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Laos: Waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau

The Bolaven Plateau just east of Pakse in Laos is perhaps most famous for its coffee, but for hikers who aren't afraid of heights, there are incredible waterfalls to be found.

Just east of Pakse is the Bolaven Plateau. It’s certainly not convenient to the more popular Laos pleasures further north – Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, the Plain of Jars. However, here, the waterfalls are magic. The famously landlocked Laos doesn’t have the beaches of its neighbors, but water falling from the sky makes for impressive jungle adventures. For luxury travelers on their way to Champasak and Don Khone for the 4,000 famous islands of the lower Mekong, the waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau are worth the short trip from Pakse.

Tad Fan

Tad Fan, also spelled Tad Fane, is found in the Dong Hua Sao National Park on the Bolaven Plateau, home to leopards, elephants, hornbills, and monkeys. The falls are located on the western side of the plateau and are are in an area surrounded by a rainforest and tea and coffee plantations – rumored to produce the best coffee in the country.

These twin waterfalls with their nearly 120 meter drops are striking to see throughout the year but even more so in the rainy season between July and October. October to February is harvesting season on the coffee plantations, offering visitors a unique insight into coffee farming and an opportunity to taste the best coffee in the country.

ABOVE: Zipline on Tad Fan.

While it is not possible to swim near the falls, they can be viewed from across the gorge. For the more adventurous, one option allows travelers to view the falls by zipline, now considered the highlight of any trip to the Bolaven Plateau for those who can brave the heights and the hike.

Tad Pha Suam

ABOVE: Long exposure shot of Tad Pha Suam.

The Tad Pha Suam falls, also on the Bolaven Plateau, cascade over a horseshoe-shaped ledge into a large pool six meters below. The 33-kilometer journey from Pakse to the falls takes visitors along a bumpy road through lush forests and across an old bamboo bridge. The falls are fed by the Houai Campi River that originates in the Salvanh province and flows strongly throughout the year, even during the dry season.

ABOVE: Ethnic handicrafts for sale near the Uttayan Bajiang village.

There is ethnic village called Uttayan Bajiang (Bachieng) nearby where local Lao people dress in traditional wear, and the Lavae model village gives visitors a look at the housing styles from different ethnic groups and the production of handicrafts. There are a few fruit stalls and simple restaurants in the area for a local lunch surrounded by nature before heading back to Pakse, which is a great jumping off point for seeing the lower Mekong and Champasak.

Tad Yuang

Tad Yuang falls, also spelled Tad Gneuang, is yet another waterfall found on the Bolaven Plateau. It is 10 kilometers west of Paksong and two kilometers east of Tad Fan falls. The falls are smaller than Tad Fan, and tumble into a pool 40 meters below. Unlike Tad Fan, however, it is possible to swim in the pools above and below the falls, although caution should be taken as there might be strong currents.

There is a pathway with a number of lookouts, at the top, middle, and bottom of the gorge. The top of the falls hosts a picnic area and there is a small coffee plantation nearby that can be visited. The entrance to Tad Yuang is becoming quite developed and there are some restaurants and shops.

The region around Pakse isn’t entirely devoid of luxury options, with the city itself sporting some decent options – though nothing quite like visitors will find in the North in somewhere like Rosewood Luang Prabang. If travelers are trying to make their way to the lower Mekong, the La Folie Lodge off of Champasak is an ideal Mekong island getaway.