Lao National Tourism office, to help kick start the business. He resigned in 1990 then to open the very first private tourism company: SODETOURS (Societe de Development Touristique.)

In rapid succession he opened
  • Hotel Phouphadeng in Xieng Khoung,
  • Hotel Phou Vao in Luang Prabang
  • Tad Lo Lodge in Salavan,
  • Sala Vat Phou in Champanakone
  • Sala Done Kong and Sala Done Kone on the Four Thousand Islands.
In 1990 the Lao government privatized the international routes of the renamed Lao Aviation. Claude Vincent bought the business and leased two Tupolev 154 jets from Bulgarian Airlines to get the business going.

But tragedy struck & in 1996, when he was killed in the ambush & robbery of a mini bus just 30 kms north of Kasi.
 

DavidFL

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Day 7 Don Khong - the Cambodian border & return

From Don Khong back to the main highway route R13S & its a fast flat run of 35 kms to end of the road in Laos & into Cambodia

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Don Khong - Veun Kham travel data

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GPS Profile Don Khong - Veun Kham. A variation of only 40 metres

Towards the end of the road

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Vientiane is 823 kms away.

Phnom Penh is a mere 537 kms away.

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The international checkpoint on the Lao- Cambodian border

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The official name of the checkpoint = Nong Nok Kheane.

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Dao Heuang duty free

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Back track 2 kms from the border & there's a road to the west going 4 kms into Veun Kham, the old village with a checkpoint into Cambodia.

Go down to the Mekong river & Cambodia is just across the other side, slightly downstream.

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Veun Kham

Back on the highway again & start to head back up north. Only 5.5 kms from the Veun Kham turn of is the turn off to Khonephapheng falls. The biggest falls on the Mekong & S E Asia.

This was probably the highlight of Madam Champa's trip.

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They've spent a lot of money fixing the place up.

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I was out here in 2011 & you certainly could not get a photo as below anymore

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2011 Khone Phapheng Falls

The Khong upstream flowing down into the falls

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Evidence that it is dry season & there's actually little water around
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The volume of water flowing through the Mekong in the wet season is 30 times the volume than at the height of the dry season. This is right up there among the highest river variations in the world.

The Mekong River down from Don Khong is home to 201 species of fish, 196 of which are native to the Khong here. The Mekong here has the highest fish diversity of any river in Asia.

Many fish here are migratory- the giant catfish that swims from the Mekong delta in Vietnam upstream to spawn in northern Laos / the Houei Xai area; to the other small fish – carp – that migrate from Cambodia & the Tonle Sap according to lunar phases, or changes in the water level.

On Don Khong island; a survey conducted in the late 90s indicated that 94% of families on the island were involved in fishing. 4 million kgs of fish were caught a year & US$ one million a year exported.

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Fish traps for catching fish when the river is starting to build up & flow faster at the beginning of the rainy season.

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Fishing in the dry season.

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The happy couple

another day or two to more to come.
 
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King of Jars

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Thanks, David, for this virtual journey around some of the nicest spots in Southern Laos. Waking memories and the urge to re-visit, while re-visiting is worth the trip. Pakse has certainly changed its face and not all to the better.
Keep us updated on your trails; thanks in advance :cool:
 

DavidFL

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Days 7 – 8 Don Khong – Champasak / Vat Phu–Pakxe.........the continuing travel blog for some......

Day 7 Don Khong – Champasak

Back on the boring flat R13S heading north to Pakxe & then across the river & back south again to Champasak.

Nothing special: 172 kms & 3 hrs 20 minutes.

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Travel data Don Khong - Champasak

There's a 100 metre elevation variation in the 172 kms - comparable to riding on the Nullabor across Australia I thought

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Departure time from Don Khong is 10.10am & arrival time in Champasak is 1.30PM.

Food for the bride

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is the first priority & the new Nakorn Café by the river was the venue.

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Nakorn Cafe - Champasak

Whilst taking in the view & more importantly some more somtam for Madam C, I was able to get a nice rate for the Inthira Champasak hotel.

The Inthira Champasak is a gem of a classic little boutique hotel & MC was more than suitably impressed

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Bungalow - Inthira Champasak

Too easy the day was & it was a lazy afternoon by the river - eating & drinking & updating GTR on the road.

The Inthira's Mekong riverside property

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you can feel the pressure of the fresh air & traffic = zilch. Champasak really is an intoxicating piece of paradise.

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We had a superb evening chatting away with an old friend & now local Champasak expat Vincent Fischer, retired in Champasak - lucky man that he is with a piece of land right on the river.

The night ended with a few bevvies at the Inthira Champasak cocktail bar

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Inthira Champasak

If you've never been to Champasak - you've gotta go before it really gets on the tourist map. It is a fabulous destination, still waiting to be fully discovered.

More to come ....Vat Phu the UNESCO World Heritage site just down the road.
 
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DavidFL

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One of the main highlights of Madam Champa's trip - Vat Phu.

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Vat Phu complex - the view from above at the main sanctuary terrace

10 kms from Champasak town is Vat Phu the ancient Hindu - Khmer temple complex.

One of the oldest archaeological sites in Laos, Vat Phu is older than Angkor Wat in Cambodia & was designated a World Heritage Site in 2002.

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Part of a religious complex comprising the mountain top temple & two planned cities below on the banks of the Mekong, the earliest parts were built in the 5[sup]th[/sup] century; but most in the complex are from the 11th to 13th centuries.

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Like other notable Khmer architecture in Southeast Asia, it was constructed using sandstone, laterite and bricks.

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There are many outstanding carvings – Hindu & Buddhist.

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The Hindu images include Indra, the Hindu god of war, storms, and rainfall, riding a three-headed elephant and Vishnu riding on a Garuda, an eagle.

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There are 4 large Buddha images are the front section of the sanctuary + others around the ruins.

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The complex was shaped to express the Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity, using an axis from mountain top to river bank to lay out a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and waterworks extending over some 10 km. The whole site represents development from the 5th to 15th centuries, & mainly associated with the Khmer Empire.

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For historical culture buffs, it has a magnificent display of workmanship - temple pillars, barays, lintels, pediments, terrace, courtyard, walls, doorways, sanctuary, shrine, library and palaces.

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Built along an East-West axis, it extends over 1.4 km and climbs up the slope, starting from the plain and ending about 100m above, where the main sanctuary is situated. The main sanctuary is located on a terrace at the foot of the cliff where the sacred spring flows.

Coming easterly from the plain, one first meets two large barays, artificial lakes of religious and practical use, representing the ocean surrounding the Earth and also serving as a reservoir. Then, one meets a terrace built of sandstone blocks.

A causeway bordered by sandstone posts leads to a large terrace. Facing each other are two symmetrical buildings in sandstone and laterite with marvellously carved pediments, from the beginning of the XIth century, during the Koh Ker period. These two quadrangular constructions both with an inner courtyard might had religious functions, although the exact use is yet to be determined.

"Men's Palace" and "Women's Palace", commonly used traditional designations, do not have any scientific foundation.

From here, a central pathway with a bygone galleria leads to the first steps of stairs. On the left, a small construction in ruins (from the middle of the XIth century) is said to be dedicated to Nandin, the sacred bull ridden by Shiva. Here, an ancient elevated road leads to the small temple of Nang Sida, then to Ban That (three Khmer chapels), 30 km South, and extends as far as Angkor, in Cambodia.

Make sure you check it out sometime. Champasak is a gem of a place to visit – the Mekong + Vat Phu.
 
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DavidFL

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At that’s all folks for the Madam Champa tour of Champasak – Pakxe in southern Laos.

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And now for a personal chuckle – Madam Champa……on the first day in Pakxe, unnoticed by me the ignorant male, the GF picked a flower that she liked & that night at dinner she wore the flower at the Pakxe Hotel.

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At dinner she proudly informed me it was the Champa flower, symbol of Champasak & she was Madam Champa. Indeed she was an extremely happy lady about to go on tour with the old GTR fellah.
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And what fantastic time we had. Madam Champa is a gem of a gal to travel with. Plus she likes the big hike.

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For any of you guys in Thailand, especially in the North, with partners who may want to tour the deep south of Laos you can do it easily.

Just ride your bike over from Thailand on good smooth highways, fly the girlfriend into Ubon & pick her up in Ubon at the airport, then ride into southern Laos. The Chong Mek – Vang Tao border crossing is a land crossing so you don’t have any bridge hassles. Also the Thai immigration & customs staff are the friendliest, most efficient have ever cross, such that it is actually a joy to cross there.

Ubon to the border = 1.5 hours

The border to Pakxe = 0.75 hours

The highlights of Southern Laos by Madam Champa

The Waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau

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Don Khong Island

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Khone Phapheng falls

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Vat Phu

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The best food / restaurant we enjoyed was at the Dao Lin restaurant in Pakxe

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Dao Lin - Pakxe

The best coffee at the Parisien in Pakxe

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The best accommodation according to the GF

Pon Arena on Don Khong

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Pon Arena Don Khong

Inthira in Champasak

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Bungalow - Inthira Champasak

After the trip the GF agreed we could have had more nights on Don Khong & in Champasak – it is so good.

Check out these GTR recommendations for southern Laos

ACCOMMODATION

www.gt-rider.com/se-asia-motorcycling/topic/don-khong-accommodation

Tad Lo Accommodation

Champasak Accommodation

Bolavan Plateau Accommodatiom

FOOD

Pakxe Restaurants

Tad Lo Restaurants

Champasak Restaurants

S.E Asia Motorcycle Touring Forums | GT-Rider.com

Don Khong Restaurants

Plus Island Hopping in the 4000 Islands

S.E Asia Motorcycle Touring Forums | GT-Rider.com

Cheers one & all. Ride 'n enjoy life.

Put southern Laos on your urgent To Do List.
 
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Moto-Rex

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Great trip report David, nice photos, along with some interesting historical facts.

Looks like you two had a ball down in the south, which I think is the best part of Laos. Your very detailed report gives anyone who hasn’t been there a good insight into what to expect, along with some good tips on restaurants and accommodation.

As you point out the south is so accessible to all bikes now, either ride down from Chiang Mai through Thailand and cross at Chong Mek, or cross at Chiang Khong and ride the whole way through Laos to the very bottom.

Thanks for the tips, recommendations, information and updates.

Moto-Rex
 

DavidFL

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Day 4 Tad Lo - Pakxong via the Bolaven plateau - continuing a Bolaven waterfall loop.


17 kms along this road are the Xe Katam fall - the highest falls in Laos.

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Xekatam Falls turn off

There's a steep gravel trail that goes to the bottom of the falls, but madam was not keen to venture down there on the bike with me. Probably the right decision to I'd say. 55.
Has anyone ridden down there & got any photos to share?

So we made do with the captivating roadside view.

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Xekatam Falls

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Xekatam Falls

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Two very happy travellers

Xekatam Falls in full flow in the set season September 2016

VDO from Ticino.
 

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DavidFL

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It’s been like this for a few years & the story is that MDH had consulted a fortune teller who told her that once the house was completed she would die; & that’s how its stayed - uncompleted.

But who is Madam Dao Heuang?

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She is the big boss owner of the Dao Heuang business conglomerate HQ-ed in Pakxe.
Dao Heuang was started in 1991 & the original company specialized in importing wine and perfume from France. You see Dao Heueang duty free shops at just about all the main Lao international border crossings where there is decent traffic.

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Dao Hueang duty free on the Lao - Cambodian border.

In 1998 DHG also got into coffee, tea, agricultural products and industrial goods.
In 2008 they diversified further into the service industry businesses for hotel and food and beverage establishments.
In 2010 they signed international partnership agreements to grow, refine, and package its coffee through all production steps in-country for the first time.

You could say they've sort of become the Nestle of Laos, perhaps.
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more to come

June 2017
Some interesting info on the Dao Heuang conglomerate - in financial trouble?

Coffee Giant Dao-Heuang Owes 27 Billion kip to Lao Farmers

After falling several months behind in payments for raw beans, one of the largest firms in Laos, Dao-Heuang Group, has racked up an estimated 27 billion kip in debt owed to 2000 of the country’s coffee farmers.

According to the Champassak provincial Industry and Commerce Department, after paying off other significant debts, representatives for the company have vowed to pay off coffee growers next.

At a meeting called by the department last week, the company’s representatives were invited to join a discussion with farmers to identify solutions to the problem.

After receiving a letter of petition from the representative for coffee growers in Champassak province, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce announced that the provincial Industry and Commerce Department would cooperate with the relevant sector in attempt to resolve the issue.

Dao-Heuang Group remains the dominant coffee buyer in Laos, leaving many coffee growers with very few alternatives to sell their product as demands from other companies remain limited. The company assures debts will be paid, however has not presented a timeline as to when.

Coffee continues to be an essential commercial export crop in Laos, and the nation’s product remains popular among people domestically, while increasingly seeing demand from the international market as well. It is exported to China, Taiwan, Italy, Japan, Spain, Poland, Germany, the US, France, Belgium, Sweden, Thailand and Vietnam.

However, challenges for the industry linger as the world price for coffee has dropped considerably over the past few months.

According to the Lao Coffee Association, robusta beans are down from US$2,100 in March to US$2,014 in June.

The higher grade Arabica have been seeing an even more dramatic dip, previously selling at US$ 3,100 in March before falling to US$2,500 a tonne in June.

The value of coffee exports through the Lao Coffee Association has reached 21,000 tonnes, evaluating at more than US$50 million.

More and more investors from several countries are investing in coffee farms across the country including those from Vietnam, Thailand, the Republic of Korea, Chinese Taiwan, Singapore and India.​

Source: The Laotian Times.
 

Maree

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Awesome read! Just found this as I'm planning a trip to Laos. Your reports are always so informative. So no problem bringing a bike in from Thailand?