The slow journey north through Laos

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Khammouan,
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Our next stop on our journey North is Savannahket, about 6hrs north of Pakse if you take the local bus as we did, where we stop everywhere and they line plastic stools up on the aisle for extra passengers. I think it's actually about 250km north.

The places we visit are getting progressively less touristy, Savanahket does have a main square and a couple of restaurants and cafes but not much seems to happen here.  The waterfront used to be a hub of activity as Thailand is only across the river, however since the Friendship Bridge has been opened the riverfront has lost it’s bustle and it’s hard to say whether this town will pick up as tourism increases.  It has potential with a square and nice old colonial buildings but everything is in a state of disrepair at the moment.  We stay at Leena Guesthouse, another basic but cheap place.  Like many Laos middle class families, they have a nicely built house but spend most their time in open air restaurant/their living room.  We did like their form of security as they were tidying up for the evening, bring the gold Buddha statue out and sit him in front of the flat screen tv that sits outside all night.  That seems to be enough to put off any potential thieves. 

We were planning on doing a guided trek and homestay from Savanahket but are put off after talking to a local as she wasn’t keen to recommend it to us due to a recent change in staff.  We settle for trying to see the surrounding area ourselves.  We hire bikes from our hostel and set off.  We struggle to find the correct road out of town but are helped by some friendly locals.  We also pass the airport when a very large US airforce Hercules transporter plane is on the runway, no idea what it is doing in such a remote part of Laos, we could say it’s delivering aid or better not to ask.  The bike ride out of town is fairly flat, on decent roads and again seems to be providing some entertainment to the locals with lots of shout of hello or sabaidee from adults and children.  At one point a man delivering fans on a moped passes us three times, each time with a greater shout of recognition.  We pass Bungva Lake where there are a few restaurants and so pick our lunch spot for later.  We carry on to see That Ing Heng Stupa.  It’s one of the many holy sights in Laos and I have to put a traditional skirt on just to enter the grounds.  We then carry on through some protected forest to Lake Nong Lom which is a sacred lake for local villagers and is covered by so many reeds we never manage to get to a clear vantage point.  In our efforts to see the lake we come across a local family who are cooking up fish and crabs caught in the lake.  We think they invite us to join them, but given our limited Lao can’t be sure so smile politely, take a photo and move on.  They seem pretty amused by us popping up in the forest! 

We then head back to the first lake for lunch where we sit on covered platforms that overlook the lake and have fresh fish for lunch while watching the water buffalo graze – a pretty idyllic setting.  Even more so, as it is set up for locals rather than tourists and so we’re proud of our find.  We spend a couple of hours there as its the middle of the afternoon and so very hot and we’ve already cycled 25km today and are feeling a bit lazy. 

On our way back we have some more interaction with the locals that clearly think we’re mental on bikes when they all have mopeds but we’ve found it a great way to explore the area ourselves.  In the evening our options are limited as most restaurants are closed and so we eat in an empty Thai restaurant and wonder where the other tourists are. 

We move on the next day which despite only being 120km away, takes 4 hours with the usual various, stops, bags falling from the top of the bus, ramming people in and a boy with a chicken sitting behind Jonny so he gets hit by a wing every so often.  By this stage the roof is also full of baggage and packages, but thankfully our backpacks remain in the bus. As soon as we arrive in Tha Khek we book ourselves onto a 'VIP’ in a couple days time to avoid having do that kind of journey again – it is meant to be a slight improvement in bus and will hopefully make a few less stops.  We then have a stand off with the tuk tuk drivers who are all asking for overinflated prices to take us the 3km into town.  Usually they back down when we walk off and sit down somewhere but these guys aren’t budging and so we fold eventually only to discover that they were waiting for us to fold as a couple of locals jump on our tuk tuk as we leave so looks like we’ve paid for everyone – excellent. 

We’ve booked ourselves into a nice hotel for a couple days as a break from guesthouses and so Jonny doesn’t have to listen to me constantly ask to go somewhere with air con.  The hotel ticks all the boxes and makes a pleasant change, especially not having to shower over the toilet and sink.  We quickly realise Tha Khek is even smaller and less touristy than Savanahket and has to face the same problems with the opening of another Friendship Bridge with Thailand.  A quick visit to the tourist office confirms our suspicions that there isn’t much to do here apart from two day treks which we don’t have time for as we’ve booked our accommodation and bus.  So we have a full day and a half here to amuse ourselves at which point we were very glad of the nice hotel and a perfect opportunity to bring blogs up to date and relax!  Our first evening we go for drinks by the riverfront for sunset and once the sun is down and the lights come on, the whole waterfront is consumed by white moths all going for the nearest light – it actually looks like it’s snowing.  The locals aren’t impressed so we don’t think this happens every night but the only answer the restaurants have is to turn off the lights.  So we walk away from the waterfront in a bid to find a restaurant that can keep it’s lights on so we can eat some dinner! We find Kestone Restaurant which served very tasty food and an English speaking owner that was eager to chat to us and that was probably the most social we have been in the past week.  The next day is surprisingly easily filled with reading, blogs and eating and although we feel guilty we kind of needed a day like that (although I know few will feel sorry for us!)  And onto Vientiane for us!          
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