In the fields rice was being harvested. ‘In the old days it was done by hand,’ Phim remarked, ‘but now they use machines.’ Ten kilometres of flashing sickles later we decided this must still be the old days.
|Our day's journey from the city of Vientiane to the hamlet of Sala Hin Boun|
|Wat Phabat Phonsan|
There is no evidence the Buddha ever visited Laos but devout Buddhists have managed to find his footprints all over the country and the Sim behind the unusual square stupa stands over such a footprint.
|Sim, Wat Phabat Phonsan|
|Painted interior, Wat Phabat Phonsan|
|A tributary on its way to the Mekong|
|A line of dried fish stalls along Route 13|
Our eye was caught by a small temple with an outsize Naga Buddha. This popular image commemorates a time when the Buddha was meditating beneath a tree and a storm blew up. Mucalinda the seven-headed king of the serpents came up from the roots of the tree to shield him from the rain.
|Coffee shop, Paksan, now hiding behind our minibus|
|A cup of coffee and a glass of tea, Paksan|
We asked Phim where we were. ‘Bolikhamxai,’ he said. My map has a province of that name, but not a town. I think we were in Paksan, Bolikhamxai’s small capital – not to be confused with the much larger Pakse 450km further south.
|Monk buying his groceries, Ban Ton Na Mae|
|Roadside eatery, Junction of Route 13 and Route 8|
|Good noodle soup - and a chilli to nibble|
|Jagged mountain to the south|
We drove over the next ridge and descended to where a modern bridge crossed the Kadding River, one of the Mekong’s main tributaries in Laos. The driver pulled up just over the bridge and Phim led us down the bank to the water’s edge. Suddenly all was clear, we had heard bombotes correctly enough, but had never imagined there were such things as bomb boats.
|Bomb boats on the Kadding River|
|My Dr Strangelove moment by the Kadding River|
|Across the plateau to Sala Hin Boun|
The entrance to the Auberge Sala Hin Boun was a little way beyond the gap. At the end of a short drive was a selection of wooden buildings on stilts, not all in the best condition, sitting among trees and unkempt grass. The place had an air of dereliction.
The beer was cold and the food was all right, but all chillies had been withheld - the received wisdom being that Europeans do not like chillies – so it was rather bland.
|Premium Lao Whisky, Sala Hin Boun|
It is easy to understand how unimportant you are in the great expanse of the universe. It also made me think of the ancient Greeks sitting round the embers of their fires with too much wine inside them, telling each other stories of the constellations and placing their heroes among the heavens.
Thailand and Laos
Part 1: Bangkok and the Train North
Part 3: Across Isan to the Lao Border
Part 14: Following the Mae Klong to Samut Songkhram and the Gulf of Thailand
Part 15: Cha Am and the Thai Way of Beach