Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Take the Ride - Bolaven Plateau

As it always is, it’s sad to leave such a beautiful, relaxed and social place like Don Det of the 4000 islands was this time. The island slowly drifting out of sight as we made our way back to the mainland. The Bolaven Plateau awaited. Five days of cruising through rural Laos, my first sense of the freedom of a motorcycle on the barely trodden path as much as one really can in Southeast Asia.
              Wasting no time, as soon as we arrived in Pakse (the starting point), we made haste renting four bikes and heading out before sun down, hoping to make it to the first town. For 50,000 KIP or about 7 dollars a day we handed over our passport in exchange for the keys and packed our day bag. Fueled up on some sort of fuel resembling the colour of a magenta glow stick at a rave, then hit the highway. It was late afternoon by the time we were out of the city and it was a straight shot to Paksong, racing the sun.

Picking coffee
              Backtracking a little to see one of the many waterfalls dotted around the plateau, my trip was almost cut short. At 60 kilometers per hour a truck decides to pass me with an oncoming truck, as they do. Passing too closely the back of the truck nudged my elbow sending me into a wobble I’m surprised didn’t send me into the ditch. I thought I was going down to sample the road. After recovering from that scare we drove into one of the coffee plantations. This one Dao Heuang, 2.5 square kilometers of coffee plants, as far as you can see. I jumped in and picked some to help a lady fill her basket. One day someone will drink a cup of coffee picked by me.

              On our way to Sekong, we were hoping to see another couple waterfalls but somehow they eluded us all. Instead we stopped to play a bit of football with a group of local kids. It was confusing at first but we managed to join teams and kick the ball around for a bit. I realized that I’ve lost some skill I once had in the past 7 years along with the level of fitness. 30 minutes and I was knackered. Pulled into Sekong just after dark and the only thing left to do to cap off a great day was to eat, and I smelt dinner on the way into town. We drove by some street vendors and immediately I knew where I was eating. Grilled chicken, sausage and liver with sticky rice and papaya salad. For only 25000 KIP, around 3.5 dollars I had a feast I couldn’t finish.

Tad Soung
              The drive to Tad Lo, the most popular town on the loop was nothing short of spectacular. Rural Laos was captivating. There’s 2 main waterfalls here. Tad Lo and Tad Soung, a few kilometers out of town. In rainy season I’m sure it is a beautiful sight, but it was just a trickle of water over the edge. Being able to sit on the edge and gaze over the land treating it like a viewpoint was just as good. Stopping off at the market we bought some food for a picnic on top of Tad Lo. Bought some sticky rice, chicken lap and veggies, craving a fresh salad. The lady renting us the bungalow gave me a cutting board and some form of machete. Sliced up in a bowl with a squeeze of lime, works for me.

The makings of my salad
              We set off on the last leg of the loop for us, back to Pakse and sadly the return of the motorcycle. It was a direct route straight back with nothing but a coffee break. In a small village there is Mr.Vieng Organic Coffee. Just recently undertaking this new venture, he grows it himself, dries, shells and roast it all by hand in small batches. Something that is rarely done anymore. The roasting of a couple kilograms take 30-60 minutes of constant stirring alone.

Mr.Vieng roasting coffee
              Unfortunately Pakse is on the horizon and as they say, all good things must come to an end. Riding across the Bolaven Plateau was one of the best things I’ve done. The true sense of freedom bursting forth. This has inspired me and changed the way in which I would like to travel in the future. No reliance on bus tickets or trains, just yourself, your bike and a map. From city to city and everything in between. Put those two wheels between your legs and take the ride.

Watch my ride around the Bolaven Plateau on my YouTube page: