Bolaven Plateau

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Palemei- Tatlo

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Salavan,
Monday, August 30, 2010

As we lay in our cosy air conditioned room in Pakse listening to rain patter against the window, we anticipated a muddy couple of days up the Plateau. Thankfully we were wrong and we were  blessed with a blissful first day that provided us with one hell of a bike ride that I'm sure will prove to be one of the most memorable experiences we will take from our year trip.

Tearing ourselves from the comfort and luxury of the Saigon hotel was certainly difficult. The friendly Vietnamese owner kindly agreed to look after our rucksacks whilst we packed day packs for the forty-eight hour trip.

Following the highway we set out for the Plateau. Up in the hills the Plateau is home to many spectacular scenery, waterfalls and indigenous tribes people. With only a rough map the round trip we were about to undertake was a good 200km. We would pass three large falls toward the town of Paksong then loop round toward Sekong before finally making a left through tribal villages to our destination the hill village of Tad Lo where we planned to find a place to rest for the night.

The quality of hire bikes varies considerably from place to place and as we've discovered to have a working spedometer or fuel gauge is a rarity. Unfortunately as we discovered on a slippery, muddy road, the bike we'd hired had no nobbles on for grip in this tough terrain. The roads felt as precarious as an ice-rink and at one point we found ourselves well and truly stuck. Luckily a young Laos lad came to our rescue, not before Kieran managed to run over his toe. The lad no more than 15 was a little hero and managed to help move the bike out of the thick stuff with ease. We thanked him graciously in the small repertoire of Laos we've learnt to speak before continuing our journey with extreme care. We visited the waterfalls Tat Fane and Tat Champee. The later was our favourite. As we made the descent down a treacherously slippery ladder the spray from the falls coated us. We climbed a viewing platform directly in front of the falls and it was from here that we could feel the full force behind the tons of water impacting at the base. The sound was truly deafening.

Visiting the falls took longer than expected due to the bad condition of the roads so the day was turning to dusk before we headed to Tad Lo. With 50 km still ahead of us we worried we had left it late and would have to navigate roads by night. We needn't have worried as we timed it the trip to perfection. As we headed through the tribal towns toward Tad Lo we were faced with the most magnificent sunset. The range of mountains along the horizon dipped and peaked in all kinds of shades of blue and the sky was alive with pinks, yellows and oranges. Neither myself or Kieran could quite believe the beauty before us.
We made it to Tad Lo in the suns last breath where a young man shouted " you need a room?" The man was friendly with a warm smile, of course we needed a room. With pride he showed us a room in a bungalow he'd lovingly recently built. With a terrace and hammocks over looking his rice paddies it was everything we needed. The bed even had a duvet covered with dinosaurs, what more could we want? He introduced us to his wonderful family. His wife cradled her baby in a sling around her neck, she wore a traditional sarong and a cheeky smile. The rest of the family gathered on a grubby wooden table mesmerized by the TV in the corner of their shack, Just as myself and Kieran had been the previous night in the Saigon hotel.

The guesthouse was called Palemei and the lovely owner Mr. Po invited us to help him prepare dinner and of course we obliged. This wasn't a home stay but we both knew this was the experience we had hoped for in Cambodia, but sadly never got.
Two other couples staying at Palemei also helped with dinner. We instantly hit it off with Ritchie and Hannah, a couple from London. Ritchie chopped the meat and prepared the sticky rice whilst Kieran chopped the spring onions and Hannah and myself seperated all kinds of herbs and leaves from their branches. The dinner was excellent.
After hours of chatter we decided to let Mr. Po and his family sleep. Hannah and Ritchie showed us to their bungalow, the oldest but the most characteristic. The front door opened like a stable door and inside was a whole host of objects travellers had left to the hut. Items ranged from a sound system to mozi repellent to photos to simple stitching of a tired pillow. This was a loved place that held memories for many people. Outside was a book one traveller had left so people could write comments. Glowing sentimental comments along with the odd crazed substance enhanced comments. We chatted till 3 am before finally making it to bed. Ritchie and Hannah had brought tea with them on their travels and invited us for a cup the following morning. It stood us in good stead for our return journey.      
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