“Have you eaten?” Asked the friendly bar owner, where we were sipping super cold beers and mojitos… Before we had a chance to answer he produced some of their own meal for us to try; bamboo shoot curry…spicy and full of insects! (yes you read that right…insects). Some of them were the size of your thumb and tasted like chewy pate. Well after that how could we say no to joining our host at a goodbye party for a French guy we’d never met and drinking their homemade lao lao (rice whiskey)? Don’t worry we didn’t… This was only one of our adventures on our three day moped tour from Pakse around the Bolaven Plateau, exploring temples and a lot of waterfalls. Getting to Pakse had been no mean feat, however. After four buses, an over night stay and a flat tire in the middle of nowhere we were ready for a good guesthouse. We found it at Nang Noi Guest house, which is also where we hired our mopeds from. After the batteries had been recharged we set off, whizzing through the Laos countryside, avoiding pigs, dogs, children, slow-moving carts, potholes, cats, goats…imagine the driving theory hazard perception test on acid and you have the picture! If was great though, the freedom to choose when and where to stop and no waiting for a bus to drive you there. Our first stop was Wat Phou, a Khmer ruined temple, linked to the empire that built Angkor Wat and is the best example of its kind in Laos. It became a religious site due to the healing waters that spring from the rocks at the top of hill the complex is built on. One of its powers is fertility and the Khmer built a lot of phallic symbols to celebrate…ten points if you can guess which ones they are from the photos! Not only does the temple boast an elephant shaped stone but also one with a crocodile imprinted into it where virgins were sacrificed once a year to appease the gods (before it became a Buddhist monument…then they only sacrificed goats). The beautiful view at the top of the hill is accessed by a bumpy, uneven set of stairs that you can still walk up, the narrow steps meaning you have to turn your feet sideways and so show respect for Buddha. It was a really impressive ruin and the first of many Khmer temples we will see as we get nearer to Cambodia.
We jumped back onto our mopeds and headed to Pakmong waving at dozens of excited local children as we drove. The town sits on the top of the Plateau and so is a good few degrees cooler than the surrounding area… so we got to wear jumpers!!! After looking at some moldy guesthouse rooms we found a good one, right opposite the town’s Karaoke bar, who kindly sang for us until 11pm and started again the next morning at 6am. We had some delicious BBQ…which we had to cook ourselves (never the best as readers will know from our hot-pot disaster!) but this time with the help of Ben and Sarah and it was delicious.
When the French ruled Laos they were keen to grow huge plantations in this temperate area and the one that stuck is coffee. We tried the strong and tasty brew at the Farmers Co-operative Café in Pakmong; the guy loves his coffee so much he takes three minutes to make each cup! The other thing the Plateau is famous for is waterfalls and they sure have a lot. The highest one in Laos was beautiful and all the Thai tourists were keen to have us in their holiday snaps along with the waterfall. Dodging the rain clouds we made it to the small village of Tad Lo, where we stayed for the night and also got to sample the authentic Laos bamboo and insect curry! We had read about the town before we got there, but we still did not expect to find a nice, laid back traveller hub, with enough tourists to get along but lots of true Laos life to explore (and hammocks to lie in). And of course the village also had waterfalls…three in fact and not for the first time on this trip we accidentally took a dog for a walk who guided us along the way. On the drive back we stopped at, you guessed it, another very pretty waterfall. We had a drink, got lost in a jungle and Ella walked over a very rickety bridge. We made it back to Pakse with both us and our mopeds in one piece before the monsoon rains let fall. This, sadly, was our last stop in Laos as our visa just wasn’t long enough to see all the places we wanted to visit. We jumped on an international bus, and headed across the border back in to Thailand. All in all Laos has been a brilliant country to visit, full of natural beauty and exhilarating adventures…. Until next time… R & E