|About to pass a truck load of monks, heading south on Route 13|
It was Saturday so there were few workers around, but everybody seemed happy for as to wander where we pleased. In England you cannot visit a place of work without presenting yourself at reception, signing in, having a ‘visitor’ badge hung round your neck and being escorted everywhere, all in the name of ‘security’ (an industry whose main object is to make people worried about their security, thus persuading them they need more security). In Laos people smile at you, and once you have smiled back you are taken on trust.
As the sign says, salt can be extracted by boiling the brine in large vats…..
|Salt piled up like snow, Natuay Salt Factory, near Savannnakhet|
|Kaysone Phomvihane on the 2,000Kip note, worth a little less than 20p|
A little to the east of the city we detoured to That Ing Hang, a much-revered 16th century stupa (though locals claim it is much older) allegedly enshrining part of the Buddha’s back bone.
|That Ing Hang, Savannakhet|
|Demon, That Ing Hang, Savannakhet|
|Boldly going where no woman |
|Offerings, That Ing Hang, Savannakhet|
|Buddha images, That Ing Hang, Savannakhet|
|Barbecued chicken, spicy bean salad and sticky rice - but no rat.|
When we finished, the woman in charge offered me a glass of
rice whisky. She was, I think, motivated partly by hospitality, but few Lao can
resist the opportunity to reduce a rich westerner to a spluttering red-faced
heap. ‘What about me?’ Lynne asked, feeling she had already endured enough
sexism for one day. Ironically the request for equal treatment was only taken
seriously when it came through me. Lao women do not drink, a least not in
public, so there was a minor taboo to be broken.
When she has finished making the salad she will offer me a rice whisky!
I had somehow acquired a small audience as I sniffed at the brown liquid in the shot glass and took a small sip. It was not strongly flavoured or very alcoholic, around 30% I thought, so I downed the rest in one, to murmurs of approval from the watchers and maybe just a little disappointment. Lynne drank hers in a steady and more ladylike manner.
We drove on through sugar plantations, and past stands of cassava, banana, rubber and teak. The ascent to the Bolaven Plateau was so gradual we hardly noticed it. 600m above river level, it is a cooler land of rice and coffee plantations with greener trees and fewer palms.
|On the Bolaven Plateau|
After a long day’s driving we reached Tad Lo around 3 o’clock. Tad Lo is a waterfall (‘lo’ is Lao for ‘waterfall’), but there is also a hamlet and a tourist lodge where we checked in and said goodbye to Phim and his driver who were returning to Vientiane.We took a walk round the extensive grounds to view the waterfall above the lodge….
….the rapids below….
|I don't know why I chose to stand here, but at least I did not fall in this time|
|The elephant takes a bath, Tad Lo|
….and then hopped off to let it enjoy the water.
|The elephant bathing|
|Lumbering obediently onto the bank, Tad Lo|
|A local man takes his bath, Tad Lo|
….while as dusk fell a group of monks arrived for their evening ablutions.
On the plateau the evening was cool and for the first time since leaving Bangkok I put on a pair of long trousers. Back in the main lodge we enjoyed a glass of pastis before dining on fish with lemon sauce and chips (Lynne) and pork with lemongrass and garlic (me).
Thailand and Laos
Part 1: Bangkok and the Train North
Part 3: Across Isan to the Lao Border
Part 12: Ayutthaya, Another Minor Disaster and the King and I
Part 13: Kanchanaburi, the Bridge on the River Kwai and Hellfire Pass
Part 14: Following the Mae Klong to Samut Songkhram and the Gulf of Thailand
Part 15: Cha Am and the Thai Way of Beach