A guide to Pakse & the Bolaven Plateau

Pakse is a city in southern Laos, where the Mekong and Xe Don rivers meet. Since it’s quite far South, many backpackers choose to skip it, but if you end up going you’ll be rewarded. It was one of my favorite parts of my entire South-east Asia trip. The biggest draw of Pakse is the Bolaven Plateau, famous for its coffee plantations and stunning waterfalls.

What to do in Pakse

Visit Wat Luang

Most people visit mostly for the loop and won’t spend that much time in Pakse itself. There are a few interesting sights though! The temple Wat Luang is beautiful and if you go just before sunset you might be able to see some buddhist ceremony’s and rituals. We happened to walk in while one was happening and afterwards some young monks posed for us by the Mekong river.

monks mekong river Pakse wat luang

Visit Wat Phousalao

Another temple to visit is Wat Phousalao. An enormous Buddha sits on top of a hill and overlooks the Mekong River. You can either choose to walk to the top or drive all the way up with a rented scooter. We chose to do the latter, since it was scorching hot while we were there.

Rent a scooter and explore the Bolaven Plateau

The biggest attraction of Pakse is the Bolaven Plateau, an elevated region with coffee plantations and stunning waterfalls.

tad e-tou waterfall drone Pakse loop

Where to rent a scooter/motor

There are a few well known companies where you can rent a scooter. Miss Noy is often recommended. Besides miss Noy you can ask Lao Go Car and motorbike or Wangwang motor rental. We had trouble finding two automatic scooters the day we were there and our hostel helped us book them.

The Loop:

There is a big 4 day loop and a smaller 2 day loop. We decided to do our own thing and just head towards some of the most beautiful waterfalls about 50 min away from Pakse. One of the roads on the big loop is supposedly extremely bad and we didn’t want to risk it. Also we’d read many reviews saying there is a woman scamming people at Tad Tayicsua. You have to leave your bike at the hostel, since you can’t drive down all the way. She will puncture your tires and you have to pay someone to replace it. In the end we decided seeing just the first part of the loop would be good for us, since we’d also just spend 4 days on the Thakhek loop. There are 4 waterfalls on the first part of the loop between Pakse and Paksong and all of them are worth a visit!  There is Tad Fane, Tad Huang, Tad E-tou and Tad Champee.

Tad Fane: 

This one is the most famous out of the four and you can zipline across. Besides the exhilarating zipline you also have the option to have a coffee on the zipline. Yes, you read that correctly! You can drink a coffee on the zipline hanging 300 meters above the cascading waterfalls. The views are breathtaking and after the zipline I couldn’t help, but want a longer look. With shaking hands I took a sip from my coffee, afraid I’d drop the cup. (Nope, the cup is in no way attached)

If you’re in for something truly crazy, you can choose to sleep a night in a hammock on the zipline.

Tad Yuang

This is a classic picture perfect waterfall. There is a beautiful path with a little pergola that gives you a great view, but you can also walk all the way down to the bottom and have a swim if you’d like.

Tad E-Tu

This may have been one of my favorite waterfalls. It’s easy to get to, but looks like it’s hidden in a jungle. When you arrive to the gate, you’ll find it is closed, but you can easily slip through the fence. From there it’s only a few minute walk, before you find a sign to go left and the path will lead you down some steep stairs. When you made your way down, you’ll be surrounded by green jungle with the impressive waterfall cascading down the middle.

Tad Champee

I didn’t make it to this one myself, but I have been told by other travelers that it was worth a visit as well. It should be quite different from the 3 other ones.

The two coffee plantations that were recommended to me were: Paksong highland coffee estate and Mr Vieng Coffee. It started raining heavily on the last day we were in the area, so we decided to head back to Pakse and not risk heaving an accident on the road.

Where to eat:

For breakfast there is Vida Bakery Cafe. Besides pastries they also have a good breakfast menu. You also have the option to choose your own sandwich toppings.

La Boulange is a French traditional bakery. Unfortunately it was closed when I was there, but it came highly recommended

Meiling was the highest rated restaurant and besides a pretty good pad Thai, they also have a perfect mango juice.

If you are craving some western food, head over to Dok Mai Lao Trattoria Italiana. Expect more European prices here, but they also have ‘real’ European cheese.

Where to stay:

If you are looking for a good and affordable hostel, we really enjoyed ‘you empire‘. It was clean and the staff was extremely helpful. They helped us reserve scooters for the loop and gave us loads of advice on things to do. I had a long list of questions and they took their time to answer every single one of them patiently.

We decided to do only a small loop an stay near Paksong for 1 night. If you’re looking for a more unique experience and want something other than a guesthouse, try out Dinfadao! It has these amazing bubble dome tents in the middle of nature. You’ll be able to gaze at the stars at night right from your bed! They provide great local food, that is cultivated in their own gardens. They present it in cute picnic baskets, which adds to the ‘clamping’ experience. The domes are heated, so even though the nights can be cold, because of the altitude, you’ll be nice and toasty in your dome.

What Phou Festival

The third full moon of the lunar calendar marks the start of the 3 day festival. Although celebrated annually, the dates change each year. This year (2023) it took place from the 3d of February until the 5th. Boun Wat Phou is the largest festival in the south of Laos. Besides a huge market there are various activities. These include sound and light shows, processions, recitals, chanting, and our course praying. It has gotten a lot more commercial and there are even elephant processions, traditional dancing, and concerts.

If you’re in the area when the festival is happening you can have a look, but I wouldn’t change my plans for it. Me and a friend ended up visiting the festival, but as an outsider I’d say it’s okay to miss out on it. It was interesting to see some of the rituals, but it was mostly very commercial and crowded. I think we missed out on some of the more interesting activities, but we decided to continue our travels after the first day of the festival

If you plan on visiting, make sure to rent a scooter in time, because the day before everything will be sold out. We stayed in a guesthouse in Champassak to be able to get to What Phou quickly. (PS. If you end up there, check out the restaurant ‘home made’, because it’s incredible!)