We had an early start on New Year’s Day, and after breakfast we were ready to set off on our tour of Southern Laos. As it was our first time on a bike, Katy and I rented small 100cc bikes, while Seb and Sophie had a bigger dirt-bike to share. We headed East out of Pakse towards Tad Lo, which is about 85km away. It’s a fairly simple trip on good roads with very little traffic.
After a pit stop about 15km in, we’d arranged with Seb and Sophie that we would meet them at Tad Lo, as they were more likely to get there first. We set off first, expecting to see them fly past us at any minute. An hour later there was no sign of them, and we were unsure of whether to turn back and look for them or carry on. We decided that it was probably best to carry on and get to the guest house in Tad Lo where we had arranged to meet.
The ride on the way was really good, and we passed through loads of small Lao villages. There were very few road signs, so we kept an eye on how many kilometres we had travelled so far so we would know when we were there. Anyway after 90km, there was still no sign of Tad Lo, so we thought we had gone past it. We back-tracked about 15km to have another look. At this point there was still no sign of Seb and Sophie, and we began to have visions of us stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no way to contact them.
We eventually found someone who spoke a little English, and we were told that Tad Lo was 20km back in the direction we had just come from. So we turned around and started again. It turns out that the turning for Tad Lo was about 5km from where we had originally turned around in the first place, but we were pleased to find it. Tad Lo itself was a very small village next to a waterfall, and when eventually found the guest house there was no sign of them there, and the owner said there were no English couples that had arrived recently. We were worried that something had happened to them. Ten minutes later they turned up though.
When we had left them their bike hadn’t started, so they were stranded in a tiny village. The locals sat them down, gave them food and beer while someone had a look at the bike. After an hour they found out that it was simple a switch at the top of the bike that needed to be pressed, and they were back on their way.
After a trip to see another waterfall in Tad Lo in the afternoon, we headed to a local restaurant that is famed for its good food at cheap prices. The owner (Mama Pap) told us that she was having problems with one of her guests; an Italian guy who was refusing to pay his bill. Katy and Sophie agreed to try and broker a deal. After an hour of negotiating, he agreed a price that both he and Mama Pap were happy with, and we headed to bed in our very rickety bungalow.
The next morning we set off to a small town called Sekong, South of Tad Lo. About an hour into our journey, Katy pulled over with a puncture. We were in the middle of nowhere, with only very remote villages around us. A group of locals quickly joined us on the side of the road, but nobody spoke a word of English. Thankfully we found a local family that could change the inner-tube for us just five minutes down the road. We pushed the bike up to their house, and sat there for an hour or so while he repaired the tyre. We had no idea how much it would cost us, but we were shocked when we came to pay and it only cost about $2.
So we were back on the road to Sekong. It didn’t take us long to get there, but when we arrived we found that there was virtually nothing there. According to our guide book, this is one of the most remote parts of Laos, and that was fairly obvious to us. There were no other tourists to be seen, and most locals looked at us as if we were from Mars. Food was very basic with very few English menus, so we had to go with whatever we were given. While we were eating lunch, we were surrounded by various animals just wandering around, including pigs, chickens, cats and dogs. It was quite a site, and we turned around to see a chicken stood on Katy’s bike seat taking a poo. To say Katy wasn’t pleased is an understatement. We went to see more waterfalls that afternoon, before having an early night.
The next morning we got an early start, as we were headed to the most difficult part of our trip. So far all the roads had been tarmacked (to a certain degree), making it a fairly easy ride. That days trip involved heading to Paksong through the Bolaven Plateau (a national park) on a 90km strip of dirt track. We didn’t really know what to expect, but when we got to the track we were slightly worried. It took us an hour to do about 17km, with the roads proving almost impossible for our little scooters. So we took a stop at a couple of waterfalls to have a bit of a break from the bumpy road.
When we got back on the road we found that the track improved, and we made up some time quite quickly. There was virtually nothing on the way except beautiful views all around us. We were thankful to find a tiny little shop where we could buy some lunch (if you can call it that). We were treated to some stale coconut biscuits and water. By this point we were covered in dust and dirt from the road, and the locals were looking at us as if we were mad. We’d only seen one other foreigner driving across the plateau, so it’s obviously a fairly un-travelled route.
After several kilometres of huge dust clouds and precarious gravel causing the back of our bikes to swing out, we made it to Paksong. There was very little there, and we were only 50km from Pakse, so we decided to carry on.
In all we travelled about 400km in three days, and it was an amazing experience. I think we were all glad to get off the bikes and give our bums a rest though. When we got back last night, we treated ourselves to a hot shower and nice curry. It was great to see parts of Laos that a lot of tourists don’t get to see, and we were pleased to arrive back safely. Tonight we’re heading North to Vientienne where we plan to spend a couple of days.
Until the next time…