Chasing waterfalls in Southern Laos


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Asia » Laos » South » Bolaven Plateau
February 17th 2013
Published: March 25th 2013
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I'll admit, it seems highly unusual to be humming along to TLC's "Waterfalls" while trekking through Southern Laos' lush jungle... Or does it? As I retrospectively look back, with great fondness, at my fleeting time through this fascinating country, I can't seem to get the words from this song - a 1995 Grammy Award nominated single, no less - out of my head!

"Don't go chasing waterfalls... Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to... I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all... But I think you're moving too fast..."


Allow me to elaborate on this atypical characterization as I reflect back on a few days spent exploring the Bolaven Plateau of Southern Laos, drinking world class coffee and trekking from one majestic waterfall to the next.



Gearing up for our first field trip to Ubon Ratchathani, I examined the map of Indochina with an uncanny sense of curiosity and eagerness, to see what foreign lands I could explore from there. With a long weekend ahead (in light of the Chinese New Year), my wanderlust was even greater! Ubon is only a few miles away from the border of Southern Laos; a beautiful, relatively untouched area of nature, off the classic tourist path... Perfect! All I needed to do was extend my return ticket back to Bangkok and make my way across the border, and back, for a few blissful days in the jungle... Another epic trip in the making... Over the next few days, I must have googled the area a thousand times, obsessing about what lay ahead!

Witnessing my incessant enthusiasm over the next few days, several fellows approached me with a keen interest to tag along...

The more the merrier, I said! However, in the end, it was only Sachin, the affable Police Officer from Bombay, who bravely put his faith into my hands and decided to join me on this adventure. Up until then, I didn't know much about this enigmatic Law Enforcement Officer with a sublime moustache! We had exchanged a few words here and there, both in and out of class but nothing more than your typical pleasantries. I should note, however, that I had been very impressed with Sachin's calm and collected demeanor despite his hectic line of work and the environment in which he lives (Bombay!). He would be a perfect travel companion, I thought - resourceful, rational and most importantly, adventurous! Sachin, as it tuns out, is an avid outdoors enthusiast who loves to hike and prefers the more rustic and natural settings over the urban comforts that many have prioritized as a holiday concept. So with minimal expectations and inhibitions, we were on our way to Laos!

Crossing the border was an interesting experience. While Sachin sailed right through the line with absolutely no problems, I was greeted by a rather irritated customs officer, who sternly instructed me to fill out some additional paper work. Once I had done so, he asked me to look at the camera to take a photo for visa purposes... fair enough - seems pretty standard. However, as I adjusted the small web camera to make sure that it would be pointed in the right direction, the irked officer proceeded to forcefully slap my hand away, while vigorously reprehending me... Welcome to Laos! I convinced myself that this man was an anomaly and did not at all represent the wonderful, kind, jovial and courteous people of Laos whom I was soon about to meet and interact with. Be that as it may (and it most certainly was), this episode will surely be remembered as one of the more unpleasant border crossings!

Sachin couldn't stop laughing! Who gets slapped at borders?! At least, I felt safe, considering I was traveling with a highly trained and experienced Police Officer... I suppose also, looking at the bright side of things, it broke the proverbial ice between us and provided us with some great conversational material, right off the bat! It wasn't long after, that I realized how much we would get along. Sachin is one of the most laid-back, easy going travel partner anyone can hope to explore with. I don't think I heard a single complaint from him throughout the entire trip. He welcomed every new destination and conversation with a genuine sense of interest and appreciation.

On paper, Sachin and I have practically nothing in common. Born and raised in India to a family with deep roots in law enforcement, it was a natural progression for Sachin to become a cop - a position which he's held proudly for his entire professional life. Moreover, he is a gun aficionado who loves to hunt in the country, during his time off. As I said, practically nothing in common! But as it turns out, Sachin and I share a similar outlook on life which stems from a collective pursuit of experiences based on human interactions and the prescribed need to always explore and perpetually fight complacency in the process. Change, we both believe, is an essential part of life, one which we both embrace. We both get antsy when sitting stagnant for too long... Our destination provided the perfect cure for that!

The following day, we set off early to get to the Bolaven Plateau. After substantial negotiations, an art which Sachin seems to have mastered, we managed to convince a tuk tuk driver to take us. A hour or so later, we had seamlessly found our way to Tad Fane resort, our home for the next couple of days. I had done some preliminary research and after discussing the options with Boun, our resident Laotian cultural expert, we decided to give this place a try - it seemed like the perfect base from where we could explore the area at our own pace. And indeed it was!

We spent the first night in Pakse, the main hub in the area, and took all the necessary mental and physical steps to prepare for our journey into the jungle... By that, I clearly mean that we had a combined 4 hours of massages in less than 12 hours (oh yeah, we clearly share this interest!) Whatever it takes to be ready for any strenuous activity, you know!

Etched right into the hills of this verdant plateau, with an unobstructed view of a colossal set of two beautiful waterfalls, these basic bungalows are just perfect! We decided to splurge and we both got our own place (for an astonishing $27!) Naturally, I rigged up my hammock right away and after a delicious meal which consisted of a tasty green curry accompanied by the perennial Laotian sticky rice and washed down with the emblematic "Beerlao," a digestive nap in the hammock was in order! Rocked by the gentle cool breeze, life was slowing down and I was adjusting to it fast! It was perfect - a perfect setting, with a perfect view, perfect weather and the perfect opportunity to recharge the batteries. The following day, we set off early to get to the Bolaven Plateau. After substantial negotiations, an art which Sachin seems to have mastered, we managed to convince a tuk tuk driver to take us. A hour or so later, we had seamlessly found our way to Tad Fane resort, our home for the next couple of days. I had done some preliminary research and after discussing the options with Boun, our resident Laotian cultural expert, we decided to give this place a try - it seemed like the perfect base from where we could explore the area at our own pace. And indeed it was!

Much to my pleasant surprise, the Bolaven plateau is home to some of the best and most exported coffee (Arabica) in the world. Welcoming the tasty jolt of caffeine, I finally managed to get out of the hammock and set off on a sunset hike with Sachin, getting an introductory look at the trails ahead.

The next day was Sachin's birthday. I was determined to make it memorable! We planned to see each of the 3 main waterfalls throughout the day, which would require an ambitious trekking schedule. Staying consistent with his adventurous and easy going spirit, Sachin was up for anything! We spent the whole day "chasing waterfalls" from dawn till dusk.

And that pretty much sums up our trip. When we were not exploring the surrounding pristine nature, we were sipping on world class coffee and beerlao, refueling on sticky rice, all while getting to know each other in this beautiful part of the world. Though we only barely scratched the surface of this enthralling country, it is clear that Laos is a special place, full of incredibly warm and friendly people who helped to make this a truly memorable experience. I'll take a thousand slaps, over and over, for another opportunity to return and see more of this captivating place!

Thank you Sachin for being such a great travel companion and for aligning your adventurous spirit with mine. In the end, I'm sorry to say that we didn't heed TLC's prudent advice. We most certainly chased a number of waterfalls and though we may have admittedly "moved too fast," we saw a hell of a lot... Happy new year!


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