Tad (pronounced ‘taahd’)is the Lao word for waterfall and in this landlocked, river-veined country, tads are everywhere. The Bolaven Plateau, in the southern Laos, with its dozens of small tributaries to the mighty Mekong and the layers of limestone dropping off suddenly in the middle of jungle vines, is a particularly rich region for waterfalls. We were craving some of this wild, natural scenery and the Bolaven Plateau seemed like a perfect place to start.
Laos is an ideal place for a motorbike tour: it’s not very densely populated which means many stretches of highway are completely traffic free. The road signs are usually written in both Lao and Roman alphabet (something to seriously consider if you don’t speak the language!). Renting a motorbike costs a just a few dollars a day, and gas is also dirt-cheap. In this country where local transportation between villages is slow or non-existent, the best way to enjoy the naturally beautiful and relatively undeveloped terrain is on a bike.
After our motorbiking adventure with guides in Vietnam, we decided it was time for us to venture out on our own. Neither of us had ever driven a motorbike (something between a scooter and a small motorcycle) before but given that we regularly saw girls as young as 12 putting from village to village with several siblings onboard, we decided that it couldn’t be that hard. We filled out a rental agreement in Paksé and got an extremely useful (though frustratingly approximate) map from Yves, a Belgian guy who lives there. After paring down our big backpacks to just the camera bag and a daypack with a change of underwear and soap for each of us, we wobbily set off for several days on the 300km loop.
The first waterfall we visited, Tad Champee, took us forever to find (and also taught us the very important lesson to not blindly trust the hand-drawn map). Riding us the brick-red dust roads through stilt-bamboo villages, the local kids at ever turn would run to the road enthusiastically waving and calling “Sibaidyyyyyy!!!” (Lao for ‘hello’). We eventually found it and spent a leisurely hour or two alternately cooling off in the shallow pools as the current washed over our dusty-selves or drying off on the hot black rocks.
We spent an enjoyable evening in a rudimentary but comfortable bamboo bungalow with the view of the cheerfully picturesque Tad Lo. Mamapap’s huge portions of fried rice and BeerLao gave us fuel to explore some more impressive falls that we hiked around upriver the next morning before setting off through the coffee fields and mountains to our next bungalow accommodation. It turned out to be even more rustic and remote (no food, no other people) and we laughed as we bathed in the river that evening with stringy algae tickling our saddle-sore backsides.
The huge-challenge-to-find-but-for-a-huge-payoff twin waterfalls of Tad Alang and Tad Tayicseua were by far the most majestic. Miles off the main road, down a long dirt path with no signs, after much backtracking and pathetic attempts to ask directions in local villages, we eventually made it to a small village where some fellow bikers with whom we’d been playing tag team along the loop had slept. They indicated a small path to the Tayicseua waterfall and warned us that it was tricky hiking/climbing, but well worth it. We got quite literally lost in the jungle when the path divided at one point – one way going nearly straight down a dirt cliff, and the other heading perilously into a snake filled bamboo patch with no clear path. We foolishly opted for the bamboo, and found ourselves hacking through brush and sliding down the sharp hill on dried leaves. Clearly not the right way to go, but we eventually made it to the river, about 100 yards downstream where we should’ve been. But it was so worth it: prehistoric looking vines wrapped around imposing tree trunks framed the pounding, misty sight of the plunging white waterfall itself. It was unbelievable. We did have to rock climb back up the cliff-path with the help of vines and bendable bamboo trees in lieu of cables or ropes. The less-technical but equally impressive Tad Alang brought us face to face with some curious village girls who wanted to take pictures with me on their mobile phones and then giggled as Seb slogged through the muddy ferns to get a shot of the lacy falls.
Our minds and memories full of this thundering natural beauty, we filled up with gas, mounted our Honda Wave, and sped back to the city.