Saturday 16 March 2013

Cool As - The Bolaven Plateau

Total Distance Cycled:  9,292 km
Flat Tires in SE Asia: Two
Bus Rides with Bike: Five
Distance by Bus: approximately 1,050 km

View from the balcony of our villa - a night of rare luxury,
at Tad Fane.
Through the haze created by heat, dust and smoke we could see the land ahead tilting upwards: hills at last. Wanting to cycle uphill might seem like madness coming from a couple of 60 something tandemists, but hills promise two things: variety and more importantly on this occasion, the chance to escape from the hot and humid lowlands.

We pedalled steadily and by about 600 metres above sea level (masl) we sensed the change: suddenly the breeze that had been following us all day had an edge to it, a slight coolness, subtle but definitely discernible.
Judy prepares to dive at Tad Fane waterfall.

We stopped for the night at Tad Fane, a local beauty spot with a waterfall and a resort built into the surrounding jungle.
At US$30, our villa was well outside our usual  budget but we wanted to luxuriate in the surroundings. It was delicious. The restaurant overlooked the falls, the air was cool, almost chill, and as we snuggled into bed the rain set in, the pitter patter reminding us of rain on corrugated iron roofs in New Zealand.
Cessna 0-1 Bird Dog, the type of plane used by the CIA
to lead fighter-bombers to their targets in Laos.

The next morning we lingered as long as possible, then cycled the 12 k to Paksong (1,235 masl), where we stayed the night in equally cool but less salubrious surroundings. Paksong is a dump. It bills itself as the “coffee capital of Laos”, but it is nothing more than a straggle of shoddy buildings and stalls either side of Highway 18. We ate a bad meal at a deserted restaurant next to our guesthouse and retired early.
Paksong is one of the bigger centres on the Bolaven Plateau, but was pretty much destroyed by bombing during America’s “Secret War” in Laos during the late 60s/early 70s. There is nothing attractive about the rebuild, although the surrounding plateau is rich in coffee beans on land that has been cleared of the debris of war - UXO, unexploded ordnance.
Coffee beans growing on the Bolaven Plateau.

It looks like the poisonous
plant Datura. We spotted it
all over the Bolaven Plateau.
Keep the kids in the car.
The next day was a cyclists’ dream – 65km of gentle descent through coffee plantations and villages. We hardly pedalled nor braked. Part of this section of our route (from Tha Taeng to Teymeybeng) has been sealed in recent years, making it even easier for cyclists to ride a loop on good roads from Pakse, the nearest big town, which lies to the west. Our night’s rest was at another waterfall, Tad Lo, where competition was helping keep prices down and our room built on stilts cost US$8.00.
Guesthouse at Paksong. The town was a dump, but the
guesthouse provided an escape.

With the descent had come a rise in temperature. It was still pleasant, but not for long. The next day we completed the descent through rolling countryside back to Pakse, where it was as hot and uncomfortable as ever.

The one place we found we could get a decent cup of coffee
in Paksong - Koffie's Coffee. Just don't ask for milk. They
target purists only.  

Now this was more like it. At the Suan Sinouk Coffee Plantation (1,000 masl) 35 hectares is growing coffee beans. The public can stroll the grounds and there's a restaurant serving excellent coffee (latte included).
Footnote: A gripping account of America’s intervention in Laos can be found in “The Ravens: The True Story of a Secret War” by Christopher Robbins. In it he says 1,600,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Laos, considerably more than was dropped on Germany during World War 2.


  1. Beautiful, looks like such a lovely change of scenery xx

    1. Hi Merran, yep, it is nice. The cool was just wonderful and we are hoping for more of the same as we do some climbing to reach Luang Prabang, in the north of Laos.


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