Motorcyle Diaries


We had a choice. Either take a gruelling 16 hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Pakse in southern Laos or pay $80 for a 40-minute flight. Ok, this wasn’t a hard choice but I was slightly concerned about the dodgy reputation of national airlines in this part of the world.

My doubts could not have been more misplaced. From start to finish Laos Airlines was the best flight experience I’ve ever had. The flight left 20 minutes early due to everyone being ready to go, we were given a meal despite the journey lasting just over half an hour, and we went through passport control (including applying for and collecting our Laos visas) in just 10 minutes. We were in Pakse two hours ahead of schedule.

But that’s where we waved goodbye to modern living and opened our arms to laconic Laos life.

On the road in Laos

We were in Pakse because it is the starting point to explore the Bolaven Plateau, Laos’ primary coffee growing region, which is awash with wondrous waterfalls and a colourful countryside.

We now had another choice. Take an expensive day tour around the area or make our own way by local bus. Being true travellers we decided to go local. The next morning, after little sleep from having stayed up to cheer on Spain as they beat Germany in the World Cup Semi-Final, we readied ourselves for the rigorous bus journeys ahead.

As we were packing up, I left the room briefly to ask the hostel owner about bus times. But before I could find him I stumbled into a conversation with a big, bearded Canadian guy and his German girlfriend. It soon transpired that they were planning a similar journey but by motorbike rather than bus. A third Spanish couple then joined the conversation and we realised that if we all hired bikes than we could probably get a good group deal.

I returned to the room to tell Manna the good news. “I’ve met some people and we’re going on a motorbike adventure,” I said.  “Er, ok,” replied Manna hesitant yet unsurprised given how often our plans change following conversations with random people.

Tandem travellers

We hired our 100cc mean machine (more like a scooter with gears), ate some food and headed to the Tadlo waterfall, around 85km north of Pakse. The first thing we noticed once we made our way out of the small town was how beautiful the Laos countryside is. The second thing we noticed was how friendly and welcoming the Laos people are.

We stopped three times on our way up north, once to go to the toilet, once to buy water, and once to ask directions. Every time the people were so welcoming, friendly and genuinely pleased to see us. Yet not once did they ask for anything in return. This was in stark contrast to Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, Cambodia, where a smiling face from a local usually means they are about to ask you for money for something.

Two hours later and with our bodies buzzing (mainly through the vibrations of our bike as it struggled its way up hills and down dales), we arrived in Tadlo, a beautiful little village by a waterfall surrounded by a forest. After tentatively biking over a frail wooden bridge we found our home for the night, a big bungalow with a veranda overlooking the river and waterfall, for the princely sum of $6. From that point we knew we were going to like Laos.

$6 bungalow

View from veranda at sunset

Our local waterfall

Chilling at the top

That night we shared a delicious dinner of fried fish and vegetables with our new Canadian/German friends and then hit the hay hard. Unfortunately our hay was literally hard and I didn’t get much sleep on the rock of a bed. But it didn’t matter as we were immediately energised by our riverside view in the morning.

We hopped on our bike again to see another waterfall about 10km away. On the way two local kids jumped into the road and ushered us into their village. Not wanting to run them down, we duly obliged. After passing through a smattering of straw huts, the kids beckoned us to follow them down a rocky path as they would be our guides to the waterfall. We followed them happily knowing this probably wasn’t the right way but would be an adventure nonetheless.

Indeed it was as we navigated between overhanging trees and snaking streams. But we soon realised that with feet adorned only by Vietnamese construction worker safety boots (ie. flip flops), we were ill-equipped for the densening undergrowth. We also realised the boys were taking us to the bottom of the waterfall rather than the top as we had originally planned.

With the waterfall in sight we decided that we had ventured far enough and headed back to our bike. But it was a fun excursion and we rewarded the boys with 2,000 Kip apiece (50c) for their efforts, which they were very happy about.

We then headed back to our guesthouse, packed our overnight bags and hit the road again. That day we visited two more stunning waterfalls as we headed back to Pakse. Then we packed our bags again in preparation for our next trip.

Following our forest guides

Enjoying the countryside

Another wonderful waterfall

With us blocking the view

Just down the road we found the twin falls of Tad Fane. At a drop of 120m it is the tallest waterfall in SE Asia.

The next morning we took a two hour boat ride down the Mekong to Champasak, home to the famous Wat Phu temple. Built in the 8th century the temple is thought to be the precursor to Angkor Wat.

Once again we hired a bike and headed to the ruins. Set on a hillside with a view overlooking the town it was an impressive sight. And it was truly humbling to be in the presence of a temple that was built over 1,000 years ago.

We then headed back to our guesthouse through more picturesque countryside with big smiles on our faces as we sped through this beautiful backwater. Motorcycling in the Laos countryside offers a great sense of freedom and we were delighted that a chance conversation led us down this road.

The road to Wat Phu

The steps to the temple seemed straight out of a fairy tale

The temple at the top


3 Responses to “Motorcyle Diaries”

  1. cynthia cutler Says:

    This truly must be your “LAST POST” Absolutely amazing. Will miss your great desciptions and sharing your adentures. xxx

    • marc Says:

      Actually we’re running about a month behind on the blog so there are a few posts to go! There are still many more stories to tell…

  2. Gabrielle Says:

    Hahaha Manna and the traveller pants

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