(written by Nancy)
Well we think we are in Phoung Savan but we’re not really sure. We wanted to make the 240k from Savannakhet to Pakse in two days and we were told by one of the touring cyclists we met last week that there several guesthouses at the half way point. We couldn’t find much in the way of guesthouses noted on the web, and for that mater, we couldn’t even really verify the town names or sizes along the route. Our 2 maps and google maps gave us conflicting information. So off we went this morning hoping to cover about 120 and at that point hoping that we could find somewhere to stop for the night. The only other option once we passed the last town where we knew there were guesthouses was to make it close to a 180k day to the next town where we knew there were guesthouses/hotels.
Just short of 120k we found our first guesthouse. It was very inexpensive and deserved to be. It had a mattress sitting on the floor, a bucket shower (cold water only), squat toilet, fan cooling, windows with no glass or bug screens and no sink. There were no place to eat, only a small shop with chips and junk food. The proprietor seemed to indicate that there was a village just ahead so we decided to ride up a bit to get something to eat and to see if there where any other guesthouses in the area. We were reluctant to keep riding as we didn’t think that we had 50k left in our legs but we just couldn’t stay there. Something up the road had to turn up. It was only a couple kilometres to the next village so we pulled in there for a couple bowls of pho (noodle soup). We broke out the Lao language book and managed to converse enough to figure out that there appeared to be another choice was just up the road.
We were happy to see the Tham Phuang Resort on the left side just a couple hundred metres from the village – it looked okay from the outside, with little bungalows made out to look like log cabins and set back from the road a bit. We hoped that a room inspection would not be too bad. We always inspect the rooms now, but sometimes like today, there are not many options and you are stuck with what you get. They had a cabin with airconditioning and hot water and a bed with a bed frame – not too bad so we took it. By not too bad I should clarify, this has a western style toilet but it is a bucket flush one and the bathroom has no sink (really a bath closet, it is too small to be called a room). The bed seems adequate. There is a TV but no English channels. The room came with a supply of condoms (packet of 3, strawberry flavour!) and has a rate sign that notes a 4-hour rate (we think). There are none of those Thai car curtains but we suspect that the hotel make get some short-term visitors. Hopefully the rate we paid is for the whole night and we won’t get turfed out after a few hours! It is twice what the cost of the other room was but we were more than happy to pay it.
We had breakfast at our guesthouse this morning before we left as it was included in the room rate. They said they could start serving breakfast at 6am so that is what we requested, knowing we had a long day today. The poor guys who had to get up and serve us were pretty quiet but we did have a nice breakfast of baguette, eggs and coffee to give us a good start on the day. We stopped on the way out of town to pick up a couple of baguettes to eat along the way. No croissants but we are not complaining.
We were on the road early enough to catch the morning monk processional as we headed out of town. Interestingly, they seemed to be doing something with cups of water that we hadn’t seen before – after the person finished giving each of the monks their gifts of food, the monks took a glass of water that was sitting on the ground or a little table and poured it on the ground in front of the person giving the food.
We had a lot of headwinds and crosswinds today so it was a bit of a slog. We stopped for cold drinks several times and within minutes of taking the bottle out of the refrigerator case it was covered with dirt and grime that the wind was blowing up. We passed through lots of small villages along the way – it seemed like we were never very far from another village, though some were just a collection of small bamboo huts lining the road. Even in those little places there was usually one or two houses that had some items for sale out front and someone sitting patiently waiting for a customer. And there is always the ubiquitous mobile phone provider signs – it seems that every other house sells the recharge cards for the various mobile service providers.
Late this morning we came upon an accident that looked like it had just happened, as there was debris spread all over the road and many people milling around looking at a van that had gone off the road. As we rode by it we realised that the people milling around were not trying to help but were instead pulling big slabs of wood out of the back of the open van and many were quickly mounting their scooters trying to get away with the wood – essentially looting the van. People were literally running down the road over to the van and trying to pick things up around it. Four army men came just after we passed and starting chasing people away. A bit disturbing to say the least – hopefully there was no one hurt in the van while that was going on.
We forgot to mention in our post yesterday that in Savannakhet we experienced our first interaction with beggars in Laos. Three different times we had people come up to us and ask for money – usually kids, or women with little babies. The kids are very persistent – yesterday at the cafe where we went for lunch they came up to the inside seating area and sat on the floor. The Japanese proprietor was upset by it and she had trouble making them leave. They obviously target foreigners. It is hard not to want to give them money or food but that obviously encourages them to continue the behaviour. It’s difficult for us foreigners to tell what is genuine need and what is a scam. Anyway, troubling behaviour to see.
We managed to convince the guesthouse owners to cook us up a couple fried rice plates for dinner. They have a kitchen but I’m not sure how set-up they really are to feed guests. They spoke no English and funny enough, didn’t understand when Dave asked for “herbs” in his dish. It didn’t seem to help that he moved his hands in little circles either (I’m not sure what he was thinking there and I speak English). Eventually we gave up on ordering anything and just told them to bring us whatever they could make – thus the fried rice. We asked for egg on top and got a big omelette on the side as well. All this, plus beer and water for a tad over $5USD. Pretty good value for money.
Tomorrow we head toward Pakse, about 120k from here. We will take a few days off there to rest and try to plan out the schedule for our remaining days in Laos. We will probably head up to the Bolaven Plateau, east of Pakse, where some of Laos’ famous coffee comes from. It is supposedly quite nice up there and cool as well. Then we will try to spend some time at Wat Phu Champasak, an ancient Khmer religious complex south of Pakse.