Feb 2, 2007

Between Trips

I took a couple of weeks and went down to Pakse to look at a piece of land we were given and then we went down to Ko Samet in Thailand for a touristy type vacation.
Pakse was a nice change from Vientiane, only a few fellow tourists wandering about, the town seemed to have more money or be better taken care of, felt clean and more pretty. After getting a hotel we rented a motorcycle and the four of us piled on Lao style and headed up to Pakson district and Ban Lak Sam Sip Paad. As the name might suggest the town was thirty eight kilometres up from Pakse, just as you get up onto the Boloven Plateau itself.

Gate and flowering tree at headmans house Lak 38

The Boloven Plateau although nothing inspiring is a lot higher and cooler than Pakse. The road rises at a steady rate for all 38 of the kilometres, we could have coasted back to Pakse. The dirt is also noticeably much more fertile than around Vientiane. Right now our land is planted with tea, although most of the neighbouring land is in coffee. It was time to pick and everywhere you looked there were bags of coffee, and people drying coffee in their front yards.
The big bragging point of our land is that it’s just up the road from the only viewing point for Tad Fan, one of the biggest waterfalls in Laos. It’s actually two falls which makes it even prettier somehow. There is one very expensive guest house with bungalows for forty dollars a night and up. I think it’s called the Tad Fan Resort. They also own the trail with access to view the falls. I took this picture from the front porch of the reception restaurant area.

Tad Fan

I really don’t know how to give it perspective. The falls themselves are probably two hundred feet in height. The English speaker working at the guest house that I talked to said he didn’t know of anyone who had walked to the bottom and that it was a full days walk just to get to the bottom of the canyon. I wonder. One of these days I’ll have to check it out.
Our land is about a five minute walk from the resort. I guess on the weekend there is a tremendous amount of Thai tour busses. Just outside the entrance is a whole market full of shacks selling useless trinkets and a couple selling soft drinks and chips. Amazing how people feel the need to buy things when they go places.
I have no idea what we will do with five thousand meters of overgrown tea bushes up on the Boloven Plateau. I have no desire to build a guest house and without someone there to watch the house it’s useless to build something. So if anyone wants a nice piece of land in Southern Laos let me know.
The next day we went to Ubon in Thailand and it felt like entering another world. Everything seemed rich and modern. The first thing we did while waiting for a connecting bus to Rayong was to eat ourselves sick on Thai food. It felt amazing that you could just go into a restaurant at a bus station and get any food you wanted.
The night bus to Rayong seemed like a never ending journey of driving down the wrong side of the road on a modern highway. Less than twenty four hours after leaving Pakse we stepped off the ferry and were on Samet. Sengthian hadn’t felt like dilly dallying.
The part I liked best about the island was this tree. It’s mai yang, a very common tree used for lumber all over. This is a big one. I figured the trunk was still three feet thick in places at eighty feet where the branches spread out. There were about twenty trees in this patch. Too bad the island wasn’t covered.

Mai Yang

I wasn’t so impressed with Ko Samet. It was fun swimming in the salt water every day but that’s about it. Food didn’t seem inspiring, and the bungalows were too pricey. Twenty five dollars for something that’s just ok seemed like quite a bit. The bungalows are jam packed onto the beach and the road is hardly walkable from the sawngthaews drag racing up and down it all day. The taxi mafia is in force, as a matter of fact there seemed to be a lot of price fixing on the island. Motorcycles were double price as was the internet, all prices were noticeably the same everywhere. Seven Eleven which probably has prices set by some anonymous corporate headquarters was half the price on most things and very busy. Lots of trash everywhere.
Oh, and all this was taking place in a protected national park. Like they say the finest people money can buy. The redeeming part was that there were a lot of Thais there on vacation from Bangkok. An interesting mix with the half dressed Europeans. I personally had no problem with topless twenty something Swedish girls. Most Thai girls were swimming in shorts, and usually a thick tee shirt. My son is very good at befriending beautiful Thai girls and I asked them what they thought of the near nakedness of the Euros. They didn’t mind at all, just wondered why the girls didn’t feel shy.

Fishing Boat, sorry no topless pictures

The day before we left a middle aged Thai woman went up the beach making all the girls cover up, they left, and people put out their cigarettes, and she also hit up people for money to clean up the beach. An older solo tourist beach type guy told me the woman was one of the original inhabitants of the island and owned half the beach, he said he was very tuned in to the local situation and knew these things. I asked our bungalow owner and she laughed. Said the lady was a drunk who liked to get money out of people and had lived there less than 15 years just like everyone else. Said no one owned the beach, all bungalows were on rented land.

Thai Tourists and big Mai Yang