Myles Harrington

The Long Haul North

In Laos on November 27, 2010 at 6:08 pm

We had one week to go from Pakse in the far south of Laos up to the capital in the north, Vientiane. Our first trip wasn’t going to get us far, from Champasak we were going to Pakse, an old French admin post just opposite Thailand across the mighty Mekong. I’d heard from fellow travellers it wasn’t a great place, with just a row of restaurants and not much else. On our first night there as we were strolling along the riverside boulevard I trod on something squishy and warm, I thought I’d be spending most of my night stinking from that point but fortunately it was just a snake. When I felt something warm I tried to tread lightly and it slithered away into the undergrowth seemingly unharmed from its 70 kilo crushing. I think I must have got its head otherwise I would probably have required a trip to the new looking Pakse A&E.

One of the reasons why people stop off in Pakse is to travel east in to the Bolaven Plateau and other remote eastern provinces. Having become a couple of waterfall hunters recently we thought we should give it another go and head out on our own wheels to see what is supposedly one of Laos’ most impressive falls just a few kilometres out-of-town. The Tat Fan falls were cool but sadly the drop was so long from our vantage point you couldn’t even see the plunge pool. The water looked like a gas as it hit the rocks half way and flowed like liquid nitrogen into the abyss. After the obligatory South East Asian noodle soup for lunch in Paksong we were back on the road on our 100cc bad boy back towards Pakse via another less impressive waterfall.

 

Yet another waterfall

When we returned a bit cold because the clouds had drawn in and the wind from the speedy 40mph drive had chilled our mere t-shirt covered bodies we decided to go for a cheap sauna in the grand Champasak Palace Hotel, a former palace built for the last prince of Champasak. After an hour in the steam I felt like fainting, there’s never a happy medium is there?

Pretty much the only reason we decided to go to Savannakhet was to break up the journey, we didn’t have anything planned to see or do for our two nights there and it was very similar in looks to Pakse with crumbling colonial architecture and long straight roads. The local bus ride from Pakse was a bit of a nightmare, it wasn’t the longest I’ve ever had, at just six hours it’s a relatively short trip, but the ever persistent Asian stop offs were winding us up and the heat and lack of food didn’t help matters either. At one point about four hours in we stopped off at a house to pick up what looked like just six wooden doors to put on the roof. This of course took fifteen minutes and all the driver’s tag along mates to complete. It was then we realised we had yet more cargo on another pick up waiting to be hauled up on the roof. It was essentially a whole farm, no not the equipment, the livestock and they were still alive. About eight goats, two big mesh bags of chickens and another bag full of ducks were whipped up and strapped down to the tin roof right in front of our eyes.

 

Going on the roof

We were unfortunately in line with the ladder so we got the bulging eyes of the goats and the chicken shit and feathers right up close. PETA would have gone berserk but there was no point in saying anything, this happens everyday and it would only have made us even later. Half an hour later we stopped off again, to pick up yet more animals, this time a pig farm joined the goats, chickens and ducks on the roof. The squeals as the swine were lifted by chaffing ropes on their necks woke me from my doze and Shubes said the pigs were already bleeding and our fellow passengers were mostly laughing.

A quick trip to the small but very informative dinosaur museum pretty much was all we did in Savannakhet and a couple of days later we were this time shoved into a minibus for the swift three-hour leg to Tha Khaek.

 

Exciting!

Instead of visiting just waterfalls we mixed it up a little in Tha Khaek and saw some caves instead. The first cave is remarkable because it was only discovered six years ago by a local man looking for some bats to eat for dinner. When he stumbled into the cave he discovered 229 bronze Buddha statues that had been preserved for 600 years. It was here I got my first ever Buddhist blessing by a man who does it all day, chanting and tying yellow bracelets onto peoples’ arms. He must have a very sore throat after a whole day and his stone seat would probably cause him problems too. Shubes also had a first at Tham Pha Pa Cave, she was forced to wear a traditional Lao skirt as it is one of the rules created by the villagers that everyone must wear a traditional Lao skirt to enter the cave. A nice little earner for the skirt loaner out the front.

 

Fashion always applies

The next cave was more of a traditional picturesque affair and the terrain was too perilous for a dehydrated Shubes so it was just me and the child guide called Noi who were brave enough to continue and do the loop through the clear waters and dark crevasses. The drive home was stunning as the sun set over the Halong Bay style rock formations it’s a shame we couldn’t enjoy it though because the lack of water got to us both and we had painful headaches by the time we dropped off the bike.

 

Noi the tour boy

Another long and boring day time journey got us to Vientiane, as always rather later than expected. So we deserved a little treat, an Indian takeaway in the hotel room. It was rather annoying that it was a fast paced 45 minute round trip to the curry house but the 12 grand Aloo Dum (£1) was worth it. Accommodation was expensive in the capital so we decided to only spend one night there and to head off in the early evening up to Shubes’ last stop Vang Vieng. With our only day we visited the bizarre Buddha Park by local bus number 14, a place that reminded me a lot of the Crazy House we visited in Dalat. Our last 153km trip was pure luxury compared to the first. It turned out we had  negotiated our own private minibus for 70,000 (£5.50) each that we only had to share with one delivery; mattresses. They were certainly quieter than the farm-yard.

5k remaining: £329.10

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