The Bolaven Plateau - Thursday 16 - Saturday 25 October 2008
From Pakse it was a steady climb up to the plateau a pretty drive with a mountainous back drop. We passed through coffee plantations and indigenous villages. There are several different indigenous peoples in the region in addition to the Laven after whom the plateau is named. These people often live and work on the large coffee plantations. In the villages you also see chilies and coffee beans drying in front of their traditional huts.
We turned off to stop at Phasume Eco resort. There is a stunning waterfall Tad Phasouan and next door is a tastefully done resort and restaurant combined with a model village. This latter is an (extremely sanitized) reconstruction of an indigenous village with various tribes -Katu, Laven and Nge - carrying out their traditional activities i.e.) weaving brightly coloured cloth, making baskets and rugs which they sell.
Once we arrived the children broke into a traditional dance for our benefit. The village was well built showing examples of traditional techniques and they all seemed happy enough to be living there -lots of nice mod cons like the Flintstone style open plan bathrooms - it was a little bit kitsch not very like a real indigenous village but maybe more comfortable to live in because of that!
We enjoyed lunch there overlooking the waterfall which was quite beautiful. This area is renowned for its beautiful waterfalls and we journeyed on to see a couple of others - first Tad Fane. These twin falls plunge over 120 metres from the Dong Hua Sao National Park and are pretty spectacular. The park itself is renowned for being really stunning for trekking but not when we visited as it was extremely slippery and pretty treacherous so we just had a look from the lookout at the top as it felt a bit unsafe to wonder around - particularly as there were no hand rails.
Just nearby was another waterfall Tad Yuang which was where we camped for the night. This was another impressive volume of water; again it made us think that the end of the wet season wasn't a bad time to visit this area. We went for a walk around it - still very slippery but with a comforting hand rail though it was still a bit dicey in places. The spray was so intense you were wet from 100 metres back. There was an area at the top with small wooden cafes and we were allowed to camp there for the night. We were quickly a focus of interest from the local children who were fascinated by the car. Our Lonely Planet of Laos was a big winner mainly for the glossy photos we think they hadn't often seen coloured pictures in a book before and they were fascinated particularly with the pictures of the local area which they recognized.
It is really a very lovely relaxing area, and pleasantly cool up here. The indigenous villages set against the mountains are very scenic. Whilst poor the people do seem happy, relaxing whilst the pigs and goats and chickens root around and the children play. One local trade is producing charcoal and you can see them burning the wood (off cuts from local timber mills) to produce charcoal which they bag up and sell. There is a dark side of life in the village though, medical care is fairly sparse in this area and infant mortality rates are very high as there is no basic knowledge of disease prevention. Maybe this is why one of the tribes the Katu have the macabre habit of carving out a casket for each family member as soon as they are born ..if not used the casket passes down to younger family members! Tobacco is also commonly used as a medicine -even for young children and apparently you once saw toddlers smoking -though thankfully we didn't see this - hopefully education has helped.
We headed next to Paksong. This little town isn't particularly scenic - most of it was apparently destroyed as this whole area was heavily bombed in the Second Indochina war from 1964 to 1973. We had been keen to buy some coffee and were lucky enough to pull over at the shop of a very nice Dutch man (appropriately called Coffee!) and his lovely Laven wife Von. I had been saying for a while that the people's appearance and their brightly coloured clothes really set me in mind of the South Amercians.. (though sadly I've not yet been there) who also farm coffee and Coffee said the same - I thought Von looked very South American - maybe the Bolivian people and the Bolaven Plateau people are somehow linked!
Coffee and Von have a plantation in the mountains and they sell their own coffee beans for export to the USA, and sell ground coffee locally. He also conducts coffee appreciation courses, and he gave us a short one in return for dinner at a local restaurant where we ate local wild deer. We stocked up with supplies -which have given the car a lovely if a bit overpowering fragrance! I include their website for your information http://www.paksong.info but sadly Australia is the one country that will not allow their coffee in so you can't order from there.
Next stop was Tat Lo another scenic waterfall. It is a very peaceful area set on a river and surrounded by indigenous villages. We went for an elephant trek which was superb.
The ticket said the ride would be "1.5 to 2 hours it dipend on the elephant" and we got nearer 3 hours, as our elephant Moon a 16 year old female believed in frequent snack stops mainly for bamboo shoots!
It was an incredible experience as we went through streams and over rocks we never could have done on foot and through the middle of an indigenous village.
As neither of us had been feeling great rather than camping we booked into a wooden bungalow surrounded by tropical gardens just near the falls for a couple of day's rest. I soon felt better but Andrew was still feeling ropey so we took a day trip back into Pakse to see the doctor. Blood tests confirmed that we both have Dengue fever which is carried by a certain type of mosquito, though Andrew has it much more severely. It is present in Laos but far more common in Cambodia so it is likely we picked it up there, maybe on the night we got bogged and were marooned in the jungle for a while. The only treatment is complete rest so we have headed back to the cool of Tat lo and are relaxing in one of their traditional bungalows. On the way back from the hospital we had a flat tyre - it was pitch black and the torch stopped working so we were out there for hours before some good Samaritans stopped to help us- a very late night which didn't help !
As at the 25 October we are having a nice relax catching up on reading and resting and will hang here until we both feel a bit more energetic. I am sure we'll soon be fine and we have a lovely place in which to recuperate.