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Short, interesting day to Thangbeng (27/10957 ks)

(written by Dave)

Today was one of those days that put the Adventure into our “Adventures in Mid-life” trip.  We didn’t ride very far but we learned a lot about Laos and eventually ended up at an interesting place to stay.  Due to lack of places to stay in the middle on highway 13 to the border, we had a choice of riding about 30k or doing a double day and pushing the total up over 120k.  I think we both secretly figured we’d do the longer day but kept our minds open to see what the the day cooked up.  We have a couple of days extra in our schedule to meet up with Nancy’s sister in Phnom Penh so we have a little bit of time to play with.

We started with another great brekkie at the Inthira Hotel.  Some of the highlights included good coffee, real bacon, a fresh baked baguette and when you are all done and full, they bring out a fresh plate of seasonal tropical fruits.  Before we even started to eat, we waved goodbye to Rene who was heading off.  He stayed just down the road from us and we got the impression that he was going to ride the longer option today.  With all the food we were served, we didn’t finish eating until nearly 8AM managing to depart soon thereafter.

We had to ride back up towards Pakse to get the ferry across the Mekong.  We were not sure if this was 2k, 8k or somewhere in between.  There are not many road signs here in Laos, adding to the unknown.  The ferry turned out to impossible to miss and only 2.5ks from the hotel.  The road down to the ferry had a few parked trucks and cars waiting and was not sealed – mostly sand and bull-dust.  There are no signs telling you where to go or what it costs to cross.  You just kind of walk down, look befuddled until someone helps you.  There are lots of boats, big, small, fat and skinny.  Eventually a guy on a small boat catamaran offered to take us across.  This was the normal passenger ferry, we think.  He offered to take us for 20,000 so we said yes.  After we rolled our bikes off the beach,  up the plank to the boat and muscled them into a safe position, one of the skippers mates came over and told us that it was 20,000 for us and 20,000 for the bikes.  I’m pretty sure that this was tourist inflation but we were loaded.  Still I persisted in the negotiation game and we agreed on 30,000 total.  Probably 10,000 too much but were talking $1.25 and we didn’t really have much choice.  The river was pretty calm and it’s a good thing as our boat was not the most seaworthy looking craft on the water.  And though we really didn’t have any room, the captain agreed to take a man and his scooter over with us.  Life jackets?  That’s funny.  I told Nancy that we’d use our helmets should it come to that.  We were both happy to reach the other side.

The far side of the river had many more boats, both ferries and fishing boats.  Getting off the ferry was easier as we pulled up along side two other ferries that were tethered to the bank.  We rolled over the decks of the other two boats, followed by a short plank down to the shore.  More sand followed on this side but it was not as steep and by 9AM we were on sealed road heading out to highway 13.

Highway 13, our old friend from days back was not too busy.  Traffic seemed to go in waves but as normal, everyone gives us lots of room.  We made pretty good time and were in Thangbeng by about 10:30.  We noted a couple of guesthouses on the way into town and also heard of one off the route heading inland.  At the junction to head inland we split up to look for other options.  Nancy went up the highway, I took the inland road.  We met back up at the junction 10 minutes later with neither of us spotting any other options.  What to do now, other than have some fried bananas and a coffee while we discussed our options.

We bought some bananas at a roadside stall and headed for a little restaurant that Nancy spotted.  A local had yelled at her when she passed and greeted our arrival with the same enthusiasm.  The person yelling spoke minimal English, but we soon met his nephew Sam who spoke perfect English.  Well, it turns out that Sam should speak perfect English as he is a US citizen.  He is Laotian, having moved to America with his family when he was 13.  He was a Phd in chemistry and was teaching chemistry in Des Moines until recently.  He is now on an extended break travelling in Laos.  He was born in a village only 4ks from where we were having coffee.  We were still undecided about riding further but talking to Sam helped us make our minds up.  For starters, it was very interesting talking to him about Laos.  More so that any of the expats we’ve spoken to Sam really knows the story here.  Before we knew it, we’d spent an hour chatting with Sam, and being entertained by his uncle.  People came and went from the stall, most of them seemed to be related  to Sam somehow.  Eventually we decided it was time find a place to stay and what better than to use Sam and his uncle for their local advice.

Sam told us the nicest place in the village was one of the guesthouses (a resort) back up the road a bit.  That was where he was staying.  So after picking up some water we headed that way.  As we were waiting for someone at the resort to help us Sam rode up on his scooter.  Turns out his uncle owns this place so he translated for us and we arranged to get one of the little bungalows.  The only problem was, it turned out that the water wasn’t working as there was a problem with the water pump and it had apparently just shut down.  Sam said that they were working on it and thought it would be fixed shortly.  So, we sat outside the bungalow in the shade for a bit, chatting some more with Sam about his life and the differences between the US and Laos.  He has been over here for almost 7 months and is scheduled to return to the US on Christmas Eve.  He would like to try to do some kind of project here in Laos but is having difficulty getting any traction from the government.  Sounds like it is a slightly frustrating place to try to do business.

Unfortunately the water situation was taking a bit longer than we anticipated and at 1pm or so it was still not working.  So we decided to go have some lunch at the restaurant located at the entrance to the resort with the hope that by the time we were finished it would be back on.  The restaurant is connected to the resort and some of Sam’s nieces work there so he put in a food order for us –  nice to have a translator for everything!  The food – fried rice with seafood, including prawns – was nice and tasty and we shared our prawn shells and heads with the little kitten that was hanging about.  We were now really ready to have a shower and get cleaned up.  Fortunately just about that time Sam rode up on his scooter and said the water was back on.  Great – we headed back to our bungalow.

Well, not quite so fast.  The water still didn’t seem to be working in our bungalow.  So I headed over to the main house to see if I could get some help.  Sam wasn’t there and they all looked quite nervously at me as I tried to get across the point that the water wasn’t working.  One of the young girls was sent off on her scooter to fetch Sam from the restaurant.  Sam came back, had some words with his uncle and one of the other young guys and they all gathered around the water pump for a bit.  Finally, success, the water came on in our bathroom!  We jumped in and took a shower – no hot water as the hot water heater did not seem to be working but the water was warm enough.  Not entirely luxurious surroundings but the bed is certainly more comfortable than the bed we had in Pakse the other night.

Late in the afternoon Sam’s uncle and some guests staying at his house decided that they wanted fish for dinner and got out a giant net to drag the pond that our hut sat next to.  I went out to watch and they did very well.  Sam told me that his uncle only drags the pond for “important” guests.  This particular guest was important but not so important as to eat one particular kind of fish that his uncle most prizes.  Sam was quietly working the field helpers to insure that none of the prized fish made it into the bucket.  Catching fish with a net that spreads across your whole pond is pretty easy I guess.  Especially when you’ve stocked and fed the fish daily as Sam’s uncle did.

For dinner we went back to the restaurant.  In the afternoon, Sam had asked us what we wanted for dinner and instructed his nieces to cook it up for us when we came back.  We were the only guests, most guests here only come in the afternoon and they come to drink.  I’m not sure that they really serve dinner but we were Sam’s honoured guests.  As it turns out, nothing we ordered was prepared and we were not the least upset.  Instead we had a plate of fried fish covered in an amazing sweat red chilli sauce and a wonderful bowl of fish tom-yam.  When you have good luck fishing, I guess this is what you do.  The fish chilli was cooked by the uncle’s family and sent special to the restaurant for us.  Sam’s nieces made the tom-yam fresh.  After we ate, Sam came and chatted with us again.  It turns out that his cousin’s wife had a new baby girl today and they were all heading down to the hospital to have a look.

We think we have about 95k or so to the next town where we have heard there are some guesthouses, and which is relatively close to the border with Cambodia.  That will give us an easy run to the border the following day.  So it’s up early tomorrow and oatmeal in the room.  I’m sure that Sam would get his nieces to cook us up something but we have no intention of asking for any more than we’ve already received.  Sam has been most gracious.

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6 responses to “Short, interesting day to Thangbeng (27/10957 ks)

  1. Google maps says it is only 7hrs and 55min to Phnom Penh. You have lots of time.

    • In Australia, we used to figure 1 hour driving time = 1 day riding. If that were true here, we’d not make it to Phnom Penh on time. Luckily here, the roads are so bad that the speed limit drops from 130 to 80 and 1 hour driving = 1/2 riding 🙂

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  2. I should have kept a count of how many helpful, interesting and really nice people you have met! Just like Sam today who did several helpful things for you! So many that it gives me hope for our world! Stay safe and get a recipe for the sweet chilli sauce!

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