Located in the crater of an ancient volcano, the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos rises to heights of over 1300 meters. Famous for excellent coffee and amazing waterfalls, the plateau makes a great day-trip from Pakse. Given the cooler temperatures on the plateau, spending a night or two there might not be such a bad idea either.
Best Time to Go
The wet season from May to October brings rains that make the waterfalls on the plateau much more spectacular, but at the same time, make the roads much harder to navigate. This season also brings out the leeches. In the dry season from November to March, the waterfalls are less impressive, but the roads will be better. March to May is the hot season when the amount of water in the falls is at its lowest, but the plateau still offers an excellent reprieve from the hot temperatures in the rest of the area.
Getting to the Bolaven Plateau
The best way to explore the plateau is by motorbike, which can be rented in Pakse from 60,000 Kip per day. Some people make the climb up the plateau on bicycles, but I can’t even imagine attempting that, especially with the single-gear bikes I saw for hire. Nevertheless, for people who actually enjoy physical exercise, biking up the plateau would definitely provide that.
The other option is public transport. You can catch a bus to Paksong from the Dao Heung Market in Pakse. It costs about 20,000 Kip and the first one leaves at 9 am. Let the bus driver know if you want to get off at one of the waterfalls. To continue on after visiting a waterfall, hitchhike or wait for and flag down the next bus that comes along.
If you’d like to spend a night or two on the plateau, a number of guesthouses can be found along the main road, at some of the attractions and in the towns. They’re all pretty basic and pretty cheap. You will also find a few resorts, if you prefer a little more comfort. None of these places ever really fill up, so you can just show up and get a room.
If you’d rather book ahead, you only options are the resorts, but they are still quite cheap. I’d recommend the Tad Fane Resort. Not only is it the cheapest, with rooms starting at just over $20, it also has the best location. As the name might suggest, the resort is right next to the Tad Fane (Tat Fan) twin waterfall, easily the most impressive on the plateau.
If you’re coming to the plateau for the famous coffee, stay at the Sinouk Coffee Resort. It’s more expensive, but much nicer and located on a coffee plantation.
Eating & Drinking
The Bolaven Plateau is famous for its coffee, so you’ll definitely want to try a cup if you’re a coffee drinker. Personally I like tea, which is apparently also grown on the plateau, but is very rightfully not famous. It was pretty bad.
You’ll either have to eat the standard western fare at one of the resorts (it’s not bad really, same as anywhere else) or very basic Lao food.
Things to Do
Waterfalls, waterfalls and more waterfalls. Not nearly as impressive in the dry season, several of the falls are still beautiful enough to warrant a visit even at their least spectacular. Get a map from your guesthouse or the place where you rent your bikes. The turn-offs to the various falls will be marked by signs on the main road. All of the waterfalls charge entrance fees and parking fees of a few thousand Kip each.
A few of the main waterfalls:
- Phasoume: Surrounded by the Phasoume resort and a reconstructed, touristy “tribal village”; the u-shaped waterfall is nice, but the village is cheesy and the fact that they offer elephant rides is off-putting; very popular with Thai tourists
- Tat Fan: twin falls that drop over 100m; very impressive and definitely worth seeing; this is the waterfall pictured above
- Tat Cham Pee: great waterfall for swimming or relaxing in tubes
- Tat Yuang: impressive waterfall with twin torrents; picnic area; popular with Thai tourists
- Couple Waterfall: more remote waterfall that gets few visitors; worth seeing if you have time
- Tat Katamtok: largest waterfall in the area and located in one of the most beautiful areas; can be difficult to find
- Tat E-Tu: located below a resort, you’ll have to descend a very uneven staircase; pretty nice waterfall and easy to get to, but there are better
Other things to do on the plateau:
- visit hill-tribe villages
- markets in Paksong and Thateng
- try the famous coffee