#5 Laos, Feb. 13, 2007

Dear Everybody,

Once again I watched the sun go down over the Mekong River, this time from my hotel in Sakannakhet, another provincial capital about two hours south of Tha Keak by bus. What a pleasant town, but definitely hotter as I head south.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My morning walks revealed the usual wats, two Chinese temples,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a Catholic church on a plaza, and a ferry terminal. This town is a great hub for trade with Thailand, across the Mekong River and Viet Nam, across the province to the east.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A two-mile walk to the very large market gave me the opportunity for breakfast (spring rolls with Lao coffee and tea) at the market food vendors.  This oversized market had everything imaginable for sale from tripe (stomach lining) to TV sets. Actually every business here and probably nearly every household has a TV set with a satellite dish. In all the businesses (restaurants, etc.,) it is going all the time with the help pretty much glued to the soap operas.

Lunch/dinner on several days here has been under the trees at food stands along theMekong River. They serve delicious charcoal roasted whole talapia fish with four or five lemon grass fronds stuck down through the mouth into the body cavity for flavor; that, along with sticky rice and a spicy cucumber salad, accompanied by my daily Beerlao mellows me out into complete contentment.

By the way, my (new) friend, Art, from Vientiane sent me this magazine article:
Laos is best place to visit
05 February 2007

Laos has been voted as one of the best places in the world to take a holiday.  The south-east Asian country topped a poll carried out by travel magazine Wanderlust, which sought the opinions of over 3,000 of its readers.  Luang Prabang was the destination specifically highlighted in the poll, with a 96.36% satisfaction rating.
Laos was closely followed by Varanasi, India, which received a 96% satisfaction rating. India’s inclusion in the top five has been welcomed by many, with Wanderlust’s editor-in-chief describing the country as a ‘world class destination’.

‘It is terrific to see an Indian city in one of the winning spots for the first time,’ said Lyn Hughes.  ‘It has always been a popular destination with our readers but this year’s result proves that it is a world class destination. It is a place that exceeds expectations and leaves an indelible impression.’

The remainder of the top five best destinations to visit is made up of Cordoba in Spain, Siena in Italy and San Francisco in the US.  © Adfero Ltd

—so, as Art said, I’m in the right place!

There are a lot of feral dogs in Laos. When we went to Konglor Cave, our guide said that now and then a truck comes from Viet Nam and buys up all the dogs to take back for eating. It could be true since I saw many dogs in the markets for meat in southern China. Anyway, when we were on the pickup truck going back to Tha Keak, we met a bigtruck full of animals that I thought were goats. As we met the truck and it sped past us, I think I saw that the ‘goats’ were dogs, but I wouldn’t swear to it as I just had a moment’s glance.

I walked to the Provincial Museum a bit south of town one day. The museum wasn’t open, but on the grounds were a wrecked airplane and artillery pieces from the war. There was supposed to be a tank, too, but I didn’t see any. What a horrid museum, but then, it was a horrid war.

Sunday morning I got a bus going to Pakse, about 250 km south of Savannakhet.  Oh, the bus ride! All the seats were filled—then out came the plastic stools which the overflow passengers sat on, knees to butt all the way down the aisle. Lots of passengers brought sacks of grain(?) rice(?), live chickens plus the usual suitcases and backpacks. A lot of this went on the roof of the bus so it was really loaded down.  At a couple of stops women got on the bus to sell food—charcoal roasted chickens, sticky rice, and hardboiled eggs with no yolks.

 

 

They must take the yolks out and put something else back in. I observed my seatmate peeling and eating some—there were little pieces of green in the all white egg. The vendors thread them on a stick to sell them.

Six hours later we arrived in Pakse, another provincial capital, again on the Mekong River.  I spent a few days in Pakse, visiting the usual wats, the market and the local museum. But my main business was to make a visa run 45 km to the Thai border. I was kind of worried about this as I had gotten conflicting information. Some said one could get a new visa this way, but others said it couldn’t be done, and my current visa was running out the next day.

Actually the border crossings went very smoothly—first ‘departing’ Lao, then ‘entering’ Thailand; then ‘departing’ Thailand, and then ‘entering’ Lao and here was the sticky part– getting them to issue me a new visa.  As I approached this last booth, there was a Frenchman having an altercation with the immigration official—not good news.  The Frenchman finally left in a huff. My visa application went off without a hitch, and without benefit of any English, either. I suspect the altercation may have been a misunderstanding as the Lao are generally very easy to deal with.

I got a (passenger) pick up truck back to Pakse. These go when full, and it apparently was not deemed ‘full’ until there were 21 passengers in the back end sitting on three
lengthwise small benches, plus the top of the truck was loaded with stuff and there were two more passengers in the cab.

As we drove along, we picked up two more passengers (now 23 in the back end) but soon began to let some passengers off, too.  I really get a kick out of these rides and the people with all their stuff.  The pickup put us all down at the market where tuk tuks were waiting. In Pakse they have some small ones for two people. The passengers sit in a little side car alongside the driver of the motorbike. I like those the best!

I’ll be heading south again soon to Champasek. It’s getting hotter!

Carol

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