A day of traveling up into the Bolaven Plateau and back to Pakse on the Mekong. The Bolaven Plateau is an elevated region squeezed between the Annamite Mountain Range ( Laos’ eastern border with Vietnam) and the Mekong River to the west. The plateau's elevation ranges from 1,000 to 1,350 metres above sea level. The plateau is crossed by several rivers and has many scenic waterfalls. The name Bolaven refers to the Laven ethnic group which has historically dominated the region. However, domestic migrations by the Lao ethnic group (which comprises approximately 50 to 60 percent of the population of Laos) has resulted in widespread interethnic marriage, thus modifying the ethnic composition of the region.

The period of French colonization in Laos was very significant for the Bolaven Plateau,because of the agricultural techniques acquired from the French by the inhabitants. According to the Historical Dictionary, “the French planted coffee and experimented with rubber, and the plateau has remained an important agricultural area growing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, as well as cash crops”. It was not until the French introduced farming to the region in the early 20th century that the residents of the Bolaven Plateau made the area an agricultural sector.

The Bolaven Plateau greatly suffered during the Vietnam War and was one of “the most heavily-bombed theatres of the Second Indochina War. Controlling the Bolaven Plateau was considered strategically vital to both the Americans and North Vietnamese, as evidenced by the staggering amount of UXO (unexploded ordnance) still lying around”.

We stopped at a small village where they were making and selling knives and tools right beside the road. They had a fan assisted charcoal furnace and were beating out knives when we were there.

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Coffee Growing

There are a great number of coffee plantations, and we stopped at one that was catering for the tourist market, growing and selling coffee, tea and tobacco.

The French first began farming in the Bolaven Plateau with the production of coffee, rubber, and bananas in the early 20th century. It was the French introduction of the production of coffee that has proved most useful to the region. During colonization, the French introduced the production of “high quality stock of both Arabica and Robusta strains. Production declined during the war years, but is now experiencing a renaissance”. The slow process of clearing UXO continues, but in areas where it has been cleared, both local farmers and larger organisations are busy cultivating coffee. Other local products include fruit, cardamom and rattan.

The climate of the Plateau with its cooler temperatures and abundant rainfall makes it the perfect place for coffee production. Most farming families that make up a variety of the aforementioned minority groups are highly dependent on the coffee industry as their source of income. Coffee in Laos is cultivated almost exclusively on the Bolaven Plateau. Currently, the Lao coffee harvest generates about 15-20,000 tons a year, 80% of which is Robusta.

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Sinouk Coffee Plantation made an excellent stop for a walk round their pretty and well laid out gardens, an iced coffee and a lunch in their coffee shop. An oddity was that it was served in a "Starbucks" type plastic cup, which I assume to be a Lao person's idea of Western chic

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Local markets are always good for a break on a long day in the car. I thought it interesting that they made watering cans from old tins

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And the other standby is ethnic villages. Photos here show the communal village house with the heads of the annual sacrifice of a buffalo - they did actually have the year painted on. And one village had the custom of always having a coffin ready (just in case you know) and the photo shows some wooden coffins ready and waiting. There is a trend to concrete these days, and you can see under one house a concrete coffin, also waiting for its next owner. The little girl was throwing a paddy of real style, but we never did find out what her problem actually was.

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Waterfalls are another standby for tourists - we had, I think, three today. Trouble is when you have seen the Iguassu Falls, these seem tame in comparison

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This was the only "made for tourists" village that we came across. It had about a dozen houses from all ethnic groups in Laos. Of interest is the house below 2nd right, which has the hand hole for prospective suitors. The tribe thought it better for the daughter to have a man that could support their daughters, hence a man with sturdy hands was what was required. They did not want the lady to be sidetracked by a handsome face, so this hole is so that only his hand was inspected by the girl.

Another interesting house is the central photo, which is a "getting to know you" house, for a young couple to go during the daytime in the period before marriage.

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Another waterfall, for which you had to navigate your way past some concrete elephants, and across a bamboo bridge to see the end product.

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Finally we completed the loop back to Pakse and time to check in to our hotel for the night - The Athena. Located about 5 minutes walk from the centre of the town. Our ground floor room had a lot of character from the dark wood finishes, plus a small patio area. Nice pool, if a little shoehorned into the available space

We walked into town for an evening meal, as the hotel restaurant looked a little bleak! But breakfast there was fine, if unmemorable. As you would expect, languages are not to the fore here, but this did not really cause any problems

We stayed here as the Sinouk was full, but we were happy with our choice here. They have similar gradings on TripAdvisor. So I am happy to commend this hotel to anyone staying in Pakse

Dinner was at La Terrasa. . On recommendations on TripAdvisor, I had the duck breast which was indeed very good. The restaurant is very popular with local ex-pats, which is probably why they ignore newcomers like ourselves. Never spoke to the owners mentioned in other reviews

The staff could have been friendlier, but I would accept that this was probably a language problem, which could have been solved by the owner circulating. The slowness of the service did not concern me, as I like to take my time over a restaurant meal. So good food and indifferent service. Worth visiting for the duck breast.

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From Pakse we had a new guide, Louis, to take us on to Thakek, and indeed for the next two weeks

On to Thakek

Our Cambodia and Laos Holiday

All Our Holidays