Tuesday, December 26, 2006

To South Laos

Vientiane was a surprisingly small, quite chilled out sort of capital city - its CBD is comprised of a large number of food, beverage and accomodation providers as well as heaps of internet cafes and virtually no large shops, just a few "minimarks" (I am still not sure if that is an abbreviation of minimarket or miss-spelling of minimart - they're basically a convenience store) and the plethora of little shops selling a narrow range of items so common here. Getting comfortably settled for a while here would be very easy, as it has some quite excellent cafes and bars to check out, so it is going on the list for a return visit (yes, as I have travelled south, I have decided I need to come back and linger in this region).

The Dream Express day bus took me quickly through fairly bland countryside to Savannakhet, a town I am ashamed to say I still know nothing about. I stayed in a GH near the bus station and had trouble finding anything to eat other than noodle soup. There was a honking big two day party when I was there - the day before I arrived, the Prime Minister of Vietnam and a Thai Princess had attended - to celbrate the opening of the new bridge across the Mekong to Thailand. But I thought the bridge (where the party was) and the road to where I was staying was it in terms of this town and so moved on quickly. It is only by looking at someone's website that I have become aware that there is a whole central town area along the river that I missed completely.

But it is Pakse and points south that truly attract me to this region (although I hope next time the transport is a little better - I spent more than four hours squatting on a little plastic stool in the aisle, as more and more travellers crowded in around me; still, little things like the old woman to one side offering to share her breakfast, and the child on the other taking great delight in photographing me with his mum's cellphone made it a cool trip). In Pakse, I decided to spend up large to make up for the stool, and go for a hotel rather than guest house - it still cost $5! But there is another hotel just down the road which looks like a splendid option for decadence - the Champasak Palace, so-called because it was built by a Lao Prince, although he never formally took up residence (something to do with the departure of the Freanch), and only $23! I was worried about getting to Cambodia in time for Christmas, and so didn't spend much time here, but when I come back, I want to go out and look at the coffee plantations to the East, and then explore the 4000 island district. Seeing these things properly is more a matter of a couple of weeks rather than days, so I passed them by this time round but it is these explorations which have convinced me of the need to come back.

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