Vientiane, Pakse and the motorbike tour01/06/2011
Finding new things to do in Vientiane while we needed to be there was going to be difficult. Don't get me wrong, it is a lovely town, with a stunning riverside area looking across the Mekong to Thailand, but there isn't really a huge amount to do or see in the town so after dropping off our passports with the Chinese Embassy we headed out of town to Xieng Khuan, or Buddha Park to us. The Buddha Park is large field that has been filled by a selection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures that were designed and built by one man in 1958. The mixture is bizzare but interesting and there is a large pumpkin-shaped sculpture in the front of the park which we climbed inside and up to the top to overlook the whole park (about an acre - may be a bit bigger). We then headed back to town in order to get our sleeper bus to Pakse and the south of Laos while we waited for our visa applications to be processed.
The night bus looked exciting with its dramatic underlighting and array of coloured lights, and if we thought this might be a good sign to how exciting the south might be, Pakse was going to be a disappointment. We stayed one night in order to get the bike sorted for the tour we planned to do, and generally recover from a night spent on a bus, but honestly there isn't much to say about Pakse other then we had a great Indian dinner there, the best (well, first) since India in fact. The next day we headed out of town on our little Suzuki Smash 110 (hoping the name didn't actually turn out to be an oman), with its upside down gear box. The ride took us first to a beautiful Phasoume waterfall, which has now had an "eco resort" built around it, which basically meant we weren't allowed to swim in the water but did mean we could buy plenty of over priced food and drink. As this resort was mainly aimed at rich Thai tourists it was reassuring to know that it is not just the Western tourists who get overcharged. After this brief but beautiful stop we headed on to Tat Lo and another waterfall, this time one we could swim in and we spent a happy hour soaking in the fast flowing water and under a small part of the fall having our backs massaged by the cascading water.
Day two was a long day on the bike through beautiful countryside. The scenery in this part of the world is dramatic with the limestone mountains we saw in north Laos, all covered in trees and vegetation. The villages seem to be well established and life appeared to be settled and happy for the local people. It felt like quite an honour to travel through these places and observe life there. Lunch was in a place called Sekong where we couldn't find anywhere decent to eat so we ended up eating crisps on the side of the road and trying to avoid sharing it with a rather large lizard who seemed particularly keen on chilli flavoured ones. Attapeu (translates to "buffalo shit" in the local dialects) was our final destination for this day and Attapeu had even less going for it then Pakse or Sekong but it had been a long day so found a guesthouse, got some vietnamese food from a local restaurant (we were about 100kms from the Vietnam border) and had an early night.
The guide book said we should spend the next day exploring the local area so we dutifully headed off to find an old surface to air missile that was nearby and left over from the Vietnam war. This turned out to be closer then we thought and all there was to do there, so having seen off the goats that had made their home on the missile, and inspected it closely we decided to just go on and head for the Bolaven Plateau, which turned out to be a beautiful (although long) ride through spectacle scenery. Finally we arrived at Paksong, the home of Laos coffee and a lovely little town to spend the last night of our southern bike tour, it was also home to the best Lao food we have had so far.
Before returning the bike we decided to use it to go to a Wat near to Pakse called Wat Phu, an ancient Wat built in the 5th century. Unfortunately we had had to be on malaria tablets that make us particularly sensitive to the sun so we arrived hot and sun burnt but after hiding from the elements in the museum we climbed to the top of the monument which is built on the side of a mountain, and looked down across the flatlands, the paddy fields and the great expanse of the Mekong. As impressive as this was though it was time to return to Pakse to return the bike and enjoy another Indian meal before heading down to 4 Thousand Islands early the next morning.