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IndochinaBussing from South to North Laos

On 10 November 2008 from Luang Nam Tha, Laos | comments closed

When booking the night bus to Vientiane for Wednesday 5 November nobody mentioned the fact that the beds were designed for Lao people. That means the beds were no longer than 1,70m, which is really too short for this 1,88m Dutchman. Only two beds in the middle of the bus would fit me, as I could put my feet in the aisle there, and luckily one of them was still available and I was allowed to sleep there, so I could get some decent sleep that night.

Thursday morning Joyce (who I met on the night bus) and I took another bus to Vang Vieng and we checked out this backpacker-overtaken town in the afternoon. Friday we went on a tour to some nearby caves, one of which was half under water, so we navigated it in a tube (inflated truck tire), which was pretty cool. After lunch we joined the proper tubing that Vang Vieng is infamous for. This means going down the river in a tube, stopping at bars along the way. Since bars are all competing for the backpacker kip (Lao money), they come up with the craziest things. Swinging on a rope over the river has become commonplace (but still fun), so one place put up a giant waterslide (great fun), and another mud-volleyball. The latter made me feel a tad embarrased of Western “civilization” though, when seeing (mainly) English backpackers slide in the mud, something a local would never do (and even frowns upon). I guess that is why all the bars are located a fair distance from the town.

Saturday morning Joyce and I biked to another cave, before I took a bus to Luang Prabang. What Siem Reap is for Cambodia, Luang Prabang is for Laos. (Package) tourists that only visit one city in the country, visit Luang Prabang. As a result, the prices have become at least double the going rate in Laos (renting a bicycle for a day was 30.000 kip, compared to 10.000 in the rest of Laos), and the city has lost its soul, being completely overtaken by tourists. It simply did not feel like Laos anymore. This is exactly the reason why I wanted to visit as much of Laos as possible on this trip, because I was thinking Laos would change the most the following years. For Luang Prabang it is already too late. Let me illustrate this with an example. Every morning directly after sunrise dozens of monks traditionally go around the city for alms. When tourists gave them bad food (sold by street vendors) and some monks got ill, the monks no longer wanted to go around for alms. The government told them that if they did not, actors in orange robes would do it, just to make sure the tourists dollars kept coming in.

Needless to say, I did not want to spend too much time in Luang Prabang. On Sunday I enjoyed a good breakfast and visited some temples. I also spent quite a lot of time fighting a virus on my laptop that I got in an internet café Saturday evening. In the end I won and w32.autosky is gone (from my laptop at least).

Monday morning I got up early to see the (real) monks go around the city for alms, and look at some more temples. I arrived at the bus station early to secure a seat on the bus to Luang Nam Tha. It turned out the bus was not even one quarter full, so there was plenty of space, but at least I had unlimited legroom for the 10-hour scenic journey through the forested mountains. Upon arrival in Luang Nam Tha I immediately arranged a 2-day trekking in the Nam Tha NPA.

IndochinaRelaxing & Riding in Southern Laos

On 5 November 2008 from Pakse, Laos | comments closed

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.