Friday, 14 December 2012

Pakse, Tat lo and Don Kho

Took a tuk-tuk all the way to Pakse, I feel so bad about it, as though I'm too lazy, and I don't get to experience the real Laos, but I tried to persuade myself that I'll still have the chance. Sometimes though these tourist tuk-tuks and tourist buses actually save you time and money than the local transport. It would be a bit more expansive than the local buses, but they usually have much better hours, with a pick up and a drop off at the hotel, thus saving you a bunch of money on tuk-tuks which you'd have to take to and from the bus station.
There are so many caged birds in Laos, they're so beautiful, and I hate seeing them in cages, trapped there all alone till the rest of their lives. Who created cages anyway?? These people should be sued. And why would people put animals in cages, can't they imagine what the animals feel? I'm very tempted just to open the doors of the cages and let the birds free, and maybe I will. I don't see any harm in it, maybe also put a note saying "Would you like to live in a cage?"
I went to an Italian restaurant, and had the best pasta Bolognese, mango shake and chocolate balls. 3 items ordered, and all 3 are super yummy. I'm definitely coming back! I'm so backwards when travelling. In Toronto, every time I try to go to a different restaurant, but while travelling, if I find a good place, I'm sticking to it. Good places are hard to come by, they might have a Western menu, but they have no clue how to make it, for example serving pizza with carrots and lettuce as toppings doesn't make the best pizza for me. Why can't they google stuff and just follow the recipe?
I missed getting massages, and went to a first massage place near the guest house. I was lying on my front, and it felt very awkward, strange pressure and the guy was climbing on top of me, I really didn't like it, when I turned around and told him to use less pressure, I was surprised that I was massaged by some 10 year old boy!!! Is that even legal??
Went to a tourist information center to ask how to get to some town. They're so friendly, answered my every question, and gave me all the prices and times and bus station locations, offered me foods that they were eating. It made my day and I was in a great mood smiling from ear to ear. While I was there, a group of "backpackers" came in, and asked how to take a VIP bus to a town that's 3 hours away. The girl at the counter said that there are no VIP buses, and they'll have to take a local bus. Local bus??? Their facial expressions showed disgust ... are they ok? Are they safe? There is no way to get VIP bus?? I couldn't believe it. They're not going for 24 hours on a local bus, 3 hours are very manageable, and what's the point of going to a different country, only to be in tourist guest houses, taking tourist buses, booking tours, and eating western food? Stay at your own country if you want everything to be exactly the same. I smiled at them and said, "Common, it will be an adventure!" trying to encourage them, I mean, where else are they gonna see chickens in buses and more scooters on the roof than on a parking lot?
In the morning went by a local bus to the village of Tat lo. It took us 3 hours to cover 80 kms, but the ride was nice, full of locals, and sadly only 1 chicken. I was very surprised though to see a very old woman getting in, and nobody in the front offering her a seat :(
We went to Tat lo the 3 of us, Melina a German girl who I met the evening before in the guest house, and Ann, a French girl who we met on the bus. She took the 6:30 bus, only to wait at some town in between, and board our 9am bus. This is Laos, and I don't know which one's worth for unknown waiting times, India or Laos.
We took a home stay kind of option that had 5 big mattresses on the floor for $1 each, there were only the 3 of us and 1 girl who never talked to anyone, but it was so funny, and felt like I'm in a summer camp :)
All 3 of us feel really bad when we don't get enough sports, and while travelling, I have this feeling every day. We decided to go for a walk, a waterfall later, another waterfall later, another village later, and we ended up hiking for 5 hours. It wouldn't be so bad, except that we didn't expect it, and run out of water. We saw 2 villages on the way where there were more pigs, chickens and ducks than people. All the kids are running around naked and yelling sabadee. It's very strange to see so many naked kids, but they don't mind it yet, and why buy and wash cloths if you don't need to. We got lost somewhere, not really lost, but we couldn't find the way to the big waterfall, and came across a naked man taking a shower in the river, we said sorry and started to walk back when he quickly put his pants on and started yelling at us. He broke a branch and on the ground was drawing us a map of how to get to the waterfall (since everybody who comes to their village is on the way to the waterfall), and then he wrote a price, and said that for that amount he'll take us there. We didn't really need a guide, but thought that it would be fun. We jumped across mud, and practiced our balance on rock bridges while crossing streams, went through beautiful rice and corn fields, passed peanuts plantation, apparently peanuts are a root of some plant, who knew? I thought that all the nuts grow on trees.
When we got back, we followed the local way of life, and went to shower in the river. The guest house lady gave the 3 of us a sarong to shower in, cause it's impolite to shower in a bikini. I was walking to the river angry. Why can men shower naked, and I have to be covered head to toe in a stupid potato bag?? We stood there like 3 idiots not knowing how to tie this sarong around us. It's pretty much a big bag but without a bottom, so it could fit many body types (traditional skirts are the same as well). Melina wrapped it around and secured the excess under her armpit; I tried to twist it and tuck it in the middle, Ann tried to make a knot, but nothing really worked and after a few steps it all came undone, and in the water with a fast current we had no chance at all.
In the evening we went to a restaurant with 2 more German girls, and saw a big gecko eating a big grasshopper (10 cms in length). The gecko took a while to swallow it, and the poor grasshopper was still jerking his legs every time the gecko took a bite.
It rained so hard in the morning that we decided to leave even though we wanted to stay another day. It would be impossible to hike around, and just to sit and do nothing all day long is a waste of a day. The owner gave us a big hug with a big kiss when we left :)
The bus station was 2 kms from the town, and the bus was supposed to come there at 12. Of course it didn't come at 12, and I realized that I forgot my bikini in the guest house which was drying from yesterday's "shower". At 1:30 a woman who knew good English told us that the bus will be leaving another town at 2, and will be here around 2:30. Yeeippiii ... that gives me an hour to pick up my bikini. I decided to get some exercise out of it and run the 2 kms till the guest house. Of course 5 minutes after I left, the bus came! Luckily at that moment a guy who we talked to the previous day for 5 minutes passed on the bike, and Melina jumped on him, and asked him to pick me up at the guest house. It was funny when I came out, he's waiting there for me with the bike, "Hurry up! The bus is waiting for you!". It waited 15 minutes with the girls standing in front of the bus not letting it pass. No wonder they never come on time! ;)
We missed the last bus to the next town, and had to stay the night in Pakse. Melina and I went back to Delta Coffee, the same Italian restaurant where I had spaghetti Bolognese with mango shake ... again, but instead of chocolate balls, we ordered éclairs. We talked there for hours waiting for another rain to stop, if you haven't guessed it yet, yes, it is a rainy season in SE Asia. Melina is a computer scientist like me, and we immediately had a very good connection. I haven't met 1 computer scientist in my years of travel, and missed using some of the IT jargon. She said that she would never go anywhere for a month if it's not in Europe, because there is too much pollution from a plane, and even now that she's gone for 2 months, she will plant 3 trees when she'll come back. How nice is that?? I met another German guy in Brazil who never took internal flights in Brazil which were faster AND cheaper than the bus, saying that he already feels bad enough to fly to Brazil from Germany, and that's the least that he could do.
In the morning, waited for 2 hours for the big tuk-tuk to fill up with 10 people to only cover 15 kms! When one of the passengers decided to get a pedicure from passing salespeople, I realized that it would be a while till we'll hit the road. That was a bit annoying, but I had a book with me and I survived the wait. Arrived at an island called Don Kho, In the last week, I've been to Don Khon, Don Khong, and now Don Kho ... I wonder how efficient is the mail system in here, and reminds me to be more careful when taking buses ... who knows how many other places have these same sounding names. On the island I went for a home stay which I was very excited to experience. But after half an hour of unsuccessful pantomime with people who don't even know the word for "toilet", I got bored. I wanted to experience the local way of life, see how they live, help them cook. But they made me instant noodles for lunch, so no much helping. Men were gambling the money away with card games, and women were serving them food, looking after animals and cleaning the property. There were 2 more French girls staying there, and the 3 of us were the only foreigners on this island. We went for a walk, and found some women weaving. I tried to clumsily weave some scarf looking thingi for 5 minutes, but understanding that there is nothing better to do on this island, I decided to weave the whole scarf. The pattern was very boring checkered white and red, and I started to weave my own designs, which at first they found very shocking. No no no, they told me, this size, now use white, now red!!  Naaah ... I'm buying this scarf, so I'll make my own designs, and at the end, they were very entertained and invited their neighbours to look at something that doesn't make much sense to them. But besides the checkered beginning which I don't like at all, and rest of the scarf looks very pretty :) Now I just have to think how I can use it. It was supposed to take me 4 hours to finish, but I was done in 2, I learned how to do it very fast and they looked at me very proudly, showing me their thumbs and saying that I'm a good weaver. One boy was always sitting next to me, helping me to change threads, and to bring the scarf closer to me when it got too long and too far away. He was drawing something for a very long time, and I was wondering what he was doing. After a while, he turned the page, and he drew me. It was very funny, but I hope I don't look like that :)
Note: when I write "say", it's usually not "say" at all, it's all pantomime, people in Laos don't speak a word of English outside very touristy places. I'll probably be very good at a game of Charades after travelling in here :)
Back at the home stay I ordered fried rice with stir fried vegetables (I read it from the small phrase section of my guide book), and was immediately served steam rice with steam veggies ... ok ... I guess that would do too :)
At 9pm everybody was already asleep, and before 6am, I was woken up by an animal symphony outside my window. I had tea and left back to Pakse. Right across the river, a girl on the bike asked me where I'm going, and gave me a ride to Pakse. She was studying English in University, and after 4 years her English was still not too good. I could understand maybe half of what she was saying, and she could barely understand me. She said that she's very happy to meet me, and even wanted to invite me to her house, but I don't have that much patience to repeat myself 5 times and to speak 1 word at a time with no grammar so she could understand me.
I got a haircut :( My hair has been completely ruined, and it's falling out a lot. I'm not sure what it is, climate change, stress, diet change, sun, but it's very dry and split, and got much lighter than my natural color. When I was sitting at a chair, I just told her, shorter, shorter, shorter, she didn't want to cut it short at all, because long hair is considered to be very beautiful in Laos, until she reached shoulder length. When I asked her for the price, she told me 20 ($2.5) in Lao, and that's the only number that I didn't learn. She didn't have a 20,000 Kip note in her purse to show me, so she had to write it to me, when at the end I told her "khop chai" (thank you), there was no end to her delightment. I then bought an egg, and put a yolk in my hair ... there, I hope it helps! :)
Took a bus up north which went in a turtle speed, stopping for everything and everybody, and then it stopped for 1.5 hours for no reason at all, at least nobody seemed to know the reason. The buses here act not only as passenger carriers, but also as goods carriers, stopping along the way to pick up or drop off parcels and packets. This bus was full of cabbages. The entire roof, and pretty much the 4 seats at the back were cabbages. On another bus, there were 2 tons of pumpkins on the top, they even put bikes up there! At every stop, the bus gets full of people selling food, mostly roasted chickens and eggs on sticks. There are 10 people who make it inside the bus, and 10 people outside the doors and windows. Then they run from bus to bus with their food trying to compete with each other for their customers. On this bus stop (too bad I didn't take a picture), on the street, there was an endless chain on stores, all carrying the same commercial - BeerLao, I think the sign is for free if you're gonna put it in your store, and then the name of the store, which was "name" grilled chicken! 20 restaurants in a row, all look alike, all sell exactly the same stuff. If you want competition, try selling something new!!
I tried to ask them what time we'll reach the town, but nobody speaks English. But I mean, how hard is it to understand (name of town -> pointing at my watch)?? They just shake their head in "no" and walk away. That pissed me off! I know that you don't know English, but at least tryyyy to understand, it's not that hard!!
The bus took way longer than it should've, which means that I couldn't get to the final destination that day, but oh well, at least I finished most of the book I was reading :)


  1. Sounds like you should invest in a kindle

  2. Yana

    Thanks again for a very interesting blog.
    I like the effort Bounphala put into the picture.
    What an interesting country side to see.



  3. кстати, вы все хорошо смотритесь в саронгах, а вода какая синяя!! на самом деле она такого цвета? ваш guesthouse - это что-то!! по-моему, это в 1-й раз ты ночевала в таких условиях - матрац на полу под навесом? не знаю, как насчет summer camp, больше похоже на лагерь для тренировок командос в походных условиях:)