the ultimate guide to the bolaven plateau

How to Visit the Bolaven Plateau Laos – Itineraries & Routes

The cooler temperatures and the higher altitude of the Bolaven Plateau will bring you blessed relief from the heat of Laos.  Combine that with a plethora of waterfalls in the region and the fact that this is Lao’s main coffee region and you have a great place to explore.   Aside from waterfalls and coffee plantations, you’ll find small villages teeming with local life, fresh food, and lush jungle.  Depending on the time of year, the additional altitude will give you a definite chill too!  While using a motorbike as transport brings freedom, flexibility, and a welcome breeze, it’s also possible to explore this area by public transport and also by organized tour. Welcome to our guide to the Bolaven Plateau.

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Where is the Bolaven Plateau Laos?

The Bolaven Plateau is an elevated region in central Laos.  It’s about 85km from Pakse.  While the majority of the Bolaven Plateau is located in the Champasak province of southern Laos, there are also areas of it within other provinces.

This famous plateau in Laos sits at between 1,000m and 1,350m above sea level and is located between the Mekong River and the Annamite Mountains.  It’s most famous for its waterfalls, jungle, and coffee.

The Bolaven Plateau History

The area of the Bolaven Plateau was named after an ethnic group who lived here, the “laven”.  Back in 1893, the French annexed this area.  It was after this time that the French planted coffee.  Roll forward some 70 years and the Plateau suffered greatly during the Vietnam War.  It was one of the most heavily-bombed areas as it was strategically vital to both the Americans and the North Vietnamese.

Now it’s a favored route for those going a little off the beaten track, in a kind of organized sort of a way.

How to get to the Bolaven Plateau

Most people will approach the Bolaven Plateau from Pakse.   It is certainly the largest town in the area.  Pakse to Bolaven Plateau is a short distance and takes just a short time to get there, the length of time depending on how you travel.  Pakse is the town where you will take a bus to go to the south to Si Phan Don (four thousand islands) or north to Luang Prabang.

Maps of the Bolaven Plateau

Pakse, Wat Phou and Bolaven Plateau Map

bolaven plateau - route map

The map above is from the Nang Noi Guesthouse in Pakse, which we recommend, and where we rented our motorbike from.  These further detailed Bolaven Plateau maps are from the Fandee Family Guest house, where we stayed at Tad Lo.

If you want to prebook somewhere to stay on the Bolaven Plateau – then the Tad Lo Lodge is a great option and you can check prices here.

Bolaven Plateau Map Overview

bolaven plateau - Fandee Family Guest House

Map of Tad Lo, Tad Huong, and Tad Soung Waterfalls

bolaven plateau - map fandee family guesthouse

Tad Lo Waterfall Map

bolaven plateau - Tad Lo Water Fall

How to visit the Bolaven Plateau without a Motorbike

If you don’t want to ride a motorbike, then there are other options – here are our recommendations on how to visit the Bolaven Plateau without a motorbike

  • Take a 2-day 1 night homestay experience on the Bolaven Plateau.  In this trip, you will start from Pakse and visit Tad Fane, then stay with Mr. Vieng, then visit Tad Lo, Tad Phaosuam and return to Pakse  – details and booking here!

The Bolaven Plateau Loops

There are two Motorbike loops of the Bolaven Plateau.  They are sometimes known as the Pakse Loop or the Bolaven Plateau Motorbike Loops as they are easiest to navigate by motorbike.  Bolaven Plateau loops assume a starting point of Pakse and a return to there.  The short Bolaven Plateau Loop takes 2 days and 1 night and the longer one can take up to 5 days depending on how many stops you want to make.  We took the short loop on a 100cc Honda Wave semi-automatic bike rented from Pakse.  You can see the route of the loops on the maps above.

I couldn’t have attempted the larger loop even if I wanted to, because while being completely numb my bottom is also painful to the point of mutiny.

bolaven plateau - motorbike

Things to do on the Bolaven Plateau

Ride a Motorbike around the Bolaven Plateau Loops

I do think that this is the best way to see the Bolaven Plateau.  You’ll have the freedom to explore at your own pace and stop a little longer if you like somewhere.  The roads are quiet here, and while there are some unpaved roads, most of them are in reasonable condition.

Pakse Motorbike rentals can be made from any guesthouse or there are also shops on the main street to enquire with.  Most bikes will take two people.

Visit the Waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau

It is the waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau that are famous. A 2-day itinerary to the Bolaven Plateau will take you easily to the most impressive and famous of the Bolaven plateau waterfalls.  The major waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau are:

  • Tad Lo (sometimes Tat Lo)
  • Tad Suong
  • Tad Hang (good for swimming in the pools)
  • Tad Alang
  • Tad Tayicseua
  • Tad Fane (sometimes Ta Fan)
  • Tad Phasouam (sometimes Tad Pha Suam)
  • Tad Katamtok
  • Tad Gneuang

Swim in the Waterfall Pools of the Bolaven Plateau

While it is important that you observe and pay attention to any safety signs it’s possible to swim in the pools of Tad Hang and Tad Lo waterfalls.  Be aware of your surroundings and any local sensibilities.

Shop in Markets or Along the Roadside of the Bolaven Plateau Loops

There are roadside stalls everywhere.  Selling everything from vegetables to machetes.  You’ll also find markets in the villages and towns of the Bolaven Plateau.  You’ll find traditional crafts such as weaving being sold along your routes too.

bolaven plateau - roadside stall machete

Stay with the Fandee Family

The Fandee Family Guesthouse has something of a cult following and I can’t deny it is an interesting social experiment.    The Fandee Family Guesthouse is located in Tad Lo, near the waterfall of the same name.  The village of Tad Lo is considered the traditional stop for those taking the small loop of the Bolaven Plateau on a motorbike.

Loic and Laure, the Fandee’s, first arrived here in 2007 and moved here permanently in 2012. They run the guesthouse (four wooden bungalows) and the restaurant, but they also sponsor, pay for, and school 7 local boys, who also live with them alongside the menagerie of cats, dogs, and the world’s cutest puppies.  Of course, we were sold on the bungalow when it came with a sleeping cat and a horse outside. It’s not currently possible to book their places online, you have to turn up and hope that they have space.

If you prefer to pre-book your accommodation, then the Tad Lo Lodge is a great option and you can see their availability here.

bolaven plateau - fandee bungalows

It’s more than a little disorganized and experiences tend to be a bit hit and miss, with some people having great experiences here and others not.

On the second day of our short Bolaven Plateau loop, I had a hangover.  I blamed it on the French. And the Dutch. There was a German involved and of course us Brits. But it was mainly the French.

It was almost 1 am before we got to bed and the incessant whine of motorbikes, tractors, and bloody roosters started at 5 this morning.

It all happened because “there is a Lao custom”. said Loic Fandee of the Fandee guesthouse (where we’d stayed), that when the fridge starts to approach a certain low level of beer, you have to empty it. I’m pretty sure this emptyish state started around 1030pm, so I’m not sure how we made it last until 1 am.

Visit Wat Phou

Technically Wat Phou or Vat Phou isn’t on the Bolaven Plateau, but if you’ve taken the longer loop, you’ll pass not far from it.  Vat Phu is a UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed onto the list in 2001.

The site of Vat Phou was originally part of the city of Shrestapura, but by the end of the 5th century, it was the capital of a kingdom that was connected with Champa, now in modern-day southern Vietnam.   At the top of the mountain was a phallic-shaped object (a lingam) which meant that the mountain was associated with the Hindu God Shiva thus the early temples here were dedicated to Shiva and the spring behind the temple was considered sacred.

Vat Phou was part of the Khmer Empire focused around Angkor in Cambodia in the early 10th century.   The remains of the temple that can be seen now date from the 11th century, although there has been a little restoration been done, the site is more in an arrested state of decay.

Taste Coffee of the Bolaven Plateau

While it was the French who introduced the concept of coffee to the BOlaven Plateau most of the coffee plantations here are now locally owned and managed.  There are several that you can visit while traveling around the Bolaven plateau.  You can even taste Luwak coffee here.

You’ll even spot coffee growing along the side of the road and small coffee stops along the way, generally around the area of Paksong.

Bolaven Plateau - coffee beans

Recommended places to try coffee near or on the Bolaven Plateau

  1. Koffie’s Coffee Workshop in Paksong.

Arrive by 10 am to take a tour of a coffee plantation, roast coffee beans and take home your own wok roasted coffee (costs 180,000 kip).  You can take this tour and make it back to Pakse before dark.

  1. The Thateng Integrated Organic Farm

Located between Paksong and Thateng stop here for a farm tour, tea, coffee or fresh juice.   This farm is a training centre for young people and farmers in Laos’s southern provinces.

  1. Stay at the Sabaidee Valley Resort

Providing air-conditioned rooms in private chalets you’ll get free WiFi and private bathrooms.  This gorgeous resort has an outdoor swimming pool.  Seriously what more could you ask for (go for the suite rather than the double room and treat yourself!!) You can check prices and availability here.

Where to Stay on the Bolaven Plateau

You’ll find a town, village, or “resort” close to each of the major waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau, or at least be able to easily travel between them.

Where to Stay in Pakse Laos

You will likely begin your explorations of the Bolaven Plateau from the town of Pakse.  Pakse is the main starting point for all visits to the Bolaven Plateau and it’s where you will catch buses, find a driver, or rent motorbikes.

Where to Stay in Tad Lo Laos

A great relaxed vibe here – quiet, and a good mix of backpacker hostels and bungalows to stay in.  Pleasant walks to waterfalls, where it’s also possible to swim.

  • The Tad Lo Lodge – great room options and a fabulous location – reserve now.

Where to Stay in Paksong Laos

The heart of coffee country here on the Bolaven Plateau – stay here for coffee and to spend a second night on the plateau.

Push the boat out and enjoy the luxury of the Sabaidee Valley Resort – check availability and book now!

How to Rent a Motorbike for the Bolaven Plateau from Pakse

We rented a semi-automatic motorbike – a 100cc Honda Wave, from the Nang Noi Guesthouse Pakse (pronounced Pak-say), leaving our bags there and bringing just overnight things. Including a fleece, because apparently, it gets cold up here on the Bolaven plateau.  It turned out that it was freezing in December, but not at all when we were there!

You can rent motorbikes easily from any accommodation in Pakse.

This is a hint to be careful you understand what cold is. 25 degrees is cold here. The roads are all concrete or tarmac and the riding is easy, even through Pakse.

Other riders and drivers are considerate (for Asia, that’s something of a miracle) and we were taken through the operation of the bike and assured that it was only 2 hours to Tad Lo, some 85 kilometers away.

En route, There are roadside stalls everywhere.  Selling everything from vegetables to machetes.

We arrived in Tad Lo by around 2 pm, after a 0920 start- but we weren’t hurried, had stopped for a few cold drinks and lunch at a roadside shack.

The Waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau

The Tad Phasouam Waterfall

This is the closest waterfall to Pakse and it is likely everyone’s first stop.  The Tad Phousam Waterfall is located inside the Uttayan Bajiang resort.  The waterfall is about 6 meters high and is a horseshoe shape.

bolaven plateau - Tad Phousam

There’s a restaurant here and you can view the falls from a bamboo bridge too.  There are also roasted almonds drying in the sun and quirky little cabins to stay in.  We also found a snake (no photo, unfortunately, too busy shrieking) and massive spiders.

Bolaven Plateau Tad Phousam

A bamboo bridge and a herd of fake elephants completed our trip to this waterfall, which cost 10,000 kip each. Oh, plus 2,000 kip to bring in and park the motorbike.

Bolaven Plateau Tad Phousam

The Tad Lo Waterfall

Tad Lo Waterfall is close to the village of the same name.  There are several places to stay here and a few places to eat also.  It’s a cute little place.

Tad Lo is the main waterfall here, but you’ll also find Tad Suong and Tad Hang waterfalls.  Check out the maps we included earlier in this post.

Bolaven Plateau - Tad Lo
Bolaven Plateau - Tad Lo
Bolaven Plateau - Tad Lo

The Tad Gneuang Waterfall

Bolaven Plateau - Tad Gneuang

We picnicked at Tad Gneuang, (10,000 kip each for us and 5,000 kip for the bike) and then hiked (ok, clambered) down for a soggy photo.

The Tad Alang Waterfall

You will find Tad Alang close to the Tad Tayicseua Waterfall, close to the town of Tayicseua.  There are a further 5 waterfalls close to this town.

The Tad Tayicseua Waterfall

You’ll find 15 waterfalls in total on this private land, although you’ll likely have to do a fair bit of walking to see them all.  Tayicseua claims to be the waterfall capital of Laos because of the sheer number of falls here.

The Tad Katamtok Waterfall

Tad Katamtok is the largest waterfall of the Bolaven Plateau.  It’s located on the road from Paksong to Tayicseua

The Tad Fane Waterfall

We saved the best till last.  Tad Fane, the gorgeous double waterfall right in the middle of the jungle, with the Tad Fane resort conveniently available for views and photos.  The twin falls thunder down across the other side of the gorge and disappears into the jungle.

Bolaven Plateau - Tad Fane

Bolaven Plateau Itineraries by Motorbike

2-day Motorbiking Bolaven Plateau Itinerary

Day 1:  85 kilometers:  Pakse to Tad Lo:  Leave from Pakse mid-morning on your motorbike and head down route 16, until you reach the turnoff for Tad Phasouam Waterfall.  Enter the resort, pay your fee and enjoy the waterfall.  Buy some roasted almonds to snack on.  Stop for lunch along the way and arrive at the village of Tad Lo in time for a walk to the waterfalls of Tad Lo, Tad Suong, and Tad Hang.  Cool down with a cold Beer Lao and enjoy the social vibe of the area. If you’re traveling in high season we recommend booking your accommodation ahead of time.  In Tad Lo prebook your accommodation at the Tad Lo lodge

Day 2:  Breakfast and then on the road towards Paksong – enjoy riding past the coffee plantations, even stop off – perhaps at the Thateng Integrated Organic Farm for a fresh juice or a coffee en route.  Pick up a picnic in Paksong and head to Tad Gneuang Waterfall for a picnic.  Make the Tad Fane Waterfall your final stop as the piece de resistance before getting back to Pakse before dark.

3-day Motorbiking Bolaven Plateau Itinerary

Day 1:  Take the same route as our first day above.

Day 2:  Be sure to get up early enough on Day 2 to get to Paksong by 1000 – so you can join the Koffie coffee tour – enjoy the coffee plantation tour and then roast your own coffee.  Stay the night in Paksong at the Sabaidee Valley Resort.

Day 3:  Have a leisurely breakfast in Paksong, perhaps enjoy a little more coffee from the plateau and then follow our directions for our second day in the 2-day itinerary, but add on a trip to Wat Phou before heading back to Pakse before dark

Major Sites and Locations to visit in Laos

Travel Tips for Exploring Laos

Final thoughts on our Bolaven Plateau Tour

Well.  That’s it.  Our guide to the Bolaven plateau.  Despite my hangover from excessive partying with the Fandees and friends, we had a fabulous time on the plateau.  Two days on a Honda Wave motorbike was tough on the bum, but it was a great experience!  Where you head off to after the Bolaven Plateau is likely to either be Si Phan Don – find out how to get there from Pakse here, or perhaps Vientiane and we’ve got all the details of the Pakse Vientiane route here.

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