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Published: January 30th 2013
We always have a very hard time writing about places like Tad Lo. It tends to be that way with our favourite spots. Needless to say, we found another gem!! Due to the lack on information available for Tad Lo we will write this blog a little differently in order to aid future travellers.
GETTING THERE: From the Pakse bus station we hopped on a bus to Salavan. We told the driver we only wanted to go to Tad Lo so we only had to pay 30,000 Kip. Depending on how many stops the bus makes for riders getting on or off the time will vary. We were expecting a one hour bus but it took about two hours. From the drop-off point, catch a tuk-tuk, minibus (or if you show up after dark like us, a wagon pulled by a tractor engine) to the smaller village of Ban Saen Vang (aka Tat Lo) – the official going rate is 10,000Kip as of January 2013.
GETTING AWAY: Reverse how you get in. Catch a minibus or tuk-tuk for 10,000 Kip to the main road and flag down a bus going to Pakse (30,000 Kip). Usually
the buses go by on the hour.
LAYOUT OF THE VILLAGE: This area is ready for the tourism boom that is quickly approaching. Whichever transport you take from the main road will probably drop you off near Palamay Guesthouse unless you can specify another place to stay. Most other accommodations are on the road to the river (perpendicular to Palamay). About 700m down that road is Tad Hang (the waterfall in town where people tend to swim), the river and the bridge. Getting to the second waterfall, Tad Lo, is easy; simply follow the path on the west side of the river through/past Tadlo Lodge. It isn't far, maybe 15 minutes from the bridge. The third and largest waterfall Tad Soung is accessible by following the same path on foot but is a few hours hike. WikiTravel has a perfect explanation of how to get there by motorbike (or push bike if you enjoy riding uphill). We suggest renting a motorbike if you want to get to the top of the falls and see the gorgeous panorama. To get to the bottom of the falls simply park in the village just after the bridge where you are
forced to turn right. There is a path but kids are happy to guide you for a small fee. The Tourism Information centre in the village organizes extremely affordable half-day (60,000 Kip) or full-day (not sure of the price, includes lunch) treks as well as a sunset tour (30,000 Kip) through a couple of villages ending at Tad Suong. If you want to explore on your own, there are plenty of roads and trails to explore without much difficulty; there is a map of the area near the bridge.
ACCOMMODATION: There are loads of places to stay and more being built so don't worry about finding a place to sleep. Mama Pap has rooms attached to her popular restaurant. Sipaseuth (or Sipaserth) has rooms for 70,000 Kip/night with a nice view of the waterfall and hot shower or less fancy huts without a view for 40,000 Kip/night. We highly recommend staying at Sailomyen – as long as you are okay with shared bathroom and cold shower; it is the most affordable place to stay right on the river in a bungalow (with balcony, hammock and bug net). If you're looking for it, turn right before the bridge
on the path heading to Sipaseauth, continue on for another 20m and you will run into it. Other bungalows or homestays are available in town for the same price of 30,000 Kip/night but don't have any river view at all. For bigger budgets, Saise Resort or Tadlo Lodge have nicer rooms with equally or better locations (they also have well-built private bungalows sitting near the top of the falls). A couple of places offer use of internet on their in-house computer for 10,000 Kip/hour but only Palamay offers wifi as of January 2013.
FOOD AND DRINK: Mama Pap's restaurant serves up huge meals for really cheap; her motto is “Big food, small kip” (The 5,000 Kip fruit plate is more like a platter, the 10,000 Kip pancake is larger than an old record and Mama serves up a huge pile of fried noodles with meat for 15,000 Kip). Our other favourite place to eat was Chom (pronounced Jom); she serves up great tasting dishes for equally affordable prices (this is the only place we found that doesn't drench their salad in a milky dressing, instead it's crisp veggies with a delicious fresh lemon dressing. The pad thai
is great and the french fries or mashed potatoes are just like home if you're getting sick of sticky rice). Sipaseuth also has a restaurant on the river that tends to have speedier service for similar prices. If you want some nightlife Sabai Sabai had plenty of backpackers hanging out into the wee hours playing some great tunes with a bon fire pit and space to play bocci ball (aka petanque).
Now the fun part! HOW WE SPENT OUR TIME: We came all the way from Tha Kaekh (which isn't nearly as tourist friendly as Tad Lo). The local bus from Tha Khaek to Pakse was about 7 hours (tip: don't get off the bus when they kick all the westerners off, make sure the driver takes you all the way to the bus station). In true South-East Asian fashion, we were able to hop on a bus heading for Salavan right away. It was about another two hours to our drop-off point due to all the stops letting people on and off along the way. When we got dropped off on the side of the road it was dark so we didn't want to walk the
2km into town. There were 5 of us all heading to Tad Lo and we had to pay 10,000Kip each to get driven to town (while we thought that was expensive it is the official going rate contrary to wikiTravel and our LP guidebook). Thanks to wikiTravel we knew we were looking for Sailomyen bungalows. We asked a guy at Palamay GH which way and he told us to turn right just before the bridge. “Nice place down there on the river” he said. The lights from the restaurants guided our way and we turned right like he said. Unfortunately, we got tricked into staying at Sipaseuth (or Sipaserth) for the one night which wasn't that bad – the morning view from our balcony was like something from a fairytale. The river, the trees, the woods in the background – amazing! The following morning we realized that Sailomyen was just down the dirt path from Sipaseuth.
On our first day in Tad Lo we got situated in our bungalow then went out to explore the town a little bit. Since it is basically one road it didn't take long. We immediately pulled out a calendar to calculate how many
days we had left on our visa and extended our original 3 nights in Tad Lo to 5; yes, it's that captivating. We stopped by the Tourist Information Centre to get a better idea of what our options were for daily activities. There wasn't anyone working at the time, but there were plenty of maps and boards with information to read. We were thinking of doing a trek, but with Tyler's foot still not 100% we were weighing the option cautiously. One of the more refreshing things we read in there was a sign that said not to give gifts or money to the kids in order to curb begging. So often we want to help out by sharing our wealth but obviously this town, and Laos as a whole, realizes that if it is going to thrive the people need to be able to make a living of their own. After our exploration we headed back to our bungalow to do what we love: read, relax, take in our surroundings. Our bungalow on the river was perfect, we could see to the waterfall in one direction or halfway around a bend in the other. There were always local women
doing their laundry or naked kids playing in the water. Just after dusk, men would wade through the river with headlamps fishing. The first few days we ate at Mama Pap's but after a few really long waits and mediocre meals (with enormous portions) we tried something new. Chom is on the other side of the street and the meals there were all fantastic (except the curry vegetable soup which was rather bland). Everyone in town is extremely friendly and welcoming; some of them even speak a little French. Laos was a French Colony so 90% of the travellers we meet are French.
The second day is when we found the swimming hole up near Tadlo Lodge. The cool water was irresistibly refreshing in the endless heat so we returned every day after that. In the evening Mamma Tia (the woman who runs Sailomyen) let us have a bon fire down by river right in front of our bungalow. We built up a small fire and sat around for a few hours chit chatting or enjoying the serene silence. After some time a little girl came down and started burning a pile of leaves nearby. We assumed Mamma had
sent her down to do this and she soon came down with another younger girl. The five of us sat around the warm fire communicating the best we could. It turns out that the two girls lost their Mother so Mamma took them in. From looking around Sailomyen and seeing the many kids of all ages, it appears she may running some sort of orphanage funded by her bungalows. Since there are no marshmallows around, Mamma brought down a ball of sticky rice. She wrapped it around a big piece of bamboo and once it was brown around the edges we shared it. It was salty and crunchy and the closest thing we have had to popcorn in months. We hope to bring this bon fire snack home with us as long as we can get the Laos top secret sticky rice recipe. The girls taught us how to count to ten in Lao and then we decided to put the fire out and call it a night.
Since our first couple of days had been rather lazy (a trend we have been following lately) we made a point of getting out the next day to do something. We
rented a motorbike and went to see the highest waterfall in the area Tad Soung. It was super easy to get there; you basically follow the paved road as far as it goes then turn left when you can't go straight. There is a lookout point you can access by following a short trail but since it is dry season we were able to walk along the top of the falls where water rushes during the wet season. The waterfall was pretty puny since it's so dry in January but with a 100m drop it was still stunning. We walked all along the top of the falls which is probably 100m wide as well. Back from the edge a fair bit there are some Buddha statues that must be in a high enough spot that they don't get washed out with faster waters during wet season. After exploring the top for a while and snapping some great pictures of the panorama, we hopped back on our bike and stopped at a village closer to the base of the waterfall. The boulders near the base create many different pools of water, some deep enough for a swim. Walking along you can
see the holes that have been carved into the rocks from strong currents. We climbed around on the rocks getting as close to the base of the waterfall as possible; unfortunately our hope to stand under the shower of the fall disappear when we saw that the water became a mist before hitting the rocks. Before we knew it it was late afternoon and our tummies were growling. It was a short ride back to our village where we grabbed some food and had a quite evening. The girls wanted us to have another bon fire but we didn't feel like starting a fire in the dark so we promised to have one the following night.
With our time in Tad Lo quickly coming to an end we had to see the third waterfall, Tad Lo. We walked along the trail, past the swimming hole near Tadlo Lodge and up a hill before getting close enough to see the whole thing. All three of the waterfalls are so different. While Tad Soung is obviously a monster during the wet season, it was the least impressive in terms of water flow. Tad Lo is the middle fall and is about
half as high as Tad Soung but has much more water and looked like a great place to swim if you make the steep climb down to the water. Tad Hang is technically the smallest but, during our stay, seemed to have the strongest current. The waterfall itself was rushing the entire time and there are many rapids leading up to Tad Hang that made it our favourite.
Our last day we explored the other side of the river and got a different look at things. We absolutely loved Tad Lo (or Tat Lo or Ban Saen Vang, whichever you prefer to call it). It was a perfect place to stay and relax for as long as you want. There were travellers there that intended to stay as long they could and others seemed as if they had already been there forever. Of course there were plenty of day trippers from nearby towns and a lot of people coming through for one night on “The Loop”. The flow of people is as constant as the river and that keeps it exciting every day. You can always count on a smile from Mama Pap as you walk by, a puppy
or two rough-housing nearby and the odd cow wandering though town. Eventually we had to move on. Laos has so many of these perfect little getaway spots and we are so happy to get to travel through now before everyone else really figures it out. We have dubbed Tad Lo as the next hippie hot spot; it's relaxed, easygoing and extremely hospitable. Hopefully they hold on to the charm because whatever their doing, they are doing it right.
It was hard to leave, but with the 4,000 Islands in our sight we had to continue on. First a couple of nights in Champasak...
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