Saturday, 29 January 2011

Don't go to Savannakhet

Friday 28th January 2011

MP3 track of the day: Who let the dogs out - baha men

Weather: Hot, but breezy

Unfortunately the night coached arrived in Savannakhet bang on time. I had slept reasonably well on the coach, catching I think five hours or so however here I was, at 5am, not sure what to do. The two British girls and I collected out stuff and I had a quick check … everything seemed to be there. We then decided to wait until at least until the sun was up before walking into town.

The girls plan wasn't to stay a night in Savannakhet but instead to spend the day here and then catch another night bus to Pakxe. However that whole plan went up in smoke when the only bus to Pakxe was at 7:00am each day; they reluctantly purchased a ticket for tomorrow morning and we all went into town to find somewhere to sleep. The walk was long and not very pretty; my guidebook stated that 'Savannakhet was the Louang Phabang of the south' and I can confirm that it certainly isn't. The architecture isn't as much French as it is run down, with the over use of concrete being very apparent, and a feel of a dry, dusty, urban mess. We passed a lot of stray dogs and cats (one of which was dead on the pavement) until we found a guesthouse ... but it was full. A little further on we found another guesthouse having a three bed-room dorm for 60,000 kip per night (20,000 each … £1.60). As they were only staying one night tomorrow I shall move into a single room which is 40,000 kip per night … which is half the price of Vientiane … so far so good.

Once our bags were in our room we went in search of breakfast, which was harder that any of us imagined. We almost saw the entire city in our hunt for breakfast which, in the end, resulted in the girls getting a coffee and I continuing the search at a later time. The girls headed back to the bus station, as they wanted to get a local bus out of the city to see some ruins of a 'wat' or something (plus their ticket to Pakxe tomorrow has today's date on it), whereas I wanted to see the city itself. I wished them well for the day as I headed back into town.

15,000 kip (£1.25) was very expensive for a bread roll, with butter and jam, however I was tired of searching for food … plus the bread in Laos is amazing. Once eaten I then started my tourist route of the town by heading north to visit a 'Wat', followed by a fountain and then another 'Wat'. The 'Wats' where actually pretty good … sure they were just the same as the thousands I had already seen however with the lack of tourists, and better surrounds, the photos came out a lot better. The fountain was difficult to find but once found I took a few shots ... a little gutted that it wasn't on.

I then headed south, following the riverfront road, into the middle of the city, where I took photos of another 'Wat' and a Christian Church. I then went and visited the south of the city by viewing, surprise, surprise another 'Wat' and finding the guesthouse that I was planning on staying at (which was the same price as where I am now). It was 11:30am by the time I had finished walking around the city and I wondered if I really needed three nights here; on my trip I had seen two dead dogs lying on pavements, I had hundreds of street dogs following me (I don't want rabies) and rubbish everywhere. Plus it's difficult to find food and internet access here … oh and, yet again, nothing seems to work. However the people are lovely; I've only been in Savannakhet six hours and I've chatted to quite a few local adults and children … oh plus one monk (about football). Plus there was a reason that I had come and that was to find a tour to the 'Ho Chi Minh Trail'.

It seems that within Laos, instead of purchasing a ticket on a tour, you have to purchase the whole tour and then divide it between the number of people going. This proves to be a little bit of a problem for me as I'm usually the only one going - that I know of - and so when the tour operator told me that it would cost me 6,000 baht (£120.00) for tomorrow – as no one else had shown an interest – I nearly died. Walking out of the tour office I went onto the main street and looked left, and then right. There seemed to be very few tourists here and so the likely hood of a tour to the trail filling up for tomorrow, or the day after, would be extremely slim. I hadn't admitted defeat just yet; I decided to visit Savannakhet's tourist information center. However this was closed for lunch (it gave instructions to see another shop, however that was closed for renovations) and so I decided to come back later. If I get told the same thing as the tour operator told me than I'll leave here tomorrow, with the two British girls, to Pakxe as I don't really like it here.

I went back to the guesthouse to find the girls in the room. Their day had been as successful as mine; they had found out that there wasn't any buses to the ruins of the 'wat' and that you cannot pre-book bus tickets to Pakxe (they did manage to get a refund, for the tickets they had purchased today, which was very lucky indeed). I told them that I was thinking of going to Pakxe tomorrow as well ... due to taking a tour, to the Ho Chi Minh trail, seeming very unlikely. They replied by saying that the only bus to Pakxe is at 7:00am and I would have to be at the bus station by 6:00am to be guaranteed a ticket … another early morning them.

I looked at my watch and headed out to the tourist office, as it should be open by now. I went in but it was still closed; inquiring further the tourist information office was closed today due to all staff being in a meeting (sounds like my local council) and it wouldn't be open over the weekend either. I gave up. I decided to knock the Ho Chi Minh trail on the head and leave tomorrow. This place was starting to annoy me now and the damn street dogs were still following me.

As there was nothing left to do I found an internet cafe to Google accommodation within Pakxe before heading to the waterfront to watch the sunset. I met the two girls for dinner at 6pm and we all went back to our guesthouse to sleep by 8:30pm.

So Phonsavan was too cold, Vang Vieng too western, Vientiane too expensive and Savannakhet too full of stray dogs. I need to spend time somewhere and so I'm hoping that either Pakxe or the 'Four Thousand Islands' make a good retreat. If not then I've rang out of Laos!

Toodle Pip!

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