Rainforest day trip, farang harangue

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
Trip End Jun 15, 2007

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, January 8, 2007

(I could have sworn I already entered this one, but since it disappeared I've entered it again...my apologies if you already read this.)

We continue further south to Savannaket, a quiet city of crumbling French-colonial buildings and not much more. The trek we had hoped to do in Dhong Pu Vieng NPA is surprisingly expensive, so instead we opt for a 1-day trip through the rainforest. Our guide has a nearly encyclopoedic knowledge of how all the different vines, plants, tree bark, and insects are used by the villagers for food, clothing, and medicine. We learn how they make torches from the oil of the dichterocarp tree, and how they make bamboo traps to catch small rodents for supper.

Nearly all of the 'bus stations' we've seen have been located about 7km outside of town, which means that anytime we've arrived in a new place we've had to pay for a tuk-tuk ride into town. This always involves negotiating with the drivers, who inevitably attempt to rip you off for as much as possible, and I'm beginning to develop a theory. Prices seem to be lower when I look like a slob - goatee a little overgrown, hair messed up, cheap looking, thin, wrinkled t-shirt - as opposed to looking smart - button down short sleeve shirt, trimmed beard, clean pants, combed hair. For the past two months, I've been fairly diligent about following the 'when in Rome...' philosophy, which in these cultures means trying to look sharp, but the inflated prices this creates is edging me more toward the slovenly camp. We'll see how this plays out - more experimentation required.

From uneventful Savannaket we travel by public bus - together with two unfortunate women travellers nearby who are puking into the plastic bags provided specifically for this purpose - to uneventful Pakse. The five of us farang who arrive together are all familiar with the tuk-tuk racketeers and we slash his price by half - hah! But then there's always that nagging question in the back of your mind about whether you're still paying too much? The constant grind of negotiating prices begins to wear on us again. Todd and I decide we'd like to visit a nearby weaving village but the 'shared public transport' mentioned in the abhorrently unreliable Lonely Planet guide is not where it's supposed to be. When we finally locate the shared saengthaew, a private tuk-tuk driver immediately comes over and gets nosey.

'Where you go today?'
'No, thanks.'
'Where you go?'
'Tuk-tuk expensive,' I say sternly. 'No, thank you.'

All this commotion makes the shared sangthaew people disinterested, especially when they see that this is an opportunity for one of their own to rip us off. We're getting nowhere with anyone, so we finally give in and tell the tuk-tuk asshole where we're going. '10 dollars!' he says cheerfully, 'Shared sangthawe doesn't go there,' he lies. So I tramp over to another sangthaew and ask how much to our destination, but as soon as I get an answer, tuk-tuk demon is sputtering over my shoulder and the quoted price suddenly jumps by $3 each. It's no use. So I tell Mr. Tuk-Tuk to get lost and we decide on another tactic.

We walk across the bridge outside town where the trucks cross to our destination, hoping to catch a ride, like the locals who simply wait by the side of the road and get picked up by the first passing vehicle.

We wait. A sangthaew passes us by. We wait some more. More sangthaew pass, no ride. We wait even longer. The trucks we saw back in town go by - and don't stop! And the Lao people in back just laugh at us and wave as they drive past.

Sometimes I love these people and sometimes I want to put them through the sugar cane juicer. Even Todd is ticked. We give up on the weaving village adventure and decide to take our bags and our tourist dollars to another town, thank you very much. Buh bye, Pakse.
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