Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mekhong sunsets

Heading south down the handle of the pan that is Laos, you first reach Tha Khaek, literally "Guests' Landing" - the guests being Thais and others crossing the Mekhong from the west. Faded French colonial buildings, some in the last stages of decomposition, add a certain j.n.s.q. to an otherwise faded post-colonial town. Had to do another trek, for comparison at least, south versus north, well versus sick. In the final analysis, north easily beats south (for dramatic changes of angle, primary forest and ethnic riches) and well of course wins out - but I'd rather have been sick when walking through flat sandy scrub between the sights of the area - caves, springs, strange lakes, rapids (and the required visit overnight stay) and traded it for being well while exploring the hilly forests of the north and the hill tribes who know how to have fun.

Savannakhet could perhaps be translated as the "fringes of heaven" but, as it was, it repeated Tha Khaek on a more condensed scale and with more atmosphere. Another Thai town faced it across the water - Mukdahan, not Nakorn Phanom, and another sunset lit up the golden temple roofs across the mighty Mekhong. After alarums and excursions at the border, (sent back in disgrace to get the full tally of stamps from Immigration), J made it into town a day late and so a day late to travel on the Pakse. This began today at 7.30 leaving the hostel and should have got us safely to Pakse by 1 p.m. or so but the bus had a puncture on the rear offside tyre (not a first for me) and aggravated our accommodation problems on arrival.

Pakse ditto on the Mekhong and ditto sunset this evening - but this time the land across the water is still Laos as it widens out approaching Cambodia. There was another, but much larger, temple festival south of town which wound up today (we missed the climax by 24 hours). As a result, everywhere was booked out and for her birthday J is having to share one of the most basic rooms we have yet encountered. Tomorrow south to the 4000 islands where the Mekhong meets Cambodia and where Irrawaddy Dolphins play. Radio silence then until Cambodia so this is me signing off for a while.

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