4:30 am - the alarm went off. Ugh, we had to pack up our things and get out to the airport for a 6:30 flight. We find it hard to believe that when we walked out the door at 5 something, it was already hot.
The good thing about getting an early flight is that by 8 in the morning we were in Pakse and checked into the Pakse Hotel. This is an interesting establishment. It's in a great location and is really quite nice, with an impressive looking lobby and a manager who certainly tries to make the guests feel at home. The rooms have A/C, TV, fridge with mini-bar, hot showers, etc. - all this for only $13, with breakfast included. Granted, we did stay in the econo room (meaning we didn't have a window, except into the hallway), but still this is one of the best values so far on our trip.
While Pakse is one of the largest in southern Laos, it is a small town. There are somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 residents. This is more than in the city of Luang Prabang, but it is far less touristy. There aren't boutiques and fancy restaurants - it is much more low-key. We wandered about, stopping for a break to try coffee grown in the local area. Even Gregg ordered a coffee drink - we're both trying new things on this trip!
For the afternoon, we hired a tuk-tuk driver (who asked Gregg if he is Japanese?!) to take us out to Tad Fane, a parallel set of waterfalls that cascade 120 meters down a sheer cliff. The ride out was interesting, as we passed several villages along the way. The driver pointed out the coffee trees growing on farms on sides of the road - we've never seen coffee trees before!
We arrived at the Tad Fane resort, a starting point for hikes to see the falls. We walked along the path to the back of the resort and got a fantastic view of the 2 waterfalls. Even now, when the rains are just beginnning, the water crashed onto the rocks below with incredible force. We saw a path leading off the right and set off on our own. After forty-five minutes or so, we realized that we might have needed a guide to get down to the falls. We were stuck on the other side of the gorge and couldn't get across! The path simply kept taking us to dead ends. Nonetheless, the hike was fun, with a number of steep parts to go up and down.
Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at one of the markets in Pakse and we wandered up and down the aisles - still one of our favorite activities on this trip. The market was closing up, but we got a chance to see motorcycle and bicycle parts, home cleaning products, fruits and vegetables, and CDs, DVDs, and VCDs (a different format for watching movies). The variety never ceases to amaze us.
- People are so friendly here. Most everyone we see lights up in a smile and greets us with a "sabadee." Those who know English will say "hello" and we've even gotten a "bonjour." Perhaps because we are often so rushed to go places back home, we don't have time for pleasantries. It's a shame.
- Oh, and the congealed blood thing... When we were back in Vientiane, Shane informed us that one of the dishes served at the birthday party had congealed blood as the "meat" in the entree. Gregg had avoided trying this, but without knowing it, Carrie had eaten the dish without asking any questions. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss!