I’m trying to keep dry in Vientiane. Songkan is here and i have a cut in my head.
A couple of days ago in Thakhek i spotted an interesting gekko outside my hostel room window and stood up on the bed to see it better. As i turned away from it, the ceiling fan hit me in the head. A pretty big one, the diameter being about 1,5 meters with blades of steel and spinning fast. So, bang, it hit me and cut me. Surprisingly not too badly (about 5cm long and not too deep). Got some stitches at the local clinic, and now it is healing, but i’m supposed to keep it dry, so no water throwing for me. (Sonkan involves a lot of throwing water on other people. A lot of fun in the heat but not for me this year. I just sit at the hostel balcony and try to hit the passers by from a safe distance. One day to go.)
Other activities since the last posting:
From Siem Reap we rode a bus to Kampong Cham next to Mekong river. We rent a motorbike and rode around the countryside for a day. It was very dusty. Lot of rubber plantations in the area. There’s a very long bamboo bridge to an island on the river, and a Cham neighbourhood. Otherwise not much there. Nice enough still.
Then to Kratie. We saw some (backs and watery burps of) Irrawaddy dolphins (in the distance). Otherwise peaceful and quiet again, sunsets by the Mekong, etc.
Then up to Banlung in Ratanakiri, where we swam in a very deep round lake, drove around with motorbikes & drivers to some remote waterfalls and villages with gem “mines” – very narrow (maybe a meter wide max) deep (1o meters maybe) holes in the ground. There are some nice forests in the area, and also lots of old forests just recently cut down with rubber trees and cashew nuts replacing them. Driving through cashew orchards i learned why the nuts are so damn expensive. The plant is smallish tree that has red “fruits” (accessory fruits to be exact) and the nut (the fruit proper) itself is hanging below this thing, inside a hard shell. Inside the shell there’s still a reddish skin to be removed. So just one well packed nut per fruit and not too many nuts per tree and so on. A lot of handwork picking the things, getting the nut out of the shells and pealing them. Yields per hectare are low (916 kg/hectare on average says Wikipedia).
The waterfalls were OK too.
After Banlung we head north to Lao PDR (after a little detour south). I went to Don Det on Si Phan Don in July 2002, and expected the place to have changed quite a bit. And so it had: now there are internet cafes, restaurants, trucks for taking Lao and Thai tour groups to see the waterfalls and so on. But laying down in the hammock, swimming in the Mekong and not doing much else was good for a few days.
Then to Pakxe. It has changed quite a bit too. We rent a Thai built 110cc Suzuki to drive around the Bolaven plateau for some days. If you do the same please check your bike properly before taking off. I didn’t and we had some troubles. As we rode off the chain on the bike was jumping with a horrible sound, and i took the bike back. The guy at the rental said it was just loose, tightened the chain and we went off again. I should have insisted on seeing the sprockets (the bike has a full chain guard as these bikes often do, a good thing otherwise, but it needs to be taken apart a bit to see how the chain and sprockets are really doing). I was rewarded for this stupidity after about 120km: the chain was jumping again. We took the bike to a mechanic in Salavan. The front sprocket was missing some teeth, and the rubber dampers inside the rear hub were in pieces. Paid 150000 Kip (about 12€) for new sprockets, front and back, a new chain and the rubber dampers, including work. Cheap and i even got it reimbursed without arguing when paying the rent for the bike. So no real harm there, but still, i’ll check it better next time.
Otherwise the trip was nice. On the first day drove east from Pakse before turning north towards Tat lo, a very picturesque village (with lots of backpackers) for the night. There’s a waterfall about 10km from the village (Tat suong). Not much water in it at this time of the year, but good views from the top.
Next day on north to Salavan, where we had coffee, saw the market, and got the bike fixed. Not much there. A bit backtracking south and then the dirt road from Ban Beng to Tha Taeng and on to Sekong, where we spent the night. There’s pretty much nothing to see or do in the town. For obvious reasons we wanted to stay in the Woman Fever Kosmet Centre Guest House but had to go elsewhere because we didn’t find any staff.
The final day was long, first south towards Attapeu to Ban Bengphua Kham and then west towards Pakxong along a dirt road, pretty steep at places. It rained the night before so the air was clear. The road goes through green forests with big trees before getting on top of the plateau. There’s a 100m high waterfall (Nam Tok Katamtok) on the way too. The dirt road ends in Pakxong. We first planned to stay there but as we were early and there isn’t much there we rode on back to Pakxe, stopping at two waterfalls on the way. About 450km in 3 days, a good trip and a sore bum.
The next day on to Thakek where we went on a trek organized by the provincial tourist office. Never really been on these organized treks before. The karst mountain landscape is scenic and the forests too, we went to caves and swam in streams, ate ants and something like a squirrel, drank a lot of laolao, and the villagers were friendly too.
As we came back to Pakxe i had my ceiling fan incident and next morning we came to Vientiane, and now i’m trying to keep dry here.
Got email from Oasis Hongkong: they are bankrupt and finished flying (thanks to rising jet fuel prices say the papers), so i had to buy a new ticket from Hong Kong to London. So i’ll be in Finland on 5.6.2008. I doubt i’ll ever get my money back for the Oasis ticket.
edit: photos added