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May 20th 2010
Published: June 2nd 2010
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We arrive in Savannakhet at 4am on the 15th (my birthday) and find ourselves sitting on the side of the road waiting for the guesthouses to open their doors. As dawn sheds it's first light upon this new city we instantly get a good vibe for it despite our exhaustion. Monks in saffron robes collecting their morning alms breathe life in to the deserted streets and soon the city awakes around us.

We enjoy our stay in Savannakhet tremendously! Finally we find a place which has retained it's character as the tour buses pass this unassuming city by and head south to the more popular 4000 Islands. We see only a handful of westerners during our stay and the local people are welcoming and friendly. With renewed high spirits we immediately rent a bike and start exploring.

Journal excerpts:

Ness: "...We arrive in Savannakhet in the early hours and are dropped off on a wide deserted dusty street to wait for the city to awake. On this rare occasion of us being up so early we get to see the locals coming out with their ornate silver dishes to hand out alms to the small processions of monks...."

Tom: "...After an enjoyable first day cruising the crumbling old quarter and exploring backstreets and markets we rest up in a local bar to grab a few Birthday drinks. The local youth scene are welcoming despite our cultural differences. We order a round of the ubiquitous BeerLaos - the only beer on the menu - and watch the steady pace of Laos life pass by on the street accompanied by raucous karaoke...."

Ness: "...Savannakhet is a real surprise to us having not enjoyed most of Laos, we fall in love with this city as it's refreshingly friendly and exists not solely on tourism - so far we have seen only a handful of other farang. We find a bar popular with the locals who overly enjoy their karaoke... We decide to eat here every evening. Walking back to our guesthouse we are hailed by a large Laos family sitting outside their home to eat and drink with them. We regretfully have to decline as our guesthouse has an 11pm curfew, and we don't want to upset our OCD afflicted host, but we are humbled and touched by the friendly offer.

Tom: "...Today we embarked on a
mammoth 240km ride in search of rural Laos life and soon find ourselves traversing dirt roads and mud tracks through remote villages and paddy fields. Flocks of screaming children greet us in every village and adults grin broadly at the spectacle riding past. When we stop to talk the locals are fascinated but friendly which is a welcoming relief from some of the more frosty receptions we have received elsewhere in more touristy Laos. In one village Ness asks the gathering crowd of inquisitive locals if she can take a photo, yet it soon becomes apparent they have not seen a camera, at least not a digital one. Their faces are alight with wonder as Ness shows them their captured images on the tiny screen...
...The sun is setting as we ride though a sacred forest (known locally as the monkey forest). Our poor little map suggests there is a point beyond we can cross the river and find better roads to take us back to Savannakhet. Alas, when we arrive on the high bank we find the rains have swelled the river making it impossible to cross. Luckily a lad with a canoe somehow manages to balance our motorbike in his tiny craft and low in the water we make the crossing. Scrambling up the far bank we push on in the failing light trying to find the main road with growing apprehension...
... We buy petrol from a crude bucket pump outside a roadside shack - which is a great relief - and then directed down a slightly larger dirt road which is apparently the main road back to Savannakhet. It is dark now and the 'road' is full of bovine obstacles and pot holes which makes the going slow. However, eventually we find the familiar tarmac road and make it home to our guesthouse just in time to order dinner from a local bar and a few well deserved BeerLaos...."

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