Monday, 13 February 2012

Southern Laos

By Mark

After leaving Phonsavan we headed for Vang Vieng. It is in a rather beautiful setting but ruined by the amount of backpackers here. Several die here every year after taking a cocktail of drugs, they usually die from jumping off cliffs into shallow waters while high as kites. We stayed only one night here, survived our drug binge! This place is just not our scene but many people do like the laid back feel of the place. The road from here to the capital city Vientianne is easily described in one word, SHIT! We had to endure approx 140km's of potholes mixed with huge amounts of dust and parts of the tarmac missing altogether for hundreds of metres at a time. Some highway!
Vientianne as a small capital city with a population of only 700,000. The price of accommodation here was considerably higher but when it comes to bike safety we can’t be too fussy. After the normal ride around finding most places booked out or overpriced we found ourselves an alright place close to the Mekong River. This part of the Mekong is probably the least impressive we have seen. With the government trying to give the city a bit of a face lift I think they failed when it comes to building a rather oversized river bank made from cement. We later learned it was a lot more beautiful back when you could see the river by the roadside restaurants over a grassy verge. While we were here we were stuck with little to do as the sky opened up and the rain poured down all day on our spare day here. The first real amount of rain we had come across in almost 2 months. Not taken by the city too much we hit the road and made our way to a small town south east of the city by the name of Na Hin. This was to be the place where we would spend the night with Tari our couch surfing host. I thought it would be a good idea to follow the Mekong out of town instead of hitting the main road directly. Little did I know the road would turn to dirt, don’t mind a bit of dirt but then it deteriorated into a potholed road filled with water and the best and most fun was it then turned to mud. After a slow going 50 odd km’s of this we joined back to the main road before turning east towards the Vietnam border. This road was a great surprise, especially the huge boulders that lie on the road on blind corners that are used as handbrakes on the broken down trucks. Apart from that we enjoyed being back in the hills twisting and turning through the limestone mountains. We met with Tari in the afternoon at the compound where she works and lives. She was very friendly and we warmed to her immediately.  We ate dinner at the mess hall with her and a friend finding out more about Laos and the local area. I retired early as I had been ill for the past 3 days and wasn’t improving any. With a throat infection I wasn’t too much fun to be around anyway. Thanks to Tari for the medication as a few days later I was on the mend and back to my normal self again. While we were here we headed down to Khong Lor cave which is a must do if you are in this area. The cave is about 7.5km’s in length and at times rises to a height of 70+ metres. A river runs right through it so we took a boat from one end through to the other which was an incredible trip, at times we were in complete darkness . This little excursion though almost ended in disaster as we headed around a sharp bend in the dark only to find another boat heading straight for us at full speed. With inches to spare we were happy to have been spared being tossed into the water! Coming out of the cave on the other side the river opened up and we stopped for a break in a small village for a snack and a drink before heading back through to the other side again. While in the village my beauty seemed to have taken another person into a dream state. This guy almost sat on my lap with his one hand gently on my leg and another playing with my hair and this star gazed look in his eyes. Sanne thought this was hilarious and me, well I was a little taken back… why is it only men here in Laos get so taken by me? After having lunch back on the other side we met and talked with a few travellers before hitting the road. With only a couple of days left in Laos we kept heading south, our final destination would be an island by the name of Don Khong which is the largest island of the 4000 islands of the Mekong. We caught one the worst looking boat/ferry we could have caught to get across to the island but for the cost of a little over $2 per bike it was cheap. Halfway across Sanne asks: “Will the bikes float if the boat sinks???” Luckily enough we made it no problems and spent the afternoon looking around the island. While here we ran into Frank who is on a KTM riding to Germany from Bangkok. I first met him in Chiang Mai back at the Biker’s meeting but I couldn’t quite remember this at first, sorry Frank! I was even sober when I met him. The following day we headed for Cambodia but first we had our dodgy ferry to catch then off to the Pearl of the Mekong. This is the largest waterfall in all Southeast Asia. It is a waterfall on the Mekong which is almost 1km wide and has a drop of about 15+ metres. This has to be seen, our photos do not quite show how impressive these falls are. With such an incredible place to stop for a break we were re-energized and ready to take on our next border crossing. A great day and a great send off to a fantastic country with amazing people.

Road side rest heading south

 This photo just does not do this place justice

Another break, just outside Vang Vieng

 This photo shows the natural beauty of Vang Vieng's surrounds, in town itself is something altogether hideous

 Statue of King Anouvong, Vientianne

The bikes with their blankies on to keep themselves dry

 Road side munchies

 Tari, our host with the most and our 3rd Couchsurfing experience

Our boats that guided us through the cave

 Exiting the cave Khong Lor after our 7.5km journey from end to end

 Our guide, quite a character

 The buffaloes liked a refreshing dip

Sanne's bike getting a much needed clean

 My first ever game of Petanque, I sucked I guess as my team mate didn't ask me back for a second game!

Sunset over the Mekong in Pakse

 And we thought Indonesian ferries were bad!

Looking out over the rice paddies on Don Khong island

 Pearl of the Mekong

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