Don’t fear the world: Exploring the Bolaven Plateau by Motorbike, and Wildcamping in a Timber Forest.

Hello, again. I honestly have no idea what is happening in my life, but I’m making loose plans for further adventures which should (accent on ‘should’ as the best laid plans of mice and men..) carry me through the next few years. Good thing too, since Brexit is happening and Trump is president. Can you believe it? I still can’t. The man who once tweeted: “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure,it’s not your fault” has access to the nuclear launch codes. Good luck, everyone. I will be watching closely as the end of the world unfolds- hopefully from a tea farm in Nepal, or a quiet suburb of Kuala Lumpur.

But on to the actual story. Back in early 2015, very early in my travels, I visited Laos. By chance I heard about the Bolaven Plateau with its numerable coffee and rubber plantations, and convenient motorbike loop. For miles and miles, a single tarmac road would take you past waterfalls and through forests, with the odd fruit stand by the side of the road offering ripe bananas and juicy longan fruit. There was very little traffic, the road was well maintained (though part of it was being resurfaced in 2015- it should be complete by now) and the route very easy to follow.

There are two routes- a short, 2/3 day loop, or a longer 3/4 day loop (depending on how fast you drive and how often you stop). A quick google will yield further information, including maps.

Both routes start in Pakse, a small but rather pleasant town in the south of Laos. You can buy virtually anything from the large market here. My friends and I managed to source hammocks with mosquito netting and cooking equipment, and that along with several large bottles of water and some basic rations were all we needed for our long walk to Si Phan Don (or 4000 islands).

I only made it to Champasak. I fell ill on the second day of the walk, and took a bus back to Pakse to recover, which was a shame. But no matter- after about 48 hours of drinking watered-down orange juice and watching Lao soap operas on the little TV in the hotel, I felt well enough to go out again.

Half an hour later, I’d rented a dinky little 100cc bike, pinched a map of the Bolaven Plateau from a hostel I wasn’t staying at, and filled my bag with bananas and little packets of sweet steamed sticky rice.

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Typical road: quiet, well maintained, and beautiful

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One of the rubber plantations I passed
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Is it possible to see too many waterfalls? Nope.

A few miles beyond Tad Lo, and after about the halfway point of my trip, I drove into a forest and found a discreet spot to hang my hammock. Bedroom located, I was free to do as I pleased with the rest of my evening.

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The following morning I set off early and stopped at the next waterfall for a shower. Empty, aside from the park ranger taking a nap in a hammock, I eased myself into the frigid water, yet untouched by the sun, and waded out to the middle of the pond. It’s wonderfully exhilarating washing like this- with rays of early sunlight glinting through the trees, pond skimmers skipping out of your way as you scoop handfuls of water to rinse the sleep out of your eyes. Clean and refreshed, I waded back to shore and lay in the sun to dry out.

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Honestly, the effort it took to take this selfie.. I had to build a tripod of sorts out of rocks, manually set the focus using trial and error (should have shot wide, oh well), and then get into position before the self-timer ran out without tipping the log over!

There isn’t much else to say. More waterfalls, more beautiful scenery.

I did stop for coffee at a wonderful little place just before my journey ended, the name of which has escaped my memory. The dark, chocolately smell of coffee beans roasting lured me down a small turning off the main road. There was a small cafe owned by a plantation, unmarked but for a small board with a painting of a coffee plant on it, with anti-human trafficking posters on one of the walls. They were roasting the beans by hand in a large metal drum in a ‘factory’ the side of a large shed.

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The smiley proprietor, her son was roasting the beans next door
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Fresh coffee, served with a glass of tea. Delightful.

Vietnamese coffee will always be my favourite. Laotian coffee is sour, dry and medicinal-tasting which, if you ask me, makes it better fit for the drain than human consumption. The stuff you get on the Bolaven plateau is rather more palatable.

I did the Bolaven plateau on my own, and felt perfectly safe doing so. The roads are easy with very little traffic, and there are guesthouses aplenty along the route so wildcamping isn’t necessary (I did it because I like it). Do make sure you fill your tank when you can though, as petrol stations can be quite far apart. Pakse is a nice town too, but probably not worth more than a day or two.

Don’t fear the world: get out there!

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6 comments

  1. I love reading about your adventures. I admire your spirit, and the way you just go for it. I’d love to do what you did, and maybe we will one day, but we’ll stay in guest houses. It sounds so peaceful and beautiful. That selfie is fabulous!
    Alison

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