Day 12 - Pakse to Thakhek - 350k

The thunderous grey skies not only looked promising, but delivered. The rain brought welcome relief in terms of cooler temperatures for our drive following the Mekong north from Pakse to Thakhek. Both are reasonable sized towns and regional administrative centres. Between there are a string of villages along highway 33, which may well be the only sealed road in Laos. Its certainly the only road heading North that’s sealed and may well be the only road heading north for that matter.

From Pakse to Vietiane the Mekong is the border with Thailand. As I sit typing this looking across the Mekong, it appears that Thailand is bombarding us with very loud music. It’s New Year this weekend and everyone is in party mode. Water plays a big part in this, maybe because it’s the hottest time of the year. Its traditional that kids stand by the side of the road and hurl buckets of water at passing cars. Smaller kids are armed with super soakers as big as them, and the teenagers seem to be targeting the opposite sex.

A convoy of MGs seemed to be very attractive for the water throwers and it seems that as we passed from village to village the aiming techniques were passed and honed. By the time we reached Thakhek we were wet, the inside of the car was wet and the outside was a mixture of red, blue and purple as the kids not only hurled water, but dye bombs as well. With windows down and the back window unzipped, there were plenty of places for them to aim at. At least we got some protection from the windscreen, most of the time, which is more that the motor cyclists, especially young girls who seemed to get a special drowned attention. The water was accompanied with loud music, dancing and plenty of beer.

We are all wondering what we are in for tomorrow as we drive up to Vientiane as tomorrow is the first day of the New Year celebrations. Today was just a warm up.

This afternoon in Thakhek we went for a walk around town and ventured into a nearby Buddhist monastery. Special blessings were in progress which involved a line of faithful pouring water over seated monks an asking for their blessing. Loris and Tony joined the queue and sought a bessing of safe travel for all of the convoy. Once the monk blessing was finished, the faithful then turned and poured any leftover water over each other. We came in for special attention. Not sure whether this was because westerners are not common in this area or because the locals felt we were in dire need of divine attention.

The convoy is now starting to get in a rhythm while we drive. We are not driving in each other’s pockets and starting to spreading out, stopping as we see the need to capture a photo. That said the start is at 0800 sharp. This means cars packed, crews settled, engines started and ready to pull on to the road. We are then stopping every couple of hours for a break and some are taking the opportunity to change drivers. Today we were sitting on around 75kph. However, that is generally not for long. We are continually overtaking bikes, tractors, utes and trucks. The busses were generally overtaking us, as were many of the utes. You need to be aware of not only what Is ahead, but who is behind and what they are doing.

The countryside is much dryer than further south. The farmers obviously rely on the monsoon before they can plant their rice as there is no irrigation. The paddies are tiny, about the size of a Sydney suburban back yard, so I assume that all the work is done by hand. But at the moment, its all dry and fallow, waiting for the monsoons to come in the next month or so.

I am constantly trying to work out whether the Lao or Cambodians are better well off. Its difficult to tell from the housing, although satellite dishes are prevalent in Laos but non existent in Cambodia. The Lao are generally more conservatively dressed, with a lot still wearing traditional garb. The cars are much more modern here, mostly Thai manufactured utes (Toyota HiLux and Ford), while in Cambodia they drove 1990’s Camry’s and Klugers imported by the ship load from the US once they had been discarded there. But the countryside in Cambodia looks richer. May be its is, but the war has extracted a toll which they are still trying to escape from.