Nov 032006

Me arriving in a chilly Sam Neua after the overnight bus journey :

Unloading the bus at Sam Neua :

In our drowsy states, we caught a share taxi (Sawngthaew) to Vieng Xai. As you’ll know I catch these everywhere. The world translates to ‘two rows’ describing the the rows of seats laid in the back of the pickups – typically old Toyotas with a metal cage on the back making the seats, roof, particularly the roofrack, used to transport all sorts around Laos, and a small standing area off the back.

We got there a bit late so had to arrange specific tour for us, and hire pushbikes to move around in a short space of time.

The main cave here is Tham Than Souphanouvong where the ‘Red Prince’ of the same name used to hide during the Indochina War. Army officers and others used to meet and stay here, sheltered from the bombing around the area. We got told a load of historical information from the guide, but I won’t pretend to remember it all. Apparently there are around 102 caves in the area there’s been a bit of confusion whether they were a military secret or tourist attraction until recently (i.e. within the last 15 years).

Although there is less history attached to this site, we all found it more interesting than the Plain of Jars. Whether it was worth two days on a bus is up to you, but most of this group were continuing to Vietnam, and the border is very close to here. Vieng Xai is a picturesque wee place though, surrounding by limestone cliffs with a small lake in the middle.

By this point in travelling, the journey becomes as much of the trip as the destination to be honest. Just to back this up we had another adventure! The tour guide assured us if we missed the last sawngthaew back to Vieng Xai we could share a lift back with him for the same cost as he was teaching English in Sam Neua. Unfortunately the class had been cancelled that night and there was a $15 taxi waiting for us. You pay around $20 for a half day trip so we were clearly being taken advantage of a bit, but hey we weren’t going to let that stop us.

Angelica sprinted on the back of his moto to the bus lot, but we had missed it. We bodyswerved the taxi and walked up there, ready for some hard negotiations with locals. We asked around and people who said they’d take us, then decided not to after speaking to the original driver. Eventually we stopped an orange truck…now this wasn’t an orange coloured truck, it was was a truckload of oranges. He agreed to take us for $6 as he was heading that way. The original driver intervened so we said we’d give him $10. The original driver was trying to intervene again so we told him to back off – “He get’s money, we pay a fair rate and don’t get ripped off, everyone’s a winner”.

By this time, half the people around the bus lot were watching. We knew we were sitting ducks as we had no transport. A local guy got off his moto and asked what was going in, found out the situation, spoke to them in Laos, and confirmed the price we were willing to pay the truck driver.

Thanks to that guy, we boarded the truck and said bye to the guy trying to take advantage of us. I thanked the local who seemed very keen to speak to tourists and ensure they enjoyed their visit to Laos, so I told him he was very kind and thanked asked him not to let the locals get more into the rip off mentality sometimes witness in other SE Asian countries.

(All aboard the orange truck 🙂

The truck driver was great. Both parties were happy with the resolution, and so much so he invited us to help ourselves to the oranges in the back – 4 of us inside after the oranges were pushed back, and myself and Owen perched on the back. We got some funny looks from the locals and plenty of waves and smiles.

The perfect way to travel.

A view from one of the caves :

Me on the crap bikes we had to hire (ok we could have paid more and got a mountain bike) :

One of the cave tunnels :

 Posted by at 9:32 am

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