Last week I extensively reported my six days of motorbiking around the Bolaven Plateau area in the south of Laos.
Here is my mini-guide for anyone interested in exploring this off the beaten path area of South-East Asia (I promise, I won’t say off the beaten path anymore in this post).
We spent six days around the area, even if the first one was a day trip from Pakse to Champasak that is not in the Bolevan Plateau, we like the splurging effect of the six-days.
It’s possible to dedicate only two or three days to the loop, and we heard about a dude that did it in one day but when he arrived back to Pakse he forgot which month it was so he paid 32 days of motorbike rent.
- Day #1: Bolaven Plateau by scooter: From Pakse to Champasak
- Day #2: Bolaven Plateau loop day 2: From Pakse to Tad Lo
- Day #3: Bolaven Plateau loop day 3: From Pakse to Salavan and back
- Day #4: Bolaven Plateau loop day 4: From Pakse to Attapeu
- Day #5: Bolaven Plateau loop day 5: From Attapeu to Paksong
- Day #6: Bolaven Plateau loop day 6: From Paksong to Pakse
Renting your motorbike
While it’s possible to explore the Bolaven Plateau by bus, renting a motorbike is still the best option: you’re in touch with the surroundings and gives the ultimate freedom.
The starting point of the Bolaven Plateau is naturally the city of Pakse, where there are many rental options available, but all more or less at the same price.
As per March 2014, the prices were 60.000 kip for a semi-automatic motorbike (100cc), 70.000 kip for a 110cc (little difference) or 90.000 kip for an automatic scooter (125cc).
My motorbike ego was pushing hard to drive a semi-automatic, where you have control of the gears even if there’s no clutch… and so I did the first day, when we visited Champasak. As you can read in the report, the experience was so bad that I gave in and asked for a scooter instead.
It turned out to be a great decision because in the Bolaven Plateau the roads are bad, pick-up trucks drive like maniacs and there are plenty of animals unaware of the rules of the road.
In an emergency situation the scooter felt much safer than the semi-automatic I drove quite some thousands kilometers on motorbikes in my life.
We rented our vehicles at Miss Noy, a place run by a bossy girl (Noy) and her Belgian husband.
Everyday around 7pm he run a workshop explaining where to go and what to see in the Bolaven Plateau, providing also an useful map.
Considering that rental prices are the same as the other places, the only good reason not to rent from Miss Noy is if they run out of motorbikes, that is very likely in high season.
They do constant maintenance to the motorbikes, but don’t expect a perfect machine and helmet… the quality is so-so but it’s hard to believe than others are better. Anyway I suggest to listen to their explanation and then choose.
All the rental shops offer free storage for your luggage, so you’ve to select carefully what to bring with you.
Almost all around Bolaven Plateau is hellish hot. I say almost, because around Paksong, that sits at 1200m altitude, the air turns fresh and long sleeves, a jumper and long trousers are required!
With temperatures around 20C, it’s not really cold, but riding a motorbike will feel cold so you’re warned.
On the Road
The Bolaven Plateau is not a motorbike paradise, no question about it.
Last month I drove in north-Thailand from Chiang Mai to Pai and hai-hai-hai, that was serious fun.
The Bolaven Plateau loop is not a fun ride.
Driving on those roads gave me different feelings. It’s a charming place where I felt more an explorer than a rider: the roads under constructions, the poor indications leading to stunning waterfalls, the animals around, the excruciating heat, the spartan barracks next to the roads, the lives apparently spent waiting for a customer to stop by.
I got used to all that too soon, but thinking about how people live in this area was a constant thought of mine.
While thinking and driving, remember to keep one eye on the fuel level.
There are more than enough gas stations in the area, but anyway I’ll state the obvious: don’t take risks 😉
If needed, there are also unofficial gas stations selling fuel in 1 liter bottles.
As always my
travel buddy travel coach Cloudio spoiled all the surprises and did petulantly choose all the places using his selection algorithm mixing Tripadvisor reviews, WikiTravel and blogs of strangers he considers “his friends”.
Thanks to him we had quite some decent stays:
- Sailomyen Guest-House, Tad Lo: bungalows with river view for just 50.000 kip, really cool place. Occasionally they steal your stuff so beware. No Internet but can be found in the restaurant next door.
- Alisa Guest-House, Pakse: we splurged with a double-room with A/C for 120.000 kip, shiambola! But worth it and Internet was trés jolie.
- Phu Thevada Hotel, Paksong: run by Chinese women, 100.000 kip for a large double room no A/C (it’s fresh here already!)
Waterfalls and coffee are the specialties of the Bolaven Plateau.
Stopping in the worst bars of Laos for a Vietnamese coffee
Chilling in Tad Lo
Admiring Tad Along waterfall
Meeting Mr Coffee in his “Koffies Coffie” bar in Paksong
Joining Laotian parties
What I don’t recommend
I’m not Lonely Planet and nobody pays me to write good things so here are the places I would not recommend to visit in the Bolaven Plateau.
Salavan, Saravan Salavane or Salavanh: nothing but heat and desolation in there. I didn’t find it worth the extra 100km to go there and back from Tad Lo, but well.
Attapeu: another unimpressive place, with not much to offer. On a second thought, you can experience Vietnam without need for VISA, as the whole area is very much Vietnam-ized.
Internet in the Plateau
If you’re not Facebook addicted, e-mail slave or Skype-dependent then congratulations, you belong to a rare specie.
Otherwise, I’ve a good news and a bad news.
First: Internet arrived to the Plateau! In the towns where we spent the nights there was Wi-Fi serving Internet from a 3G connection.
Second: Internet is slow, sluggish, unstable and so the electric power. So bring a dose of patience and good humor to avoid a nervous breakdown!