The Bolaven Plateau

Laos is largely mountainous, but there are relatively few plateaus to be found. As such, this one is prized for the fertility of the soils, with coffee and tea being notable produce. It’s also home to a number of different ethic groups, notably the Laven people after whom the region is named. The plateau is elevated to a level of over a thousand metres above sea level, meaning that for most of the year the climate is somewhat cooler and fresher than the surrounding areas. For a western tourist this is most welcome, the temperature being pleasantly warm rather than exceptionally hot.

That is one reason it is worth considering staying here and using it as a base for the surrounding areas rather than Paxse itself. Naturally not all attractions are as close but the peace and quiet appeals, as does the fact that the air conditioning in the room doesn’t need to be on full blast – and doesn’t need to be on at all most of the time.

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There are of course more waterfalls here, some of which offer the delights of a swim in the pool beneath, but the most famous is the Tad Fane falls, the highest in South East Asia with a drop of 120 metres.

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The flow does depend on the time of year but they remain spectacular year round.

Visiting the local villages and seeing the way of life is another attraction, while many of the coffee and tea plantations welcome visitors to see the process and of course most of all, sample the produce. Real coffee isn’t as widespread in Laos as might be hoped for, so it becomes something of a treat to taste the real stuff.

The hinterland

Lao roads are not great. Travelling takes an inordinate amount of time, potholes are frequent and the average speed is rather slow. It needs to be said so that when gauging distances there is the understanding that it’s not going to be like driving along the motorway. Much of the country is mountainous so bends and corners are frequent. On the plus side those with a fear of heights needn’t generally worry about precipitous drops a few feet away, they are comfortable enough from that perspective.

It does however mean that a lot of driving is going to be on the agenda. The route round to Phonsavanh will take around 12 hours in the car and so such itineraries are usually for four or five days. It is quiet and undeveloped with outstanding opportunities for trekking, travelling along the rivers, seeing wildlife (including tigers) and perhaps most of all taking in the often stunning views.

Most of the country is mountainous, and with a low population density even in the more built up areas the unspoilt nature of the terrain is a key attraction.

In truth the first part of the journey from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiao is the least eventful of the coming days, although almost instantly you can see the hills beginning to rise up ahead, and the road takes on a distinctly upward trajectory.

There’s a definite sense of heading into the wilderness, as the number cars and bikes on the road declines and the surroundings become more natural and quieter. The Laos climate means that it’s exceptionally green of course and that also means lots of rivers too. That’s abundantly clear at the first stop, Nong Khiao. It’s only a small place, two streets in reality, but the views are spectacular as it overlooks the Nam Ou river and nestles beneath mountains. It’s a hiking paradise and there are also various river activities as well.

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Morning is a particular time to take in the surrounds, the often misty outlook providing an arresting way to start the day.

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As an added bonus I made a new friend in the hotel at breakfast time.

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It’s typical to spend a couple of days here, it’s very much a retreat from the normal busy world. However, in my case it was already time to move on…