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Published: January 24th 2013
We were really looking forward to the challenge of taking a local Lao bus. In Indonesia and China we took plenty of local transportation and loved it. Our hopes weren't set to high and expected a crowded, hot, long drive. We were able to barter with a few tuk-tuks in Vientiane to get a good enough price for one-way to the south bus station which is about 10km out of town – our alternative would have been to catch a local city bus for much cheaper but we would have needed to walk a kilometre or so with our packs. When we arrived at the bus station we were able to get a bus right away and it was not at all what we had expected. It was a real sized bus (compared to the mini-buses we had taken through Northern Laos). Of course they were still packing chickens and motorbikes into the storage but that was normal to see by now. We never really got to stop for a lunch break on the bus; instead every hour or so the bus would stop and ladies selling BBQ'd chicken, sticky rice, green mangoes, drinks etc would come on the bus and
roots growing from the limbs and a palm tree through the middle... wild!
ride along for about 20 minutes before getting dropped off again. Instead of bathroom breaks, the bus would pull over and while the men got off and pulled their pants down beside the bus, the women would find a shrub to hide behind. This is why we love local buses! There was Lao music videos and music playing the majority of the drive and we would have expected nothing less.
6 and a half hours later we were at the Tha Khaek bus station. Once again we had to argue with the tuk-tuk mafia to get a reasonable price to get into town. The tuk-tuk driver's in Laos are horrible. Our first quote to get into town (2km away) was 60,000 Kip. We paid that much to get from Vientiane! Anyway, we got a tuk-tuk into the town centre since we hadn't booked a room in advance. After grabbing some food and walking around for a bit we weren't having much luck. There is only about three places to stay near the river and they are quite over priced for what you get. We pulled out our guidebook and got a tuk-tuk driver to drive us to a place
we didn't really want to go. The Thakhek Travel Lodge is the typical backpacker guesthouse. It has a monopoly over the whole town. Locals don't like it because everyone always stays there and that is why we wanted to avoid it – we would rather give our money to a local business owner. Unfortunately Tha Khaek isn't working all that hard to build up its westerner tourism industry and the Travel Lodge is the most affordable and backpacker welcoming place in town. The rooms are extremely basic, but clean. The staff is used to having westerners around and obviously expects most of the local tourism money so depending on who you talk to they can be friendly or arrogant.
We hung out around the guesthouse for the evening. They have a small fire pit that everyone kind of congregates around at night and we had some nice conversations with other travellers. The next day we went out to see what the rest of the town had to offer. Determined not to give the Travel Lodge anymore of our money, we walked to the morning market for food and then headed into town. It's about 2 and a half kilometers
from the lodge to town centre by the river but with Tyler's foot getting better every day it wasn't that bad of a walk. The town really isn't very attractive. It generally looks run down and dirty (as do many Laos towns) but the dirty part is actually caused by all the dust; Laos is very dusty in the dry season. When you approach the river however, the city comes to life. There are many restaurants along the river with seating right on the river side that have views of Thailand directly across the Mekong. Street vendors set up around the fountain in the evening and the buildings are quite picturesque. When we came into town we grabbed a fruit shake and sat by the river. After relaxing a bit we walked along the river and through a couple of small streets. It was a beautiful sunny day. While there isn't all that much to see or do in town, we spent the entire afternoon wandering around; we had a coffee, enjoyed a meal, drank a beer and watched the sunset. The sun set right over Thailand. Just as the sky started to change colours some clouds came in to
cover what we were hoping would be another great sunset. Luckily just before it set the sun poked out the bottom of those clouds. It looked like an eye in the sky between the Thailand horizon and the looming clouds above.
As soon as the sun set it got fairly chilly so we caught a tuk-tuk back to the Travel Lodge. Our evening was another quiet one. The next morning we were up for a big travel day to Tad Lo, a town and three waterfalls.
Xoxo Ty+Becs traveller tip: Tha Khaek is most commonly used as a base or stopping point on “The Loop”. If you are planning on just staying one night on your journey Travel Lodge is perfectly situated on the main highway and is really convenient in that situation. However, if you want to see any of the town itself (which we highly recommend) then stay in town. There are only a couple of guesthouses/hotels but it's a much nicer atmosphere. The street vendors of course come out around sunset and it's a wonderful place to have a meal or drink by the river.
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