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The Mystical Adventures of Tess and Jack

Motorbike adventure on the Bolaven Plateau

LAOS | Monday, 25 January 2010 | Views [1303] | Comments [1]

The next leg of our journey was to Pakse, gateway to Southern Laos and the Bolaven Plateau, where we had a three day off-the-beaten-track type motorbike trip planned. First, though, we had to make a two day/one night stop over in the capital, Vientiane, to extend our visas. Extending your visa is the only reason you would ever want to go to Vientiane, cos it's a shit hole and I have thus deemed it undeserving of a separate blog entry. As soon as we arrived it was pouring down rain, the city is ugly and dirty, and full of open sewers - so it stinks too. On top of this the accommodation is ridiculously overpriced, and we ended up searching for an hour with our big backpacks on, only to stay in a fairly dingy place for twice the amount we'd pay elsewhere. Luckily by this point in our trip Jack and I are experts at making the best out of a bad situation, so we spent our waiting time getting drunk on red wine and having steak at an expensive French restaurant (as you do), then shopping at the surprisingly awesome local market. This was a lot like the handicrafts market at LP but much less touristy and thus less expensive - we loved it and spent a good few hours investing kip in presents for those of you who have been nice and left lots of comments on our blog, as opposed to those of you who have been naughty and not done so. Don't get too excited however as we were feeling like cheap jerks when it came time to posting said goodies and decided to send them via sea mail. Expect your presents in 6 months' time! That's if they're not looted by Indonesian pirates!

With extended visas in our hot little hands, we boarded a very pleasant night bus to Pakse. This is one of Laos' less alluring destinations - although it is packed with tourists, all of them are on their way to somewhere more interesting. Not only is there nothing to do (except eat Indian food), but the weather is horrendous: on the morning we arrived it poured down rain for 4 hours, then the skies cleared to a scorchingly hot sticky day. Obviously Jack and I (and my hair) have become a little spoiled by our sojourn in the crisp north! Comfortable times to come! After a day's recovery it was time to pick up our wheels - a cute little blue Suzuki - and hit the road! On day one, we travelled up the northwestern fringe of the Plateau, stopping for the afternoon/night at a tiny village built around the beautiful Tat Lo Waterfall. As soon as we arrived, we felt a good vibe: local children ran to meet the bike, all insisting on hand shakes, high fives and to be measured next to the falang (and not asking for pens...my new pet hate). We had a similar reception at the restaurant we stopped at for lunch, where the resident tomcat jumped onto my lap for a cuddle, and even the two babies crawling around on the floor were all smiles and giggles (usually Southeast Asian babies are frightened of me and cry or just can't stop staring in awe at my translucence). That afternoon, we got to do something I had been wanting to do since I was about 6: elephant riding! This was a 1.5 hour amble across the water and through surrounding forest on Moonmah, one of Tatlo Lodge's 2 female elephants. While pleased to have checked this off my to do list, the experience was slightly detracted from by the fact that Moonmah wasn't enjoying herself - she hated walking in the water and wanted to stop for snacks at every bamboo thicket we passed, which earnt her lots of kicks behind the ears. We actually had more fun after the ride was over, chatting to and patting the elephants while they were wandering around doing whatever they pleased (significantly happier). Both girls were just beautiful (beards and all!) - as you'll see from some of the cool pics we got.

On day two, we set out east towards Sekong. After reading the guidebook, we expected this journey to be via one of the narrow, winding dirt tracks so common in Laos. We were pleasantly surprised when we found ourselves on a smooth, newly surfaced road, and were riding along pleased as punch until we realised that the resurfacing was in fact still in process. Redirected off the gloriously flat surface onto a set of wheel ruts by the side of the road, we weaved up and down slopes and into and out of small villages. Despite the slight discomfort, this was all going reasonably well until we saw a huge mud puddle ahead. Jack warned me to hang on tight, but we had both underestimated the grip on our poor little Suzi's tires and as soon as our back wheel hit the mud it was slipping out from underneath us. A short period of swerving and swearing ensued, my ass left the seat and I was hanging off the side of the bike. The weight of me (slightly more than usual owing to the several Indian meals mentioned, plus the bag I was carrying) was pulling Jack off with me, which in turn was causing him to tighten his grip on the handlebars and thus accelerate the bike, drastically worsening the situation (as you can imagine). In the split second I had to think, I decided to take one for the team and let go (before we all went over) and fell very ungracefully a short distance into 10 cm of mud. I was covered, and we also managed to make quite a mess of the backpack, Jack's shoes and the bike. Luckily, there were no serious injuries - damage was limited to a bruised knee and sore laughing muscles. We were in the middle of nowhere so there was nothing to do but keep on keeping on: we looked quite the spectacle and provided much entertainment for the rest of the roadworkers and village kids. Our tough run paid off when we reached our night's destination: a waterfall (Tat Hua Khon) slightly south of Sekong, which was only afforded 2 sentences in the Lonely Planet but which our photocopied map (came with the bike) said we could sleep at. We weren't sure what to expect but were pleasantly surprised when some friendly locals pointed us down an unmarked trail to a jumble of ramshackle bungalows right on the banks of an 100 km long, 5 m high waterfall in pristine forest surroundings, with practically no other tourists in sight (after we arrived, an older European couple who we'd encountered at Tat Lo showed up - they were highly unfriendly and seemed exasperated by our youthful presence, and were further angered when they found out we'd scored the last double bed...Jack and Tess 1, cranky Europeans 0). We spent a lovely afternoon enjoying a simpler side of travel in Laos: washing our muddy clothes in the river and hanging them on trees to dry, swimming and enjoying a Beer Lao or two in the shade! That night, we fell asleep at 7.30 pm (cool couple) to the sound of falling water - but we think there must have been something funky in the sweet and sour pork we had for dinner because we were sleep talking to each other all night. At this juncture I would like to mention that our bungalow was very basic (I would hate to see it hold up in a storm) and the bedroom was only separated from the squat toilet by a flimsy cotton curtain. I was completely unfazed by this...must be getting tough!

On our last morning, we rose early ready for the longest leg of our trip which would return us to Pakse. Most of this (70 km) was on a dirt road which passes straight through the centre of the Plateau. For the most part, it was an absolutely stunning drive through thick forest (and another waterfall or two!) with barely anyone else around, and no mud! This is surely one of the most beautiful places in Laos. However as we neared Pakse things started looking much worse - the scenery disappeared and the road was paved (or had been, 40 years ago) but was eaten up on all sides and through the centre with the biggest pot holes I have ever seen in my life! There's no way I can describe it...but suffice to say I'm talking 70% pot hole, 30% road (possibly a slight exaggeration I admit but you get the gist). This was the most exciting but least pleasant part of our day - I had to learn (fast) to close my eyes, hold on tight and stay perfectly still so that Jack could ensure our survival! Which he did a very nice job of indeed. We came through unscathed in time to get 10,000 kip off our motorbike price and Indian (we missed it on our intrepid adventure) for lunch!

And that brings me to the present time...for once I am up to date! Next on the itinerary is Champasak - we are lucky enough to be in this part of the country at the exact time that the Wat Phu Champasak Festival is on (which we have been advised is a lot of fun - beer aplenty, Muay Lao boxing and sleeping under the stars with the locals). Afterwards we head to 4,000 Islands, where there is possibly no electricity and almost definitely no internet. So we shall be off the radar for a while but I vow to be diligent in my updates when we reach Bangkok!

Until then: much love, elephants and mud, Tess and Jack xoxoxo




You biker devils!! Thanks for sharing again! Tessa, you have found a talent..great story telling, even if at your own expense!!! Good to see the pic too.
Keep having fun...Hugs from us oxoxoxox

  KnJ Jan 26, 2010 12:29 PM

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