Tad Lo is a quaint spot nestled on the banks of the Xe Set river with several waterfalls just a hop and a skip away. With good budget accommodation, a few diversions and plenty of hammocks, spending time here can be satisfying.
What is known as Tad Lo is actually a series of three waterfalls, Tad Lo, Tad Hang and Tad Soung grouped around the village of Ban Saenvang. The village is usually the first night for those on the Bolaven Plateau motorbike loop, with the majority planning to only stay a night. If departing Pakse early it’s possible to arrive around noon, allowing for enough time to tick Tad Hang and Tad Lo off the list.
Tad Hang is the first set of falls you see when you arrive. It is the smallest and gentlest of the three, providing the best opportunity for taking a dip, but be warned—and this applies to all the falls—a dam is released every day around 16:00 causing the water to sharply rise and everyone needs to be well clear of the water before then.
Signs warn about the dangers of getting too near, but there are safe areas for swimming at the top of Tad Hang and locals fish and picnic here as well. The water is admittedly a bit murky, not unhealthily so as far as we could tell. A good way to get to the swimming spot is to walk across the bridge and follow the dirt road 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.
There are two ways to reach Tad Lo. If you continue to follow the road up the right side, there is usually a path to the base of the falls, giving visitors an exhilaratingly close view of the water gushing over a massive granite wall. Swim at your own risk.
The easier way is to follow the paved road up from Palamei Guesthouse for 775 metres, past the entrance of Tad Lo Lodge. Turn right onto the dirt road leading to the river at the top of the falls. Follow the path along the riverbanks downstream to get a good view. There may be a rickety bamboo ladder to the base of the falls. Needless to say, exercise extreme caution if heading down.
For now there is no admission or paid parking. We recommend walking here rather than risk having the motorbike stolen. One guesthouse owner told us the government had approved plans to develop it into a tourist attraction, with paid parking and a swimming area on the horizon through 2017.
Have time? Tad Soung is 10 kilometres from town and is the best of the falls in the wet season or just after, when it is in full flow. The path to it lets out at the top—and oh boy, are you at the top, perched at the edge of the cliff watching the Xe Set river plunge 90 metres. In dry season, when the water slows to a disappointing trickle, it's possible to cool off in one of the shallow pools or walk around on the rock table the falls spill over right up to the edge. Not recommended for those with acrophobia, don’t get sluiced over and be mindful of the dam release time!
Tad Soung is the trickiest of the falls to get to. 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 Saneum Nai. 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. Our motorbike rental shop in Pakse warned travellers about driving to the trailhead as there is no way to securely park the bike; without paid parking there is always a risk of theft. Arrange transport from town or consider hiring a guide as a worthy investment.
The Tourist Information Centre (after the bridge, across from Fandee Guesthouse) can arrange for trips to Tad Soung, either a full day 10 km circuit that climbs to the top, or a half day trek that covers all three falls with Tad Soung viewed from the base. Both are moderately challenging.
For a multiday trip, the “Phou Tak Khao Mountain Trail” trek skirts along the Bolaven escarpment, leading through jungle and plantations of coffee, peanut, cardamon, chilli and tobacco, small waterfalls and a cave. The night spent in a village and the route takes trekkers through five different ethnic minority groups: Katang, Katu, Tay Oy, Pako and Ng. The trek is moderately difficult with elevation changes and is primarily on offer in dry season (November to May). The price, including English speaking guide, local village guide and meals on trek is 500,000 kip for one person, 300,000 kip per person for three.
The Tourism Information Centre has posters highlighting all of Salavan Province’s virtues and sights which are made to sound accessible but it takes confidence and a rabid love for middle of nowhere outposts to tackle many of them. Most of the roads are better suited to off-road motorcycles than regular motorbike.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 29th January, 2017.
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