Pakse Driver

Trip Start Feb 02, 2009
Trip End Dec 24, 2009

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hello again!

For quite a few weeks now i have been really looking forward to the prospect of a five day motorbike tour of Southern Laos. The lonely planet was all about it and so were a few of the guys i bumped into in Thailand. I had also just finished reading 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanance' so was in the mood. I have just come back and it entirely lived up to my expectations. We had a group of five people, a good number for this kind of thing I think, each with our own red one hundred cc manual scooters. They may not have looked like much but they could really move when they wanted to and even 'cracked a hundy' to use Scott's blunt Australiana. Southern Laos is beautiful, pretty flat and has practically no traffic on the roads. It's near perfect for a road trip. And there are little villages at perfect spots along the way for a nights sleep, some shenanigans and a look around a nice waterfall. The people are the nicest I have met on my travels so far as well and I will go so far as to say it's my favourite place on my travels. They all wave as you pass and make you feel very welcome. Our five was made up of people from our tubing gang in Van Viang -Bart (don't say anything about his name, he gets very sensitive about it); an almost typical dutchman in that he is tall, layed back and very, very cool. He also, without a hint of irony, once asked Scott and me "Boysch, any of you got schower schoap?" in his strongest dutch accent. It was the soursce of much amusement and mockery as you can well imagine.

There was also Ruth; the sweetest Irish girl you could hope to have along with you on a trip and source of much amusement herself with constant references to "your man". Cultural differences were clearly being embraced here. We also had Nicole; a tough talking Kiwi girl who loves Laos and is a seasoned biker. Finally there was Scott, a Melbourne lad who, thankfully for me, was up for pretty much anything. No challenge was too large and no prank too childish. My kind of guy. He could also recite, word for word, whole passages from films. Including the five minute Al Pacino motivational speech in 'Any Given Sunday' and a couple of hilarious bits from 'Lord of War' and 'Blood Diamond' that will sadly lose their comedy in writing. Needless to say we used him like a human jukebox for constant Simpsons and Family guy quotes.He had also done this trip before so was invaluable help as a walking, talking lonely planet guide. After a good nights sleep in Pakse we set off on our five hundred kilometre round trip.

After visiting a beautiful waterfall our first stop was Tad Lo. A small village slightly to the East of Pakse. We decided just to do a mornings drive on the first day to get used to the bikes and what have you. The roads for this first day were really nice and flat and pretty straight too so we had no dramas. When we arrived in Tad Lo we decided to relax by, of all things, going for a short ride on our bikes. It really is an addictive business this motorbiking. On that first night we sat down at the guesthouse restaurant, had some dinner and played a cool new card game Bart had come up with. Everyone gets four cards and passes one to the left at frantic speed until someone gets four of the same kind - four queens for instance - at this point they slam their hand into the middle of the table and everyone - usually in a frenzy - has to pile their hands into the middle on top of the winner. The last person to slam their hand into the middle loses. It's a game of practically no skill but an awesome amount of fun. We cranked it up a gear by adding dares. For instance; if you lost you had to have your fingernails painted purple or if you lost you had to have your fingernails painted purple and then go up to the table of Americans on the other side of the restaurtant and say "Hello, please look at my wonderful new fingernails" to the sniggering of their friends back at the table. This indeed all happened and luckily all to Scott.

The result of this was that the Americans, far from being offended by the strange Australian, all wanted to play this new game. We moved some tables together and took over the middle of the restaurant.We managed to add a drinking element to it as an international gesture of goodwill - a bottle of whisky cost 85p in Laos so i needn't say anymore - and instead of slamming hands on top of each other, which was nigh on impossible for a group of twelve people around a big table, we borrowed eleven spoons from the kitchen and everyone had to grab a spoon at the conclusion of the game. Much like musical chairs but with far more whisky and borderline violence towards the end of the evening. The Americans were mostly doctors and G.P's back home and pretty serious people but by the end of the night they were like frat boys and girls. We ended up playing five or six crazy card / drinking games till the early hours. It was tremendous fun.

Day two took us to Sekong - a really sleepy backwater town but with gorgeous winding roads and stunning scenery leading to it. I also found the joy of listening to your ipod loudly whilst riding which i had initially dismissed. There is nothing like listening to 'Great Balls of Fire' or something on my specially selected biking playlist whilst zooming down a fast, straight road. We also managed to convince Scott to do foolish things over lunch. To many people an offer of "I'll give you 500 Kip (40p) to eat that big spoon of chilis" would be swiftly dismissed, but for Scott the very challenge of it made it a must-do. This he did over dinner and was in siginificant agony for fifteen minutes afterwards - as were the rest of us from laughing. The crowning glory of it was that but three hours later he agreed to do it again with even more chilis and this time had to run off jumping up and down to get rid of the taste. The logic behind this was unclear but the success of it was not. The pain continued for some time after.

Unfortunately Bart managed to get a puncture on the way there - a constant hazard - but even that was enjoyable as he and Ruth got to sit around and talk to the locals whilst it was being repaired and they really do treat you like celebrities. This was a point re-inforced in the evening when we visited a 'night club'. I say 'night club' because it was a small, dark room with loud Loas music and maybe five or six tables at most. The party people of Sekong were loving it though and as soon as we walked in the table nearest the door all cheered, waved and insisted we sit with them. They then shared their Beer Lao with us and we all danced away until the place closed and we returned to our guest house. I say 'guest house' but on the road in these small places you take what you can get for accomodation and in this case we were staying at a preganant womens shelter. None of us were pregnant women, granted, but they were very nice to us and we tried not to make too much noise when we returned. And had a fight with mattresses. In fairness I think the place was empty apart from us so nobody complained. I blame the beer Lao.

Day three involved another very enjoyable ride to Attapeu - another sleepy town - where we decided to have a quiet night and watched the first really heavy rains of the wet season come down on our guesthouse. The next day was our last real day of riding and was a mammoth all day effort to get to Paksong. We drove over bumpy dirt roads for the bulk of it and Bart had another flat tyre as did Ruth. It was on this ride to that Bart and I decided to see what Scott's biking helmet could withstand by way of punishment. We chucked a few stones at it and punched it a few times - all very childish stuff - and then decided to throw a bottle of water as high as possible into the air and bonk him on the head. See the accompanying video for the results of that.  Anywhoo after much riding and pot hole avoiding we arrived in Pakson in the dark and the wet. And for the first time on my trip the cold. It was not as refreshing as i'd hoped. We all huddled together in a restaurant and had another quiet night in preparation for returning to Pakse the following day and getting a bus onto Four Thousand Islands for our final stop in Laos.

Needless to say it was all tremendous fun and i will be happy to repeat the experience elsewhere given the opportunity. My bottom may tell a different story however...

Until next time, Lots of Love,

Dan. x. 
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