We only stopped at Pakse as it was a convenient destination when crossing into Laos, and to be fair it doesn’t have any must see sights. However, as an intro to Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) it is a good start. It does show why Lao PDR is called Lao Please Don’t Rush as it is incredibly laid back.
Wandering round, even in the markets, you don’t get hassled by anyone unlike most of SE Asia. Driving is chilled (but still mental by Euro standards), and the pace is very gentle. Even for our evening meal at a local restaurant on the Mekong we didn’t get any menu-hawkers, and even had to ask for a menu and make the effort to order! The staff wouldn’t have got up otherwise. That said, the meal was very nice and different from what we’ve had before, and we were also treated to some live music in a very local atmosphere. Really a rather chilling place to be.
The next day we rented a motorbike to head to Pak Song and explore some waterfalls along the route, but we found out to our costs what the real road rules are. Despite the locals having overloaded bikes; no lights; driving on wrong side of road etc, they don’t seem to have problems. At the first set of traffic lights we got to I was in the wrong lane and to let a 4×4 turn right I moved out of the way crossing the stop line (but not entering junction) which of course was wrong, but as locals barely stop for red lights I didn’t think it was an issue.
But Mr Plod (and his mates in a road side hut) decided to pull us over and give us a telling off but then asked for payment of a fine. Oops. After pretending not to understand he demanded 50,000 kip (about £4). No way to get out of it despite me saying “is it okay to go”, and after more of my attempts to go I just asked for a receipt which he said no to. So I said “no receipt, 20,000kip then” which he went for. Clearly just beer money for them but a £1.60 fine is probably fair game – just be aware the Police favour stopping westerners.
The road was okay for the most part, but in some places was a mud/sand bath – perfect for mopeds on slicks. Going all the way to Pak Song isn’t worth it, though there is a hotel at the far side with a clean western loo if you need it!
We stopped at two waterfalls, both of which were a legitimate 13,000 kip for 2 people + bike, and both were spectacular and well worth a visit. Thamchampy Waterfall had a lovely swimmable pool, and Tad Yueang Waterfall was even more impressive. The only downer, and typical for when we rent a bike, the heavens opened into a tropical downpour so we had to hide in a cafe waiting for the rain to abate. Got a bit chilly so we decided to miss a few others and head back for a hot shower.
Without much else to see we took a 4-5hr local bus to Savannakhet which was so full people had plastic chairs in the aisle, and the bus also had stuff strapped to the roof – including motorbikes. One bus we saw had 10+ brand new bikes strapped to the roof! The driver was a nutter, 65+ on narrow roads with ox and goats in the road, but at least we made it.
Savannakhet is just a stopover to break the journey up and wasn’t really a great stop though. The town has a major French influence with many similar buildings and layout to a small French town, but it is a little dull non-happening place brightened only by a few temples. As it was my birthday we tried to find somewhere special for dinner, but found nowhere worth going. We found and almost lived in Lins Cafe – a lovely helpful place with good food, free wifi, and we saw the same westerners in there numerous times as they also struggled to find anywhere better!
Outside of town there are a few Eco treks you can do, and homestays, but these don’t really appeal to us so we decided to take the night bus to the Laos capital Vientiane instead.
See next installment here