We arrived nearly on time to the Ubonrathchathani train station after a night on the train and met up with the pickup truck that we had pre-booked to take us to the Laos border. A passport size photo and cash was all we needed to get our visa on demand, and by noon we were on our bikes heading for Pakse. After about 10 kilometers of a gentle downhill slope, the road leveled off, and we found ourselves traveling past the familiar checkerboard pattern of dry-season rice fields. The minor annoyance of being splashed with water as we headed toward the Mekong River was balanced out by our need to cool off in the 40 degree temperatures.
Day One: From Chong Mek to Pakse (50 kms.)
|Laos Fo Noodles|
Day Two: From Pakse to Paksong (50 kms., 1100 m. ascent)
|Salawen Guest House|
Day Three: From Paksong to Sekong (99 kms., 1100 m. descent)
|Road to the East|
The government is in the process of paving the road out to highway 11. The entire stretch has been cut and graded. It's a long road and looks like it could take 1 to 2 years to complete. According to locals, it is going to be part of a highway into Vietnam, the modern version of the Ho Chi Min Trail.
About half way down into the valley, we spotted a water fall sign along the road and veered off to take a look. The reward was a view across the valley of the Sekatam Falls, beautiful even at the end of the dry season.
Eventually, the descent ended, and we had a smallish climb up and over a ridge and out toward the highway. Highway 11 between Atapeu and Sekong turned out to be a well-paved road with little traffic. Unlike the bone dry rice fields on the Pakse side, we found ourselves riding through lush rice fields with the plateau ridge towering over the valley on our left side as we made our way to Sekong.
Guide books don't have much good to say about Sekong, but as with many experiences, it's all in the timing. We found a clean, quiet courtyard style guest house with aircon on the approach into Sekong. While the others showered and washed some laundry, I ventured off to find snacks and beer Laos. I didn't need to wander far. 30 meters and I found myself sitting in a small shop with several people offering to share their beer with me. In towns like Sekong, it is easy to get by speaking Thai. Laotians generally understand Thai quite well from watching Thai soap operas and listening to Thai pop music, and after a few days in Laos, any Thai speaker can work out enough Laotian to understand everyday conversations. The connection with the shop keeper turned into an invitation to join a new years party when we bumped into her and her husband after having dinner at a nearby hotel. Apparently it was neighborhood party. We were given dance instructions on how to dance in the traditional Loas manner, and handed free beers till we thought it best to head back to the guest house.
Day Four: From Sekong to the Sinouk Coffee Resort (60 kms., 600 m. ascent}
|Sinouk Coffee Resort|
Sinouk Coffee Resort was the perfect oasis at this stage in the trip. Sitting on the veranda of the bungalow watching the late afternoon thunderstorm come in over the plateau while sipping freshly brewed iced coffee was nothing short of Bolaven heaven. The Resort also had a well-stocked kitchen and feasted on fried chicken and other western treats.
Day Five: From Sinouk Coffee Resort to Tad Fan Resort (50 kms., 500 m. ascent)
|Tad Fan Falls|
Day Six: Exploring the Tad Fan Area
We took our off-day to heart and did very little for most of the day. When originally planning the trip, we thought we might go on a trek into the jungle. Didn't happen. Reading, eating, sleeping on the hammocks and watching the stream of tourists come look at the falls was entertaining enough. Around mid-afternoon, we felt ready to jump on our bikes and explore some of the nearby falls. We made it to three different falls before sunset, include Tad E Tu.
Day Seven: From Tad Fan back to Chong Mek (99 kms., 1100 m. descent)
The trip was nearly over. We knew that by 5 p.m. we would be back over the border in Thailand. We procrastinated, took our time at breakfast and packing up. We jumped on our bikes at 10:00, flew back downhill to Pakse, and by 11:30 a.m. we were sitting in the air-conditioned Bolaven Cafe drinking iced coffees and eating cheese cake. The easy part was done. Getting back on the bikes in the heat of the day and riding back up to the border took a little will power. On the way, we met a Thai couple who had riden to Pakse the day before. They joined us for the final push to the border, suprised when we lingered at a shop 10 kms. from the border and drank beer Laos. One last toast to a pleasant journey in a beautiful place.