As easy as getting a pig in a tuk-tuk!
20.08.2007 - 31.08.2007 35 °C
Sorry for not updating the blog for a while but Laos is a little backward in technology and the only decent internet we found is here in Pakse.
After a few good days of clambering over various Wats of Angkor. it was time to move on. Siem Reap was great but was absolutely jammed packed with tourists, tourist food, tourist booze and tourist prices - that said the Wats were spectacular and we were really glad we stayed there.
On Wednesday (22nd) we boarded a Lao Airlines flight to Pakse in Southern Laos. The plane was heading towards Vientiane and only 5 of us got off at Pakse. After completing the visa formalties, we were met by Jerome, the owner of the Pakse Hotel and driven into town. After the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap, Pakse was like a ghost town. There was hardly any traffic and the pace was really slow and laid back. Our hotel was very grand and had a colonial charm about it - all polished solid wood furniture and elaborate carvings. After we had settled in we went out for some lunch and while we were sat there knocking back a few cold Beer Laos, a Songathaew (a covered flat bed truck with seats) pulled up and and voice shouted out "Hi guys". It was Michelle and Kim, two Australian girls who we had travelled through the Mekong Delta with and also bumped into in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. They had come overland from Cambodia and were on their way to Northern Laos. After we had a bit of a laugh about how they were stalking us, we spent the next couple of days in Pakse with them visiting the local area and sampling Lao food and beer. We went on a day trip to visit some spectacular waterfalls. At one set of waterfalls Michelle and Steve decided to climb down a steep path to the bottom of the falls to get some photographs. The spray from the fall was so dense that they both got absolutely soaked and our camera got waterlogged and wouldn't work. It took 2 days for it to dry out, but luckily it's ok now.
After 2 nights in Pakse, the girls headed north (it's possible that we could bump into them again in Bangkok) and we headed south by boat to Champasak. While we were waiting for the boat, another boat arrived carrying a lady and 2 pigs. One was an average sized porker, the other a huge pot bellied pig. She was taking them to market. The boat boys struggled to get the pigs off the boat onto the jetty and then the boat left. After a short while a tuk-tuk turned up and the woman and the driver loaded the porker into the back. They then tried to load the pot bellied pig, but he was having none of it and was squealing and kicking up a fuss. Steve went over to give a hand and eventually they managed to get the pig in the tuk-tuk - Steve and the driver lifting it's front end and the woman lifting him by his tail. It would have been an ideal photo opportunity but the camera was still wrecked from the waterfall incident. The boat trip to Champasak, which took about one and a half hours, was once again amazing - people smiling and waving from their stilted huts, the scenery, the clouds hanging over the mountains - it was spectacular!
We arrived at Champasak and found a hotel. It was a family run sort of homestay with little bungalows right on the bank of the Mekong. The town of Champasak was even quieter than Pakse. There was only one road through the town with a roundabout in the middle which served no purpose at all as there was only one road. On the road there were actually more animals than vehicles - there were geese, ducks, dogs, cats, cows and frogs (oh yes and a snake!) just wandering along the road. We stayed at Champasak for three days and for two of those we were the only westerners in the town and the only guests at our hotel. It was really laid back. On the first night we looked across the Mekong River and saw the most amazing electrical storm. No thunder or rain just lightning that went on for hours. We couldn't understand why the locals were pretty nonplussed about it until we realised it happened every night.
On one of the days we asked a boatman to take us to Don Deng, which was a nearby island in the middle of the Mekong River. He asked us to wait a while and disappeared returning with his son (who was about 10 or 11) on a sort of makeshift catamaran. It was two wooden canoes with a sort of large wooden pallet lashed between them and a longtail outboard motor attached to one of the canoes. We loaded ourselves and the bikes onto the boat and set off leaving the boatman behind. The 10 year old boy was to be our captain for the day! The boy successfully navigated the strong river currents and we unloaded the bikes and waded to the shore. The island was amazing, it was 12km by 6km and there were no roads just a few sand tracks through the villages, rice fields and jungle. As we cycled throught the villages, all the small children came running out of their stilted huts, smiling, waving and shouting "Sabaidee" which is the local Lao greeting. It was difficult to ride a bike on a dirt track and wave at the same time and of course, me being me, I fell off twice!! But it was all good fun until we got lost. The path we were taking just ran out in the middle of a sort of jungle area. We heard rustling sounds in the undergrowth so we decided to retrace our path. We had spent about four hours on the island and our young captain was waiting patiently on the shore where we left him.
On one of the other days we went to Wat Pho, which was another Angkor temple similar to those at Siem Reap, although this one had no tourists except us and a minibus full of Japanese. Amongst the rocks Steve saw a massive scorpion and managed to get a photo of it. The night before we left I heard a rustling in a carrier bag that we had left on the bed in our room. Steve went to investigate, gingerly looking into the bag. He realised that there was a small lizard in the bag, so he picked up the bag and ran for the door emptying the lizard onto the veranda. It scurried away unharmed. Eventually it became time to leave our lovely host family who were very helpful, they even drove us across on the ferry and the 5km to the junction of the main Lao highway where we could flag down a Songathaew to take us 80km to Don Khong, which is the largest island in the Si Phan Don group on the Mekong River.
Well........ we waited at the junction of the main highway for about an hour with another traveller who was from Italy. The junction was a sort of market/mini meeting place and people were trading live lizards, chickens, various cuts of meat and intestines! Just as we were beginning to think that no Songathaews would come, a nine seat people carrier pulled over and the Lao driver indicated to us that he had three spare seats. We negotiated a price of $3 each (which is less than the Songathaew would have cost) and set off on our way in air conditioned luxury - what a result. It took us about two hours to travel the 80km due to the car having to slow down to dodge the more than occasional water buffalo. The driver dropped us at the jetty, we said our goodbyes and boarded a large wooden canoe to take us across to Don Khong.
We stayed in Mr Pon's guesthouse in Maung Khong on the east side of the island. Mr Pon is a really friendly chap and makes the meanest Happy Lao cocktail, which is the local hooch mixed with pure honey, fresh lemon juice and ice. Steve was twittering like a parrot after two and I could only manage one.
After settling in one day one, we spent day two cycling around the south side of the island. As this is the biggest island it has proper roads, and I didn't fall off. The scenery was fantastic, all rice fields, water buffalo and stilted shacks. On day three we went on a boat trip to Don Khone and Don Dhet, which are two other large islands in the group. We were originally going to stay on Don Dhet and we're really glad we didn't! It was ok for a visit, but Don Dhet was bit of a backpackers pit - loads of ricketty bamboo huts for $1 a night with a shared squat toilet and cold shower! I think we made the right decision to stay in luxury at Mr Pon's. The boat trip to Don Dhet was very scenic with loads of waving children along the way. Almost as soon as we got there it started to rain. We got absolutely soaked walking the 4km to the waterfalls. The falls were good but I didn't think they were worth getting wet for. Apparently they are more spectacular when the water isn't so high (due to it being the rainy season). It was still pouring as we made our way back to the boat. So all in all a damp and dreary day.
Day four was much better, we went for a long walk towards the north side of Don Khong island. We came across some children scrumping the local wild fruit and they shared some with us in exchange for some biros. Again it was similar scenery - rice fields and jungle. We think we heard some monkeys but couldn't see them.
After our laid back stay on Don Khong, we took the bus back to Pakse. We are staying at the lush Pakse Hotel for another 2 nights before heading off to Thailand. I think we will be very sad to leave Laos. The people are really friendly and there has been a distinct lack of other travellers, so it has felt really special after the tourist trail in Cambodia.
Love to everyone - keep the comments coming.