The South of Laos Travel Journal: moving North

This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.

> The Bus to Tat Lo

30-03-2008 Early in the morning we get to the bus station at the outskirts of Attapeu. Around seven thirty there should be a bus leaving and we'd like to be in it! When we arrive at the station (read: dusty sands surrounded by ramshackle market stalls with everything you prefer not to smell in the early morning) our bus is already waiting. No one is inside yet, but a surprise is waiting for us: the The Bus from Attapeu to Thatengfirst meter of the hallway is covered with bags of rice, 3 layers and around 50 bags in total. Everyone who wants to get in has to climb over all these bags to find a seat, but no one is as surprised by all this as we are. This bus is probably used as a packtrain for years.
Almost 4 hours later we arrive in Thateng, the closest to our destination this bus will get. Nobody in Attapeu could tell us exactly how we have to cover the last 20 kilometers to Tat Lo, so we decide to first take place at the side of the road, thumbs up. Some fifteen minutes later our thumbs get kind of overheated facing these high temperatures, and so do we, but we haven't seen any traffic in the right direction so far. A bit further down the road we see some people, so with our very best Lao-vocabulairy we inquire about the possibilities to reach Tat Lo, and we're sent to a backstreet. To our surprise we find ourselves a songthaew, ready for departure. We quickly jump in the back and bumping and sloshing we drive through the bad road where we've been trying to hitchhike before. Fifteen minutes later we stop at a junction: we have to turn left to travel about 8 more kilometers, while the songthaew takes the right turn. We're asked to get off here and walk in the right direction for a while, determined to stop the first vehicle passing by. A kilometer later we still don't see or hear anything, apart from a single motorcycle. But then a pick-up shows up and we're allowed to cram ourselves in the loaded back. The last 1500 meters, down a side road, we still need to walk, but we're rewarded by a truely tranquil spot at the waterfall in a river. On the edge of this water and the jungle is our hut for the next few days: a large bamboo bungalow with private shower and toilet. We're quite happy about the latter, as we hear so many sounds of animals at night, which doesn't make it a comfortable trip in your pajamas to the sanitary building.

Novices in Tat Lo31-03-2008 Rain, thunder and power cuts; that's all there is for today. So we've got an unexpected day of rest and well... that's not too bad either. By the end of the afternoon we stroll a bit through the neigbourhood and on top of a hill we find a small monastery with some young novices (monks to be). They are cute boys, but their English vocabulary is not very extensive: "book?", "chocolate?". As we were the ones sitting lonely on a hilltop at that age we'd probably learn the words for gameboy, computer and internet. What else are you supposed to do up here all day?

> On the back of the Olifant

On the Elefant01-04-2008 The sun is shining today and so we can go out again. We ride on one of the two elephants of the resort in the beautiful, green area. We follow tiny paths, move through bushes and between trees, to take a look at Tat Lo waterfall. The mahout makes the elephant pull a little tree down, which is in our way. Like it's nothing the treetrunk breaks... and all of that happens with just the spoken instructions of the mahout and the trained trunk of the elephant. A couple of times we cross the river, which makes our grew giant get into the water up to his belly and we come across a Ngai village, with a "spirit-house" in the center of the perfectly round village. Nature is very diverse and beautiful here.
In the afternopon we follow the instructions on a handmade map of the restaurant owner to Ban Nanong, a cluster of three "minority-dorpjes". A short distance from each other the Katu, Suay and Ta-oy live here, each of them in their own village. The joy of having a handmade map, allowing you to visit places you probably wouldn't find on your own, always vanishes with each extra step not Landscape near Tat Lodrawn on that handmade map. This walk is one of those typical not-as-easy-as-expected ones, even though the three dots are not even a centimeter from the paved road. The villages, however, are really worth the effort, although we also notice the first glimpse of "minority-fatigue" after all these villages we've been visiting for the past couple of months. On our way back, completely unexpected, large thunder clouds are coming up from behind a hill and we need to briskly keep on walking to stay ahead of them. Yet another reason to be disenchanted by handmade maps!
Sleeping is not an option this night, as they've received a new Buddha for the village temple, and that needs to be celebrated of course! After two days of parties now the local band has come to test its new installation with giant speakers. They do work properly indeed; what a pity there's an intense thunderstorm in the middle of the night, probably making it impossible to continue playing. The thunder noticeable causes great panic among the rat population, which we thought to hear before, between the walls of our hut.

> Back to Pakse

02-04-2008 The next morning we're waiting for the bus to Pakse, with way too tiny eyes. We don't need to wait long for this interesting vehicle, with lots of natural aircon. Especially at our feet we feel the wind, as the bottom plates are barely recognizable because of the rust.
We move into the same room where we spent the night over a week ago and update the website, before our eyes close entirely.

Pepsi Cola poster in old House03-04-2008 We'd already read and heard that the bus to Savannakhet is not exactly a fast service, but we weren't prepared to move so slow we almost travel back in time. It all starts when we're on our way for about 20 minutes and the staff stops to enjoy a 30-minute meal in a tiny road restaurant, while the passengers are supposed to wait in the bus with the engine still running. Traveling barely 60 kilometers an hour, on a straight road, and with 2 more long stops at some snack huts along the road, we cover 230 kilometers in over 6 hours.
In Savannakhet we see a lot of antique stuff: old Soviet cars, open sewers, collapsing colonial houses and as a special bonus in one of the hotel rooms we take a look at: an aircon made in the USSR!

> Savannakhet

Monk in Savannakhet04-04-2008 We stroll a bit through Savannakhet, visit two temples in the city center and find us a better place to sleep, which is not an easy task in a place where not much progress has been made since the French left. Eventually we find a hotel which makes us feel happy and where Yvonne's not feeling ill bacause of allergic reactions.

05-04-2008 At 8 o'clock we meet Thipphako, our English speaking guide for today and a cheerful person. After thirty minutes in a tuktuk we stop at a salt mine, where an employee shows us around and points out the various ways the salt is Vrachtwagen bij de Zoutmijnextracted and put in small or large bags to be sold. Very informative! Once again we find out that the average Asian person has no taste buds or normal mouth, but just a circular hole to talk with (or often: sing with), as Thipphako takes advantage of each and every opportunity to relish of the salt. Later that day she also enjoys the most sour fruits and other, according to the Lao, "edibles" in the woods.
A few kilometers from the salt mine we meet our local guide for today, a 58-year old, very nice man from a nearby village. The four of us follow tracks and paths you'll be only able to find when you're local and every now and then we stop to taste a plant or a piece of fruit, or even to drink the juice of the branches from a particular tree. Even the red ants here are edible and Peter tries one as well. Very sour, meaning the Lao find it a true delicacy! We also see how people use handmade stairs to climb into meters high, thick, old trees to collect honey and how they contain oil from the same trees to create candles of banana leafs, bark and this oil.
Lunch in the ForestDuring the lunch break we eat local food on the shore of the lake, but still in the middle of the jungle, and we talk a lot with both our guides. For the umptieth time we find out that people here are miles and miles behind in comparison to Europe. Things like "where do the babies come from" are not a subject you talk about and swimming is a fully clothed activity. It's much like the 50's, which of course is a time we still remember so well. So we get a lot of questions about why we don't "have" more kids than our wallet can handle, how exactly we do that, and so a 26 year old girl and a 58 year old man are listening breathless to the questions and answers they've always wanted to hear, but never dared to ask. One question after another is fired at us and over an hour late we reach the end of the tour through the forest, the Inghang stupa. En route we hear the story about an organization who donated lots of condoms to an extremely poor village. As people here had no idea why they were having so many children year after year, while they truely didn't want so many, the use of the condoms was demonstrated on bananas and large quantities were left behind. A year later the number of births hadn't changed, while everyone was still putting condoms around bananas every time they had sex.
Inghang StupaThe special, holy Inghang stupa with adjacent temple isn't all that special to us, so we look around in the village to see how the people here produce candles and mats out of the natural products of the forest.
Back in Savannakhet dark clouds gather as we're having diner and we try to reach the hotel before we get wet, but end up under a lean at one of the town's houses. When the worst is over the friendly lady of the house lends both of us an umbrella, so we're able to get back to our room while staying dry.

> Second Time to Vientiane

06-04-2008 The bus to Vientiane is overcrowded and accommodated with more plastic seats we've ever seen. When we arrive after 9 hours in this bus we're kind of broken, but we have a couple of days to relax. At our first visit to this capital, coming from Thailand, we thought it was not more than a large village... after Northern Cambodia and Southern Laos it seems like a pretty mundane metropolis. There's even a giant funfair on the banks of the Mekong, with bumper cars, inflatables, a caroussel and thin throwing. Those bumper cars look much like the ones we used to have in Holland in the 80's by the way, except for the hole in the roof, the broken electrical wires and the new, colorful fluor paint of course.

Dong Na Tad Laos video

The Dong Na Tad Laos video will show here

Click on the film up here to look around at our day out in the Dong Na Tad area, almost live.

> More Info

Also check our Laos info page, where you can find a lot of information about Laos. There's no photogallery with this travel journal.