Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flat Tires & Mud - The Bolaven Plateau & Pakse


Destination: Bolaven Plateau

Number of Days there: 2 in Bolaven Plateau & 2 in Pakse

One thing unexpected: Two flat tires (5000 kip each, about $.60) & muddy roads with lots of cows

Times we took the: Boat: 0; Bus/Minivan: 0; Train/Subway: 0 Taxi/Car: 0; Motorbike: 1

Where we stayed: Sypaseuth Guesthouse in Tad Lo (Bolaven Plateau) 50,000 kip/$6, Saibaidee Guesthouse in Pakse (60,000 kip/$7) and Royal Pakse Hotel (100,000 kip/$12)

Favorite Restaurant: Nazim Resaurant in Pakse - fresh naan, chicken tikka masala & veggie curries

Best of: Being stared at by the local kids, helping a local woman write a cover letter for a new job & guest starring in a group photo with a bunch of Thais

Worst of: Two flat tires & muddy dirt roads

We thought about taking a day tour of the Bolaven Plateau but decided it would be more fun to do it ourselves so we rented a motorbike at a cost of 70,000 kip per day and headed East! We decided to plan our trip around the major waterfalls in the area. Our first stop was Tad Pasuam which was inviting and gorgeous, albeit a little fake. A Thai businessman bought the land and changed the landscape to make the falls more impressive. Not satisfied with just changing the landscape, up went a luxury hotel, restaurant and mock village representing the different tribes of Laos rolled all into one stop. It's a major stop for many Thai tour groups and while we were there one of them spotted us and decided that they had to have the token white/blonde girl in their photo. Naturally Tracy had to be front and center :-) The falls at Tad Pasuam were well worth the stop but skip the fake village that is attached. We literally walked in and as soon as they saw us the music started playing, the kids dancing and the ladies hawking their was like watching monkeys at a zoo and they were putting on a show for us and only us. Please don't buy into this, it's so sad to see a fake village that is totally dependent on tourism. We turned straight around, jumped back on our motorbike and hit the road!

After another hour passing by gorgeous scenery we passed by a large town and needing a break from the rain and sore bottoms, we decided to stop to see the local monastery. The kids in the area came out to meet us as if they rarely, if ever, see foreigners. We gingerly walked around the monastery all the while being followed by the kids just staring and without saying much. Back on the motorbike, we started to notice the back wheel wobbling. Pulling into a gas station we realized we had a flat tire! At this point in the day it was getting dark, we didn't know how much farther it would be, and now we have this flat tire to which we have no idea it will cost to fix let alone how long. Fortunately for us, this sort of thing must happen all the time as it cost a mere 5000kip, or about .75 cents and took about 20 minutes from start to finish! Back on the bike, we pulled into Tad Lo just as the sun was setting. We settled in and ordered a few beers to congratulate ourselves on a successful trip!

The next morning we started off to Tad Lo only to realize that we had ANOTHER flat tire... Thankfully we were with two other people so Jason took off down the road while Tracy waited for him to return with the bike. Due to this delay we ended up missing the largest of the Tad Lo waterfalls but we were still able to see the smaller one. Deciding not to risk the tire on a bumpy dirt (which would be pure mud from all the rain the day before) road we headed back the way we came and then back tracked toward Pak Song to Tad Fan, Tad Nguing and the coffee plantations. We attempted to stop at Tad Nguing but after 30 minutes of slipping and sliding (our fellow cyclers even landed in the mud) we turn back and head instead to a local coffee plantation for a well deserved break. After our coffee break we drove back towards Tad Fan and with a gravel road dry enough to make it down, we made it to our final waterfall for the trip - Tad Fan.

As it turned out, the best part of the trip around the Bolaven Plateau ended up not being the waterfalls and scenery (although they were indeed nice!) but just getting to see more of the rural side of Laos. Passing by places that rarely see many visitors outside of the organized tour variety, one is greeted with warm smiles and friendly greetings. The Laos are an extremely friendly lot and we got just as much pleasure out of watching the life go on around us than we did the beautiful scenery.

We spent our final day in Pakse getting caught up on our email, updating this blog, eating lots of Indian food and browsing around the local market. While Jason worked on the blog, Tracy bought a woven silk scarf and two belts. After talking with the shop owner she disclosed that she needed help writing an English cover letter for a new job at a local bank. She wanted to close her shop and have more time with her family (she had two young children and she worked in her shop from 7am until 9pm 7 days a week). And we thought our former employers were slave drivers (just kidding)! In any case, Tracy jumped at the chance to help her out with the letter. At the end of the day we jumped on a bus to Vientiane...but it wasn't just any bus, it was the King of Buses, the ultimate in night bus comfort!

To see more photos of the Bolaven Plateau please click here!

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