In the far southern reaches of Laos, just to the east of the major city of Pakse, is the famous Bolaven Plateau, home to dense jungle, sprawling coffee plantations and fantastic waterfalls. The waterfalls are the highlight for visitors undertaking the Bolaven Plateau motorcycle loop and are part of most people’s itinerary every single day.
A good place to start is at the relatively tame Uttayan Bajiang, about 30 kilometres from Pakse on Route 20. Route 20 is the road that leads to Tad Lo, so you’ll more than likely be passing it anyway if you’re doing the motorcycle loop. The waterfall is located in a self-described nature resort which in itself is interesting. Perched on the edge of the waterfall is a restaurant selling local food, a decent spot for a feed before moving on up the road.
On the way to Tad Lo, you’ll see a small turn off to Tad Suong, the tallest of the three main waterfalls in the Tad Lo area. From the top of the waterfall there are magnificent views of the rolling landscape below. In the wet season this waterfall is an awesome sight. In the dry, not so much. But it still warrants a visit at any time of year due to the fantastic views offered from the top. It’s also possible to walk the 10 kilometres or so to here from the main village in Tad Lo.
In the village which is commonly referred to as Tad Lo, the main waterfall is called Tad Hang. It’s a small but wide waterfall, and a perfect spot for a swim. Though signs all around the area advise against swimming here, locals and tourists alike are seen throughout the day swimming and washing in the stream and as long as you stay clear of the drop off, you should be okay.
Aside from these popular waterfalls, there are also plenty that are only rarely visited by tourists. Some are awe-inspiring; some will have you asking why you bothered to travel 10 kilometres down that dirt road. One of the latter is the Keng Luang rapids, located about 10 kilometres north of Sekong. More a river blocked by a bunch of rocks, the Keng Luang rapids aren’t really much to look at. The best part is the ride along the dirt road through rural villages, with children calling out and wanting high fives.
Continuing down the road to Attapeu you come across a few more waterfalls quite popular with locals. One in particular is Tad Faek, a wide set of falls with various ledges from where you can jump into the lake below. It’s a popular spot for local families on weekends and it’ll often be so crowded that you may just want to leave. At other times, there’s hardly a soul about and you’ll have plenty of opportunity for a swim.
A road more rarely travelled along is the shortcut through the national park between Sekong and Paksong. It’s a shocker — dirt, rocks and talcum powder-like dust, ankle deep. Hidden in the dust are fist-sized rocks which are an unpleasant surprise as you crawl along at 10 kilometres an hour. But travelling this road is essential if you want to see some of the best waterfalls on the plateau. Travelling from Sekong or Attapeu towards Paksong along this road, the turnoff to the fabulous Tad Katamtok appears after about 16 kilometres of dirt road. A small viewing area is located across the valley from the raging waterfall, which is in full flight in all seasons.
While you’re on that road, you absolute must stop in at the eco-lodge at Tad Alang, 27 kilometres from the start of the dirt road turn off. It’s possible to stay in the rustic bunglaows at the eco-lodge for 30,000 kip per night, but for the casual visitor there are waterfalls dotted all around the property. The main one is Tad Alang and when arriving at its base you feel like you’re entering you’re own mini-paradise. The walls of the canyon surrounding the waterfall are lined with ferns and brightly coloured wildflowers and the vegetation is a lush green — a stunning contrast to the scraggly vegetation above.
Some of the most well-known waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau are located about 40 kilometres from Pakse and are called Tad Fane and Tad Gneuang. Tad Fane is the best of the two and features stunning twin falls which are usually viewed from across the valley. You can get to the other side of the valley with the help of a guide — some people even try and get there on their own, with varying success.
The waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau really are something to check out when you’re in the region. Whether you choose to zoom straight to Tad Lo and back to Pakse or hire a motorbike and travel the entire loop, you’re bound to have a great time.
By Adam Poskitt
Last updated on 31st January, 2015.