The Waterfalls of Paksong – A Story of Rivalry

 

Paksong is a tranquil town untouched by the deafening buzz of the present world. It’s huddled away almost unnoticed by drivers whizzing by on the smartly paved main road. Its streets remain mostly covered in amber-colored dust which lifts and swirls at the slightest movement. Despite its unfashionable demeanor, Paksong is located in the very fertile and in the best coffee region of Laos (coffee is the number one agricultural export).

Introduced in the day of French Colonialism, coffee-growing continues to thrive here. If you’re a coffee lover then this tiny town with nearly 5000 families cultivating coffee is the place to be. But we didn’t visit any coffee farms nor buy any coffee; something else drew us to this tiny town on the Bolaven Plateau – the many waterfalls dotting the area.

We had taken a local bus from Thakhek which dropped us off on the main road. We arrived at dusk when the sky was cloudless, draped in a dark, royal blue. The road had no lights, we could hardly see a few feet in front of us. We seemed to have been left in the middle of nowhere.

What are we doing here?

The sign of a small guest house was the only visible light beckoning us to go in. And so we did only to be greeted by the most gracious and lovely hosts ever – what a surprise! This was the only guest house within walking distance and, hurray, they even had a room for us! It was clean, basic and well-appointed with a full bathroom (including hot water); we were relieved to find a place to rest our weary heads.

 

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Our guesthouse was the one with the columns

 

The next day we woke up to a livelier (but in no way bustling) version of Paksong – making us realize there was more to this unassuming little town. To our delight, we noticed the central market was just across the road. Of course we couldn’t resist going – what’s better than a market to get a feel for a town and its people?! It was much bigger than we had expected with several stalls scattered around the dusty ground.

Women dressed in their traditional sinh (skirts) sat patiently waiting for their next customers while younger girls chatted away carefree on their cell phones (Paksong is underdeveloped but cell phones have made their way there). Rugged, dirt-encrusted men smoked their cigarettes until the butts were burnt to ashes. And everybody was astonished to see a couple of lone travelers curiously roaming around the local market! This ensued some enthusiastic hellos and spontaneous invitations to browse in their shops. One man drunk with liquor and happiness even offered us a few bottles of beer; we declined but upon his insistence we chose water instead.

Gotta love markets!

 

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Without the possibility of renting a motorbike in this sleepy town, we were compelled (and quite happy) to take local songthaew, pickup trucks adapted with long benches and covered with a makeshift roof acting as shared taxis, to get to the nearby waterfalls. The waterfalls cited in guidebooks as the most famous and the most spectacular are Tad Fane so that was our first stop.

 

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The songthaew dropped us off at the beginning of the road that lead to the waterfall. The road was unpleasantly dusty and the sun was unbearably hot. Large chartered buses and mini-vans filled with tourists passed by leaving a cloud of dry, red dust in the air. I covered my mouth with my scarf to absorb the dust and to muffle a few swear words – the heat and the dust were getting to me!

The multitude of tourists should’ve been some sort of indication of what to expect but onward we trudged. After a long, dusty walk of about 15 minutes, we finally arrived at the entrance only to find out that the Tad Fane waterfalls were actually located on the grounds of a luxury resort. Second indication.

We grudgingly paid the minimal admission fee of 10,000 kip (less than $2) and made our way to the waterfalls passing a number of luxury log cabins as well as the triad of tourists who were comfortably seated in the vehicles which had caused our lungs to be filled with dust.

 

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Tad Fane waterfalls were underwhelming and overrated. Crushing down at 100 meters high into a deep gorge, the twin waterfalls are inaccessible by foot. You can only take pictures from a distance on a small designated platform where everyone stood in queue waiting for their turn and vying for a spot with ‘the most spectacular waterfalls in Laos’.

Not.

We took our uninspiring pictures and left disappointed and a little pissed off at the misleading description of Tad Fane. Off we went to, once again, venture onto the dusty road ahead.

 

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Unimpressed

Across the road from Tad Fane Resort was a hand-painted wooden sign indicating another waterfall – Tad Tham Cham Pee. Determined to not let our day go to waste, we headed hope in hand in that direction (we figured it couldn’t be worse than Tad Fane). The road wasn’t paved but it wasn’t as dusty (or as popular) as the one going to Tad Fane. We only crossed paths with a few travelers on motorbikes (they came from nearby Pakse) but that was about all.

 

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Once again, the heat was unbearable and the sun was beating down on us – are we there yet? – but this road was much more pleasant than the previous one. We passed a few houses with dogs barking out our arrival and a few locals happy to see some foreign faces (drenched in sweat).

After what seemed like an endless road, we arrived at a pretty, open field with a small wooden establishment advertised as a restaurant. We continued past the restaurant following a step-down trail to the waterfalls. And there they were! The wonderful Tad Tham Cham Pee waterfalls saluting us from below.

 

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The three-tier waterfalls were small in stature but managed to make a huge impact with its beautiful surroundings. The natural pool was serene and clean inviting onlookers to take a dip. I couldn’t resist removing my booties to refresh my swollen feet in the cool, pristine water. Not only could we get up close but we could also walk all the way behind the waterfalls to truly take in its thunderous, crashing veil. What’s more, it was free including the floating raft made of wooden planks used to float to the middle of the natural pool!

With just a handful of visitors, this place was heavenly – I couldn’t believe our luck! We lingered for a while taking as many pictures as we could (the sunlight was perfect) and then we headed back, satisfied and refreshed.

It’s no surprise that Tad Tham Cham Pee wins in this story of rivalry – hands down.

 

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After a true disappointment and an even truer surprise, our two days in Paksong were over. We bade farewell to our wonderful hosts (who had kindly invited us to join them for a delicious homemade supper) and off we were to Tad Lo.

 

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Love waterfalls? Check out these posts!

 

 
 

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What are your thoughts on these waterfalls? Am I being a waterfall snob?

 

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  • Munchkin Treks

    I enjoyed this piece on waterfalls in Laos. I especially appreciated your honesty when you said you weren’t always impressed by what you saw. The adventures along the way in your search for waterfalls, though, made your overall trip sound very exciting.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Thanks so much! We can’t always like what we visit when traveling but the most important is to always appreciate the privilege we have to be able to travel (but I was little pissed off at that tourist trap waterfall). 😉

  • michelle d.

    wow talk about crammed! This is amazing I am quite jealous. It looks amazing.

  • Smidge

    Those second waterfalls are gorgeous. It just teaches you not to follow the ‘best’ recommendations doesn’t it? Especially as they charge you to see them. Nice post.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Sometimes the least visited places are the best! 🙂

  • Adrenaline Romance

    Gorgeous waterfalls indeed! The twin ones with the tall drop-off is spectacular. But what we love most are the photos of the locals there. The culture is so vibrant, and the place so full of life.

    Riding how the locals ride! Awesome!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Thanks! Independent traveling has its ups and downs but at least you get to do what you want which allows you to discover unexpected places. Happy travels!

  • travelscout

    I would make this one of my stops for sure! I’m glad to hear that it was nice and quiet for you. Nature should be just that … quiet 🙂

  • Neha Verma

    Looks like you had the most lovely two days. I totally love the place. Your guesthouse sounds perfect. And so does the spread of fruits and vegetables. The waterfalls are like cherry on the cake 🙂

  • TalesOfABackpacker

    Uff I hate it when tourist traps are so over-hyped! It looks like you lucked out in the end though finding those other waterfalls! I would love to dive in there right now!

  • Sheena Leong

    I’ve been to Laos but I’d never heard of Paksong before – I like waterfalls but I love markets even more so I’m putting it on my list for SE Asia in the summer, thanks!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Most travelers don’t stop in Paksong as they’re doing the Bolaven Plateau loop by motorbike from Pakse but we enjoyed our time there nonetheless. We only went to two waterfalls but there are many more nearby which are easily accessible by songthaew.

  • bc21578

    Just returned from 4 days in Laos. Never heard of Paksong. The waterfalls are beautiful!

  • Sindhu Murthy

    Visiting an area popular for coffee plantations and not checking out any coffee estates is sad. However, the surprise of finding the beautiful 3-tire waterfall when you least expected it to be so good makes up for it 🙂 I m just curious if the coffee plantations in Paksong are open to host tourists.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      We’re not coffee drinkers so that’s not something that piqued our curiosity. A few plantations are open for tours but most coffee is actually exported so it’s not easily sold in shops.

  • Stephanie Rose

    I definitely vote for the second waterfall!! With the three sections. Soo beautiful. Hopefully I make it there one day.

  • Christine Tran

    The waterfalls look amazing! I hope I can visit this place one day as your photos are gorgeous! I always love getting up close to waterfalls so I’ll probably try!

  • Clare

    I never went to this place when I was in Laos, but I am adding to my list for my next visit. The twin waterfalls look nice but yes the other one that you can get up close to with few tourists would be my favourite too 🙂

  • KimmConn

    I think the first waterfall was pretty but i hate when crazy amounts of tourists make a place annoying! The second one looked amazing as well. I must say my fave is still Kuang Si!

  • My mate and I found that in India with the guide books as well. Something was painted as a huge draw and we realized it was a huge draw but not necessarily spectacular. Though, you sit down you look around and you talk with locals and you get the scoop. It’s always good to be optimistic. Looks like you found a good waterfall.. or three! in the end. ^^

  • Chen Wang

    Awesome post with great images 🙂

  • Aubrie Engman

    Wow those waterfalls were amazing and you have to love a ride in a songthaew!

  • Love a good waterfall! We missed these when we were in Laos but would love to see them when we go back. The small Laotian villages are my favorite!

  • That was a little annoying that the viewing platform was tiny to see the falls. They did look pretty spectacular though, I’ve never seen any similar waterfalls. As is often the case in 3rd world countries the getting there is more fun than the actual site itself!

  • Erica Coffman

    I’ve never heard of this little town before! Loved reading your story and really appreciate the way you brought this village to life for us readers. Lovely photos, as well.

  • Fiona Mai

    Love the waterfall and the nature surrounding it! I also like exploring non-touristy places such as this area. Definitely will consider visiting it in my next trip to Laos!

  • A handfull of visitors sounds great its so good to void of the masses of people that sometimes can ruin an experience. We were in Iceland last week and witnessed some amazing waterfalls

  • Sasha

    Oh wow, such beautiful waterfalls! I had never heard of this place, I wish I had visited when I was in Laos too. Sounds like you found yourself an authentic village to experinece, amazing!

  • NowThatsAHoneymoon

    You should have said yes to the beers! Haha! What a fun experience, the waterfalls definitely highlight the trip. Looks like you have the whole place to yourselves!

  • Meg Marie

    I love exploring small villages! This looks like quite the adventures. That “what am I doing here” feeling is something I crave at times – as scary as it can be! Looks like the quaint little spot and hot water?!? Hard to complain with that :).

  • Katie Featherstone

    Paksong sounds like the kind of off the beaten path little place I am always hunting for! That waterfall is so high! Wow. Although Tad Fane sounds disappointing, it certainly isn’t as bad as one we went to in Mindo, Ecuador which turned out to be only about 3 meters tall with concrete banks! Glad your second waterfall made up for the first though. 🙂

  • Melissa Kiely

    Love that songthaew you were in! They certainly know how to cram people in. I often find that – the one place you must see is a disappointment and its something less known that gets you. I’m with you, that second waterfall was far more prettier – glad you found it and your day ended up ok.

  • So. Many. Gorgeous. Waterfalls. I love your photo of Tad Tham Cham Pee waterfalls. The view reminds me of Plitvice National Park in Croatia, but it seems like there were a lot less tourists! Plitvice was stunning but those crowds…

    Going behind the waterfalls sounds like a ton of fun, too! It looks like you had a great trip! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Kelly Duhigg

    That has happened to me too. Sometimes you think a site will be great and its a tourist trap. So awesome you didn’t give up and went to the second waterfall. It looked so serene. And less tourists. Had no idea Laos grew somuch coffee