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Published: April 18th 2007
Our unfaithful transport from Phonsavan to Paksan
Phonsavan to Pakse
This is what I call “The journey that took 5 years off my life”. It’s right up there with the ride from Manali to Leh in India. Trying to find my way from Phonsavan to Paksen without having to go back to Vientiene, I decided to go against the Lonely Planet’s suggestion of not taking the direct route. I booked my ticket at a local travel agent in Phonsavan. I should have known when he laughed as I put in my order. He told me the trip should take between 7-9 hours. When I asked him what sort of transport I could expect he told me “Sometimes bus, sometimes sawgteaw”.
The next morning I was picked up in front of my guesthouse at 8:00. I was happy to see the French couple, Deene and Greg, from my Plain of Jars tour the day before were also on their way to the bus station, heading to Paksen as well. Our “sometimes bus, sometimes sawgteaw” turned out to be a giant sawgteaw that could seat about 14 comfortably. It was freezing that morning and we put on everything that we had in our rucksacks. We drove about five minutes
Deene and Greg on a cold morning in the windowless sawgteaw
to pick up other passengers in another part of town. They just started packin’ em in. Men, women, children, sacs of rice, a motorbike (where our leg room would have been) and even a coffee table was introduced into the mix later on. In the end there were 30 or more of us in total. I was in the far corner and didn’t have easy access to the outside world. I learned to crawl through the windows, out of the sawgteaw at the lightning speed by the end of the trip.
The first few hours of the trip I was curled over myself to avoid the piercing wind that blew in all directions. We started out on a dirt path, the sawgteaw struggling to make it up the logging roads. A couple hours later, we stopped to have lunch. I don’t know where I thought I was going, but I hadn’t brought a single cookie and my water bottle was almost finished. The Lao sat on the ground to eat. The driver noticing we were lunchless shared his sticky rice and spi-cy! chicken with us.
Hours passed and it was up and down the bumpy, dusty roads. I became friendly
No Elbow Room
Not just a people mover
with the lady sitting next to me. I showed her pictures in my digital camera and taught her how to take pictures with it. She was traveling with her husband, a very old man with bad eyes who wore a traditional Chinese hat and three young boys. Along the way we passed half cut, half burnt forests, a couple villages, a school and not much else. Hours went on and at about 4:00pm we stopped in one of the villages. The driver ordered all the passenger to get out of the sawgteaw while they looked at the tires. He was fiddling with a small part of the inner tire and went off for help. He came back with the verdict which I didn’t understand, but by the reaction of the others (staring at the ground) I figured it wasn’t good. We weren’t goin nowhere.
Perhaps thimking we were more vulnerable than the oehers, the driver had arranged for the French couple and I to stay in the house of his friend. We got our bags and headed toward the house. It looked to be the nicest place in town, a thatched house next to a new, cement modern house.
My New Friend
A portrait of the lovely Lao lady who sat next to me for the two day journey.
The owner, Kotow, invited us in. He talked on and on in Laos, we couldn’t understand a word but he was enthusiastic so we went along with it. The village kids came by to get a look at us and within the next couple hours most of the adult village men had come to catch a glimpse of the new “farang” in town. Greg got his guitar out and started playing for everyone which they seemed to enjoy. He had also brought along some eggs the kids could shake along to the songs.
They asked if we were hungry and suddenly a small table appeared with our dinner. Kotow’s wife had made us a tasty meal of bamboo soup, dried fish and sticky rice. She was such a sweet lady and took care of us just like a grandma would. We chatted a bit more with the villagers and I hit the sac soon after. Some men had stayed late drinking beer and talking all night. I fell asleep immediately despite the noise. The next morning we woke up early and had a breakfast of bamboo soup, dried fish and sticky rice. We packed our stuff and said our good
Our driver trying to get the blue beast up and running again.
byes and thanks to the family.
We got into a different sawgteaw, this one a bit more modern (you couldn’t see the engine through the steering column like the other one). The driver had Laos music blasting as we rode along. Hours passed and we stopped in a bigger village. I thought we had finally gotten to Paksen, nope. We were put into a third sawgteaw for another hour or so. We reached Paksen around 3:00 that afternoon, dirty and exhausted. I was sad to see the lady who had been sitting next to me for the past 14 hours go. She drove off with her three boys (who never uttered a whining word the whole time) and who I assumed to be her elderly father with bad eyes.
The trip was not over yet. The Frenchies and I decided to catch the next bus outta there to Tha Khaek as it was still early. We flagged down the next bus. It was filled to the brim and we had to sit on plastic stools in the aisle for the next four hours. When we got to Tha Khaek we walked to the Tha Khaek Travel Lodge to check in.
A view of the village where we broke down. Don't ask me the name.
I was happy to have a bed and a hot shower. We talked the kitchen into making us tuna sandwiches for dinner as it had gotten so late. We needed our rest because the next day were planning to do The Loop.
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