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Forging Further South: Vientiane to Pakse (Pi Mai Lao part 1)

2008 April 19
by rob

Sorry for the lack-of-updates lately. I’ve recently passed through a pretty rural area with sketchy and expensive internet access. Now I’m in Siem Reap, Cambodia — an actual real city — so updates can continue.

April 10, 2008 (continued)
Anyways, I last wrote about getting to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

We only stayed in Vientiane for one night. We booked ourselves onto an overnight sleeper bus to Pakse in the far south of Laos. We still got to spend the day enjoying the cafes, restaurants, and internet joints of Vientiane. We spent about three hours in the morning sitting in the JoMa cafe in Vientiane. Yes, even though we visited it six times in Luang Prabang, we were positively itching to hit up its branch in the capital. I was well rewarded with excellent coffee, quiche, and pain au chocolat (a chocolate croissant!).

The sleeper bus was a painful experience, to say the least.

Aside: AAARGH!!!!!!!!!!!! I just realized that the internet connection at the shit internet cafe I was just at has caused me to lose about one hour’s worth of writing on this post. I’m going to have to rewrite it from scratch. ARGH!GH!G#H@!$G!H$G#!H$G#%*^@%$@#^$% Sorry folks, it probably won’t be as good the second time around.

That night, Alex and I boarded an overnight sleeper bus to Pakse in the far south of Laos. While waiting for the bus, we ran into Lisa (from England) whom we met at the internet cafe earlier that day. The overnight sleeper bus was quite an experience. We knew that we were supposed to be sleeping on bunks, but we didn’t really expect that bunks to be extremely-Asian sized (though I guess we should have expected it). We had to sleep two people per bunk. I was going to share a bunk with Alex, but Lisa was traveling alone and was assigned to share a bunk with some random Lao guy (RLG). Both her and RLG felt uncomfortable sharing a bunk together so Alex and RLG switched. I ended up sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder with RLG. Fortunately, I took a Gravol pill and passed out for most of the eight hour bus ride.

April 11, 2008

We arrived in Pakse at 6 AM and checked into the Sabaidy 2 Guesthouse in town. Since Alex and I were supposed to meet Damaris (the Swiss girl we met in Spicythai Backpackers in Chiang Mai, Thailand), Alex and I picked up the triple room. However, since Damaris wasn’t supposed to show up for two more days, Lisa joined us in the room that night.

All of us had a rough night and we really took it easy that day. It was extremely hot and our guesthouse didn’t have air conditioning, so it was all we could do just to stay ALIVE.

April 12,2008

Alex and Lisa went on a bus tour of the Bolaven Plateau outside of Pakse. I really wasn’t feeling well, so I decided to stay in town. Why wasn’t I feeling well? It was probably a combination of the extreme heat, the bad sleep the day before, travel fatigue, relative lack of decent places to eat in the small city of Pakse, the crappiness of Lao beers, and I was suffering from diarrhea! To top it off, Pakse was basically the ugliest town I’d seen in my travels. Lots of run down concrete buildings with no character or charm. Ugh.

I spent the day being asocial and spent most of it reading House of Leaves and playing Nintendo DS Lite in my room. I made good progress on Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales and Cooking Mama 2.

I also made the decision that I would try and avoid taking out any more money when I was in Laos. I only had about eight days left in the country and I had about 600,000 kip. I figured, that if I lived as cheaply as possible, I could squeeze through.

April 13, 2008

I still wasn’t feeling that great in the morning. When you travel for a long time, you definitely feel your ups and downs. I was definitely at a “down” point in the cycle.

Thankfully, I got out of it today. I realized that my decision to spend the last week of my time in Laos living as cheaply as possible would NOT work. Being as cheap as possible never really makes me happy, to be honest. Spending money on good food and drink almost always makes me happy, so I decided that I had to spend my way out of my depression (do any politicians read this blog? hello!).

I know that one reason for my depression is the difficulty in finding good coffee in Laos. Almost all the time, the Laotians serve their coffee with puddles of sickeningly sweet condensed milk pooling in the bottom of the glass. They use WAY TOO MUCH of the stuff — and I don’t even like it. The coffee is often instant coffee, too. Y U C K. I wasn’t a real coffeeholic when I left home, but when most days I do rarely more than visit the cafe or some restaurant, getting a nice coffee is important to me. I’m definitely a “foodie”, so getting good stuff is key! Instant coffee with too much condensed milk is NOT GOOD STUFF.

Anyways, this rant does eventually go somewhere. That morning in Pakse, Alex and I went to Sinouk Cafe and ordered cappucinos. The cafe serves coffee grown on its own private plantation on the Bolaven Plateau. It was a very good cappucino and instantly made me feel better when I drank it. Seriously. I felt depressed before drinking it, and much better after. I’m not the kind of person who is unable to function before having a coffee in the morning, but that day, I definitely needed a good brew!

We met up with Damaris early that afternoon. She had arrived right in time for the Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year) celebrations in Pakse. These celebrations are held right during the HOTTEST (lucky us!) time of the year. It’s the time of year that the Buddha statues are washed with holy water in all of the temples in the country. Because it’s so freakin’ hot, almost every person is also washed (let’s say, more like splashed, deluged, soaked and showered) with water, too. There’s a lot of water flying around. Since the colour of my skin gave me away as a visible minority in Laos, and the Lao people love to have a good time, I was a HUGE TARGET and got way wet all the time.

Anyways! Damaris, Alex, and I bought some Cornettos (remember that I was spending my way out of my depression) and headed down to the temple in Pakse to watch the New Year’s festivities. There was a neato parade that wound its way down the main street in town then circled around the temple grounds.

After the parade, the three of us went to Nazim Indian Restaurant in town (since it was the ONLY place that was open — also, it was the fourth time I went there to eat because the town had so few restaurants, and most were closed for Pi Mai Lao). The scene in front of the restaurant was one of carnage… pure carnage. Water guns, buckets, and hoses were all being liberally used by the staff of the restaurant and its patrons. The targets were the patrons and staff of the restaurant, and ANYONE else who happened to pass by the restaurant, regardless if they were walking or in any sort of vehicle. Lots of Lao people piled into pick-up trucks or tuk-tuks and drove up and down the main street of town to participate in the wide spread water fights. The fighting was thick and furious.

As I watched (and happily participated) in the water fight fury, I watched the people in trucks with awe. I thought to myself, “It sure would be fun to ride in one of those trucks!” Not too long late, a jeep full of Lao dudes pulled up beside the restaurant to get vigourously hosed down. I saw my chance! I jumped into the back of the jeep! The Lao dudes were happy for me to join them! They briefly implied that they might return to the restaurant later, and that was good enough for me! I waved “bye bye” to Alex and Damaris at the restaurant. Alex said something back like “Where are you going? Ack!”, but I couldn’t really hear her — we were off and revving!

We drove up the main street real slow-like. There was lots of singing, chanting and shouting (in addition to throwing water balloons made from condoms). Since the jeep was filled only with guys, whenever a truck or scooter filled with girls went by, there was lots of cat-calling and whistling. We drove up 11 km (it took like an hour) to a temple and stopped. Surprise, surprise, the dudes had a full case of Beer Lao in the front of the jeep. We drank a bunch and headed back to town. I know that I resolved not to drink more Beer Lao (since it sucks), but I couldn’t refuse my guys.

On the way back, the Lao dudes let me sit in the front passenger seat of the jeep. It was more fun than standing in the back and nearly falling out of the jeep with every bump, but it made me a MUCH MORE VISIBLE target. I think having white skin was basically like wearing a big bullseye on the face (since that’s where a few water balloons exploded on me).

It was all good fun!

Despite the fun of the first day of Pi Mai Lao in Pakse, Alex, Damaris and I decided to skip town and head farther south to Si Phan Don (the “Four Thousand Islands”) at the extreme south end of Laos. We booked our tickets and were going to head out in the morning!

To be continued..

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