If you can’t be arsed reading this long post – jump to the bottom, it’s quite funny (erm, I think)
Due to timing I wasn’t 100% sure whether to stay in Pakse, or take a very easy option of jumping on a small bus at the station, going for breakfast and being taken down to Dong Det at 4000 Islands by 11am. I bumped into Adam who hung off the back of a sawngthaew with me from Muang Ngoi Neua to Luang Prabang last week and he was heading straight down with a mate. Amazingly, when I said I wasn’t getting the bus, the saleperson told me I never needed a tuk-tuk into town as it was only a few minutes walk – excellent service.
I went to the Lankham Hotel in town to enquire about renting a Honda Baja 250cc for the day,and maybe trying to make it back for a lift to Don Det in the afternoon, and it seemed feasible…well that was until I said I’d hire the bike and the last sawngthaew then seemed to leave at 1pm rather than the earlier 4pm someone said. Anyway, I had a place to store my back, and had a Honda Baja for the day for $20 so off I went to explore the Bolavan Plateua, home of the wonderful Lao Coffee.
I managed to make good time on the bike, alledgedly more horsepower than the previous one I hired in Chiang Rai, and a larger frame (although I reckoned this one needed servicing). I headed out on a route that would take me in a loop from Pakse to Tat Fan waterfall (one of the most impressive in Laos), through Paksong (the home of coffee), to Tha Taeng (or Thateng) to Bang Beng, to Tat Lo waterfall and back to Pakse. Then I hoped to go to Ban Saphai to see some weaving action. One thing that becomes apparent in Laos is the slight variations in place names when translated into English.
I made a great start and stopped off at Tat Fan. I started a hike down towards the bottom of the 120m waterfall on the opposite side of the gorge, but it quickly got way too frickin steep to do on my own (like near vertical where I was heading). I settled with the excellent viewpoint after having some laughs with the car park attendant who made an excellent ‘vrroom vrroom’ sound every time he looked at ‘my’ big bike (everything’s 50 or 100cc around here). I was desperate to buy some coffee but knew it would end up getting carried around like the tea I still carry from a wee village in Northern Thailand, famous for it’s tea. So famous in fact, I’ve forgotten its name.
I drove through Paksong, fighting the temptation to ride past a coffee plantation sign in the need for speed. At Tha Taeng the road started to get a tad more interesting as it turned into a dust track, riddled with the remains of water trails. Needless to say I loved it, bombing past the locals on the tut tut bikes. I also seemed to drive past every school at break time so got the waves I have grown to love.
I stopped in Ban Beng at a one table ‘cafe’, the only tourist in sight. Again the schools were coming out, and all the local girls burst into laughter and moved away on the sight of a white man. Until I took my camera out, then they posed and smiled, and laughed at the results. God I wish I spoke Laos. I had a great soup, despite no common words being spoken (except my fluent ‘kaap chai’ Laos, a traditional chicken dish, which wasn’t what I got). That and a Pepsi for $1. Angelica – if you read this I was interacting a wee bit using your SE Asia Phrasebook – cheers!
I then stopped off at Tat Lo and dipped my feet in the water before heading back to Pakse…
HERE’S WHERE THE FUN BEGINS if you skipped the start.
About 20km from town the bike started jumping a bit and I just assumed it was gas, so tried to switch to the reserve, but still the same, but only occassionally – after my Thailand exploit I had a shitload of gas in it, and had only travelled 150km. Anyway, on I went passeing several gas stations. It spluttered. It died.
Shit, not again I thought. I shook the bike, still gas in the tank. How much do these things need to start anyway? I was on the flat. About turned, I pushed the bike, with a gas station only a few hundred metres back. Well, it was a storage unit. No pumps. A couple of hundred metres on from there, there was a station. That was only after the guy at the gate of the storage pointed me back the way I came, then the locals pointed me back the way I had originally been walking.#
Gas in. No start. I shuffled it around a bit, moved the reserve switch, still nothing. The folk sitting around let me use their mobile as my network wasn’t working. After a few phone calls, they agreed to come out and see me as I was only 13km from town. Two guys came, nothing. We sat around and spoke about my trip, and I wrote down some English words I used to try and describe it. Again, I said yes, Scotland does speak English, drew the usual UK map, pointed to it in the Lonely Planet, showed him my postcard and said Scotland was next to England but way better (I always use this).
Anyway, the hotel manager came out and tinkered with the same bits the first guys did, made the bike backfire, and sent me on my way on a replacement bike. By this time it was 4pm, too late to do anything, and as I shot away I realised the odometer had been disconnected too,so I headed back to the hotel for some negotiation. Unfortunately the manager had been towed back by the time I quickly tried to gather my locked bag and laptop.
Negotiations started so I quickly teased my passport out of the receptionists hand before started to haggle.
“No, I’m not paying 20,000 kip ($20),it broke down at 1.30pm, there’s a shitload (I translated that to Laos) of gas in it”
“But you havea replacement until 7pm”
“Yes but I can’t drive it until 7pm, I don’t know how much gas is in it, the front lights not working and the odomoter is disconnected”
“20,000 kip, you signed this about gas”
“Yes, but it broke down”
And on it went until they doscounted it by $2, then I laughed and emphasised the petrol. It went on for ages, eventually the manager agreed to call it quits at $10. I then went on about the $11 of gas I put in today, a third of which was probably still in the bike as it was put in after it broke down.
The phone at reception rang. Bingo – right on cue. I picked up my gear, after leaving 80,000Kip (8$) on the table, and was queried as I was about to walk away. I tried to play nice, but after she said “I no rent you bike again tomorrow or next time” I reckoned she had given up.
I walked away having paid just over 4 UKP for the bike, a little bit more on petrol, and decided I better look for another room in town before leaving first thing. I sorted out my bus, then found a room and crashed for a bit. Hot, sweating buckets, and dusty. Bingo. A good day. Like I said, it’s not the journey, it’s the destination 😉
Tat Fan waterfall :