Southern Laos: Pakse - Bolevan Plateau - Champasak - Si Phan Don in 7 days
10th February, 2009
I will be arriving in Bangkok on 28th May and will be taking an overnight sleeper bus to Pakse. The journey costs about 900 baht and will take approximately 13 hours.
From there, my itinerary gets hazy and this is where I require assistance from fellow travelers who are experienced with the area.
Based out of Pakse, I will be renting a motorbike for 1 day around the Bolevan Plateau and 1 day to Champasak (and back). I am not really into slow traveling. Riding for hours on long, winding, scenic routes are by all means fine. More than a day of lazing around will render me a restless worm. No offense to the many backpackers that take their time traveling through SEA.
Upon completion of the 2 loops, I will then move on to Si Phan Don, spend 1-2 days there and make my way back to Ubon Rachathani for an overnight sleeper train back to BKK.
1. With the onset of the rainy season in May, should I expect to have to pull my bike out of mud filled tracks in any of the 2 loops? That will be a real dampener. I've had experience riding in Thailand, Vietnam and most extensively in Myanmar. The Pyin Oo Lwin to Lashio route was my most dangerous attempt with its steep declines and hair pin bends. I was doing fine until I skidded over a shiny rock and fell while negotiating one of those bends. I guess one of the perks of holding up an entire line of sand trucks was that the locals had no choice but to help me up while I was pinned under the bike. If it had rained, I'm not sure I would have the resolve to continue on.
Long story short, are the roads sealed in the loops that I'm planning to do? Will the rain be as bad as it sounds? I intend to ride with my girlfriend as pillion and I don't want to put her in a situation where both of us are knee deep in mud pushing the bike instead of riding on it. With that said, I don't mind traveling through rain - as long as it's safe.
2. I know that this piece of advice will inadvertently creep in - why not ditch one of the loops and focus on the other? If so, which should I opt for? Which of it has better scenery and roads? If both are that good, I am even open to ditching Si Phan Don - I've read an entry describing the place as a backpacker ghetto. Personally, I'm not into mad partying. Some happy or magic food in a tranquil and relaxed setting is as far as my limit goes.
3. This is out of place, but is Ubon Rachathani worth a night's stay?
Much appreciation and many thanks for the replies to come!
#1 Posted: 13/5/2014 - 08:26
3rd April, 2012
Total reviews: 7
At least 19
Champasak is not really a loop, I think. Relatively short distance from Pakse, the road is very good. The road from Champasak to Wat Phou (the main attraction), about 8km, is also sealed and in good condition. Champasak itself has very slow rythmes. I found it great but reading your post I think you could find it boring.
The main roads in Bolaven shouldn't be problematic (all sealed). In and around Tad Lo there is enough to keep you busy for a couple of days (good accommodation options, too). In Paksong I think the main thing to do is a coffe tour/workshop. Organizing something in Attapeu or Salavan could be a little tricky (how is your lao?).
Si Phan Don, I don't know.
By the way : I think Tad Lo would be your best chance in organizing some tranquility.
#2 Posted: 13/5/2014 - 12:18
3rd March, 2010
Total reviews: 53
At least 48
I'd agree with Billy, your best bet is to ride up to Tad Lo and spend the night there, then you can mount up and head to Paksong via the northern road that is now sealed and an easy ride, spending one night in Paksong if you like it, or if you get on the road early you could probably move through Paksong and head back to Pakse in a day. I'd really recommend you do that loop in 2 nights just because Tad Lo and Paksong have very unique vibes. You can bike down to Champasak in very short time and then wake up early the next day to ride down to Wat Phu on your motorbike, this will take 10-15 minutes really and with a moto you'll pass most bikes and get there before everyone else, a nice feel. Champasak has a tranquil feel, but again, unique to the one Tad Lo offers while Paksong feels more like a western cross-rodes town in the foothills of the Rockies, but totally different - tough to describe, bring a fleece.
At that point, you could ride your bike back up to Pakse and then transport back town to 4,000 Islands if you are considering going into Cambodia. However, it is probably possible to ride the motorbike down to 4,000 Islands, I only think there aren't really motorbikes on the islands as they are mostly for bicycles . . . I don't recall motorbikes there. It is also a bit of a ghetto and you'd be better off just skipping it and cruising around the plateau more. You'll get a lot more time on the bike if you stretch it out and cruise out toward Attapeu.
#3 Posted: 15/5/2014 - 01:21
29th May, 2014
Hi, hope this reply doesn't come too late for you, just saw the post!
About the different possible loops in and around Bolaven, until last year the only one with completely sealed roads was Pakse - Tad Lo -Thataeng-Paksong-Pakse. There is a longer version of this loop if from Thataeng you go to Sekong (instead of going straight to Paksong) and take the road south on the way to Attapeu. At a certain point you'll find a dirt track heading west to Paksong... Nice thing there is you have the really nice Tad Katamtok waterfall on the way... but maybe not the best idea, cause if raining or muddy you could end up having an experience similar to the one you described before, and the waterfall's difficult to find and maybe not that great in the beginning of the rainy season.
The third possible loop I can think of is ignoring this dirt track and going all the way until Attapeu, a town with a very unique vibe, strong vietnamese influence, though not much happening there. From there you have a road heading straight to the west, but again, as far as I know, it remains unsealed (can anyone confirm that?), so you'd have to go back on your tracks up to Thataeng, and then finish the small loop with the Paksong-Pakse stretch.
I agree as well that Tad Lo is the perfect place to spend at least one night. In Tad Lo many new lodgings have opened in the last couple of years, the Sabay Sabay, managed by a catalan-lao couple is the best for me, for atmosphere, chilling area, price, etc. Don't miss a visit to the first village you'll find upriver on the right side riverbank.
Don't miss Tad Nyeuang, easy to reach and impressive waterfall, both for the sight and super nice swimming-picnic area on the upper part. And don't miss having a beer in the evening in one of the really lively bars next to the mekong river in Pakse town.
And about Ubon Rachathani, I've only been there a couple of times, spending some hours in town while making time before the night train to BKK left. Nice in the way provincial towns are in Thailand, nice atmosphere, but it covers a big extension, and if there's something really special to it I missed it.
#4 Posted: 30/5/2014 - 05:44
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