Savannakhet, what can I say. There wasn’t much going on here, but it had quite a bit of French architecture still around. There was a temple that we biked out to that had some of Buddha’s bones there. An important thing for many people in the area. The town can boast for its two room dinosaur museum, where a very energetic lead archeologist gave us a small tour including the back room where they work with bones. In this town could also pick up a delicious sandwiches for cheap, especially if you didn’t mind having pig liver.
Laos has been full of surprises at every turn. We left Savannakhet for Pakse on a local bus. The difference between local and VIP buses is that the local one stops every 100m through a town instead of every few kilometers to see if anyone else needs a ride. Extra money for the driver, and slow progress for the rest of us. As we were getting close to Pakse the bus pulled over at a “bus station” and dumped all the tourists off telling us this was our stop. We were 8km from town and 15km from the bus station. Conveniently a tuk tuk was there and could take us the rest of the way for more than what our bus tickets cost us. With no good choice the nine of us got in and he started down the road until we made it to a gas station where he demanded money so he could get gas. A couple immediately payed up but Megan and I threw up a stink and wouldn’t pay until the end. No one else decided to pay either. After five minutes of arguing most of us unloaded all our stuff to try and find a different ride. The tuk tuk never got gas but took his few people to their destination. We went up to a guy with a pickup truck to see if we could get a ride and he was super nice and helped us out. He wouldn’t even take money for giving us the lift to town. We made our way to the bus station where 20 of us and a motorbike crammed into a tuk tuk that drove us to Ban Nakasang, 3.5 hours. It stormed on us for part of the way so we had a good time just trying to stay dry. Once we made it to our destination we got a ferry to the island and quickly scoured for some food. It was a long day.
We had a nice bungalow on the riverside and enjoyed a nice day in our hammocks reading. Relaxing! Getting up early the following day we hiked over to the neighboring island Don Khone. We made our way to a small beach area with a few restaurants and only one other tourist where we were invited over for a free lunch. The very happy local offered us snails, sticky rice, and hot chilli sauce. Being polite we tried them and I found them pretty tasty, but it was hard to pull them from their shells with a toothpick. The local had a blast talking to us even though we only understood about ten percent of what he sad. The other tourist that looked most excited about the snails ended up taking a boat ride with us to see the Irrawaddy dolphins when a local fisherman offered us a ride considerably cheaper than anything we could have booked. This was pretty amazing. The river was full of eddies and rapids surrounded by lush islands. As you made your way down the river you would see a large group of water buffalo going for a soak, fishermen bringing in a nice catch, or large reed patches swaying to the wind. On the opposite side of the river is Cambodia and all the official tours included a permit to venture into their area, something we didn’t have. When we reached the area where sightings normally occur we were dropped off on a rock in the middle of the river in Cambodia while the fisherman went to get gas. Fortunately we were able to see the dolphins but they were about 100m away. While on this rock we had three other Cambodian tour boats come over and unload a bunch of excited people. The tour operators didn’t care that we weren’t legally there but were concerned we had been abandoned. All the tourists took our pictures as we were clearly more fascinating than rare dolphins that are nearly extinct. Moments later our fisherman was on his way back over. The ride back was nearly more enjoyable than going out. There were times you were speeding through some rapids but at the same time you felt as though you were motionless in speeding water. If anything just the boat ride itself was worth the price. After arriving back at the beach we made our way to the Somphamit waterfalls. This area was like a small canyon with copious amounts of waterfalls, but we could see how it becomes one massively wide waterfall in the wet season. You will have to check out the pictures.
After making our way back to our bungalow a local ran up to us excited telling us they were having a free BBQ next door. Invitation accepted! They had quite the party going, and some delicious grilled pork that was butchered fresh that morning. Makes sense why we heard all the squealing early on. Enjoying ourselves we asked what the occasion was, and all we figured out was that one of the guy’s brother had or did something. He wasn’t even there with us? We were at the pre-party. A couple of hours later we headed to the other side of the island where there were a lot of people and we were the only small group of Westerners. Bit awkward at first. One guy said we first must give a small gift to someone. We were led up some stairs to a balcony where a bunch of old ladies sat next to a small table adorned with flowers, money, food, and other things. I was the first to walk up having no clue what to do, but I got on my knees and put 10,000 kip (about $1.30) into a small gold metal bowl. The ladies put a small flower on it and said something, so I bowed lower folding my hands together in a traditional way of showing respect and saying thank you. Then they handed me a bag full of some kind of food that ended up being ground sweet corn wrapped in sticky rice and then wrapped in a leaf. Everyone else followed in suit. With snacks in hand we made our way to the lawn to have a seat on some bamboo mats. Already stuffed with BBQ we were hoping to just drink, but they ended up serving us tons of food that we had to eat. Food comma! The evening went spectacular as we enjoyed a party we didn’t understand, had good food, beer, and a very unique experience.
We spent another day relaxing, looking for books, and scheduling our next bus ride that took us into Cambodia. We did make it across the border, but found that if we hadn’t had a guide the officers would have been very difficult to deal with, as we witnessed with some others. We had a guide and only cost us $2 more in the end. Had everyone done that we could have shaved a couple of hours off the crossing. Did I tell you how hot it is in the middle of nowhere between to small shacks? We are currently in Phnom Penh, but I will leave the post where it is for now and pickup on the rest later.