MP3 track of the day: Littlest Hobo
Weather: hot, but still breezy ... and freezing at night
My alarm went off at 4:45am; I had a beautiful nights sleep, much better than I thought I was going to get, and so I wasn't massively tired when I awoke. We were all ready to go at 5:00am, however the guesthouse wasn't ready to let us go. The main door was padlocked and so to was the side gate. I was already to try to hunt for the owner when one of the British girls said “... well, looks like we'll have to jump the gate...”
“...What!...” I cried, trying not too look like too much of a wimp in front of the ladies. I was searching for a good, and plausible, reason not to jump the gate (like lets see if we can find the owner) but it was too late, one girl was already on the other side and the bags were being passed over. The second girl got over with ease and then it was my turn. I put one foot on a stool we had found to help us up, and then one foot on a ledge handily attached to the gate. I went for it … and failed. I tried again and straddled the gate before swinging my other leg over and jumping to the ground. I have to be honest that I didn't achieve the operation with much dignity or style. To make matters worse, as I was straddling the gate, I looked back towards the guesthouse to see the owner coming towards me … we must have made quite a bit of noise.
I picked up my bags and then we all walked towards the bus station. It was a very cold morning therefore I was wearing my coat, which I thought was odd considering how far south I had come recently. I looked at my right hand to notice that I had cut it whilst climbing the gate (actually 'cut' is a quite strong word to use; there's a pin-prick in the middle of my hand less than a millimeter wide … it still hurts though!) and I was glad that I had taken my tetanus injection before I had left the UK.
We arrived at the bus station, purchased our tickets, and went in search of breakfast. Bread-roll with condensed milk or without. I didn't quite like the sound of bread with sweet sticky condensed milk and so I opted for just bread and put it in my carrier bag, along with a bottle of water that I had already purchased … bread and water, Savannakhet's best, and only food.
The bus left on time almost empty. The girls had brought their bags onto the bus, paranoid about their stuff being stolen mid-trip, and so I did the same. The only problem was that their bags were a lot small than mine, resulting in them being able to lie there's on the floor in front of them with their feet on top. Mine wouldn't lie down and so I stood mine up, to the right of me, hoping that the bus would remain empty so that I could keep my other possessions on the seat next to me.
This was my first 'local bus' within South East Asia and it certainly was an experience. Firstly, as we were driving through Savannakhet, I began to notice that I could actually walk faster than this vehicle was moving. I reckoned that the world did indeed spin faster than the 7:00am bus from Savannakhet to Pakxe; I immediately had flash backs of the Romanian trains I traveled on two years ago. To make matters even more comical the bus lurched forward every three seconds or so, like the driver was continually pressing the break pedal before letting it go just as quickly. It was at this point that two conclusions entered my head; firstly that I would arrive in Pakxe sick and that secondly Pakxe was only three miles away as, with the speed we were doing, that's how far we would go in five hours … the allotted time for this service.
Once out of the city the speed increased and the lurches decreased. However the bus stopped frequently; it appears that local buses don't have bus stops … all you do is wait at the side of the road, with your hand out, and the bus will break from 30KM per hour, then reverse back towards you because 2,000 meters of tarmac wasn't enough clearance for it to stop in time, before finally picking you up. Over a short period the bus became quite full and I had to surrender my spare seat and put my other bags on my knees. Luckily it was a child that sat next to me so I could spread out a little. All sorts of weird and wonderful luggage came aboard; my favorite was a guy who had brought a live cockerel with him. This bird must have been through a few time zones recently as it didn't start calling until 11:15am.
I put my MP3 player on and squeezed into my allotted space as best as I could, however the stops didn't … err stop. An hour out of Savannakhet we stopped for the local village women to come on board with piles of food and drinks within their hands trying to sell them (the meat looked good, however you could tell that it hadn't been cooked recently). The strange thing here was that one woman would aboard the bus and be unsuccessful selling her products; then another woman would come aboard, with the exact same goods, hoping for a different outcome but getting the same (If I didn't want the fried chicken from the first lady, why would I purchase it now?). There were other women, outside the bus, trying to sell goods through the windows, which reminded me of Fiji. The driver then blasted his horn and moved on … only to stop twenty minutes later for the same process to repeat, within another village, while he went for a cigarette. Am I ever going to get to Pakxe, I thought to myself.
I was a little conscious about the time; I really wanted to arrive within Pakxe no later than midday as finding a guesthouse after that gets difficult. After a toilet break, and another food stop, I looked at my watch to see that 12:00pm had been reached. Fortunately, after another thirty minutes, we arrived at Pakxe bus station. Just like most other places within South East Asia the bus station was miles out of town (further than the airport) and so we squeezed onto a tuk-tuk at the cost of 20,000 kip (£1.75) per person. We were the last three to board the tuk-tuk and so we had to sit on the back with the road beneath our feet (it's amazing how many people they will try to fit into a tuk-tuk) holding onto our bags for dear life.
We were dropped off near 'Sabaidy 2' guesthouse, which was the one my guidebook recommended. 25,000 kip (£2.00) for a very clean dorm bed, with hot showers, was more than welcome and I felt lucky that I had managed to secure a place this good as it's normally full. The girls and I went for lunch before they went off exploring (as they want to move on tomorrow) where as I went back to the guesthouse to chill for a while.
Getting itchy feet I finally went out, to sight-see around the city, at around 4pm. I went to look at a hotel which my guidebook described as a 'hideous concrete building shaped like a giant wedding cake' … however I quite liked it. Heading out of town I visited a 'wat' (recently my day wouldn't be complete unless I had visited a 'wat'), a Chinese temple, a war memorial and a very modern 'arty' building still being finished off. As I looked around two things became very apparent. Firstly the landscape had changed dramatically from the lush forested mountains of the north to a more dessert dry plains feel. As I looked around I saw piles of sand built up along the side of the road. The second, slightly odd thing, that I noticed were the buildings erected within this city. I'm standing with a very posh hotel in front of me and a brand new architecturally artist building behind me. Pakxe seems to be just as developed as the capital and yet I can't understand why. Pakxe doesn't have any outstanding tourist sites and it's not a major city; the only thing Pakxe has going for is that it is Laos' closest major city to the Thai, Cambodian and Vietnam borders and that's it. I wondered if that was enough to warrant the high quality of development that I saw before me.
As I walked back into town I bumped into the two British girls and we exchanged notes about Pakxe. I then proceeded to an internet cafe where I spend three hours (yes count them, three hours) getting up to date with the world, mainly uploading all of my photos from Vang-Vieng onwards. I also managed to book my F1 Shanghai race ticket.
The problem with booking my ticket previously was that I needed an address for them to post my ticket to. As race tickets aren't normally printed until two, to four, weeks before the race I had no idea where I was going to be at that time. I emailed 'BookingF1.com' to explain the situation and they said not to worry, when they had my ticket they would email me and I could give them an address. I purchased a seat in a stand, right near corner one (due to it being a long corner, the cars should be going quite slowly around here so therefore I should get a great opportunity to get a few photos of Hamilton … though I will need a new Mclaren hat as mine is falling apart). £109.00 later (£84.00 for the three day ticket and £25.00 for worldwide delivery) I was feeling all excited, my second GP in as many years … I'm very lucky.
As I hadn't got a map of Shanghai with me (my Chinese guidebook was back at my guesthouse) I decided to skip pre-booking accommodation until tomorrow. I did find some information about getting to the circuit and it all seems pretty straight forward with both taxis and buses going from the city center.
I left the internet cafe around 8pm and managed to bump into the two British girls, plus two British guys, in a restaurant. They had just placed their orders and so I added mine to the list. Due to not returning to my guesthouse from the internet cafe I was only wearing a t-shirt. As it was now dark it was freezing and so I ate my dinner quickly before leaving to get my fleece. I really don't get this; I'm heading south and so I thought that the weather would be getting warmer. I'm almost on a parallel with Bangkok and I remember the weather there being very hot at night so why isn't it here? I'm not complaining, I just want to know why. It's not like the ocean is close by either as Laos is a land-locked country. If anyone knows please can you send me the answer, on a postcard to:
one otter around the world,
around the world somewhere,
On the other hand you could just leave a comment on my blog. By the time I got back to my guesthouse, and sorted myself out, it was 10:00pm. For me it was time to sleep and I was rather pleased with myself. Firstly I had my China F1 ticket but more importantly – for the moment anyhow – it seems like I've found a nice place to hang out for a couple of days. The guesthouse here is cheap, warm and has hot showers. There are plenty of good places to eat within the city and a good internet cafe. Okay the tourist attractions are lacking a little but there are quite a few things to look at outside of the city. All-in-all I'm rather pleased with this town, however I've only been here eight hours so lets wait to see what tomorrow brings.