The tuk-tuk drivers waiting at bus stations are, in and of themselves, somewhat of a tourist trap. By that, I mean their prices are simply higher than if you were to flag down a driver in any other area of a town or city. I don’t know if it’s the same for locals, but a theme Teresa and I came across quite a bit was local prices vs. tourist prices. I thinks it’s all good…after all, on average, most tourists probably have and/or make quite a bit more money than most locals in Southeast Asia and when it comes to visiting places like heritage sites, I think the locals have every right to get discounted prices, or not be charged at all, to visit their own cultural monuments, museums, etc. Imagine, though, living in Canada and seeing a sign that says: “Museum entry: Canadians/Americans = $2, Foreigners = $10”. It would be a public relations disaster.
But back to bus station tuk-tuk drivers. The bus driver who took us from Thakhek to Pakse dropped us off at a station miles from town. As usual, we were swarmed by drivers looking to take us in for a nominal fee. We couldn’t negotiate a price we liked, so we started to walk, much to the amused glee of the locals who stood around watching this interaction take place. For us, it was just a matter of principle: we’d rather walk than be swindled for double the price something ought to be.
After a couple of kilometers in the typically sweltering heat, we finally saw another driver who took us in for a more reasonable fee. I’m usually good with maps, but I got my directions messed up and we ended up getting dropped off at the wrong bridge, causing us to walk around in circles for about an hour before finding a guesthouse.
Again, we found a significant Vietnamese influence down here in the south of Laos and our guesthouse owner could converse with Teresa fluently in their language. This is always welcome when it is often very frustrating trying to communicate when each party knows few or no words of the other’s language. We actually met an older lady who told us that trying to understand us hurt her head a lot, until it was discovered that she, too, spoke Vietnamese and could talk to Teresa, a big smile on both of their lovely faces. I noticed that sharing the same language is also good for getting better deals on whatever it is you happen to purchase; people seem to be more willing to give you a bargain when they can relate to you better.
Pakse was another one of those places that I just loved. Situated on the Mekong, there are a lot of riverside restaurants and great fish selection everywhere we went.
I learned to ride a standard gear motorbike here as well; it was all they had. The young guys who ran the shop we rented from gave me a quick lesson for free on how to shift gears and how to break with your feet at the same time (it’s only a hand-break on the automatic bikes). I ended up enjoying riding standard a lot more, and it’s actually cheaper to rent standard bikes compared to automatic. Pakse is a small town with a lot of beautiful surrounding countryside to explore.
I remember a lot of stray dogs here as well, but not necessarily dirty looking. There was this one golden retriever mix that we fed at a little restaurant we dined at. Afterwards, it followed us everywhere we went as we walked through the town. We went into an internet café and it came right in and sat at our feet as we attempted to upload photos with the brutally slow internet connection. It was actually really sad, but I guess no one had fed it in a while so it decided to cling to us after our offerings until we finally shook it off a few hundred meters down the street, Teresa with a tear in her eye.
The first night, we walked along the Mekong, taking in the beautiful skyline and the surrounding flora. For some reason, the sunsets here were phenomenally beautiful almost every evening for the five days we spent here.
It was quiet and peaceful, a perfect place to cruise around. Champasak province, a little further south, was a very accessible landscape with some amazing cultural entities that we were extremely privileged to enjoy in the days to come. I probably drove more here than anywhere else in Asia so far and it really gave us an indication of how far we could get on a little 3-liter tank.
As a non-religious man, I was amazed to see this image appear in the sky and wondered how many others in Pakse it struck as they gazed upwards, regardless of their spiritual loyalties:
It always seems to be high up, towards the seemingly unobtainable, but very real cosmos that my imagination begins to run wild and my awe is ever piqued. The skies above Pakse provided my being with no less.