The Bolaven Plateau by motorbike
Rich with waterfalls, expansive highlands, coffee plantations and lush forests, the Bolaven Plateau has plenty to stoke your curiosity and will quench any thirst for outdoor adventure. The miles and miles of magnificent roads zigzagging the Bolaven Plateau are begging to be discovered by motorbike or scooter. Pakse is the perfect hub to rent your own two-wheels and embark on a Bolaven Plateau motorbike loop.
So where to start?
Well, on the main street in Pakse we bumped into Miss Noy, a popular and very good motorbike rental company that offers services in English, French and even Chinese. They know what they’re talking about when it comes down to exploring the Bolaven Plateau by motorbike or scooter. The owners will give you a map of the region with many detailled explanations and Bolaven Plateau highlights.
Our Bolaven Plateau itinerary
The Bolaven Plateau short loop or big loop
The vast majority of travelers will drive the Bolaven Plateau short loop. A minimum of 2 days should suffice to cover the highlights but many get seduced by the pastoral scenery and sweet smell of coffee in Tat Lo. Long known as a piece of backpackers paradise, it has the reputation of adding some extra days to your originally planned Bolaven Plateau itinerary.
As you might know by now, we’re NOT much into following the traditional paths. Instead we decided to create our own itinerary, focussing on the exquisite natural gems the Bolaven Plateau has to offer. For inspiration you can find the exact route of our Bolaven Plateau motorbike loop here below.
Start your journey through the Bolaven Plateau from Pakse
Pakse used to be a city of great power and prosperity due to its convenient location along the Mekong. The docks bustling with ships and traders selling their merchandise. Now the faded stately colonial villas are the only witnesses of this bygone era.
Though not the most exciting city of Laos, it is the perfect staging point for trips to the Bolaven Plateau. After we disembarked from our flight from Vientiane to Pakse, we checked in at Hotel Athena. Hotel Athena is the perfect place to start and end your tour of the Bolaven Plateau by motorbike. The hotel has a beautiful swimming pool perfectly suited to cool off after spending time in the sultring heat of Pakse.
Day 1: The lost and tranquil temple of Wat Phu
Before starting the official Bolaven Plateau motorbike loop, we headed towards Wat Phu as a daytrip from Pakse. Wat Phu is quite an impressive historical site dating from the Khmer era. The roads are good and almost entirely straight which makes this the perfect opportunity to get to know you motorbike and start your southern Laos adventure. We already had some practice by motorbiking in Vang Vieng a few days prior but were happy we scheduled this daytrip before our adventures on the actual plateau.
The ruined Khmer Hindu temple complex had ties with the larger and more famous Ankor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. Perched on the side of a hill, Wat Phu is situated in a totally different natural setting. Surrounded by rice terraces and beautiful landscaped lakes, you can see for miles from the top temple of Wat Phu. Wat Phu can be explored in absolute tranquility, as a real touristic invasion hasn’t occured yet. Hardly any other people were present while we were roaming the complex: indulge yourself wandering around this mystique beauty while enjoying the peace and quietness around you.
We headed back to Hotel Athena in Pakse for the night. Washing the caked dust off was a heavenly relief and a first introduction to what awaits us the following days. The whole day took us 3hours (about 120km) to get there and back.
Day 2: Waterfall hopping around Tad Fane
Approximately 40 km east of Pakse, along both sides of the road, several gravel roads give way to some of the most beautiful waterfalls of Laos. The first waterfall, at kilometer 38, is Tad Fane. It’s probably the most well-known waterfall of Laos and unlike anthing we’ve seen. Two streams of water plunge deep into the jungle covered basin below, making you feel like you are being a part of Junglebook’s Mowgli.
When you got your fill of Tad Fane’s dramatic landscape, hop back onto your motorbike to Tad Yuang, at kilometer 40. Tad Yuang doesn’t offer a dramatic drop into an enormous canyon but it offers incredible green scenary and viewpoints at the base and top of the waterfall.
Day 3: Ride part of the Bolaven Plateau Big Loop to Tad Tayicseua
A bit further onto the plateau, about 60km from Tad Fane, another hidden gem hides itself after crossing about 8km on dirt road, easy accessible when it’s dry and a little bit more of a challenge when it rains. It shouldn’t stop you though. We survived our entire trip without running out of gas or blowing a tire.
As this place is a little bit more off-the-beaten-track compared to the Tad Fane region, chances are you’ll have the place for yourself. Discover the 7 different waterfalls in this area on foot. Do foresee to bring shoes enabling a decent hike (flip-flops most likely won’t do it) as the walking paths can be quite muddy and slippery, especially nearby the base of the different falls.
Day 4: tasting Bolaven Plateau coffee
How to prepare your Bolaven Plateau motorbike loop
- When traveling with 2 or more, we would highly recomend for each traveler to get their own motorbike or scooter. Saving a few extra kips might sound great but it’s really inconvenient. For one, the one sitting on the backseat will probably have a sore behind after spending several hours in a not so comfortable position. Secondly, you’ll probably each have a daypack with you, which basically gets in the way for the person taking the backseat. Renting fees really aren’t that high (neither is the cost of gasoline) and it’ll surely contribute to the experience and feeling of freedom while driving around.
- Leave your luggage either at your hotel, hostel or motorbike rental company. Just pack a daypack each with toiletries and essential clothing.
- It can get quite cold at the Bolaven Plateau and weather can be frickle. Pack at least one sweater and/or a raincoat.
- Don’t forget sunscreen!
- Never leave your motorbike unattented. When visiting waterfalls, always pay for parking. There is a small fee (approximately 1 dollar) but this ‘ll guarantee your motorbike will not ‘suddenly disappear’ 😉
- When you stay overnight, ask your hosts to park your bike somewhere inside (like a barn, …)