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Sunday, September 12, 2010


Getting out of Pakse

I had no real purpose in coming to Pakse. It was just where the bus happened to stop on the way from Phnom Penh to Vientiane. Still, I decided to stay a couple of nights as I was in no hurry to go on. While in town I inquired about my options for travelling on to Vientiane.

Apparently there is what is known as a local bus. It is very basic, non-aircon and stops at every little place along the way. If I wanted to take a few days to see Laos stopping here and there perhaps that would be the way to go but I'd set my mind on getting to Vientiane and the only other way was the sleeping bus.

As far as I know, there are two bus companies operating sleeping buses between Pakse and Vientiane. I chose the one that the travelfish website said would take you all the way into Vientiane. The bus station is actually on the edge of Vientiane, perhaps about 10 km out. You think you've bought a ticket to Vientiane but once you get to the bus depot you still have to get to Vientiane.

The bus leaves at 8 pm. I needed to checkout of my guesthouse by midday. I didn't want to be taking tuk-tuks back and forth. I decided to pack my stuff and head off to the bus station at midday and then decide what to do with the rest of the day. I went outside the guesthouse and found a seat under a shady tree and just sat. I had plenty of time.

After five minutes a samlor came along. This is the same kind of vehicle that had brought me into the guesthouse from the bus station. To me a samlor is a pedicab; a three-wheeled cycle with a seat for a passenger in front of, alongside or behind the driver. This one was a motorcycle with a sidecar. The roof of the sidecar was the same style as on cycle samlors found elsewhere. I wasn't sure what to call this vehicle. After, I asked some tuk-tuk drivers and they told me 'samlor'.

I had already checked out the going rate to get to the bus station with the guesthouse manager. He told me to expect to pay about 6,000 kip. I asked the driver if he knew the Kriang Kai bus station. At first he didn't but when I changed my pronunciation (kree ung kai) he did. He was ready to throw my bags on board. They do this. They just want to get going, get you to the destination, we can discuss the fare later. But no, I said. How much? 20,000 kip. It would be easy to just pay this amount and be done with it. It wouldn't break me but I had plenty of time and I don't like to be ripped off. No, I said.

How much you pay?

5,000 kip.

10,000 he came back with. Amazing isn't it. A minute ago he's asking 20,000 and now he is ready to accept 10,000. What would he have charged me if I'd gone without negotiating?

As I said, I had plenty of time. I stuck to 5,000.

He sat there for five minutes. He asked again, 10,000? I said 5. He drove off.

Five minutes later he returned. 7,000 he said. I agreed and off we went.

At the bus station I bought my ticket. The woman spoke reasonable English. She offered me top or bottom bunk; front or back of the bus but beyond this made no effort to explain ticket options. My fare was 150,000 kip. On the ticket she wrote in English 'DOUBLE'. Fair enough, I thought.

I noticed there was an internet cafe there but first I went off to a food stall and got some lunch. At the internet cafe I was able to plug in my own computer, upload some photos and answer a few emails. It wasn't airconditioned but there was a fan. I was happy except that the woman running the place kept playing online games that played repetitive loud music. That was giving me encouragement to cut my time short but after a while she stopped so I stayed online long enough to do all I needed and my computer battery had almost expired.

When I came out the sky was full of rain clouds and the temperature had dropped quite a bit. It was now not unpleasant to sit in the semi-open waiting area so I got a book out of my bag and sat and read for most of the afternoon. After the storm had finished I went and visited the market next to the bus station. I was able to amuse myself one way or another until it was time to get on the bus.

By time I got on board most of the other passengers had already done so. I showed the conductor my ticket. She pointed to a bed. The beds are all roughly equal to the size of a regular single bed but in most of them there are two people. The bed she pointed me towards had a young man already lying on it. I have double I said. But she didn't speak English and wasn't interested in discussing it. Laos people have a great knack of ignoring you when they don't want to get involved. I was left to make the most of half of a single bed.

I wasn't impressed. But perhaps the young man wasn't impressed to be sharing with me. I don't know. The point is that if I had been given the option I would have chosen to pay to have the whole bed to myself. This option was not offered to me. Perhaps in a communist country such as Laos it is normal to share ones bed with ones comrades.

And I should have known better. I should have known that the English used by people in their own country does not necessarily have the same meaning as we use in the rest of the world. I had learned something. Now I know that in Laos 'double' means you share a single bed with a stranger.

The challenge for me was that I had brought my technology bag with me. It was too big to fit on the rack provided so I had to put it at my feet, greatly reducing my leg room. Eventually I was able to work out a way to stretch my legs. Perhaps I stole a little of the young man's room but he didn't complain. I slept reasonably through the night. The driver rarely, if ever, sounded the horn. Once I got used to the road noise and the swaying it was not too uncomfortable.

When I woke at about 5.45 am we were driving through suburbia and it was raining heavily. We arrived at the bus terminal on time. There was water about two inches deep where the bus pulled in.

There was no option of being taken into town as the travelfish site had said. I had to get a sorngtheau. Set price was 20,000 kip. It took a while before we left. The sorngtheu wasn't leaving until he had a full load. It seemed that on the way into town he dropped all the locals at their homes so the trip into town was not exactly a fast one.

I met my friend, Chantelle at a fountain near the centre of town. We had breakfast before she went onto work and I spent a relaxing day at her house that overlooks the Mekong River.

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