The Oh-so-suicidal Pai Mai Lao
Trip Start Oct 18, 2006
117Trip End ??? ??, 2008
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I came to Sabaidy two guesthouse, run by Mr.Vong, a place I have heard so much about, and one which I must admit is worth staying away from
So, amidst people trying knock me off my bike (it's all in good fun), I drove for the day to several beautiful waterfalls in the area, crossing into two different states. The scenery was pretty amazing - lush greenery, the occasional slash and burn, and many plantations of coffee and banana. Small villages dot the highway, and it is yet harder to allay the amazement of locals at the farang driving through. I know that many foreigners do this kind of trip through the area, but it must not get old with the locals, as they wave and shout "hello" or "sabai-dii" whenever they can get it in. Almost everyone was at a big party with their neighbors while the children played on the side of the highway throwing water at passerby. The teens were out for a cruise on the bikes, and many were crowded into the backs of speeding, swerving flatbed trucks, throwing plastic bag bombs full of water and clothing dye at each other, at the kids on the road, and at passing motorcyclists. Don't forget the important part either - beerlao and lao-lao (whisky/shine) were thrown into the mix
I can't possibly stress how nice this drive was. Sure, I had to coax my fake Honda, which ran more like a Briggs & Stratton on cheap wheels, into running at all times, but it was worth it. (I would recommend picking up a real Honda for the same rental price in Pakse) The red dirt roads wound about plantations and burned fields, the standalone plateaus dominated the horizon, the blue-grey storm ceilings gave a sense of mystery and awe, as though I was entering a forbidden ground. I half expected an enchanter to stop me and make me go back to whence I came. As it was, I had enough trouble just trying to keep my bike upright on slippery and uneven unfinished roads, slicked up by a light rain. By the second day, I was flying up the Plateau, ascending from one hundred metres to a couple thousand. It's not as though one can see the plains of Lao for miles around at that vantage point, though, you are far more aware that you've simply gone 'up' amidst the odd flatness of southern Lao. However, this is a pretty unused road, not somewhere one finds large towns
With much fervour, I thank God for bringing me back to Pakse unscathed, by this point without my milk-bag helmet on, as the chinstrap had snapped, rendering it unwearable. I gladly return the shaky zongshen, my two-day rocinante, and am glad to be back on a relatively safe two feet. And there, in front of my favorite Indian restaurant, I see a twelve-year-old girl on her motorbike (a not-uncommon age to be fully proficient on the bike), laughing at her friends behind here, paying no attention to the road, fall off. The bike slammed into the ground, she skidded on here denim shorts, and immediately after stopping, grabbed her bike and drove off again, likely more embarrassed than hurt. I was shocked, but it is telling - this happens everyday, a minor incident worth almost no consideration. Fatalism incarnate in the driving culture?
The Pai Mai Lao ends, and I am glad. It is a beautiful celebration with really great people, but it is both a very dangerous time for myself, but also a very painful reminder of how different some attitudes can be towards one's own life. It is shocking to see how similar world cultures can be, and within that, how sharply they divert.