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Dusty trails to Tha Khaek (105/10,287 ks)

(written by Dave)

First a word about dinner last night and the rat on a stick.  It turns out that small creatures on a stick must have been a speciality of Nam Thong.  There are probably a dozen restaurants lining the main street, which is really just highway 13.  We had trouble finding one that did not serve the same dubious selection of fried skewered animals.  The list included rat, small bird, entire chicken, fish and one other small creature that we could not identify.  Being right on the highway, with a dusty/dirty verge meant that none of these restaurants were what you would call spotless.  In fact they were all pretty dusty.  When we walked into on restaurant, a woman had one of her hands in a bucket of read- to-cook rats, the other on a pile of sticks.  We did not linger for a chat.

Normally Nancy only eats her rat on a stick from A graded clean restaurants so we picked the best of a bad bunch and tried to order some good old safe chicken fried rice or even noodle soup.  No luck.  They only had sticky rice and creatures on a stick.  Either that or they couldn’t quite figure out what we were asking for.  We eventually gave up and tried the joint across from our guesthouse.  I think they were more breakfast oriented and they were trying to close but we managed to get them to make us two bowls of noodle soup.  There was some meat chunks in the soup but best we could tell, it was not rat (I’m not sure how we would know either way – yikes).

Knowing that there was not much on offer in town, we had oatmeal for brekkie in the room this morning.  We were up early and heading down the road at 6:30.  Even at this hour, many of the meat on stick folks were out getting their cookers fired up.  Perhaps Sunday is their big day, either  that or hope springs eternal for the meat on a stick salesman.

Being Sunday, we thought it might be quiet but what we found in Nam Thong was repeated in all the other villages.  There was lots of activity getting ready to feed whatever travellers that the highway served up.  In addition, both Saturday and Sunday appear to be “burn the rubbish” days.  Every village had numerous piles of burning household garbage right on the edge of the highway.  That which doesn’t get burnt seems to be randomly scattered about.  Laos is a very poor country and it really shows in how they treat garbage.  It’s easy to be all high and mighty about this but we have to remember that many of these folks are hand to mouth subsistence farmers.  If your worried about where your next meal is coming from, you certainly aren’t going to pay someone to take your garbage to some fancy landfill.  It is sad though to see the garbage scattered all over the roadsides.

We stopped at a servo for water and a comfort break at about 30k.  Servos in Laos are pretty spartan in terms of food and drink.  They are often brand new buildings with separate toilet building and lots of fresh paint.  But the thing is, they almost never have shelves and coolers, much less food and drink.  It’s as if they were built for that one day in the future when 7-11 or someone wants to come in and fit-out a ready made store.  The servo we stopped at was not much different.  There was one small drinks case outside but not much else.  We picked out a couple iced teas.  But I was hungry and couldn’t leave it there so I mimed peeling a banana to the shop owner.  Neither her, nor her very cute 6 year daughter, could figure out what this crazy foreigner was doing so Nancy jumped in with her trusty Lao dictionary.  We couldn’t say banana correctly so we let the shop owner read the dictionary.  Success and lots of giggles followed.  The young daughter went over to a day shelter area and pulled down 4 bananas from their personal supply.  We were most grateful and tried very hard to pay for them but the owner would have none of it.  In fact she sent her daughter back for 4 more bananas to take with us as we departed.  A large bunch of bananas here cost about 20 cents so to us, paying for them was trivial.  To the folks here, I’m sure it is much more significant.  Try as we might, they would accept no payment.  Once again, people on the road are proving most generous.

Speaking of road, there is a photo below that merits explanation.  The photo of Nancy passing a bus is not that remarkable if you didn’t know that the branches on the road were the official Laos traffic warning symbol.  The bus was broken down and being worked on.  We see several of these situations every day.  The vehicles almost always park in the middle of their lane and use what ever branches that they can hack out of the roadside plants to create the warning symbol.  Everyone gets around just fine, I mean after all, how could you miss a bus that size anyway.

Between the Sunday trash burning and a good breeze picking up the roadside dust, we had a real grimy ride today.  There is more smoke in the air than just from the household trash so there must be some other burning going on as well.  There were a few clear-cuts near the road where stumps were smouldering so all the smoke could be from that sort of thing.  Whatever the cause, by noon as the temperature comes up and the air is full of dust, riding gets pretty tiring.  Today we reached our destination town of Tha Khaek before noon but were misdirected by a policeman and ended up riding an extra 8-9k to reach the old-town area of Tha Khaek.  While I should take full responsibility for this error, it should be noted that I did the “un-man-like” thing and asked a policeman for direction.  Perhaps the male, trust your instincts, approach would have been a better way to go.

We tried to book into Inthira hotel as it came highly recommended.  They only had a room for one night and both us and our bikes are in need of good scrub.  So we ended up round the corner at the Mekong Hotel.  It is much bigger and not as nice but it will do.  And it is better than any of the last three nights so it will be an ok place to hang for a day.  As we headed to lunch both the parking lot and lobby filled up with a large group of military folks in smart green uniforms, complete with medals and little red body/yellow star flags.  I said hello to a couple of them and got no response.  Our hotel is Vietnamese so I suspect that the solders are either Vietnamese or maybe Chinese.  Either that or they are on a secret mission and were trying to blend in – perhaps they should have not all worn the same thing then…  They were eyeing our bikes locked in the stairwell, and one was actually pulling on the brake handle so we paused a minute and smiled and looked at them until they moved away from the bikes a bit.

For lunch we had more luck at the Inthira.  They serve good food in their restaurant.  I had another fantastic plate of Laap Chicken.  This one was particularly spicy but a little rice and cold water takes the edge off.  The presentation was great as well, see photo below.  Nancy had Pad Thai – we can see Thailand across the Mekong from here.  Finally, for dinner we extracted ourselves from Inthira to head down to one of the riverside grilled duck restaurants.  They serve more than duck but I wanted to sit there because the sunset view.  Our food was ok and the view was amazing.  Just like those Apocalypse Now sunsets.  I tried to capture it but think the photo with Nancy and I is better.

So, we will spend a day off here tomorrow looking around and relaxing and trying to get some of the dust off of us and the bikes.  The following day we think we will try to get to Savannakhet, about 130k south from here so it will be good to have a day of rest here.

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8 responses to “Dusty trails to Tha Khaek (105/10,287 ks)

  1. Those animals on a stick are so gross….how do people eat that? At least when they chop is all up you don’t get the same experience….hmmm, interesting. Nice photo of you two…Christmas card worthy in fact! Have fun and stay safe.

  2. It’s reassuring to see that photo of you. It helps to balance out the burning trash, grime, difficulty finding decent food/lodging and the images in my mind of rat on a stick. The images in my mind are worse than the actual photo.

    I know Gretchen is coming again and you had a wonderful time with her last time BUT you also ended up not having such a good time sticking around because you had to wait for her arrival. Take care of yourselves.

    • In spite of the rough edge, we are having fun. Laos is still pretty interesting. We are really looking forward to Gretchen’s visit. We get to see her, plus have a nice place to stay. This time we planned much better on how long it would take us to reach the rendezvous point.

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  3. Too bad you didn’t try the rat, would have been interesting to get your take on how it tasted and on the psychological side of eating rat…

  4. It’s a readily available (!) source of protein…………I’d eat that before dog.

    • Easy to say when you don’t have a fried rat, teeth and all staring you in the face. The teeth really did it for me. You could almost hear the rat saying “don’t eat me!”.

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