The Southern Swing, Bolaven by motorcycle

Laos   /  
Bolaven loop view blog

What is often described as the highlight of a trip to Laos is the Bolaven Southern Swing. While still in Holland, I read up on all available information about this motorcycle loop of 150 kilometres through a plateau of Laos with waterfalls and coffee plantations. We doubted if we dared to ride a motorcycle with Noa and if he would enjoy sitting on a motorcycle for hours at a time, so we tried out a motorcycle in Pakse for a couple of days before deciding to do the Bolaven Southern Swing. The Lao people drive really slow and relatively save, and it turns out Noa loves riding a motorcycle. We managed to get fitting helmets for the three of us with the rented motorcycle; we feel as save as possible riding with a toddler.
At least it’s a great alternative to the Loa public transport which leaves right on time but after that it’s anyone’s guess at what time it arrives. This because busses often break down and busses stop endlessly along the way to pick up people, products and stop to let people take bathroom brakes. For example, we took a bus ride of 239 kilometers which should have taken us three hours but instead it took six and a half!

Day 1 – Eating breakfast while looking at a waterfall

Once we’ve handed in our backpacks to be locked in a storage room, with our laptop and money locked away in the safe of the owner of the guesthouse, we are on our way. Our first stop is a waterfall where we plan on eating breakfast. We drive out of Pakse and follow a long road with blacksmiths. The fires are blazing and men take turns hitting the anvil, where burning iron lays. Pok, pok, pok is what we hear for kilometers on end, as the hamers bang on the iron. Along the road are primitive shops where their merchandise is sold, knives and hatchets. When we continue driving the traffic starts disappearing and we stop so I can take a turn driving. The waterfall is beautiful, in the shade of trees a Loa businessman spent years building a resort and restaurant. Intrigued we read his life story; when he discovered the waterfall the people from the surrounding villages had made a mess of the waterfall, emptied the river of fish and almost hunted the wild in the jungle into extinction. He was so impressed with the beauty of the waterfall that he made it his life mission to clean the place up and make it accessible to the public. Unfortunately, he was teased by malaria and became blind after a coma and was never able to actually see his lives work come to live. However, he says he gets great joy out of hearing spoons and forks and people talking in the restaurant. What a beautiful spot, while we eat french bread with bakes eggs, drink local coffee and eat fruit, the butterflies are flying around the table and we look out over the xxxx waterfall, you can also watch the video we made.

Waterfall near Pakse

More than basic

After breakfast we continue on to Tad Lo, an area with three waterfalls. We drive into the village (consisting of one street with about fifteen houses) and see the first waterfall. A very wide gorgeous waterfall with another restaurant, a perfect spot for a Lao lunch of fried rice and noodles. There are about five guesthouses but they are all full, who would have thought that in such a remote area? The only thing available is a matras on the floor in a very basic homestay called Saibai-Saibai. There are three double mattresses above the bar/restaurant on the floor, the walls are made of bamboo. It’s too far to drive to the next town and for the sum of $5 we can’t really expect much.

Tat Huang waterfall bolaven loop

We quickly change into our swimsuits and go swimming in the calm water at the bottom of the waterfall. After that we go to the third waterfall of the day. It is supposed to be an impressive fifty meter high waterfall. We drive along an unpaved road past a small village when we realise we’ve gone too far and track back to the village. It’s a very primitive village consisting of about twenty houses made of wood and on stils, they are build in a circle and on red earth. Everything in the village is covered in the dust of the red earth, the people are all dirty and most only have half their clothes on while pigs and dogs are everywhere. We’ve never been in such a primitive village. We stop the motorbike at the sign that says it’s another 600 meter walk to the waterfall. From every corner kids start appearing begging for money. We clearly, but uncomfortably, say no and walk the path behind the houses towards a stream of water. We walk through vegetable gardens, rice fields and jungle and end up at the foot of the waterfall, which turns out to be a ghost of it’s past because there was a dam build to use the water for electricity. However, it’s still impressive and we are able to swim in the pools that are left in the huge bolders that sometimes have a diameter of 10 meters. There is no one at the waterfall, it’s incredible.

Women working in vegetable gardens near Tat Soung

Boys swimming in stream at Tat Soung

Submerged in Laos

We come back to the homestay right before dark and go and drink a cocktail in the garden. The owner has had training cooking western food and in making cocktails, and he makes a mean capharinia voor just $ 1,50. He has a daughter Noa’s age and within ten minutes we see Noa running around the place with all the kids from the village. While looking back at the day we had just had, we see pigs walking the street, goats and we hear a cow mooing. Not much later there is a whole herd of cows walking the street just a couple of meters from where we are sitting. Also see the movie that Michiel made of them. We feel totally submerged in the Laos way of life. After all the stock has crossed the village we get our ordered food of chicken with french fries and salad, hmmmmm. While we are eating a big group of American’s and Dutch people comes into the restaurant and xxxx. They stay till late at night loudly drinking beer. Unfortunately Noa can’t fall asleep with the music blasting right underneath his matras, so we join him and try to get some sleep. It’s a very, very short night, fortunately Noa falls asleep with us close by but we don’t sleep much. In the morning we grab our bags and decide to drive to a coffee plantation of which I have seen gorgeous pictures on the internet. Looking for some peace and quiet and a good breakfast after such a bad night. The coffee plantation is an oasis of peace, it feels like we driving up to an African lodge. A beautiful landscaped garden with ponds, flowering trees, bushes, plants and butterflies everywhere we turn, some as big as a bird. We eat a wonderful breakfast and drink coffee from the plantation.

Herd of cows Tat Lo Village

Yet another gorgeous waterfall

Today we drive back to Pakse and plan on visiting a couple of waterfalls along the way. One more beautiful than the other, we can’t get enough of them. At most waterfalls there is a small restaurant so that you can have your lunch or snack while hearing and seeing the waterfalls in the background. In between the waterfalls we drive along in the sun, covered with sunscreen, SPF 50, while Noa sings. He loves being on the motorcycle and sings all kinds of Dutch nursery rhymes, and a made-up song where there are cows on the road. “Cows on the road, cows on the road, cow, cow, cow on the road”. There are people waving at us everywhere, and most fun, whole groups of kids that are going to or coming from school: “Sabaidee”, welcome/hello. We wave left and right and call back: “Sabaidee, Sabaidee .

Coffee plantation

Village near Sekong bolaven loop

The last waterfall of the day is a place where we can swim. When we get to the waterfall there is a Lao couple who leave after fifteen minutes. We are all alone at a gorgeous waterfall that drops about fifteen meters and is about twenty-five meters in width into a bowl that is covered with moss and ferns. We hear unfamiliar birdsongs and see butterflies flying everywhere, it’s a true fairytale. For an euro you can rent a raft that you can pull towards the waterfall. Noa is a bit scared at first, but how many times in your life do you get the chance to get close up with such a gorgeous waterfall? He decides to come anyway and we enjoy the sunlight in combination with the mist of water which creates rainbows all around us. This is too good to be true.

Back in Pakse

What a great motorcycle loop, we are tired from all the impressions when we arrive back in Pakse. We check in to our familiar Nang Noi guesthouse, where we are welcomed by the friendly smiles of the owners who are waiting for us with our luggage. We buy bustickets for the bus the next day to Savakkanet, a stopover to our final destination Tha Khaek. The bus ride is about 5 hours but can be unto 10 hours, which doesn’t seem like a good idea with Noa so we split the ride up in two. Because we got a taste of riding a motorcycle and all love it we want to go to Tha Khaek, a village on the edge of a gorgeous area and the start of another motorcycle loop of 500 kilometers. After a good night’s rest we are seen off by the women of the guesthouse, and she gives us Lao goodies, banana leaves wrapped around sweetened rice with condensed milk and raisins, hmmmm. Her husband is very kind and brings us to the busstation with his car so that we don’t have to take public transport with Noa. It’s almost a shame that we are moving on, but the next adventure is waiting for us.


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