Tad Lo is located in Salavan province, but most commonly visited on trips based from Pakse, 85 kilometres away via the Salavan Road. It's something of a budget travellers' paradise and more and more backpackers are onto this fact, visiting both by motorcycle and public bus. Tad Lo is really a series of three falls -- Tad Suong, Tad Lo and Tad Hang, around which most of the accommodation is grouped, in the village of Ban Saenvang.
Tad Hang is the first set of falls you'll see when you arrive -- they are the smallest and gentlest of the three, but provide the best opportunity for taking a dip. Signs warn about the dangers of getting too near the falls, but there are plenty of safe areas for swimming at the top of the falls and you'll spot a lot of locals fishing in the waters as well. The water is admittedly a bit murky, but not unhealthily so, as far as we were able to tell. A good way to get to the swimming spot is to walk or bike down the dirt road across the bridge and follow it around the other side of the hill where it pops out at some bungalows. From here, it's easy to get into the swimming hole.
Tad Lo itself is reached by crossing the bridge over to the Saise Resort and following the road up hill and around to an abandoned guesthouse. From here, the base of the falls can be reached on foot and you can swim in the massive pool at its base – a little bit like a whirlpool but exhilarating nonetheless. The massive granite wall over which the waters spill is definitely worth seeing even if you don't go for a swim.
Tad Suong, about 10 kilometres from town, is the best of the falls, but mainly in the wet season when it is in full flow. The path to the breathtaking falls lets out at the top, and oh boy, are you at the top. The falls plunge into a deep gorge, and in the dry season, it's possible to walk around on the rock table they spill over right up to the edge. Not recommended for those with acrophobia, and, of course, do your best not to fall off.
Once you get used to the height, the views are excellent and it's one of the prettiest places in the area. You can also cool off in one of the shallow pools at the top without being sluiced over the falls, but use your judgement if the current is particularly strong on a given day. Some may be disappointed with the falls in the driest months, when the water slows to just a trickle.
Tad Suong is the trickiest of the falls to get to, and you'll need a bicycle or motorbike, or arrange transport from town. Follow signs to the Tad Lo Lodge, but don't turn off the main road, just keep going. When you reach the power station, take a right. When that road ends, take a left and look for the marked turn-off on your left at the village of Ban Sanumnay. That road leads to a parking area and it's a short walk to the top of the falls. There's also a separate viewing area here which faces the front of the falls from where you can grab a couple of photos
The river flows in a northerly direction. As you approach from the main road, you'll be on the eastern bank, near the Tad Hang falls, where most of the accommodation and what not are. Across the bridge on the west bank are a branch of the Tad Lo Lodge and Saise Resort.
Heading east from the bridge, on the right, you'll find the Visitors Information Centre. Not a lot of English is spoken, but there's a good deal of info up on the walls, and you can make arrangements for a local guide here. Tim Guesthouse across the street is also a great place to stop in for information, if you can buttonhole the one guy there that speaks English well.
Tim Guesthouse is also you're only option for internet -- the guy who runs the place just lets you use his computer and charges 1,000 kip per minute. Definitely an emergency option only for most travellers. Otherwise, wait until you return to Pakse.
The nearest post offices, hospitals and police stations are in Lao Ngam (15km) and Salavan (30km). The provincial hospital in Salavan is said to be better than the district hospital in Lao Ngam, but for anything series, try to get yourself to Pakse, or better yet, Vientiane or Thailand. There is a local clinic up the road, three km past the Tad Lo lodge. For other emergencies, locals will muck in and try to help sort things out -- there aren't any police in the village at all.
As far as money goes, there aren't any banks but Tim Guesthouse will exchange currency at unattractive rates, so be sure to bring enough cash for your stay here.
By Adam Poskitt