A Travellerspoint blog

Vang Vieng

semi-overcast 26 °C

The minibus picked us up, as well as 5 other boys from other guesthouses, 2 of whom were already drunk. Fanastic! We were soon moved onto a VIP bus, BUT the aircon worked!!! HURRAH! We were joined by a lot of other tourists, and there was a very high idiot:seat ratio. We were starting to wonder whether Vang Vieng was going to for us, but we decided to appeal to the idiot tourist side of ourselves for a couple of days!

An uneventful 4 hours later, we arrived in Vang Vieng. We walked up towards a Guesthouse we’d read about in Lonely Planet, but were accosted midway by a drunk guy who persuaded us to go to the Guesthouse he was staying in. The room we were shown was only 50,000 kip ($6, £4), and the room was rather huge, with 2 double beds and another double mattress on the floor! We were slightly worried we’d accidentally found ourselves in a dorm, but never mind!

We wandered out to get dinner. Vang Vieng is definitely the most touristy place we’ve been to date, Siem Reap NOT excepted. The whole place is full of drunk westerners, and bars, restaurants and guesthouses catering to them. Even when we went for a walk the next day, this is all we really found in the whole place: unlike everywhere else we’ve been, there doesn’t seem to be a “real” town away from the tourist area. Undetered, we decided that a couple of days of tourist land never did anyone any favours, and we went to one of the riverside restaurants and had dinner. We had fried noodles, with a BeerLao, and had a good chat, and didn’t go to bed until 9pm. What an achievement!!

The next day we woke at about 6:30, chilled until 8 because we knew nothing would be open, then went and got bacon and salad baguettes for 10,000kip each ($1.10, 85p), which were super tasty! We then went and asked about rooms in the GH we’d wanted to stay in originally, they told us 60,000kip inc breakfast which sounded good to us, so we got our bags, and then the other member of staff told us there was no rooms. Grr! So we tried to find somewhere else, failed, went back to see if we could wait and see if anyone checked out, then magically they had a room, so we moved. It’s a lot more basic, with a shared bathroom and thin mattress, but it’s so pretty, with a lovely view and nice and open. We love it!
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Then we walked to a cave about 2km away. It cost us 2000kip each to walk across a hotel’s grounds to get there, only 20p, but the principle made us cross!
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Nevertheless, when we got to the cave, we had a good swim in the pool outside it, and slightly into it, but we didn’t walk into the main cave because it cost 20,000kip, and we figured that Kong Lo cave was enough for anyone!
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John did try to get to the cave through a little back route, but it got too dark and we had no torch, so we gave up!
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We went back, and John went on the internet while Susie had a nap. We then had lunch – chicken/sausage sandwiches this time – while watching ‘Friends’! A lot of restaurants show continual re-runs of it, and ‘Family Guy’, and although it’s horrifically touristy, it’s a nice little touch of home after nearly 10 weeks! Definitely a touristy thing we appreciate!

In the afternoon, we walked to another cave. We thought it was only 6km away...turned out to be over 8km. Phew! On the way, we went past a group of butterflies that were kind of swarming, and they were so beautiful.
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We arrived, walked up some steep stone steps to the cave, which was very pretty,
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and then we went and enjoyed ourselves in the river swimming spot at the bottom, which had a great rope swing (which Susie was unfortunately useless at!).
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Then we set off on our very long walk home! The scenery made it acceptable though!
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When we got back to Vang Vieng at 6pm we, nervously, went and asked about our passports at the guesthouse we’d been told would give us them back. The first man we spoke too was grumpy and unhelpful, tried to give John some random guys passport, didn’t know anything about it, and did nothing to reassure us! He then sent us down the garden to little office, where a much friendlier and more helpful guy produced them straightaway from a filing cabinet. A quick check showed us that they had our new visas in them. Hurrah! Susie was very relieved, and although John insisted he’d always known it’d be fine, he was relieved really!

In the evening, we had a dinner of fried rice, and watched more Friends, then headed to a second bar for another beer, and more Friends, and then went to bed.

The next day was the day we’d set aside for tubing. For those of you who don’t know, this is where you get the inner tube of a tractor tyre, and float down the Nam Sam river, which runs through Vang Vieng. It’s become a real thing to do in Laos, and there are a lot of bar set up along the river, and so it’s a bit of a boozy thing too! Since we’d decided that we were making the most of our time as idiot tourists, we decided to embrace it (although not as much as some people, who seem to come to Vang Vieng for a week or so and go tubing every day. Excessive.)

We chilled out in the morning, had Pad Thai for lunch, and then headed out for our tubing trip!

The first couple of bars were right at the start before any tubing at all, and were good fun but neither of us felt quite drunk enough for the party that was in swing, despite it only being 1pm!
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John had a go on this ridiculously massive rope swing/trapeze that was above the river, which Susie thinks was terrifying, but John enjoyed it!
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Scaaaary!!

We then headed a little way downriver to a ‘Jungle bar’, where John loved, and Susie hated, the music, and from there to a bar where we had great fun playing volleyball (or kind of) in this massive muddy pit they had. Absolutely disgusting, but good!
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Both feeling a little drunk, we headed further downriver, where the scenery of the river really started to be amazing, with limestone karsts rising up right next to us. It was completely ridiculous floating along a river like that in a rubber ring!
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We stopped off at one more bar, where we chatted to a few people, got a little too drunk, and then set off (too late) for the end. It was very pretty floating downriver, but it was a long way from the last bar to the end, and John got really cold, so we walked the last bit back. When we got back, we were both tired (and drunk) so we went to bed early. We both woke up at about midnight, very awake and dehydrated, and then couldn’t get to sleep, and ended up having a 3 hour ridiculous conversation, that only half asleep, slightly drunk people would have had!!

We did have a lot of fun tubing, but I think we were both a bit disappointed by it really. We thought the stretch of river would have the bars spread along it, and everyone would sort of move down as the afternoon went on, and party their way downriver. But in reality, all the bars are in the first 1km of the 3.5km stretch of river, and most of the ones that seemed to have party atmospheres were in the first 400m or so. This means that you can’t really have a fun time in the bars, and a fun time floating down the river, you kind of have to pick one or the other. It seems that most people go for the former option, but we’re glad we got further downriver, because there would be very little point having the tube for the section most people seem to do. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun, and I think we’d both do it again, and think that more rivers should do it, because that element of it was just fantastic!!

Posted by Susiep539 20:33 Archived in Laos Tagged tubing vang_vieng Comments (0)

Vientiane

semi-overcast 25 °C

As it turned out the early bus wasn’t a big problem, since we fell asleep at a ridiculously early 6:30, so we woke up at about 6 the next morning! We certainly had deserved that 11 hours in bed!! After showering, we went to the bus station, via the morning market, where we bought chicken on a stick, sticky rice and doughnuts for breakfast.
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It was very tasty, and we felt very local, munching on our chicken and waiting for our bus! The 7:30 bus eventually came at 8:15 – we’re so used to Laos/Cambodian time now that it didn’t even really phase us – and we (just) managed to find two seats together. The bus rapidly filled up, with lots of plastic stools down the aisle and quite a few people standing too. But it’s OK, it was a VIP bus, so we’d paid 60,000kip (only £5, but far more than other buses) to be in luxury...oh wait, the air con was broken. Plus, there were no windows because of the “air-con” which meant it was hot, stuffy and smelly, and they played loud Lao ballads on the television the whole way there, which were all awful and all the same (although some of the video storylines were fairly amusing). Needless to say, that’s the last time we’re getting a VIP bus, and we were very happy when, 6 hours later, we arrived in Vientiane.

Once we arrived, we were helpfully bundled into a shared jumbo (big tuk-tuk) which took us into the city centre. We walked to the guesthouse we’d picked out from our Lonely Planet, which in the 3 years since our guidebook was written has gotten rather more swish, and we ended up in their new extension, Mixay Paradise. Our room was 80,000kip a night (a whole $10, £7), but we were placated by the free breakfast, free wifi, nice downstairs seating area, and hot power shower in the (shared) bathroom. Mmmmm! Definitely worth the extra! They even ha a lift and everything. Wow!!
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We went out for a walk, and were shocked by how modern and western Vientiane feels. We were expecting another Siem Reap, but it’s much more built up, and so much more shiny, from the carefully maintained gardens, to the modern eateries everywhere, to the promenade that they’re just doing up, it felt like there was a lot more money around than anywhere we’ve been for a while.
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We went and got lunch at a restaurant called Lao Kitchen, which was a little overpriced, but fairly tasty. We had one coconutty curry type thing that was very tasty, and one tasty but stressful soup thing, that had these weird peas, buffalo skin, etc in it. We were unsure about that one!! We went back to the hotel and chilled for a couple of hours, then in the evening went for another walk around Vientiane. We went for curry for dinner, and then went to sleep at about 8:30pm, despite promising ourselves earlier that we’d make the most of being somewhere with lights in the evening! We’re hopeless!
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The next day, we woke up at 7am, far too early for tourist land, and so went for a wander around several of the nearby Wats (temples).
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Then we went back for breakfast at our hotel,
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and then went out to Patuxai, a large monument that’s Laos’s answer to the Arc D’Triumph, and was built out of a load of concrete that the Americans gave Laos to build a aeroplane runway! The views from the top were lovely, and then we wandered down back to the centre along a road that, as the guidebook puts it, “is sometimes (very) generously described at the Champs Elysees of the East”!
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We also went to Talat Sao, the morning market, a few more Wats, past the presidential palace, and to some random monument they’re building on the river (don’t know what it’s for – like I said, our guidebook is old – but all the locals seemed to love it, with lots of flowers and bowing going on!).

For lunch, we treated ourselves to a rather expensive all you can eat meal...but it was SUSHI. Yum, yum, yum! And 85,000 kip ($10, £7) isn’t that much really!! Plus, we certainly did justice to it. Mmmmmm!
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Just some of our sushi!

In the afternoon, we chilled out to allow our (very full) stomachs to recover. We watched television, read, went on the internet and skyped our parents (once Susie’s mum finally bothered to come online. Humph). Very lazy we’re sure, but we think we’ve deserved it after all our long journeys and our time at Ban Khoun Kham! In the evening, we wanted a small meal, so we ended up sharing a curry again. Teehee! Very tasty, but we got cross at the sneaky way the man there tricked us into paying lots for water, grrr, so we’re now eschewing all Nazim Indian restaurants. A shame because there’s one everywhere and they’re tasty, but we’ll find better ones!

We also realised that evening that we’d made a bit of a woops....in the morning we’d handed in our passports to the hotel to sort our Vietnam visas (you can’t get them at any overland borders) which we were getting back at 4:30pm the next day. No problem, until we decided in the afternoon we’d leave on the afternoon bus the next day, bought our tickets, and then suddenly realised that leaving 3 hours before our passports arrived wasn’t the brightest idea ever. The hotel staff were really nice about it, and helpfully offered to send them on the bus the day after, which we (slightly worriedly) agreed to. Let’s just hope the system works!!

On our final morning in Vientiane, we went on a long, 5km each way, walk to Pha That Luang, Laos’s most famous and important monument. All well and good, but it wasn’t that interesting – just a pointy gold blob – and women had to pay 10000kip to rent a Lao style skirt to go in. Boo, like we were going for that sexist trap (it made Susie very cross). As we were leaving, we bumped into Jenny, the lady we were volunteering with at Grace House, and who is travelling Laos the opposite way to us! Was nice to see her, but she’s on a tour, so had to head off after a quick catch up chat. Very random to see her out off everyone in Laos!!
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We then walked back to the centre, via a locals market (where Susie got even more disgruntled because she needs new flip flops, but no nice ones fit her because Lao women have little feet), and past the gardens near the Patuxai monument (where Susie was dehydrated, so even even more cross. Not a good morning!). We bumped into Jenny again at the monument, and then went back to the hotel, where we packed up (everything except our passports....), went and got lunch (we really branched out, and got....curry! From a cheaper, and just as nice place, so we felt vindicated against the nasty water). Then we sat and waited for our bus for Vang Vieng!

Posted by Susiep539 17:58 Archived in Laos Tagged laos vientiane patuxai vientiene mixay_paradise nazim_indian Comments (0)

Ban Nua Hin for Tham Kong Lor Cave...and other adventures!

sunny

We left Savannahket on a local bus headed for a random town on the way to Vientiane called Thang Beng (50,000kip, $6). Here we would have to get off (not knowing whether the bus would stop by itself) and take a shared bus from there to Ban Nua Hin. Being a local bus, by the second stop it was completely full with Lao sitting on stools in the aisle and children being piled up 3 to a seat. Apparently buses in Laos are never full, something this journey made pretty clear!

The journey itself was rather uneventful, and despite some worries we wouldn’t know where to get off, and frantic calculations of km to go, we did manage to find the small crossroad town we had been looking for. We also found the shared bus without any problems, however unfortunately so did a rather excessive amount of locals and their goods! One woman had enough stuff to be moving house, fortunately there was enough space on the roof! This amount of people made the journey rather squashed and uncomfortable but for 25,000k each, we couldn’t complain too much and we were soon on our way into the mountains. The bus had some trouble climbing up the hills but it was worth it f
or the view from the top! Unfortunately we didn’t stop to take it in, perhaps that glimpse would have to be made proper tomorrow.....

With more worries the bus wouldn’t stop we thankfully arrived in Ban Nua Hin and started a 2km walk to the hostel, “Mi Thuna” LP had raved about. The views around the town, even from ground level, were incredible. The town is tucked into a sprawling valley with beautiful limestone cliffs and outcroppings surrounding it. After the endless flat rice paddies of Cambodia and Southern Laos it was certainly welcome! Most people who visit Laos miss this entire area and it's such a shame. It was so beautiful and unspoilt, though perhaps the fact that most people haven't discovered it adds to its appeal.

This was a long walk but given the rave reviews it had got we figured it would be worth it. We were greeted by a fairly indifferent lady who showed us to our 80,000k room. She told us it had aircon and a fan, great we thought! Except the fan didn’t work and the plug kept falling out of the socket, and the aircon didn’t work, and the bed frame was totally broken to the mattress sagged through it. As the most expensive room we’d stayed in in Laos yet we were severely disappointed and the unfriendly manner of the owner didn’t exactly make up for it. We resolved to move out the next day, once we’d made use of the free bikes in the morning....

We didn’t do alot the first night, well, there wasn’t alot to do, the town was tiny, we got dinner and went to bed. This was probably for the best given the day we had planned for tomorrow! We woke up at 6am as usual, partly thanks for the cockerel living outside our room who crowed every hour from about 3am onwards, had showers and took out our bikes. They were pretty dire, with barely any breaks and being far too small for us, but we decided we’d give them a go and set off up the mountain we’d arrived over yesterday to have a better look at the view. We’d worked out that the “sala viewpoint” was about 6km away, but almost entirely uphill. Of course for some reason we forgot to take water, or susie’s inhaler, which didn’t make the whole endeavour the most sensible. Susie’s chain kept slipping off before we’d even got to the base of the hill (which John managed to fix because he’s a genius). In any case, the hill was far too steep for bikes so we pushed them most of the way up, earning us several crazed looks from people passing by on motorised transport. There were a few crises of confidence, asthma abounded and we never really thought we’d made it to the top. But, nearly 2 hours later we did it!

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And there was quite a reward.....

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After a long rest we resolved to head back down, but then John’s brakes broke, and Susie realised hers didn’t work too well, but we continued anyway, with Susie walking the steeper bits, and John physically pulling the brake cable to slow down. In the end going down was easy enough, and the end part was steep but gentle enough that you could freewheel most of a km. So fun!

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We got back, returned the bikes and checked out of our hotel at 9.30am. Another 1km walk back towards town took us to “Xok Xay” a cheaper, nicer and friendlier hostel just down the road. In future we’d remember to follow our noses, not our guide book! Once we’d checked in we headed to the tourist information centre (donated by Australia don’t ya know Flic) to find out when the to Tham Kong Lor cave would leave. He told us it would go at 10am (it was 9.50!) so we ran to get it, and just in time too, as it pulled away not long after. We just had enough time to pick up some stickyrice from a street seller. Breakfast finally!

The journey was around 40km and cost 25,000k each, each way, which was nice and cheap for us and we passed through some amazing scenery on the way. In fact, we would pass through the amazing ravine we’d seen in the distance from the sala viewpoint earlier and follow the course of the cave to the river.
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At the cave we paid 2000k for the bus to park and another 100,000k to hire two boatmen and a boat to take us the 7km through the cave to the other side. With some trepidation we boarded our little boat (filled with water, reassuring!) and headed off into the dark. The cave was fairly narrow to begin with and before long we’d run aground. PANIC! This seemed to be intentional however, and was necessary as we were going against the current and the river was flowing downwards. Though of course no one told us this to begin with!

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Soon we were ordered out of the boat and led up a small hill (yes a hill inside the cave) where the boatman turned on some lights. Suddenly a large cavern was revealed, covered with incredible stalamites and stalagtites, stretching from floor to ceiling!

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We took in the view for a while and headed back to the boat back into the dark. After the lighted area, the cavern really opened up to be perhaps 40m across and 30m high. It’s difficult to convey just how massive it was inside because it was far too big for a camera flash, but you certainly couldn’t see the ceiling at times and some of the bounders inside it were enormous!
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It was, as we kept saying throughout the journey, simply ridiculous just how big it was inside, and totally unexpected from the fairly small opening we had entered through earlier. After the best part of an hour we reached the otherside:

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Which was a bit of a relief, despite how impressive the cave had been. On the otherside were a few tourist trappy stalls selling overpriced water and snacks. We decided to pass, despite still only having eaten sticky rice all day, and headed back to the boat to go back into the dark. The journey back was, obviously, similar to the one coming, only this time we powered down the small weirs and didn’t have to get out for grounding nearly as often. After another hour or so we emerged in awe and headed back for the bus, which had helpfully been waiting for us.
It took us back to Ban Nua Hin and lunch, finally!
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The most earnt noodles in the world!!

That afternoon we’d planned to walk to a nearby (3km up hill) waterfall and since we’d had a fairly ridiculously action packed day so far anyway we decided not to change our plans! We followed the sign to the waterfall, which took us to the tourist information, where he charged us 10,000k each and told us we actually had to go further down the street past the temple. Sneaky. Anyway, we figured the paths had to be maintained by someone so we paid without too much fuss.

As we set off the guy sent his dog after us to be our “guide” to the falls. We thought he was joking, but 1km into the journey of the dog leading us along (or following us when he ran off to find something he’d smelled) we realised the dog was really leading us! At about this point we were joined by a monk novice and a small child who also started following us. They even sent us the right way when the signs became unhelpful. Having all these people (and dog) following us made Susie nervous, and this wasn’t helped by the increasingly rugged terrain, shedloads of giant ants and general difficulty of the climb. Anyway, we continued on undeterred, but pretty convinced 3km actually meant 5...
After just over an hour we reached the falls and the child and monk dived into the pool at the bottom. Not to be outdone John also joined them in the rather chilly water in his pants and had a little swim. They also led him up to the main part of the falls where the novice started smoking...hmm very monk like! Susie was pretty exhausted by this point (and didn’t really see how she could appropriately go swimming in just her bra and pants) so she stayed at the pool.

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After a while the sun had started to drop in the sky and since we really didn’t fancy climbing down the mountain in the dark, we started back on down. At the bottom the children unfortunately asked us for money, but since we hadn’t asked them to help us, and didn’t want to encourage them to make this a regular trip we declined, which they accepted without a fuss. We think they’d enjoyed going for a dip as much as us and thought it was just worth trying it on!

“But what about the dog?!” I hear you ask. Well he had run off about half way down the mountain to chase something in the woods and we were slightly worried the assistant would be upset if we didn’t return his guide. Luckily, just as we emerged from the woods into a beautiful sunset....

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the dog dutifully appeared behind us! What a clever thing! However, he then wouldn’t leave us and followed us all the way to a much deserved dinner!
Phew! It’s tiring just recalling that epic day but that just about brings it to a close. The next day we were headed back to civilisation in Vientiane, but we wouldn’t get a lie in....the bus left at 7:30am!

Posted by John_713 19:26 Archived in Laos Tagged monk cave waterfall mi_thuna ban_nua_hin tham_kong_lor tham_kong_lo xok_xay Comments (0)

Savannahket

overcast 26 °C

After we left the island we boarded a shared bus to take us back to Pakse (10,000k, $1.10 each) . On the bus we picked up a lot of rice, a few locals and some ducks (who weren’t far from the pot ((in both senses: apparently they get livestock stoned before they transport them)) we figured).

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At Pakse bus station we booked a bus to Savannahket more easily than we expected, 35,000k each and it was due in about 20 minutes. Simple! When it arrived it was a rather rickety affair and was apparently VIP.....hmmmm. Nevertheless, it had windows that opened and (5!!) friendly helpful staff onboard. The only annoyance was the amount the driver used the horn, for everything from indicating to cars coming towards us on our side of the road, to cars coming towards us on their side of the road, to cows by the side of the road, to people safe in their houses. Everything. All the way. And to do it he had to touch two exposed wires on the dashboard together....nice.

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A few hours later we arrived in Savannahket and started the 3km walk from the bus station to the hotel Susie had found in the good old Lonely Planet. It was a long old walk in the sun and when we got there it was full! Gah! So we were directed down the road to another hotel LP really didn’t rave about, but which only charged 25,000k ($3 for both of us) a night! Amusingly the guide described the staff as “utterly indifferent” and indeed they were. Ah well for that much money, who can complain!

We then set off on back the way we had just come to find our main reason for coming to Savannahket, the much famed Dinosaur Museum! Unfortunately we hadn’t accounted for the French legacy of public buildings (which is alot of buildings in a communist country...) closing on the weekends and it was shut! Also, as it was Saturday it meant we wouldn’t be able to go the next day either. Very sad times indeed!
Undaunted, we continued our walk and found a rather nice looking boulevard complete with a church at the end of it - St Teresa’s!

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John also got rather excited about all the rather dilapidated but authentic French colonial buildings everywhere, Susie didn’t.

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On the boulevard we went for a Chinese – Laos style, which was far too spicy for Susie but John enjoyed it (and they even had tescos ketchup!).
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We then went to a rather nice and posh looking bar on the river. It was very overpriced and seemed to be intended to cater for Thai tastes (judging by the indecipherable menu). It would have been a great idea in London or on any river in any well used city, however here it just looked run down and unused. You can get to Thailand from Savannahket – its just across the river....

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But very few people do because the town on the other side doesn’t have a train line. The nearest one is next to Pakse. Ah well, a good idea, perhaps one day. After a much needed beerlao the sun was starting to set so we headed back to our hotel. Bit of a boring day really, though it was quite nice to see a bit of ‘real’ Laos, especially the exposed wires on a lamppost, covered by a water cylinder cut in half...

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n the morning we walked back to get the bus to Vieng Kham. On the way we got a sandwich....picture says it all....

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Posted by John_713 02:27 Archived in Laos Tagged savannahket Comments (0)

To Pakse and beyond

sunny 26 °C

Once we got to the mainland, we were all bundled (surprisingly efficiently) onto minibuses headed for various locations around Laos and Cambodia! Our 2 hour journey to Pakse only lasted about 3 hours (not bad compared to the last two journeys!), and we arrived at about 2pm. We checked into a hotel (60,000kip ($8), which buys you a proper toilet and hot shower, but unfortunately not a softer bed!). We then headed out to get some munch, and lo and behold, there were two Indians right down the street. Hurrah! We had one spinach and potato, and one kidney bean and tomato, with rice and cheesy naan bread. Tasty tasty! However, apparently Susie ate too much again (always happens with Indians somehow), and she spent the rest of the afternoon with a sore stomach and feeling quite dozy!

After our late lunch, we went to the Tourist Information Office, to find out about our options. We wanted to do a trek, but at $150+ per person, there’s unfortunately going to be no trekking for us, boo. However, we found out about homestays on Don Kho, a small island 15km away, which is going to be our next port of call. We then had a wander around the (very limited) sights of Pakse, (although note to any travellers – there are LOADS of ATMs here, so don’t panic about money – we had issues finding out about this before we came!), went to an internet cafe for a while, and then went back and got an early night (there doesn’t seem to be anything to do anywhere at night, so it’s lots of 8pm bedtimes for us!).

We started the next day with a very tasty (and local) breakfast of noodle soup, which comes with various accompaniments that you can add yourself, such as green beans, lime, chilli, fish sauce, a herb that’s similar to mint but we’re not sure it is, etc. We both accidentally added too much chilli, but it was very yummy none the less.

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After our brekkie, we went and spent a while on the internet downloading a few things, went back to our room and made the most of a long, warm shower (it’s been a while since we had a consistently hot shower. Mmmmm), and then after a little wander, returned to the curry place for lunch (slightly smaller this time so Susie’s stomach didn’t explode!).

Then it was time to sort out getting to Ban Saphai, the village on the mainland next to Don Kho. We tried to get a local sawngthaew (translates as ‘two rows’ and are just covered trucks with a bench down either side), but this proved to be beyond us, so we got a jumbo (Lao tuk-tuk) for a far too high a price, despite our best bargaining. Grr! However, we arrived at the beautifully peaceful Don Kho, via a initially pleasant, but ultimately annoying boat jouney, when at the end the driver demanded three times more than his mate had said on the shore. We reluctantly paid up, feeling it was unwise to annoy the locals when we were hoping to stay in one of their houses, and hoping that this island proved itself worthy of the money we were spending getting there!

When we first arrived on the island, the first person we saw was a European guy wandering around the pagoda. So much for getting off the tourist trail! He pointed us towards the main path, and at the first house we asked about homestay. The woman made a phone call, and then proceeded, along with her neighbour, to try to sell us the silk sarongs that she'd made; Don Kho is famous for silk making, and all the women here have a loom underneath their houses. Apparently you can learn, and Susie did want to, but once she'd seen how complicated the looms were, she gave up on that idea! Anyway, 5 minutes later, after we'd admired their sarongs, but insisted that we didn't want to buy one, a cheery, fat monk showed up, who sent us off with another lady. She was in charge of our homestay, and took us back past the pagoda to our home for the night...
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Our room was nicer than we expected, with a proper (if very uncomfortable) bed, but unfortunately was seperated from the families area by a door that they kept carefully shut all the time. In fact, the whole time we were there, the family didn't seem too bothered about really spending any time with us, despite our best efforts. The language barrier was naturally a problem, but other than the main woman, none of them tried to communicate anything more that hello in any way and didn't stick around for long enough for us to try to talk to them, and even the main woman only spoke to us to the level needed to tell us what we needed to know, or to answer our direct questions.

So, seeing as we felt a bit in the way, we went out for a walk. It started nicely enough, past lots of friendly locals, who all had a cheery 'sa bai dee' (hello) for us as we went by. We followed the edge of the island, that led us to a cow field...
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...a short detour later, we got to the village on the far side of the island, where we had a nice wander, and finally paddled in the Mekong river (after spending so much time on/near it!)
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Well, do you???

Then we headed up into THE WORST FOREST EVER at the south end of the island. A very stressful, ant infested, scratching branch filled, mosquito biting 100 mile (well 2km or so) trek later, we finally emerged the other side, mentally and physically scarred!
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It looks innocent, but IT WASN'T!
We went back to our house, where we were joined by another British girl who was going to be staying in the same house as us. We went and watched some of the family we were staying with and their neighbours harvest their rice outside.
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We also wandered around, saw a boy fishing....
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...looked at the local pagoda...
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....and watched island life go (slowly and infrequently) by. When we returned to the house, we watched our hostess cook dinner....
...and tried to offer to help, but weren’t really able to. It was fun to see how she cooked the food though.
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We went up to the house, and a little while later she brought our dinner up to us. We had sticky rice (Lao fave), with a tasty beef and vegetable stir fry, and a yummy, if very spicy, dipping sauce, followed by papaya.. We ate on the floor, and felt very local, but unfortunately the family took their meal into the room next door, so we couldn’t eat with them.
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After dinner, we all played cards for a while, John was a man and killed a horrible huge bug with a shovel head, and then had fun cleaning our teeth in the little bathroom....
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...and then went to bed.

I think we can both honestly say that we’ve had better night’s sleep! The very uncomfortable bed combined nicely with the cockerels outside, the monks banging at massive drum at 4am, and the insects outside! We pulled ourselves out of bed at about 6:30am, since the family had been up since 5:30 when it got light, we felt it was about time we started our day too! We had a little wander round, and watched the sun rise over the river. It was very beautiful and peaceful, and lovely knowing that you were on an island with no tourists, outside us 3, and all the locals just going about their mornings business.
We went back to our house, and had breakfast; more rice, this time with chicken soup, another dip, and bananas. After breakfast, it was time to pack up and head back off on the boat.
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Overall, we did enjoy our homestay, and we wouldn’t rule out doing another one, but it didn’t allow us to feel as integrated as we hoped it would. It just felt like being in a guesthouse really, and the family didn’t really seem that interested in us, or in showing us about their lives. It did give you a really good feeling of how they lived though, and perhaps we were just expecting too much from it. Plus it was really quite expensive - 80,000 kip each including food, which is double what we've been paying for a hotel and two meals each in the rest of Laos. The guidebook, and I assume most people, justify it by saying that it's giving money to some of the poorer families in Laos, but this family was really well off compared to some of the people we met at Grace House; they had electricity, a fridge, a tv, their own toilet, etc. Whilst it was nice to see how they lived, it would have been nice to have been invited into their lives a little more - both helping out and socialising - since we paid them for one night, between the 3 of us, $30, which is the monthly salary of a teacher in Cambodia. There just seemed to be an element of the tourist cash cow about it, which is what we really wanted to get away from.

Oh well, we're learning lessons all the time, and finding out more about what we do and don't want to do, and where we do and don't want to go! Onwards to Savannaket!

Posted by John_713 00:52 Archived in Laos Tagged homestay don_kho pakse homestay_don_kho pakse_atm Comments (0)

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