It’s about 5.30 am and there is the first glimmer of light in the sky. I would have liked to have slept for a little longer but there is a rooster outside welcoming the new day and I am wide awake. I have stayed overnight on Khong Island which is the biggest island on the Mekong (certainly in Laos), measuring some 3 km wide and over 60 km long.
Yesterday, I flew from Vientiane to Paxse in the south of Laos. An uneventful flight on a French built ATR72 aircraft. Vientiane’s airport is very sad with one departure lounge and about three security stations where the travel police check your passport, boarding pass and then ensure that your name is on the flight manifest. At least it has an air conditioner (of sorts) but the Laos TV in the corner did not have much to offer.
Paxse was a French administrative centre during the colonial days and is one of the major old colonial towns in Laos. I didn’t get to see much of it as my travel schedule seems to be built around a full day of activity but my flight didn’t arrive until just after 12.30 pm. I was whisked away by my guide very quickly to begin my tour.
We began with a 1 1/2 hour boat ride down the Mekong River. We were delayed for a few minutes as the boatman needed some extra fuel. I expected a truck to arrive with some gas but true to Asian form, two men appeared on a motor cycle carrying a 20 litre plastic bottle. Once that was poured into the fuel tank we were away with the usual clatter and clank of a diesel boat engine. The river here is very wide and there were long stretches of fast water in between rocky outcrops. There were a lot of plastic bottles with clusters of bamboo poles attached to them that I thought were buoys marking fishing nets but my guide told me that they were marking the channel. We continuously meandered backwards and forwards across the river to stay in the deepest water.
In a little village we transferred back to the car to head for our first stop which was at Wat (Temple) Phou. This was an old Khmer temple and built in the 5th Century – the same time as Angkor Wat. It is a lot more dilapidated but is being restored by the French and Indian Governments. It has a long cremonial approach road with a palace on either side (one for men and the other for women). Further on and up a hill is the temple itself. The site sits under a sacred mountain, on top of which is a Hindu shrine dating back to the 3rd Century.
From there we drove for about 40 minutes back to Paxse, crossed the Mekong on a high bridge and drove south for about 2 1/2 hours towards Khong Island. It was very rural with rice farms and lots of areas covered in forest. I could see a number of plantations with trees planted in rows and I understand that these are Teak plantations. This area is very near the Thai border and there were lots of fuel tankers and heavy traffic travelling through the area towards Vietnam.
Just as the sun was lowering in the sky, we reached a rickety old ferry on which we crossed back over the Mekong River to the island. Somehow,they squeezed our car on and we clanked across to the other side. We could see rain falling in the distance and just as we reached our hotel we had thunder, lighting and a sharp downpour of rain.
I braved the rain to across the road to the restaurant which is situated right above the river and enjoyed a nice bottle of wine with a very nice couple from Belgium.
It hasn’t been as hot here as I thought. The weather forecasts that I had been looking at on the Internet were showing temperatures around 38C degrees, but I think that it has been just a little cooler than that – perhaps low to mid 30’s..
Well, the rooster has stopped crowing, but there is now a local bus stopped right outside my room with a very noisy engine. I wouldn’t have had much extra sleep anyway. So now, I’m off to get ready for breakfast and my day’s activities. Somehow with my itinerary changes, I missed out on an elephant ride yesterday.Perhaps I will fit it into today!