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13th - 21st March

To Savannakhet by the old boneshaker - not the overnight backpacker bus. I try to avoid travelling overnight if possible - never usually get to sleep - not enough legroom in most buses and the journeys seem to take forever. Memories of Vietnam and Burma.

Bit of a one horse town, Savannakhet - and the horse is looking pretty pissed off. Most of the town seems to be crumbling away and the French colonial buildings are not being restored - unlike Luang Prabang. Such a shame. The Monsoon rains seemed to have arrived early - quite a storm overnight. Climate Change? Though it could just be a one off - like in Pondicherry - the temperature has dropped a bit. Making quite a racket with those corrugated iron roofs.

Decide to move on rapidly to Pakse running out of time on my visa. Men on bus wearing US Army outfits. Bizarre.

The trademark of Nicolas Crane - (Coast presenter) is the rolled up umbrella strapped to his back. Well mine should be one of those electronic tennis rackets used for despatching mosquitoes and other nasties.

A walk around Pakse - languid ambience I think describes it. Rather like a northern Australian town in the Top End. Grid street patterns with wide roads, wattle trees, red and white kerbstones, everything in slow motion, the stifling heat haze (I think the weather pattern is very similar), the flies and mozzies and one of the tidiest towns I've seen in Laos. And from a distance, the Mekong could almost resemble a rather large billabong. But a noticed absence of birds. I do wish they wouldn't kill them all.

Great relaxing in the Sinouk Coffee Shop with my iced Mocha with whipped cream and an apricot pastry - even if it is almost Western prices.

A day out waterfall hunting. Tat Fan - highest waterfall in Laos? 120m - parallel streams on the Bolaven Plateau near Paksong. Couldn't get right down to them - path far too steep and precarious and liable to collapse. Memories of my adventure in the Blue Mountains. Backpacking With A Broken Ankle. Even worse in the wet season apparently - according to LP. Still went a fair way down to another couple of falls. Had them all to myself. Viewpoint at top from Tad Fane Resort.

Then Tat Yuang with its 40m twin torrents. In some ways more impressive and certainly more accessible - lots of bridges over streams and steps down to them. The cicadas screeching again. On the way back crammed into a songthaew with a group of Lao ladies and their furniture. 2 glass display cabinets inside and a larger one on the roof. If the driver broke suddenly, there would have been one hell of a mess.

Wat Phu Champasak

Phu Khuai or Mount Penis - not sure if it's that much of a resemblance. Lao's major Angkor era site, but obviously not on the scale of Angkor Wat. It's not in a particularly good state of repair and some tall trees shroud many of the monuments. Which was a blessing on such a hot and humid day. Some renovation work by Italians and Japanese. Put on World Heritage listing in 2001. Highlights are the Shiva lingam sanctuary at the top and crocodile stone/elephant rock. The steep naga stairway is lined with frangipani, Lao's national tree.

Dancing with monks. Well, not exactly, but at the local wat where they were having a party - with a live Lao band. Copious amounts of Beerlao were consumed.

Then to Don Khong - languid torpor to the point of suspended animation, as animals and people frizzle in the heat of the midday sun. Quaint farmyard scenes with cows, chickens, turkeys and haycarts. Could almost be the Haywain. But then you see buffaloes going for their evening dip, so it certainly isn't Suffolk. Lao People's Democratic Republic - Please Don't Rush is the motto. Peace, Independence, Democracy, Unity, Prosperity.

Rule Number 3 of the Pon Hotel - Do not use the hotel - guest house to be like bars and do not have a man and a woman sleep together in the room that break the Lao Culture. Almost biblical. A rather long-winded way of saying "No co-habitation with the locals."

Boat from Don Khong to Don Det. Southernmost part of Laos, where the Mekong is at its widest. Walk from Don Det to Li Phi Falls (trapped spirits) - a trap for the bad spirits of people and animals, through fields, rice paddies, coconut groves and forest. I don't think it could get much hotter. Some nice river beaches too for swimming. Also trip to Khon Phapheng Falls - largest in S E Asia, a 13km stretch of rapids along the Mekong as it races through to Cambodia. Would be even more impressive in the wet season. It's also a spirit trap. I wonder how many bad souls are imprisoned there.

The French built a bridge and railway connecting Don Khon and Don Det, as a way of transporting goods around the rapids - I don't think it was very successful. But the bridge is still there and they charge foreigners a dollar to cross it.

A coconut shake is a happy shake. Just knock one off the tree. You can't get fresher than that. Big thunderstorm overnight. Heavy downpours for several hours.

By the way, the Reggae Bar in Don Det was great and I can really recommend pumpkin burgers. Very tasty.

Then off to Phnom Penh at 0800 by boat, mini bus and two coaches and arrive at midnight - a six hour delay because the coach broke down and they had to get a replacement. A bit like the old days on the Sisophon to Siem Reap run. Apparently the road is still just as bad. Allegedly Bangkok Airways bribes the Cambodian Government to keep it that way and to keep their business very profitable.


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