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    Thursday, 13 August 2009

    Three Nights in Pakse

    After three nights in the beautiful but extortionately priced Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), we made our way via mini-van to Pakse, approx 150km to the north. Pakse is the provincial capital of Champasak province, and one of the major cities (well, towns) of Laos. The mini-van ride was a non-event, and once we arrived in Pakse, our driver was good enough to drop us off near our hotel – the aptly named Pakse Hotel. The hotel was one of the best we’ve stayed in - $25 per night netted us free - and really good – breakfast, unlimited wireless internet, and a clean and comfortable room with Mekong views.

    While our hotel was nearly full and milling with people, Pakse was not. We had arrived on a Saturday, our first weekend in Laos. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but Pakse was like a ghost town – we were pretty much able to walk down the middle main road of the town with no cars to get in our way! Many of the shops were shut, and there did not seem to be many people around. Blissfully, there were also no horns – a common sound in many of the towns and cities we’ve visited.

    Swapping Languages [Enlarge & More]
    Pakse was an interesting, if quiet, town. We visited a number of Wats in the town, which were very impressive, and in one we spoke with the monks and compared phrasebooks. Having not been in the country long, we learnt how to say “Thank you” – khawp jai. In turn, the monks learned how to say “province”!.

    Chick on a Stick [Enlarge & More]
    We also visited the market – markets are always interesting in this part of the world! Amongst other things, we saw live freshwater crabs, live frogs and some kind of crushed bird on a stick over a barbeque – probably a baby chicken, but I’m not sure! A lot of the people were friendly, particularly those who do not have much contact with tourists. We’ve both noticed that the locals who have the least contact with tourists are the most openly friendly, those who have contact on a regular basis are friendly when prompted, and tour operators and tuk tuk drivers are downright mercenary. Unfortunately, it’s the latter you have to deal with the most! This is in contrast to Cambodia – where everybody seemed friendly – even the tuk tuk drivers. I can hardly remember anyone who wasn’t friendly in Cambodia!.

    Our Guide [Enlarge & More]
    Speaking of tour operators, there seemed little choice in Pakse for getting around to some of the sights outside the town other than the choice offered by tour operators. A day on a tour is not generally my idea of a good time. Invariably you end up with some moronic tourist who irritates you more than anyone else in the group, speaking loudly and just being a moron. You also end up being shipped around the place, having to keep up with other peoples schedules – I always pity those on a tour group! Our tour was not so bad however – there was one slightly odd French woman in the group (not that that’s unusual, you can’t spit without hitting a French tourist in Indochina), but she was more entertaining than irritating. In fact, no one annoyed me in our tour group – quite amazing really, considering I’m easily irritated by other tourists! Our tour guide was named Jack, and he was entertainment in himself. He treated us to a little sing-song in the mini-van. I was concerned it might be like an awful reality show audition, but he wasn’t actually that bad!

    Waterfall [Enlarge & More]
    Our tour consisted of a day in the Bolaven Plateau, an elevated area covered in coffee plantations, waterfalls, and home to a number of minority tribes. Unfortunately the weather was not very good, owing to the hills and the season, but the tour was still good. The waterfalls were definitely the best we’ve seen so far – swollen rivers make for much more dramatic waterfalls. Standing near one, I got almost completely soaked by the spray.

    Tribal Village [Enlarge & More]
    We also visited a tribal village which was very interesting. Many of the houses had coffins beneath them – apparently, the people buy themselves a coffin upon reaching the age of 45, so that they’re ready to go. This is something to do with the animist beliefs upheld by the people, but I can’t remember the reason behind it! We also saw some kids under 10 years of age smoking – very common apparently, and they often start around two years old. Still, as Jack noted, they were smoking tobacco, whereas they used to smoke opium which is now outlawed – an improvement maybe?!

    Although we enjoyed the tour, it was a very expensive way of spending the day – we spent just over $20 each. In India, we could have chartered a private taxi for the day for that, but instead we had to tag onto a group! Shocking. Seriously though, we’re definitely noticing a hike in the transportation costs in Laos. Accommodation and food is comparable to Cambodia, but simple transport is hyper-inflated. It’s frustrating when you know that in comparison to food and everyday living, transportation costs so much – and that tour operators, taxi, boat and tuk tuk drivers are blatantly ripping tourists off. What is more frustrating is that many of these people are unlikeable characters, and that we end up paying them so much more money than those whose company we enjoyed so much more in other countries. I guess that’s just the way it goes, but so far these costs and people are putting a bit of a dampener on Laos for me.

    Waterfall Video:


    1. Your umbrella in the video looks awfully inadequate.

    2. It was rubbish, I got soaked!


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