A loop with three waterfalls, three provinces, and the coffee harvest highlighted the fourth and final day of hitting Southern Laos’ highlights.
The newly paved Route 16 heads from Pakse to the Bolaven Plateau named for the Laven people who inhabit the highlands.
We stopped at Km 18, where a tiny blacksmith village occupied a short stretch of the roadside. Compact work areas included small charcoal ovens, long water tubes, and anvils made from bombshells.
Each station had a pair of men engaged in a synchronized cling-clang of pounding red-hot iron with a small sledge hammer. One man manoeuvred the malleable metal, while the other beat it into shape. The results ranged from farm and garden tools to machetes, axes, and knives.
An ODOP (One District One Product) sign hung proudly above the showcase of items produced by this small village. This signals the quality of their wares that are now exported throughout the Mekong region.
From the Blacksmith Village, the road began to climb, reaching 1,100 metres at Km 38 and Tad Fane’s twin waterfalls and zip-line adventure.
While everyone strapped into a harness and flew across the canyon to the falls, I sought my thrills on a swing. I gazed at Tad Fane, where the Champi and Pak Koot Rivers met at a 120-metre cliff, and plunged side-by-side, landing together in a single pool.
Then I noticed a monkey, who lied motionless. It looked ready to die. I pointed this out to the staff manning the drink counter. They gathered, and then laughed. The monkey had downed a beer left by a zip-liner in need of liquid courage. He had simply passed out.
My daredevil colleagues finally returned, and we boarded the bus for the 2-km ride to Tad Nyeuang Waterfall. The breeze from this cascade countered the heat, and many climbed down to the base.
“That would have been impossible three months ago during the Green Season,” said Mr Outhay Khamsomphou, Champasak’s Tourism Marketing Advisor. The pleasant falls I was watching had been a raging torrent, with water so high, our now safe perch and breeze would have been more like standing in a hurricane.
For lunch, we followed the road that turned at Paksong and headed into Sekong Province and Ban Lak Khao village, home of the Sinouk Coffee Resort. We had arrived at the peak of harvest season, when the coffee cherries were ripe for the picking, though the resort’s gardens lured me away from the fields.
While Mr Sinouk made his fortune in coffee, his heart was in the gardens he started in 2011. It was still a work in progress, but the stroll over streams on a Japanese-style bridge and getting lost among the paths presented another world of colour and well-landscaped shrubs.
Back at the dining pavilion, a display told the story of coffee from plant to cup. The sun-drying beans we had seen on tarps scattered in the garden would likely land at the roasting facility in Vientiane.
However, we were off to Salavan Province and the Tad Lo Waterfall Park that included Tad Hang, visible from a bridge spanning the Xe Set River. The wide, gushing flow ploughed down several steps, but that was far from the main attraction. In the middle of the torrent, a fisherman was tossing a net in a death defying stunt.
With the sun getting ready to set, we headed back to Pakse, about two hours away. We had completed the Bolaven Plateau’s Caffeinated Waterfall Circuit and a jam-packed four days in Southern Laos.
This three-part Southern Laos story starts here.