16 July 2008
8D and 9D. Same Bed.
There were two options for heading south – flying from tiny airport to tiny airport for $90 or taking the overnight “VIP” sleeper bus for $15. We opted for the latter. Little did we know that two of us would literally be sharing a twin-size bed that wasn’t more than 5 foot 6 inches long (hao for Kyle, bu hao for me). The travel agent had told us to wait outside her office “around 6 or maybe 6:30. You will be picked up somewhere in there. I think.” The other charm of Laos is that NO ONE is in a hurry. Things just seem to happen when they happen, and everything works out fine in the end. We ended up flagging down a mini-bus that stopped down the street about 7pm, not wanting to miss our 8:30pm departure. They crammed us in with the other 13 people (imagine a 1993 Dodge Caravan with 13 massive backpacks on top, modified to somehow squeeze 13 people (plus driver) inside. It was hilarious, as were the other travelers who all seemed to have been playing the waiting game on their Vietnam VISAS, about to board a 32-hour non-sleeper bus to Hanoi. AWFUL.
We arrived in plenty of time, boarded with no problems and arrived exactly 11 hours later in Pakse, 600km to the south. Thank you Dr. Long for helping me sleep near-soundly for the duration of the journey, despite my knees being in my face and Kyle talking about everyone he had ever met in his sleep. It was truly a travel experience.
Pakse was nothing to write home about (the A/C didn’t work, the water heater didn’t work and the sink drained directly through the hole, though we did have 40 channels of cable, including CNN and HBO), but it acted as a perfect jumping off point to the Bolaven Plateau, the 4500 foot high center of Laos coffee production. Once again, it was scooter time. We covered roughly 200 miles of green fields, rice patties, tiny Laos people selling fruits and veggies along the road and an army of kids waving and shouting and smiling and laughing. It seemed that despite their abject poverty they were the happiest folks I had ever encountered. So warm and kind.
This was displayed best when we took a wide turn on the scooter and I got briefly relocated to the ground. Fortunately, we were going about 3mph. Unfortunately, the foot rest caught my foot and left me with a moderate flesh wound. To make matters worse, the clutch was wedged between the other foot rest and bike. Within minutes a half-dozen Laotians were swarming around the bike, checking tubes and flipping switches. One man noticed the clutch was stuck and gave instructions to someone else. Minutes later the other guy reappeared with a crow bar and they proceeded to readjust all the pieces to make it rideable again. We exchanged niceties and just like that, we were back on our way.
The rest of the day saw more coffee, more waving kids and some incredible waterfalls. Foot injury aside, we trekked 120 feet down, right to the base of Yuang Falls. The mist engulfed us and quite frankly, it was amazing. Definitely a trip highlight. Onward to Champasak!