The Bolaven Plateau is known in Laos for its coffee and waterfalls. With these two awesome draws who could resist?
Tad Lo is one street of home stays and guesthouses next to a small park that contains three major waterfalls; Tad Lo, Tad Hong, and 10km further up the road, Tad Song. Surrounding this area there are five different villages all different tribal communities. On the first full day I got to see all three water and the villages.
I booked a tour with the local guide and one other person also booked so the three of us had a nice little tour/hike for the day. We started at Tat Houng waterfall, the one right in town by the bridge, and walked up the little paths belonging to Tat Lo Lodge. At first I was a little dismayed that I had just payed him to do the exploring I did the day before on my own. We walked up the path for about 5 minutes and came to the first village, I was surprised at how close it was to the lodge which looked quite fancy. Our guide had so much information about the area, he grew up in one of the villages there and he worked as a farmer during the wet season (low season for tourists) and during the high season,( dry season), he worked as a guide in the information center. Sounded like the ideal life to me.
The first village we went to practiced a mix of animism and buddhism. In animism everything has a spirit and they have a village shaman that can “communicate” with the spirits. For example he was telling us if someone gets sick that is because they disturbed a spirit in some way, (one man was doing construction on a new house during the day time when the spirits sleep so he woke up the spirit, so he got sick the next day), they go to the shaman to find out what they have to offer in the spirit house to get better, usually an animal, chicken or pig or cow. Once they bring the offering into the spirit house they have to eat it there, it cannot leave the spirit house, and within a few days the spirit would be satisfied and you would feel better again. To me it just sounded like a scam by the shaman to get fed and not have to do any of the real work around the village. I was thinking to myself what if someone gets really sick, like has some serious disease like cancer? As soon as I thought that I opened my eyes, really opened them and looked around and realized I was an idiot. There were kids rolling around in the dirt half-clothed, houses and everything made from bamboo and rattan,animals roaming all through the village and everyone just seemed to be hanging out. They don’t get those kinds of diseases because their lifestyle is organic, simply and utterly human. They are not exposed to all the toxic plastic chemical shit we are on a daily basis. They use everything naturally, and are completely free. Everyone looked happy. No cancer or life threatening diseases to be found. In every village I have seen so far, it has been the same, wild and dusty at the same time relaxed and happy.
While I was deep in this thought, one villager ran over to us with an i-phone. They thought it was locked and wanted help unlocking it because it was all in English, so yes of course the falaang can help they are all rich and know about technology.
I have no idea how to use those things! After about a minute we realized it was dead and couldn’t do anything about it until it held a charge. We would come back to the village on our way back.
On our way out we came across a man roasting a cat on a fire and scraping the fur off with a soup spoon. Our guide told us it was a wild cat because it was bigger than a regular cat and the man found it as road kill, but it didn’t look like road kill, it looked fully intact like it was caught for eating. It was disgusting, more so than the rat in Nam Tha, I made our guide leave before he started to cut it open.
We asked about eating cat and dog and he said sometimes they eat wild cats and they will eat dog, but not their own pet, they will trade or sell their own pets and will eat someone elses but not their own. They often will trade them to the Vietnamese, because they love to eat dog…
We took a casual stroll further up the river to the next village. He told us that the spirit house goes in the middle and all the people’s houses go around it. I really liked that concept of community. So we took a short break and carried on.
We walked along the falls to Tad Lo and past it. I was still just thinking this is a casual stroll more than a trek, but I was okay with it, we were walking through a lot of farm fields and he was telling us a lot of information about how they farm the crops and what they grow. There were a lot of coffee trees and we stopped to watch some kids gathering the coffee beans. They had tarps beneath the trees and a couple of people on ladders up in the trees shaking the branches then a few down below collecting them on the tarps. It looked like pretty tedious work for how much coffee it would end up being.
Right now, since it is dry season, there is not much work to do in the fields, so each family had a garden. They grew a lot of chives and tobacco that they transplanted to the fields once it got big enough. Most people in this area farm coffee, chilies, and peanuts and just enough corn and tobacco for personal use. And of course rice in the wet season. Some Thai companies however, have been giving farmers corn seed to plant and then sell back to Thai companies, the Vietnamese were starting to do it as well. Most Lao people consider Thailand to be quite a wealthy country, I guess all countries all over the world try to take advantage of each other in one way or another, a peaceful simple place like Lao gets dominated by its pushy neighbors. The villages in the north have the same issue with China and rubber trees, the Nam Ha NPA lost acres of land to farmers clearing space to plant rubber trees for Chinese businesses who paid them well, until they made it illegal to touch the land in the Nam Ha NPA, but that’s to be expected from China, I was slightly surprised that Vietnam and Thailand were headed the same way.
The trail started to get a little more difficult, then we saw it, the Tad Song waterfall. It was spectacular, and perhaps I’m jaded being from an area so close to Niagara Falls but I do think tropical waterfalls are stunning. At the base there are huge boulders strewn about, our guide told us we had about 30 minutes to explore because they were opening the damn and he wasn’t sure quite when it would open.
We went wandering through and took some pictures then started the climb to the top.
It was a steep incline but only for about 30 minutes or so. We stopped halfway to go under the waterfall and got a really cool view, I could have stayed in the overhang underneath all day.
When we got to the top it was too hazy and dusty to see the surrounding area clearly but it was still nice. There was an island in the middle of the river that split the waterfall in two were we sat and ate lunch.
After lunch we crossed the river and went down the other side. It was steep and my shoes were wet and I cut up my legs slipping quite a bit. But it was a good challenge it kept me in check, because after the treks in the north I thought I was pretty deft on my feet, this knocked my ego down a notch.
The next villages we went to were in a cluster so there were three different tribes living in the same area. The guide told us we had some time to explore and we walked around awkwardly. Getting yells of “sabaidee sabaidee!” And weird looks. In this village we saw a few little kids with big long tobacco pipes. I wanted a picture but felt to awkward to take one. We bought some bananas then went to look for our guide. He was inside watching the Thai boxing match which is why he wanted to ditch us for a little while. He explained later that every Sunday the match was on and they would all gather to watch it, like American football in the U.S, the Sunday ritual. Every third house or so in the village had a satellite dish so all the men were inside watching the match while all the women and children were outside working. While we were waiting for our guide we sat down on a bunch and all the villagers came up and stared at us. There were about 10 of them facing us just staring not saying anything just looking at us.
Some of the girls were braiding each others hair so I took my hair down and walked over to them and pointed to their braids and then to my hair. After a lot of pushing and giggling one girl stepped up and started to braid my hair. At this point they were very interested so even more people gathered around to watch. There were about 20 people around this little girl braiding my hair. When she finished I told her thank you and looked at it in Ben’s phone, this really intercit series of three french braids. I felt really awkward because they were all till staring at me I knew I had a 1000 in my bag so I called the little girl over and gave her the bill. I didn’t have anything else to give her or I would have, I think they were all quite surprised when I gave her 1000. I hope that doesn’t backfire in the future and she goes around charging other faalang that come into the village to do their hair.
We got back to Tad Lo at about 3 and our guide asked us to meet again at 4 to go try to figure out the phone, (I think he wanted to watch the rest of the match). So we met at 4 and went back to the first village, the phone was charged but then we needed internet so we brought it back to the village with us. We got to the activation screen and it was someone elses’ phone. It was locked with someone elses ID, we found out they found it in the river so we weren’t able to activate it.
The guy I did the trek with told me to come to his guesthouse for dinner because they do a family style dinner. The dinner was delicious and the family that ran the guesthouse was so nice.
I stayed an extra day in Tad Lo to hang out by the falls because it was so cheap and relaxed. Then made my way to Don Dhet in Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands) where I would spend my last few days in Laos.