We are just back from our short sojourn through the Bolaven Plateau and boy is my arse sore. Six hundred odd k's on a moto in four days taking in Tad Lo, Salavan, Sekong, Attapeu and finally Paksong. Needless to say I don't wanna see another moto for the duration of the trip.
Our first leg took us from Pakse, regional city, to Tad Lo. About 120 K's up to the lower side of the plateau. There is a couple of nice waterfalls in Tad Lo and we stay right next to one of them in a bungalow at the most sleepy "resort" I think I've ever been to. The service was glacial to put it kindly. In fact it's become a running joke between Tara and I how much the Lao kids seem to prefer watching teev to pretty much anything else. That and lazing in the hotels linen out the back of the office.
The first night up there Tara is laid low due to some dodgy prawns the previous night. I decide to explore by myself and take a sundown cruise out to a precipitous waterfall above the town that has an awesome view.
The next day we decide to take a day trip up the road to Salavan, a frontier town towards the range that separates Laos from Vietnam. It's a town that ain't got much going on but kinda feels like outback Australia - almost homely. We find a little cafe where we eat ping paa, fried fish. It is somewhat disconcertingly cooked whole - not even gutted - and you eat it wrapped in fresh leaves after picking off the flesh and adding various fresh condiments. The fish is a freshwater fish which seems to be eaten everywhere here and Cambodia. I've been living on it. One of the best feeds we've had.
The locals eating with us - including an army guy- find us very amusing and after one of the ladies has shown us how to correctly consume ping paa a young bloke gets some happy snaps with us. I love when they turn the tables.
We also get the "celebrity" vibe when wandering around the market. I feel a tad conspicuous. Still, an interesting little town.
Back in Tad Lo I take Tara to the falls I visited yesterday and she is also awed. Later we walk up the river from the guesthouse and find the locals bathing and watering their little market gardens. The kids, as usual, are not backward in coming forward and mercilessly hassle Tara, giving her all manner of inexplicable hand signals. I think they got two, peace and up yours all mixed up. I settle for a low five for each outstretched hand and they seem relatively happy with that.
On the third day we set out early for a hard days ride to Attapeu, which not surprisingly translates to buffalo s***. Aptly named place as Tara spots many piles of said manure as we roll into town 150k's and many arse burning hours later. It takes us an hour to find a guesthouse and it seems the whole town is being dug up due to some "upgrading" of it's drainage systems. We are both starving by this point and cant find anything that looks appetising until, hark! Waffles at a streetside stand! Stopping we find it is run by a friendly Vietnamese woman who speaks zero english, but is able to sate our hunger with her deliciously fresh waffles. I never thought I'd be so happy to find a waffle in Laos.
The only restaurant in town that sounded good has also gone and after a walk around the best we can do is some pho at a tiny cafe - at least they had Beerlao, have I mentioned Beerlao yet?
The next morning we head off early to score some more waffles for brekky before the hardest leg of the bike trip yet. We backtrack fifty k's then take a dirt road that goes directly across the plateau to Paksong, the coffee center of Laos.
I've seen a few wimps riding 250cc off road bikes but doing the back blocks on a moto is the only way to go. You can't beat that drifting feeling as your trusty 110cc semi auto finds it's line in a rutted dirt track. Watching the locals stream past at eighty only strengthens the feeling that these little bikes can go anywhere - and they do.
After we get over the amazing ascent and past innumerable coffee plantations we encounter some serious roadworks. For about the last thirty k's of our run into Paksong the road is being completely resurfaced. This leaves us to pick our way through dust and rubble at the side of the road - a job the moto is no doubt cut out for!
Tara has to dismount her pillion position a couple of times, but save the one large boulder that nearly does us in we sail through in cloud of triumphant dust. Take that motocross bike wimps!
We arrive in Paksong sore of arse and dusty of face but help is at hand in the form of coffee. Strong local coffee, pushed by a strangely passionate Dutch fella who takes us on a tour of the local industry. His spiel is obviously highly caffeinated but also highly informative and it's a nice break from the temple oriented tourism much of the trip has seen.
We end our tour watching him roast fresh beans in a wok before brewing some of the most brain frying coffee I've had in some time. Made the remaining fifty k's back to Pakse a breeze, if a little frantic.