Here is Part III of my road trip in southern Laos, as published in the Gold Coast Gazette !
We had been driving for days, stopping at some of the most spectacular sites southern Laos has to offer. I wished for a rental car many times during the endless and unpredictable bus rides of our journey. Once I vocalized this thought, a plan fell into place too easily, and suddenly we were setting off in our Ford SUV for a road trip to the south.
On the third day, after spending the night in the town of Paksong, we tried for the second time to reach the Tad Lor waterfalls, known as the most impressive in the country. The day before, we unknowingly took a route down an uncompleted road; our map contained many routes that turned out to be under construction or impassible during the wet season. After staring longingly at the half built bridge for a few minutes, we reassessed our plan. The path from Paksong, only an hour and a half from Tad Lor, luckily consisted of passable roads, which I confirmed with a monk I met the night before. On the way, we did take one sign too seriously, ending up in a tiny village consisting of a single 60m/200ft mud road. Stuck in the mud, I attempted a three point turn on a “road” the same size as the SUV, while an elderly woman with long silver hair jovially laughed at my effort.
The Tad Lor waterfalls (pronounced Tad Lo) are a group of three, in order of size: Tad Hang, Tad Lor, and Tad Soung. We reached the village of Ban Saenvang, which sits at the base of Tad Hang, hoping to book an elephant trek with the Tad Lor Resort. Unfortunately, these only run during high season, and the only person we could find on the resort was asleep in the restaurant. The entire town was nearly deserted which came as no surprise, considering throughout our road trip we had been alone among nature and a few locals.
Since the elephants were off limits, we began trekking into the jungle toward Tad Lor and Tad Soung. There was only one discernible path down to the riverside, but after scaling the rocks for a while, we could not find a way forward. This happened a lot throughout our adventurous drive, as many paths were drowned from the monsoon season. We were on the verge of abandoning our trek when a Lao man carrying a machete appeared in the forest. He pointed us up the hill, where he had cleared a very steep, muddy, and unstable path which we had no choice but to climb.
We trekked alone through waterfall, mud, and fields for a few hours, trying to remember our path through the jungle and keeping the river on our left. Locating Tad Lor was relatively straightforward, and we stopped to cool down in its waters. After our swim, we sat in the shade and watched as a local went net fishing. When we resumed our trek, the discernible path split into many and we found ourselves going in circles. Eventually, we crossed a village where every hut had laid out big baskets of red chillies to dry in the fiery sun. The foot path to Tad Soung, we learned from the villagers, had been flooded. Disappointed but exhilarated from the morning trek, we made our way back to Ban Saenvang. There, we learned of another, drivable path to Tad Soung. Though we could have cut a three hour trek into a five minute car ride, the adventure of the morning was well worth it, as walking off the path tends to be.
As a light rain began to fall, we parked the car outside another small village and walked toward the largest of the waterfalls. At the base, a young boy asked if we knew how to swim and gestured for us to follow him. He guided us through the jungle, climbing the mountain with ease as we slipped in the mud. When we reached the top of Tad Soung, the boy and I stood on a small cliff against the rocks, two tiny figures compared with the massive falls that misted us. We looked down the steep descent to the rocks and river below, and I felt a sense of calm amongst the roaring of the falls.
To hear more about my road trip in Laos, check out the series at mleaciampi.wordpress.com.