Our Next stop in Laos was Pakse, a bit of a nothing town. We were just passing through and used it as a stopover before heading further North to a little village called Ban Saeng Vang. Everyone just calls it Tad Lo though, named after one of the three waterfalls in this area. After leaving Pakse we arrived in Tad Lo via bus. The bus trip was interesting. Again we found ourselves the only foreigners on a local bus and after stopping for more than half an hour to change a tyre we were on our way eventually been dropped at the top of a road that we needed to follow for 2km to reach the village.
As soon as we started walking we found ourselves in a very rural area that consisted of dirt roads, wooden huts and so many animals. We saw chickens, goats, pigs, dogs, cats, cows and buffalo. The local people watched us carefully as we wandered through their simple villages with all our brightly coloured luggage. I felt very foreign indeed.
We reached Palamei’s Guesthouse where we had planned to stay. It is a gorgeous little place. We hired the private hut with its own little verandah, complete with hammock and views of the rice paddies. Our accommodation was very stripped back compared to our usual choices in that there was no TV, air-conditioning or wifi. I didn’t miss any of these things for a moment as the actual surroundings of the place provided enough fulfilment. Evan woke early one morning and sat on our verandah to take some amazing pictures of the fields as the sun rose.
After extending our original three day stay to six days, we spent our time in Tad Lo exploring the area by foot, swimming and relaxing. During our time here we got to recognise a few local characters and began to feel at home, waving hello and greeting everyone along the way.
There are a few main guesthouses right in the accommodation and food area of the village. This area is very small. It is basically two little streets that provide simple accommodation - some places offer a bucket wash rather than a shower and most places have cheap food. We ate at a guesthouse called ‘Mama Paps’ a few times. We were introduced to Mama, a lovely older Lao women who cracks jokes and speaks quite harshly. I really liked her she seemed hard but fair and there was no bullshit with this woman. Her motto is “big food, small kip” (kip is the currency used in Lao) and she wasn’t joking - the meals were comically huge. Noodles piled high, enough to feed four people and bowls of soup as large as a serving platter. Mama seemed to really enjoy the absurdity of this, making ‘oooooh’ sounds as she brought the food out then cracking up laughing at our reaction to the giant servings. At least we knew that if we visited Mama we would not be going hungry.
We also ate at our guesthouse, Palamei’s. This place was well known in the village and popular for people to visit for a meal even if they were staying at other guesthouses. The main attraction here is a family cooked dinner. This was something that anyone eating could participate in. The family would bring chopping boards, veggies and knives for everyone to help in the preparation of the dinner. Different people were given roles in the kitchen and once cooked everyone sat on this long table and ate together. Other than the family dinner, the other things on the menu were really good and because we stayed here we ate brekkie here each day and most of our dinners.
Each day we wandered around the area. We mostly visited the three waterfalls, Tad Lo, Tad Hang and Tad Soung, walking along the river. There is a long road out of town that if you follow for roughly 3.5km you eventually arrive at a bridge that crosses the river. The first day we came out here we were in search for Tad Soung, the waterfall that is the furthest from the village. We didn’t get that far however because we came across some local people bathing in the river under the bridge and were called over by them. We wandered down and the women were encouraging us to swim with them so eventually I very carefully entered the water that was flowing quite fast towards the waterfall. The bottom of the river was made up of huge rocks and there were little pools formed in between the rocks. The water was so clear and cool which was refreshing on such a hot day.
Another day we walked back to this area determined to get further this time and visit the waterfall. To get to it, you need to trek through a very remote village where the locals are very cautious and less friendly than other villages. It felt like a massive disruption to their lives to be wandering through while they performed their daily duties however since this is the way to the waterfall I am sure we were not the first or last tourists to wander through.
We stopped along the way to swim in a waterhole that looked way too inviting to overlook. Once again the water was lovely and clean. After refreshing ourselves we dried off and continued along the path to the waterfall. Now this path is no paved affair, it is a dirt track that is overgrown with vines and trees, full of bugs and other things that scratch at your skin as you push through the almost jungle area. It seemed impossible in part and we were so uncertain about continuing on when we couldn’t even see a path anymore however we pressed on and were reward greatly. Eventually we reached the water again and the rock pools in this area were the best I had seen. We enjoyed our own private place for the afternoon, bathing in the beautiful water under a small waterfall and laying on the rocks to dry off. Heaven.
Another area that we frequented for swimming during our time in Tad Lo (mostly in the afternoon after wandering all day) was just under the bridge. There is a grassy area where three huts have been set up and I suppose that in the high season this area is the place to be but because it is low season we had it to ourselves. Well almost to ourselves. The second day we visited our little swimming spot we were joined by some local kids who we continued to see each time we swam there. They were cautious at first, either totally ignoring us or watching us carefully. Eventually they accepted our presence there and on the following days Evan was used as a human climbing pole as the boys clung to him in the water and climbed onto his shoulders while he threw them in the air. They also encouraged Evan’s participation in their favourite game - jumping, flipping, karate-kicking while jumping off a small rock at the river bed. He joined them in jumping in, climbing out and going though it all again. The kids loved the camera, wanting their picture taken and posing for us.
Each day at 4.30 you can visit Tadlo Lodge to see them washing their two elephants. We witnessed this most afternoons and it was lovely to see. I just don’t know about the elephants being in captivity. They seem well looked after and when they were being washed the handler allowed the elephant to walk along on his own without being controlled but I still don’t know, We patted the elephants and were able to be very close to them. This whole thing is free to witness as well which is great. It was a nice way to end the day.
There is a dog in town that we saw everyday and we named him very predictably, ‘Spot’. He followed us on our first day when we walked out of town and continued to come with us on each walk. When the path disappeared and we were not sure which direction to take, Spot would take the lead and direct us. When he ran ahead he turned around and waited for us. When we rested so did he and he swam with us as well. He was our companion dog during our time in Tad Lo and a very good guide to have.
We had such a magical time in Tad Lo Village. We are leaving to visit the capital city, Vientiane. To get here we need to catch an overnight bus (yuck) which has us arriving at 6.30am.