One of the absolute high lites from Laos is the Bolaven Loop.
This Loop brings you to the crater from a giant ancient volcano with a lot of nature, dirt and paved roads, minorities, coffee, tea, waterfalls and cooler temperatures.
The shortcut Paksong - Attapeu was part from the Ho Chi Minh trail during 1970-1975 to connect the 3the North South connection to the 2nd North South connection. In our time its one of the most beautifull spots from Southern Laos.
Both loops starts in Pakse and the only thing you have to do is to follow the same road (road 16) for 50 kilometers to Paksong, its possible that you do not notice that you are climbing up to 1300 MASL, but what you real notice is that the climate is changing, normaly its "only" between 20 and 28 degrees at the plateau.
On the road to Paksong are a couple of waterfalls in all sizes and beautiness. When you already know how a coffee tree looks like, you will see them everywhere between the new and old jungle trees.
At km 42 is a tea factory where they process almost all the Chinese tea from the Bolaven plateau.
At the end of day one you are in Paksong, this place is known for its excelent coffee and here is the place to taste your first real cup of coffee, see the plantations or do the 2 hours Paksong Coffee tour.
In Paksong are enough guesthouses where you can stay without airconditioner, big chance that you'll get a double blanket.
This day is difficult, its the day that you decide to do the big or the small loop.
When you choose for the big loop you have to go over the dirt road, when it is raining its a very easy choice... don't.! Unless you are a local ;)
The "shortcut" to Attapeu (Ho Chi Minh Trail) can be very dangerous in the rainy seizon, in the dry seizon its ok. Normaly its not raining in the morning during the rainy seizon.
The small loop brings you directly to Tatheng in less then a hour, when you do the big loop you'll see Tatheng 1 or 2 days later.
Paksong is the highest point from the loop, doesnt matter which loop you make, from here you only go down. :P
The danger from the dirt roads in the rainy seizon.
The danger from the dirt roads is most of the time that some unexperienced travelers speed up after a 10 minutes because they know how to drive... Forget it, when you have to use your brakes in the mud it goes wrong, try to drive as relaxed as possible, you are on vacation. ;)
Other stories I've heard from travelers is that they where thinking that it was a game.... and they where right: "game over"
Elevation profile Paksong - Ban Beng - Tat Lo
The Small loop.
The moment that you are heading to Tathing the road is going down during 40 kms until a 800 meters, its a nice paved road with some curves in it, a very relaxing road.
The moment that you arrive in Tatheng you'll see a lot of guesthouses, small restaurants and a big market.
At "the end" from the road there is a roundabout, go straith (180 degrees) and follow the road to Ban Beng. (when you turn right you go to Sekong and Attapeu over the paved road.)
The former dirt road from 20 kms between Tatheng and Ban Beng is since begin may 2010 renewed and leads you between the minority villages and very beautifull forest/jungle.
At the end of the road you turn left in the direction of Pakse, You see Tat Lo after a 5 kms on your left hand, thats the place where you find accomodation between 20.000 and 300.000 kip.
The Big loop.
The short cut to Attapeu is a dirt road from 70 kms, the first kilometers is plaved but very bad, putholes, putholes and more putholes for a 5 kms. After the putholes start the dirtroad, when its not raining its almost a pleasure, the scenery makes everything more then good, a lot of coffee plantation and on the background mountains, the edge from the volcano. On this road are different minorities in bamboo shacks, when they speak in their own language all other minorities can't understand them. Don't expect that there is one who speaks English.
After a 50 kms is a strange situation, just behind the village with a very big GSM antena, the road turns right and after a 3 kms there is a junction, thats the point where you have to turn left !!
Here starts the dense jungle, perfect to make the most nicest scenery pictures. Tat Katamtok, a giant waterfall is nice hidden between the small bridges.
At the end of the dirt road there is a junction with the well paved #16: Sekong (left) and Attapeu (right), go to Attapeu have a nice guest house overthere and drive the next day to Sekong, or, when its late in the afternoon, choose for Sekong and find a nice resort on the road to Sekong.
From Attapeu or Sekong the paved road #16 goes to Tatheng and from there to Ban Beng / Tat Lo.
At the junction with the road Pakse - Salavan its exactly 5 kms to Tat Lo (direction Pakse) where are a lot of guesthouses in the range 20.000 until 300.000 kip.
Good for a couple of very lazy or very active days.
The last day brings you over the paved road to Pakse, its a nice hilly - flat road . after 60 kms is the junction with the #16 (km 21) what brings you to Pakse (or to Paksong when you turn left ;) )
The southern track !
"They" give you a map when you rent a motorbike in Pakse, at this map you can see a road from Attapeu to Champasak, with the remark that the bridges are missing. My remark is, not only the bridges are missing, also 70% from the road... (even a dirt track is missing)