Sheryl's Asia trip from 29/09/05 to whenever travel blog

The road to Pak Lai

View of the Mekong at Pak Lai

14 December - To Pak Lai

The next main stop I want to make is Vientiane, the capital. To get there I could either take a boat back to Luang Prabang and then either a boat or bus, or go via Pak Lai by road and take a boat from there. I decided on the latter, although some people were saying the boat from Pak Lai to Vientiane was no longer running. When I checked at the 'bus station' (a small shack where lots of Lao men with nothing to do hung around and talked about the 'falang' - foreigner) with the help of a Canadian man called Jim who spoke fluent Lao, I was told that there was a boat. I had to get a pick up truck to Sainyabuli first. It was due to go at 0900, but left at 0950 delayed in part while we waited for 15 minutes for one of the passengers to finish his telephone conversation.

I had managed to grab the front passenger seat. Jim told me not to worry about doing that (he had told the driver I wanted to sit in the cab) as being foreigners we paid more than the locals so should get a better seat! I usually feel the opposite, that the locals should be more entitled to a better seat. However, I knew that I was likely to throw up in the back, so didn't feel too concerned. Four people sat behing in the cab, and two young girls sat in the back of the truck on the luggage. The road was unmade, and full of holes and deep ruts formed from when it had rained and dried hard. It was, needless to say, a very bumpy ride and not to be repeated, but I enjoyed it immensely. The scenery was gorgeous, and I wish we could have stopped for photographs. We soon passed Lars and Angelique who being more independent on the motorbikes could indeed take such photographs. We passed through a lot of poor villages and wound round the mountains. One slip on the accelerator and we would have plunged a long was as nothing was there to prevent us going over the edge. However, the driver was good although they do have a propensity to drive on the left, instead of the right, and as a result we had two very near misses.

We arrived at Sainyabuli at 1300 (although LP had said the journey was six hours, I was thankful it wasn't) and knowing I wanted to go to Pak Lai, I was beckoned towards a waiting songthaew. It left almost immediately, and I couldn't belive my luck, but it just drove to another bus terminal about 5km away. This meant waiting for another songthaew to fill up, and in the middle of it was strung a motorbike. It filled and we left at 1430. One man told me the journey was 3 hrs, another 4 hrs. Again all the way was on dirt roads, and the earth was red so every time another vehicle went past we would have to cover our eyes, mouth and nose. We stopped briefly a couple of times for people to buy produce at markets, and eventually arrived at Pak Lai at 1850 in the eark. I was unceremoniously dropped in the middle of a street, and gathered that there was a guesthouse. I wasn't absolutely sure I was in the right place as couldn't get my bearings. I took a room and having hardly eaten all day, except for satsumas, was pretty hungry. My face and hair were covered in the red dust, and my face looked as if I had theatrical makeup on. I had a cold shower and found a restaurant which could offer me fried vegetables and rice. Oh joy!!

15 December

No chance of sleeping in. At 0400 sharp a cock started crowing, and it appeared to be doing so in my right ear, it seemed so close. Then people started talking noisily and at 0630 someoine started using an electrical sander. The boat was due to leave at 0900 but LP suggested getting there earlier as it could fill up. I got there at 0715 to discover that the slow boat to Vientiane only goes Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. As today was Thursday I was out of luck!! I could either stay in Pak Lai another night or get a speed boat. I have decided against speed boats as the noise is deafening (no way of reading a book) and there have been several accidents.

I went back to the guesthouse, where they were surprised to see me until they realised it was Thursday and no boat, and then off to look at what Pak Lai had to offer by way of sight seeing - virtually nil as it turned out! However, I met a tuk tuk driver who spoke very good English and I let him drive me to the market where he thought I might be able to find some Lipton tea (they only seemed to have green tea, which I'm not fond of). When I had pointed to 'hot tea with milk and sugar'in my phrase book at a little restaurant near the boat landing this morning I was given green tea in one glass, and black coffe with condensed milk at the bottom, in another glass. Milk in Laos is usually condensed milk )so hard luck if you don't like sugar). I found some Liptons tea bags in a corner shop I'd popped into last night and caused a small sensation (I seem to be the only westerner here, which is nice) and went back to the same restaurant near the boat landing, overlooking the Mekong, and managed to get a glass of hot water and some condensed milk to make my own tea. I had pringles as just too squeamish to risk eating meat.

I would have liked to have hired a bicycle for the day, but there were none around. I sat at the restaurant by the river reading my book. A few people came from work for lunch - there was a group of ten and you could hear a pin drop they were so quiet. They made surreptitious sideways glances at me as I was obviously a fascinating specimen. I decided to have some lunch, as felt guilty using their chair for so long - and managed to get vegetables and rice, although like last night the vegetables were only the green kind. Feeling less guilty, I continued reading until a group of boys came over, one of whom fancied himself as an English speaker although he didn't understand anything I said when I answered (not truthfully) the usual questions of 'Are you married' (no question mark on this keyboard)'Where you from' etc etc, as he edged a bit too closely to me, and told me he was 19, I tried to explain I was old enough to be his mother, which he didn't really understand.

In the evening I went back to the restaurand I went to last night and had, you guessed it, green vegetables and rice. Roll on Vientiane.

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