We asked three times: “is it a direct bus to Savannakhet?”. “Yes, direct bus” was the answer, three times. At least the first 1,5 hours on Friday 31 October it was a bus, but then we got crammed into a minivan for the 2-hour trip to the Laos border. After crossing the border it got even worse: an old local bus where benches would fit 3 people (where 2 would be considered the maximum in any somewhat developed country) and the overhead luggage storage was only hanging on to the roof of the bus with some iron wire. After enduring the bus ride for 5,5 hours, it suddenly stopped and the bus driver yelled “Pakse, Pakse”, pointing to a bus on the other side of the road. By that time we had almost given up on the idea of getting to Pakse the same day, so we hurried to grab our bags and run to the Pakse-bound bus. As it turns out, that was completely unnecessary, because the bus had been standing there for about an hour, getting repaired. Our luck turned though, because it got fixed in 15 minutes and we arrived in Pakse before 20:30, after 14 hours of travelling.
On Saturday Patricia took a bus to Thailand (to the boyfriend she was missing), and I continued South in a sawngthaew to Champasak. There I rented a bike to ride through the village and fields to Wat Phu Champasak, a beautifully located temple.
Sunday morning I met Maaike on the ferry over the Mekong. Since we were both heading to Don Khon in Si Phan Don (four thousand islands), we travelled there together by bus, sawngthaew and boat. Besides exploring the islands of Don Det and Don Khon by foot and bike, there was not a great deal to do. Therefore I spent some quality time in a hammock, reading and relaxing.
Come Monday evening I had finished all the magazines and books I brought, so Tuesday morning it was time to move on. I got a boat and sawngthaew back to Pakse, where I rented a moped (100cc Honda) to travel the Bolaven Plateau. First stop was the gas station (you get a rental with an empty tank here, allowing them to make an extra profit when you return it with fuel left in it). Second stop a nice waterfall. However, the sky was turning pretty dark, and it did not take long before the heavens opened. Patricia had borrowed me her big red poncho and this came in really handy. Many locals were turning their heads when a big red bird on a moped was passing by. I reached Tadlo just before sunset, and really enjoyed the hot shower and food here.
Wednesday morning I got up early for a short hike to two waterfalls, before riding an elephant for 1,5 hours. From my elevated position I crossed through forest, pools and a village (where the chilis were drying next to the satellite dish). Then it was time to hit the road again, as it was about 110km back to Pakse, a ride of about 3 hours with 25km of the road unsealed. 60km/h was about the maximum speed of the moped anyway, and that was good as I had to share the road with some locals (overtaking them all) and many kids, cows, dogs, chickens and the occasional buffalo. I visited two more waterfalls on the way back, and had a nice swim on top of one of them. Pakse was reached mid-afternoon, so I had plenty of time to get organised for the night bus to Vientiane.