The Bolaven Plateau’s rivers spawn several waterfalls in Salavan. Though Tad Lo Waterfall holds the headlines, Tad Hang is the first set of falls you’re likely to see, as the Xe Set River Bridge presents the 30-metre-wide, 10-metre tiered falls at the Tad Lo tourist enclave.
From here, walk upriver through a 500-metre maze of shrubbery to a rickety set of stairs that leads to the river’s shore. Here, you’ll get a great angle looking straight at the semi-horseshoe-shaped Tad Lo. The falls are slightly taller than Tad Hang, and the drop-off is split by a jutting rock protrusion, where the Xe Set crashes over the cliff, and lands in a cloudy mist.
Further up the north-flowing Xe Set, the Tad Soung Waterfall plummets 90 metres off a Bolaven Plateau cliff. Reaching the head of the falls takes a walk of less than 1 km from Saneum Nai to a set of natural stairs descending to falls. The dramatic perch also presents a dazzling valley panorama.
Closer to Salavan Town, the 5-metre-wide Tad Tevada Waterfall shoots off a 30-metre cliff with a background of a green forest. A 15-km dirt road offers vehicle access to the falls.
Other accessible Salavan waterfalls by motorbike, car, and on treks include Tad Maihia, Tad Sen, and Vang Kham in Laongarm District on the way to Pakse.
Culture & Nature
Like many Lao provinces, nature and culture have a symbiotic relationship in Salavan, which can be experienced everywhere, from weaving villages to Bolaven Plateau cliffs.
Wake early to experience the hectic atmosphere at The Salavan Market, the province’s commercial hub. Watch locals haggle over manufactured products, clothes, and textiles from Laos, China, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as locally grown vegetables.
A new Handicraft Centre in the district capital sells a variety of products including woven fabrics, sins (traditional Lao skirts), shoulder bags, baskets, and bamboo and rattan goods.
Venture to Nong Boua (Crocodile Lake), home to three known crocodiles and other wildlife including several bird species. Villagers hold the lake sacred, and respect its spirits and crocodile ghosts.
On the way to Laongarm, stop at Coconut Road in Ban Naxai for a refreshing drink at one of the scores of stands along the strip. Try a young brown coconut for a sour taste, or an older sweeter one. The larger green coconuts also taste sweet, and many consider it a hangover cure for what comes next.
At the end of Coconut Road sits a home “factory” producing powerful lao khao rice alcohol using a more advanced system than other village distilleries. A plumbed water network allows one person to oversee several production vats, and their fermentation process takes only one day.
Ban Saneum Nai, an ethnic Suay Village with a community house on stilts, still employs an old mat mee weaving method using compact laptop looms. Some locals and nearby Katu villagers are seasoned musicians, who gather to play old folk songs on traditional instruments.
A similar Katu weaving village, Ban Houay Houn near Laongarm Town, also uses the mat mee method to transform tie-dyed cotton threads into intricate fabric designs. The village has a small shop to buy the finished products such as handbags.
Outside of Laongarm in Vapi, the Phou Tak Khao Viewpoint presents a Bolaven Plateau vista of a mountain-backed, forested valley, with hardly a village in sight. At the mountain’s base near Nampho in Vapi District, Nongsonghong Temple stands near Phoupakeo Cave housing the Phrakeophalitmok Buddha.
Just past the viewpoint and up a rickety staircase, wander around the 9-Holes Cave. The nine-entry maze opens into a bizarre labyrinth of distinct routes breaking off into more branches, making it easy to get lost…and found.
A make-shift viewpoint temple houses three life-size Buddha images, including one of stone over 100 years old, alongside other smaller religious objects.
On the approach to Laongarm, visit the Green Earth Centre and examine its agro-forestry and fish breeding ponds. A short climb up a hill on stairs leads to a small temple.
You can engulf yourself in weaving at Koum-Ban Toumlan in the centre of Salavan Province, and inspect the Katang ethnic group’s distinct looms. Several span the width of a house on stilts, with the main mechanisms hanging from the rafters that turn the threads vertically towards the floor.
While in Tomloun, check out Ban Heuan Nyao (Longhouse Village), where a Katang man named Mr Lue, who had seven wives, built a longhouse with a room for each of his families. His wives had several children, who intermarried, and the ensuing generations extended the longhouse. It eventually reached 103 households, before they broke it down to today’s impressive 40-metre-long structure.
Nearby the Tad Soung falls, inspect the huge stone caskets (Long Sop Saen Kham) from an early civilization in a cave on Phou Saen Kham Mountain.
The Xe Bang Nouan National Protected Area (NPA) covers Salavan’s northwest and is mostly inaccessible. It features the Xe Bang Nouan River, which breaks through steep hills, and stretches into a wide valley rimmed by 1,000-metre-high mountains. The NPA hosts 65 ethnic villages, who mostly live off the land. Wildlife includes douc langurs, tigers, Asian elephants, and brown hornbills.
The Xe Sap NPA sits in Salavan Province’s east along the mountainous Vietnam border and overlaps into Sekong Province. The NPA’s mostly steep terrain, with plateaus rising to about 1,400 metres, boasts peaks over 2,000 metres high. Ethnic Pako, Ta Oy, Katang, Katu, and Ngae live inside the NPA and a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail runs through it.
Step past a 2-metre-tall, 3,000-pound bomb at the entrance to the UXO Lao’s Office in Salavan Town, and inspect the UXOs on display inside. A case holds a collection of clumsy-looking land mines, miniature rockets, and homemade devices made of jars and cans with origami birds as fuses. Inside the “Big Bomb Meeting Room”, posters show bombies, how they were deployed, and the actual explosions.
Next, visit Vat Simongkhoun on the Xe Don River. Built over 200-years ago, US bombers hit the original in 1972. Its remnants and stupa can still be seen in the town’s northeast, though vines and shrubs try to hide it. The temple’s riverbank sala stores longboats used during the annual boat racing festival.
Close by, Ong Keo Stone Stupa commemorates one of Laos’ first revolutionaries to fight against French colonialists. To honour Mr. Ong Keo, villagers constructed a short, square stone wall, but lacking cement, they simply began placing rocks inside. The pile turned into a pyramid, and locals return every year to place more stones for making merit and showing respect.
Also in Salavan Town, you’ll find a temple’s skeleton under a tree in a field. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see holes blasted in the walls by bullets and larger ordinance.
Designed by Prince Souphanouvong – Laos’ first president – and built in 1942, the Khua Ban Darn Bridge spanned the Xe Don River to connect Salavan Town to Toumlan. The bridge was destroyed by American bombers in 1968 in an attempt to cut off an offshoot supply route of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Visitors can examine the bridge’s remains, which protrude from the Xe Don River’s northern bank.