Pakse | Bolavian Plateau Motorbike Loop

We arrived in Pakse with a few days to enjoy the town and organise ourselves before starting the Bolavian plateau, a 170 km loop which is Laos way of introducing tourists to the country in all its glory. 

Pakse Town

Our first day was spent at the market where Jess found herself in her element, surrounded by vintage stalls covering the whole first floor. This was where we both found thick shirts that would be perfect to ride in. This was also where we found a lunch of red curry with some partially edible looking meat, which actually turned out to be delicious. We then got back to our hostel which looked as though it should have definitely been busier than it was but gave plenty of time for Jess to beat Sam repeatedly at pool. We then went out to find Miss Noy, a motorbike rental shop where  the owner sets an hour aside every evening to talk his customers through the loop, recommending things to see or do, places to stay and highlighting areas that are unsafe to stop in. Miss Noy was so knowledgeable and was kind enough to offer time to people after the talk who had never ridden semi-automatics motorbikes (which is often all they had available) before. Sam reserved his Honda Wave for the following morning before going round the corner to pick up Jess’s Honda Scoopy. Surprisingly, although many people rent their bikes in Pakse to do the loop with, all the bikes were immaculate! We were lucky enough to have two brand new bikes to use.

Pakse Loop Map
Pakse Loop Map

Champasak Ride

Due to Jess’s inexperience riding, we thought best ride out on a day trip first before starting the loop. We therefore spent our second day trying to fit ourselves back into our skin tight jeans before heading towards Champusak, 30 km south of Pakse. This ride didn’t start kindly as in order to get out of town we had to join the busiest and most chaotic road in Pakse, which is hard enough without remembering to  drive the opposite side of the road! Although anxiety ridden, we both got through the traffic before filling up our £3 tanks to full petrol. The roads were perfect the entire route and once off the highway, the views were stunning! We were the only ones on the road aside from a few tractors and cows. To our right were bright green fields and hills with the odd collection of bamboo houses and to our left ran the Mekong River. When we arrived in Champasak we grabbed a drink and chatted to a woman who was cycling Laos before making our journey back in the other direction. 

The Pakse Loop!

The next morning we packed a bag between us before heading out of Pakse once again; this time in the opposite direction towards Tad Lo where we’d be staying the night. The ride between Pakse and Tad Lo was not as beautiful as some of the other rides we’ve done but offered a great starter due to how quiet the roads are and easing riders in softly with handling the hills. What wasn’t so easy was the amount of impatient  lorries that shared this loop with tourists so it would be common to be overtaken by multiple lorries at a time on blind corners or hills where bikes can’t keep up. The first day of the loop is also full of wooden bridges that tests your riding ability due to having to ride on the slabs over water in a dead straight line. About 2/3rds of the way up we stopped at Mr Viengs homestay and coffee plantation where we enjoyed iced coffees in his treehouse-style restaurant surrounded by coffee plants and chickens. We then joined the road again to complete the last leg of the day, which was nicer as we drove through multiple small towns and villages. 

By 4 PM we’d reached Tad Lo, which turned out to pretty much be a village solely for people riding the loop. We’d hoped to book into a recommended homestay called “Mamas” but as was full, however we did agree to come back for dinner before looking for other accommodation. We eventually found another homestay where we could stay in one of their cabins across the street for the night. We dumped our bags down and peeled our jeans off before heading to a waterfall on the outskirts of town. We’d heard that this was where elephants came in the evenings to wash so thought we’d go and look for them. Shocked, we found them just around the corner, on 5ft chains attached to trees next to a riding platform. Atop the waterfall was a pool where all the local kids would go after school. We sat and watched the group of 50+ kids take turns in jumping off the rocks with their uniforms still on and splashing round in the water. It got to 6 PM and the elephants arrived, with all the kids quickly escaping the water to make room for the giants as they sank into the pool. Although amazing to see these animals, it felt wrong to sit back and watch knowing the extent of their captivity so soon left. 

Our evening plans of dinner at Mammas seemed to be the common consensus of the population in Tad Lo and we soon found ourselves eating the largest portions of food we’d seen in Asia. We met seven other travellers who we shared the evening with, drinking the fridge of all the beers and who we continued the journey with the following day.

Pakse Loop Gang

The next morning after settling our bar tabs, mama blessed each of us with handmade bracelets for safe travels before we set off. We stopped off at Mr Hooks, a village down a dirt track around 10 miles from Tad Lo. This village was comprised of a small coffee farming community who still hold old traditions including children getting married at 5 and pregnant at 13 as well children smoking bamboo bongs from the age of 3. This was supposedly to keep mosquitos away with the smoke however the red eyes and amount they used it seem to point towards a serious form of addiction. Jess and I, along with two others from our group ended up giving up on the tour of the village after we realised Mr Hook would talk for hours about each root they grew from medicinal use and went to get a freshly brewed coffee from the plantation. Once the tour had finished (which took 3 1/2 hours!) we all met back up and set off towards the waterfalls, a couple of hours ride away and on the way back to Pakse. These falls were stunning, surrounded by a green forest growing out of the water and with a strip of rainbow cutting through the centre. 

Finally, after several more hours, we rolled back into Pakse, with just enough time for dinner and a shower before boarding our first comfortable overnight bus to Vientiane, Laos’ capital city.  

Sam Night Bus
Night Bus
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