This morning we left our backpacks with our motorbike rental company and embarked on a 2 day road trip around the Bolaven Plateau in Pakse, Laos. We set off on the 250km adventure aboard our hopefully trusty Honda Scoopy bike with just a carrier bag of essentials. “ Don’t forget to visit Mr Vieng ” our bike rental company shouted as we drove off.
Who is Mr Vieng?
The highly recommended visit to Mr Vieng homestay and coffee plantation was our first stop. With nothing more than a beat up hand painted sign on the main road, we eventually find our way down the dirt roads to his home. We’re greeted by a chap with a huge welcoming smile on his face and asked to take a seat, this must be Mr Vieng!
Before we know it Mr Vieng has bought us a complimentary plate of organic bananas and peanuts as Nick makes himself comfy in a hammock whilst I go on about how cute all the mini pigs roaming the farmland are. It’s a very peaceful spot secluded by trees, everything around us is handmade, there’s nothing commercial about this place, even the drinks menu is scribed onto a wall with chalk (that you can barely read).
Neither of us like coffee but the Bolaven Plateau is famous for it so if we’re ever going to be converted coffee drinkers, maybe it will be here? Whilst he ground up our Arabica coffee beans he casually chatted to us about our travels, his background and different types of coffee, you can tell he is very passionate about his coffee!
Apparently a farmer on the plateau makes around £35 per week from selling their coffee beans to the larger manufacturers, Mr Vieng used to do this but over time he decided to focus on producing a smaller amount of beans of a higher quality just to sell to tourists. He told us of how manufacturers mix the insect eaten beans with the good ones when producing on a large scale. He now spends extra time separating only the best beans in a bid to produce the best cuppa possible. It was evident how serious he was about producing the best coffee when he gave us another one to try, this was an experiment of his. He used the same type of bean but had left it to rest for longer before grinding, the taste was completely different to our surprise.
The coffee plantation tour
A couple of girls from Switzerland pulled up soon after and after they tried some of the special Mr Vieng coffee we all decided to do the £1.20 tour of his planation. I wasn’t expecting much from this but it was so interesting. I’m now a coffee bean expert and can tell you how long a coffee tree takes to grow, the difference between green, red and brown beans, why female beans are bigger and the complete process from picking to roasting!
Aside from showing us the coffee planation Mr Vieng was keen to teach us about all the other things he grows and give us the opportunity to try different fruits as we went along. It wasn’t all fruits though, at one point he found an ants nest, grabbed it off the tree and rubbed the leaves together as ants swarmed his hands! Would you like to try one? He said as he puts a handful into his mouth! With the promise of a lemon flavour our Swiss friends agreed whilst Nick and I wimped out.
As we past a Durian tree he asked if we’d tried Durian before, we said no and before we knew it he was 10ft up in the air climbing the tree trying to get us one to try! He kept saying , sorry, sorry I’ll have to come down, too many ants. As he jumped down he was absolutely covered in massive red ants all over his shirt, not phased at all he swatted a few and ate them! Nick on the other hand went crazy when he found one crawling in his belly button 🙂
A relaxed and honest guy
After the tour we met Mr Vieng’s wife who spends 7 hours a day hand weaving beautiful materials. He joked as he explained how the man spends his days smoking cigars and drinking beer whilst the wife works all day. It takes her 5 days to weave one bit of cloth and they sell them for just £12!
It struck me just how relaxed and honest Mr Vieng was, we’ve been on a few similar tours like this around villages and there is always an element of deceit to them, they often feel staged and fake and merely there to drive money. They always show you herbs and medicines with false promises and then at the end hammer you with hard selling tactics. Mr Vieng was different, he never once tried to sell us anything and it genuinely felt like he wasn’t at all bothered about selling. We even had to ask 3 times for him to finally go and get some coffee we wanted to buy!
The tour was very genuine and a great insight into coffee plantations and general life for these people of Laos. Coming from a marketing background I was shocked at just how little he does to promote himself, people literally only show up through word of mouth! He didn’t even know he was featured in a German magazine until a tourist bought it to him. As it was in German he’s never known what it said until today when the Swiss girls translated it for him, it was lovely to see his face light up hearing the praise about his homestay and coffee.
Truly impressed and inspired by Mr Vieng we wanted to help him get the word out and asked if we could leave him a review. Turns out he is not on Facebook, isn’t aware of Trip Advisor, and was endlessly thankful when we said we’d try and add him to Google Maps. Before leaving he ran into his home and came back with a scrunched up bit of paper with his address and phone number scribbled down. A reminder that not every business in 2016 has Wi-Fi and an email address 🙂
The rest of day 1 on the plateau
Somehow we managed to spend over 2 hours with Mr Vieng and time was ticking on so we set off with the Swiss girls, Jasmine and Noami, in tow to see the Tad Lo waterfall. As it’s low season we had the waterfall to ourselves (bar the hundreds of butterflies) and rested our numb bike bums for a while.
Our hotel for the night was the ‘best on the plateau’ according to our bike rental company and it didn’t disappoint. Located in acres of award winning garden, the Sinouke hotel has been visited by many world leaders and is owned by one of the first families to begin coffee production in on the Plateau. Tomorrow we carry on to finish the remaining 100km and look forward to visiting another recommended Laos character, Captain Hook!