Category Archives: Laos

Most scenic places I’ve been: Tad Fan Waterfalls, Bolaven Plateau, Laos

Tad Fan Waterfalls Bolavan Plateau Laos

Tad Fan Waterfalls Bolavan Plateau Laos

We peered out from a rickety wooden fence to look at the view. Wow. Parallel streams flowed down 120 meters to the pool below. The strong current smacking the rocky shelf half way, before descending further into a misty cloud. I stood mesmerised following one splash all the way down. We went to the restaurant balcony and zoned out on the view over lunch.

How to get to the Tad Fan Waterfalls:

1. Hire a motorbike from Pakse head East on Road 13 for around 40 km towards Pak Song
2. A tuk-tuk will take you to the falls for US$20 flat rate (source
3. The local bus costs 15,000 kip, and departs from Pakse’s Southern Bus Terminal (source


From my 2007 Asian Diary –

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Whizzing through world heritage, Luang Prabang, Laos (April 26, 2007)

Finally we managed to get out of Vang Vieng. That place just sucks you in and days fly by without you even realising. Just 2 days before our Laos visa ran out we arranged for a bus to Luang Prabang. The transfer arrived and drove us the 2 minutes across to where our bus was waiting on the old airstrip. Two rather budget conscious Israelis rocked up 10 mins before departure and managed to bargain down their ticket price a couple of bucks while delaying the rest of us.

Finally, we got going and soon past Kasi the scenery and winding roads really kicked in. The road zigzagged up and down through mountain range after mountain range. Clouds often hung in valleys and draped like cloth across peaks. The spectacular landscape still did not help the numbing pain in my bum. As we were in the seats at the very back of the bus we felt every little bump and bounce on the road.

We stopped en route and I happily escaped to stretch my legs. I soon realised that the wheel on the bus needed replacing. With only an hours delay and new wheel in place, we drove on again towards Luang Prabang. We stopped once more at the side of the road for a toilet break. However, with no facilities in sight, I crossed my legs for the duration.

7 1/2 hours after leaving Vang Vieng we arrived in Luang Prabang with a full bladder and sore bum. Touts tried to push there business on arrival in the bus station but being Lao they were gentle and polite. So we hopped in one of the Tuk Tuk’s and for a dollar per person arrived at Muong Lao Guesthouse. Located across from Visoun Temple. Friendly helpful staff showed us to our cosy en-suite a/c room with balcony for $12.

20 minutes before the travel agent closed we managed to book 2 seats for the next day to Chiang Mai costing $85USD plus a $10 departure tax to be paid at the airport. So the next mission was to find a bank that was still open so we could pay the tax. On the Sisavang Rd. beside Nisha’s Indian Restaurant there is a bank that for a 3% charge made a cash advance for us. There was also an ATM outside that accepts Mastercard and Maestro but they charge $4.50 per transaction and you can only withdraw a maximum of 70,000 kip ($70USD) at a time.

Starving we went for a pizza at the popular “Pizza Luang Prabang”. Eating outside we soaked up the atmosphere of this world heritage town. It has a strong colonial influence which is evident in the architecture but this is also mixed in with a traditional Lao style. Coming from Vang Vieng it was refreshing to see a lack of neon signs which have been replaced by aesthetically pleasing wooden ones. Knowing that we would return to this beautiful town I didn’t feel guilty for replacing the heritage sights for a large slice and a beer Lao. Next time we can do the cultural stuff, this time it was back to the guesthouse for a much-needed rest.

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The Rising Sun Bar & Hazy mountain peaks – Vang Vieng, Laos (April 18, 2007)

On the bus, to Vang Vieng, I woke to dramatic scenery enveloping us on all sides. We passed sheer drops, blue-hued mountain peaks and small villages before finally reaching Vang Vieng. On arrival, we drove through an old airstrip built by the CIA during the ‘secret’ Indochinese war. Mainly built to accommodate its own airline ‘Air America’ used to smuggle opium and mercenaries around Laos. Now it has a few market stalls and used as a bus depot for tourists.

We walked across to Babylon Guesthouse and settled into a $6.50 en-suite double room overlooking the main road. Nick the eccentric English manager showed us to our room where the house rules are laminated and stuck on the wall “We reserve the right to be rude, be abusive, not care, be obnoxious, bigoted, racist, homophobic, heterophobic, agoraphobic, alcoholic, anti-ginger, anti-Welsh, anti-religion, anti-atheist, and offer poor customer service to the point of physical violence”. I thought it summed it up quite well.
Babylong guesthouse rules vang vieng laos
Nick had recommended us to visit the Rising Sun bar, while also informing us of the stupidity tax which is in place. He explained for stupid tourists who wish to smoke the local ‘produce’ in public there is a fine by the police of $500. The bar entices you into a drinking session and soon we found ourselves downing a bucket containing tiger whisky and coke while playing a game of pool. The pool tables are levelled by bits of cardboard on each leg which may have contributed to the fact that I actually won a game.
rising sun bar vang vieng
After a hearty breakfast we decided to walk towards the seductive karst peak mountains. Firstly we negotiated a bouncy bamboo bridge to get to the island. Then we walked up the stony shore of the Xong River to the toll bridge. The bridge is decorated with 2 leftover bombshells at the entrance. They serve as small reminders that this country is the most heavily bombed nation per capita in history. Lonely Planet tells us that for 9 years between 1964 and 1973 “cost US taxpayers around $2 million per day”.

A sign pointing to the caves explained that this was a place of refuge during the war. Following a narrow path through the heavy jungle we arrived at the caves. We didn’t spend too long as it was getting late and more beer Lao was calling. On our return the glowing sunset sky made the landscape constantly change colour. Insects buzzed and jungle sounds echoed from the sheer cliffs. Long shadows followed us on the way back through the dried up paddy fields.

On our return, we were offered a shot of ‘snake’ Lao Lao a rice whisky which is served from a bottle complete with cobra inside, of course I couldn’t refuse. That night the gods put on a show for us, with a spectacular display of thunder and lightening which we watched from the roof of Babylon accompanied by 2 bottles of Beer Lao.

After a recovery breakfast we rented a bike and headed to the hills again. We drove over bumpy stony roads towards ‘Python cave’. As the sunset, it cast a warm hue over the landscape. We crossed a bridge so rickety and skinny I thought it safer to wade through the shallow stream while Ali took the bike across. Smiling kids shouted ‘SABAIDI’ (hello) from all directions as we passed through a small ‘ban’ or ‘village’. Then it was time for our daily dose of the rising sun. Buckets and pool games later we were invited to sit with the stonies on the sofa until the early hours.

To cure the hangover we headed out of town again, this time in the direction of Louang Prabang on Route 13. Towards the Kasi district a sharp winding road weaved through dramatic mountains. In the shadow of the towering mountain, a cool breeze acts as natural air conditioning. Further en route we passed soldiers or rebels perhaps? Carrying AK47’s. However they looked completely harmless just chilling on the side of the road and showing off their guns to 2 giggling girls. We stopped to visit a temple and on the way down a local girl carrying a bag on her head posed for the camera. She was utterly amazed to see herself on the digital camera screen, perhaps for the first time?

After another hard day sightseeing and adventuring at the lagoon, we had another hard nights drinking. We were offered by ‘Toto’ a local tuk-tuk driver to drink green Lao Lao. It would have been rude and wiser to refuse. To add to this, an English regular was passing around beer Lao chasers. Then another local character joined our table and it all went downhill from there. As the clock struck curfew time the music was switched off, much to the annoyance of Toto who was cursing and asking “why no Boom Boom?” After a colossal amount of the toxic green liquor we decided that we needed just one more beer. The next morning I woke in a death-like state and it took a few days of detox before venturing back to the bar again.

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Great food & lots of water in the year 2550! Vientiane, Laos (April 13, 2007)

Minutes after leaving the refuge of our hotel we were greeted by a group of young smiling kids shouting “Pi Mai Lao!” ( Happy Laos New Year!) proceeded by a bucket of water being thrown over us both. Drenched, we walked a few more paces before a similar incident took place with water guns this time. This was typical of our stay in the tiny capital of Laos, Vientiane (population only 200,000) during its New Year celebrations. To ring in the new year people shower each other with water and they take it very seriously. It is also based on a Buddhist calendar hence we were able to travel through time to the year 2550.

Not only is there plenty of water but the food was great too. Being an ex-French colonial capital the restaurants and café’s boasted a mouth-watering menu with a strong French influence. After downing a couple of G & T’s by the Mekong riverside we decided to indulge ourselves on the highly recommended Cote d’Azur restaurant. It is run by a large French chef and his petite Laos wife. They serve fine French cuisine, pizza’s for the backpackers and great selection of red wine. At home, it would be the type of establishment that would cause your wallet to disintegrate by merely walking through the door. However, the main courses here averaged €5. It was just a pity the intolerable backpacker clientele did not live up to the food.

For lunch, we soon became regulars in JoMa Cafe and the Scandinavian Bakery. JoMa served foot long French baguettes with your choice of filling. The Scandinavian offering a similar selection of fresh sandwiches and pastries. However, its staff really got into the spirit of New Year by hosing us both while seated outside. Alex cunningly got his revenge by throwing his glass of water over the girl much to the other staff’s delight.

This deserted capital by night simply exploded with water by day. Madness ensues. The street filled with pickups carrying gangs armed with water bombs, guns and buckets. The uniform Hawaiian shirts and straw hats. Passing a corner you see a slightly tipsy group dancing to blaring pop music with a water gun in hand completely saturated. Approaching a wat or temple is like entering a war zone. Bouncy castles and music is blaring beside the statues of Buddha. People paying their respects by throwing buckets of water on the statues. Water guns everywhere.

At one of the bigger temples, we got talking to a couple of young monks who explained it was a time of renewal and rebirth no matter if the year was good or bad you can celebrate at a new beginning. They wrapped bracelets around our wrists made from orange thread and blessed us with good luck, good health, and happiness. The positive energy exuding from the monks left me with a warm feeling.

The next night we went to Fathima Indian restaurant on the riverfront. They offered a vast selection of curries at a cheap price most courses being €1. The lady who runs this restaurant really reflects the nature of Laos people. As the restaurant is located in the height of the celebrations in the city she was busy from early in the morning serving tourists all day. It was around 10.30 when we were finishing up and a psychotic French man refused to pay the few dollars he owed. He then proceeded to be rude and obnoxious to both her and her young family. In response, she calmly showed the man the bill again. He stormed out without paying. Instead of getting annoyed she just laughed and turned around and sat down to help an ex-pat hippy improve his Laos language skills with a smile.

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The Big Island, Mekong adventures & a wedding arrangement (April 4, 2007)

We waved goodbye to ‘Mama’ and Don Det while waiting at Mr. Pho’s fro the boat to the mainland. So the chartered boat with a roof that we arranged for turned out to be a skinny longtail with a compulsory extra passenger. We all sailed across the few minutes to the mainland. Jetting past sandbanks and narrow channels once again. Then waited only a few minutes until the next boat to arrive. All aboard plus roof this time all cosy and crowded on the cramped wooden planks. 10 minutes later heading towards the direction of “The Big Island” the engine suddenly decided that it had enough and conked out. However, the Mekong at this point is a couple of miles wide and there are giant concrete pillars in the middle as guides and we were heading straight for them in a very strong current with no engine. Suddenly you realise there are no lifejackets and you probably would have great difficulty in swimming against the current to the shore.

I clutched either side of the boat and hoped for the best as the boat driver began to get agitated as he desperately tried to start the engine. The other guide shouting in Laotian, grabbed a wooden pole and started to try and steer the boat towards the sandy shoreline. After a few nail-biting minutes we docked at the shoreline and waited for help to arrive. After a bit of paddling in the Mekong and chilling with the buffalo to pass the time. Another boat arrived and the guys swapped the engine for a less powerful cc, syphoned the gas and we were on the way once again. However, even though surrounded by idyllic scenery I remained a little tense while we nearly missed crashing into rapids, boulders and strong currents. I have to admit I was glad to arrive at “The Big Island” although the boat did pass several stairways the driver decided to pull up at the muddiest possible point and we had to scramble to the top on hands and knees.

We booked into the first place we saw. The Don Khong Guesthouse. It was a nice colonial-style building with communal balcony with photos of the hotel owners family hanging on the wall. That evening a storm hit out of nowhere and outside clouds of dust blew and people fled for cover. The rain stopped just long enough for us to reach a restaurant for dinner where we met up with an odd German couple and swapped travel stories. Later we grabbed a few cans of beer from the fridge and played cards for the evening. Of course, I lost and had to get the next round. We explored the island by bike the next day and passing temples, fields, shacks and more water buffalo. Stopping to enjoy the sunset on a bench by the river we were soon surrounded by a swarm of villagers of all ages from granny’s with no teeth, kids, babies and smiling local women. As no one had any English the local teacher was sent for to translate for us. She asked if I had any brothers and told us that she didn’t have a boyfriend but was quite keen on European men! So we arranged that my brother travel to the island and mama will arrange a big wedding but not to worry as it won’t cost much its very cheap in Laos for a wedding!

The next day I woke to a note at our door from the English couple who had been travelling with us since Cambodia to say they had sped off to Savannakhet. I guess they weren’t too impressed with the low key Island life perhaps? Later we had a wander down to the posh end where all the fancy hotels were and popped into the Muong Khong Hotel. The President of Laos Mr. Siphandon who has the same surname as the region, stays on the island but no one knows where? However, if I had to put money on it I would say it was at this hotel. While inquiring about tickets to Pakse, friendly helpful staff were gently explaining that the local bus to Pakse would not be comfortable for us big westerners and better to get a VIP Minibus instead. So in the air-conditioned reception we booked our VIP tickets from the well trained smiling manager.

This time the journey from the island was quite different. On arrival at the posh hotel the next morning the sturdy boat was ready and waiting for us with a roof and curtains to bring us across to the mainland. For the first time, we were the only passengers on board. Once docked our bags were carried to a bench in the shady waiting area – this actually lived up to the VIP status and I was loving every minute. The bench overlooked the rocky Mekong with small grassy islands and purple-hued mountains as a backdrop. While we waited the 3 locals laughed (probably at us) while making a fishing net. Our modern comfy minibus arrived and I dozed in the luxury of the spacious backseat which drove us all the way to the front door of the Pakse Hotel where the charming staff greeted us.

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Mama, Mr Happy & Four Thousand Islands, Don Det, Laos (March 31, 2007)

On the banks of the Mekong, we waited for our skinny longtail boat to arrive under a makeshift shack to hide from the afternoon sun. The mesmerising Mekong scenery soon made up for the cramped longtail boat journey. We passed tiny green islands reflected in the tranquil waters and navigated through a maze of sandbanks and narrow streams some seemed only ankle-deep until we reached our final destination ‘Don Det’. Coming from Cambodia I was expecting hoards of touts to await us however no one seemed too bothered that some tourists had arrived as the boat pulled up to the small beach. On arrival, the pace of life seems to have gone back a few notches and you feel a wave of relaxation wash over you.

It was getting dark and the island only has electricity for a few hours in the evening so we decided to check into the unappealing guesthouse with an en-suite western toilet for the night. Only a few minutes into the bungalow I looked up and backed out of the room slowly. I showed the lady who had checked us in a brown spider that was the size of my hand and she laughed and walked away. A few minutes later she returned with a broom. It took several whacks of the broom to kill the creature. With no hesitation, she picked the creature up in her hand and dangled it in front of me much to Alex’s and her delight.

Meanwhile, the English couple noticed what looked like a chocolate biscuit in their room which was stuck to the shoddy curtain and poked at it. It opened and fell to the floor it was full of maggots that then began to crawl over the floor. When they returned from dinner the ants had started to eat the maggots. We all decided it was our mission to get the hell out of there first thing the next morning. However, my other plan was to get very drunk so armed with cans of Beer Lao ( the only beer brewed in Laos) we sat on the porch in the darkness with eccentric characters and discussed the meaning of life and how to live it until the wee hours of the morning and I hit my bed snoring.

The next morning the English couple had risen early to check out the accommodation and recommended a place called ‘Mama’s Rasta Cafe’ with recognisable by the inflatable fish hanging outside. So with bags packed we happily escaped to the refuge of our new abode. On arrival, I was greeted by the burly Mama with a hearty laugh and a smack on the arse her way of being friendly. Her character made our stay in Don Det. She was our adopted Mama for the duration of our stay and the bungalow our home rather than just a place to stay. Being a hammock junkie I immediately fell in love with the communal balcony that displayed several hammocks overlooking the Mekong and the other uninhabited islands close by. Underneath the balcony is where Mama kept her beloved pigs which she often untied and squealing threw into the water for fun and our amusement as we looked on.

Eventually, we stirred from the comfort of our hammocks and rented bicycles to explore the island. We headed towards the bridge which used to be an old railway line in the French Colonial days now it is used as a toll bridge to get to the other island of Don Khon. After lunch, we cycled to the waterfall. We weren’t expecting much as it was dry season however nicely surprised as it was spectacular. Several streams splash down rocky cliffs and over boulders to the river rapids. Meanwhile, truckloads of Thai tourists in authentic bamboo hats and big cameras snapped away at each other enthusiastically. So much so that Alex got swept into a photo with a whole Thai family with a backdrop of the waterfall. As the sun was low in the sky the scenery really came to life and the sound of the gushing water was captivating.

That evening we discovered the ‘Reggae Bar’. It is tucked back from the road down a short pathway where sleeping bodies were lying outside under a mosquito net. We sat at a table amid the drunkenness and ordered a Vodka & Tonic. Mr Wath otherwise known as Mr Happy showed us the ‘happy’ menu. (‘happy’ on a menu in Laos normally means that there is some weed or other intoxicating substance in whatever your eating or drinking) on the menu among the usual stuff happy shakes, happy cakes etc. was a happy wedding party for $150, hangover breakfast including 500mg of paracetamol and 5mg of valium and for and for a little extra they will make anything ‘happy’ for you. As all electricity is run for only a few hours from generators every time someone ordered a shake the music died and the lights dimmed. Soon the candles came out as the generator was shut down for the night and a French girl started strumming on her guitar and sang sweetly to a hushing crowd, within minutes everyone was silent, mesmerised by the music. We all had happy dreams that night.

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The road to Laos (March, 30 2007)

The border crossing from Cambodia to Laos seemed a very simple task, but how naive we were. We spent one night in Kratie to recover from the crazy karaoke bus ride from Phnom Penh (all buses in Cambodia come equipped with nonstop ear exploding Asian Karaoke music) and arrange onward travel. We were told by the hotel manager it was better to pay an extra dollar to get one less boat journey for the crossing. Stupidly we took his advice.

The following morning a quality minibus with a/c arrived at the hotel to transfer us onto another bus which would bring us to the town of Strung Treng. That was the last time we would see decent transport for a long time.

I looked at our new vehicle it had a tower of goods strapped with rope on the roof rack that was equal in height to the actual minibus. I squeezed past the locals, sat in the back seat beside the window that didn’t open and waited. There was no air conditioning. More goods and people kept arriving. The cramped sweltering bus stopped whenever it had the opportunity to collect even more people and goods. The 15-seater now had expanded somehow to hold 19 sweaty individuals and a ton of goods on the roof.

With great relief, we disembarked at a guesthouse a couple of hours later in Strung Treng. I should have known better but thought foolishly that the worst of the journey was over. The man greeted us with menus and said we were to wait 1 hour.

The 4 of us were rounded up and escorted to the car ferry terminal. Once onboard we waited yet again. The ferry made of black steel acting as a radiator in the midday sun. So much so that the soles of my black rubber sandals began to melt. So we hid in a sliver of shade beside a pickup truck. After 45 mins waiting it took 5 mins to cross.

Apparently, there was a car to bring us to the border but that was thoughtfully parked at the top of a rather steep hill. So we picked up our now sizzling black packs and sweated and gasped to the top. Alex opened the car door and this local lady who was a complete stranger dived in past and made herself comfortable in the passengers’ seat. Our jovial escort had vanished at this stage. The four of us were a little concerned as to how 4 rather large westerners were to fit into the backseat of the car. I am sure this was not included in the price of the ticket.

The driver laughed and pointed at us to get in. It was either that or swim to the border so we squished ourselves in and got closer to Ben & Becky than I had originally anticipated. Then before we took off another local lady got in the front seat to our amazement. There was now a total of 7 in the car with no air-conditioning. Imagine a fully clothed smelly sauna and you get the picture.

So again innocently I believed the 2 women would get out in a few minutes and everything would be ok. My optimism failed me. We turned down this rough potholed road with sharp dips and hills that you would expect fit only for a 4 wheel drive jeep but our driver had no problem in speeding along in his Toyota Camry with 7 people in the car. Body parts gyrated whilst my legs were pinned underneath Becky who at this stage was lying across all 3 of us in the back with her feet stuck out the window. I looked out and we were in the middle of nowhere. Had I really paid extra for this privilege?

The car rolled back and the placid driver looked under the bonnet, unscrewed the cap of the radiator, and water violently exploded past us. Could this really be the road to Laos? Eventually, the engine cooled and it made it across the steep hill. Several bumps and bruises later we arrived at the border the joy I felt was indescribable knowing I would never have to face that Toyota Camry again.

At the unofficial border, the driver had to call the ‘officials’ over from there slumber and go to the shack which was immigration. There was nobody around. They collected their $1 tip and stamped our passports and smiled. Then we crossed into no man’s land which consisted of a bar, a game of boules and a shack. You could immediately feel the pace of life go into reverse the closer you got to the Laos side. The tiny shack for Laos immigration was also unmanned due this time to the game. Two men came over one in a police T-Shirt the other just in casual clothes to stamp our passports and also ask for a small tip. Later I found that my passport was stamped with a date of 29th March and Alex was stamped with a date of April 28th – it was March 30th? Welcome to Laos.

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