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January 24th 2009
Published: January 27th 2009
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Saturday 24th

We had breakfast and intended getting the local bus outside our guest house to Pakse - about 40km away. As we paid the owner our bill the bus sped past early. He said not to worry as he'd take us to the ferry to catch the bus up. This he did but the bus was already departing on the Heath Robinson catamarran that passes for a car ferry. All the locals know each other and the owner phoned the bus driver on his mobile to wait for us on the other bank. Meanwhile we boarded a small bodge of a ferry with two motorbikes and a few pedestrians. To say Jen was not keen to get on would be an understatement but with a little cajoling she got on. It was a bit unsteady but we made it across and the bus was waiting. It was a great local bus - we were the only foreigners. The bus roof was entirely full of chickens in cane crates and once we clambered aboard we had to climb over sacks of rice to get to our seats. We were of considerable interest to the locals. One little girl just couldn't take her eyes off us. The bus was an ancient old Japanese hand me down but it sped along quite happily, if noisily. It was a fascinating journey surrounded by these colourful locals. This is what I had hoped to experience in South East Asia. If only we could communicate other than with gestures - but the language barrier is insurmountable on such a short visit. We pulled into the southern bus terminal of Pakse. As seems commonplace in S.E.Asia the bus stations are miles out of town so we had to climb into a crowded sawngthaew which is simply a small truck with two rows of wooden seats in the back for the 12km ride to town. At a market a moto rider tried to persuade us that it was necessary to swap to a moto and continue the journey but we ignored this scam. The sawngthaew took many side roads to drop off locals but eventually we were dropped off outside our chosen guest house. Luckily they had room and we collapsed in our room. Pakse is a bit of a travel hub and many westerners pass through. We checked out the town and were surprised how slow things are compared with say Phnom Penh. The motorists and mopeds even seem to obey the few traffic signals. (Generally there is far less traffic in Laos compared with Cambodia so crossing the road is a far less dangerous undertaking). We found a café for our usual mid morning shake or fruit juice. The heat was again high but for a short period dark clouds gathered and I thought that I might see my first raindrop since New Year's Eve, but they dispersed without any precipitation. We came upon a modern shopping centre but most of the units were empty. We had a bizarre experience. We went into a reasonable sized and stocked supermarket but were literally the only customers. We were outnumbered by the about 10 staff. It is always interesting to see what these foreign supermarkets have on their shelves. I bought another bottle of the BeerLao Dark for later consumption. We lazed away the afternoon having consumed the beer. We used a cash machine with some trepidation as a westerner told us outside another machine that he knew of three occasions when people's cash had not appeared despite the receipt saying it had. Luckily our machine worked for us but the limit is very low (70,000 kip = £65) and charges for each transaction. Only the very big towns have ATM's so getting to your cash is a major problem in Laos. We had a good Indian meal at Nazim's. Part of the entertainment is watching the boss prepare Indian breads and pancakes on a griddle at the front on the street. We watched him prepare a banana pancake as a takeaway for a little girl and it looked so good that we had one ourselves as a sweet course.


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