Last night when I was about to go to sleep I heard a loud roar, which was followed by a power blackout. I wondered if a heavy storm was hitting the city, when the lights came back on. After a while there was another huge roar and the power supply went out again. That was the only ‘negative’ I could log this far in the stay in Luang Prabang. I made a mental note of it to mention in the blog before falling into a deep sleep. When I woke up this morning the power supply was on and I was in time for breakfast at 6.30 am. I loved the hotel, especially the service of Peter and Duong, the ‘ever smiling twins’ as I have dubbed them.
When I was driving through Khem Kong, the street beside the Mekong River, I saw a large gathering of locals and tourists near the market. Then, I saw the reason for the power disruption. A huge tree had fallen pulling down the power lines with it. Some shops were damaged too. People were working to remedy the situation. The drive from Luang Prabang to Paksan was about 450 kms, which bypassed Vientiane. I knew the road conditions till Vientiane. The 75 kms stretch on Route 4 is a beauty, through mountains and valleys. The road is so good that one would be inclined to over speed. But the winding roads with sharp curves and steep slopes have to be taken carefully. Skidding is a possibility. The misty mountains presented a magical sight and so did the long grass swaying gently in the breeze. After bypassing Vientiane the roads were not that great. But considerable amount of road work is underway in the southern and northern regions of Laos. A short while after taking the road to Paksan it moved through the protected Phou Khao Khouay National Bio Diversity region. Even though the road was not bituminised it was consolidated, but dusty. At the entrance to the region there was a road barrier, which the guard raised without asking me anything. The guard at the end of the road was a bit more curious. He came out to see the stickers on the car and felt that it was some sort of VIP car. He went back to the hut and raised the barrier. The Route 13 thereafter, right upto Paksan, was quite good with even trucks speeding on the two way road at over 100 kmph. Close to Paksan, about 40 kms ahead of it the border of Thailand comes within spitting distance. The Mekong River provides a natural boundary for the two nations.
Lao PDR has 17 provinces and Paksan is a town in the Bolikhamsai Province in South Western Laos. In this town the Nam Xan River joins the Mekong. The town and the immediate region have seen many invasions by the Chinese and the Siamese since early 19th century till the middle of the 20th century. It is really a transit town between Vientiane and Pakse. I was booked to stay in Paksan Hotel, which is ideally located on the highway. The booking was done through Booking.com. I was a bit apprehensive as I drove into the hotel compound, which has an elaborate facade for the 37 rooms that it has, because of the poor reviews it had on the site. The reception was exactly as was mentioned in the review – absolutely cold and unhelpful. Besides, the receptionist refused to honour the booking done through the site and charged me $3 extra and ‘impounded’ my passport. The hotel, however, was neat and so was the large room. The bathroom was tiny though, but clean and useable. Since I was only staying the night I checked in, despite the online booking not being honoured.
The car had taken a tough ride since the drive to the Vietnam border. During the course of this drive she had completed one lakh kms too. The 2010 Ford Endeavour was cruising along. I had to give her a wash; it was overdue. Mercifully, the receptionist said I could use the fountain water line. Over the next one hour I laboured over the wash. It was so caked with dust that I had to scrape some off before I could even see the mud flaps. After all the hard work was over I noticed a car wash just next door to the hotel!
After a shower I thought of exploring the place a bit and walked across the small bridge that spanned the Nam Xan River. The Paksan market was not very busy at the time when I reached it. Basically I was looking for some place to relax with beer and food. I could only see way side eateries making oily omelettes and dishing out Bao. I walked back to the hotel and stopped at a small restaurant next to the hotel. I ordered a beer and asked for something to eat. The woman by the grill asked me to choose what I wanted. I could not make out which part of what animal was on the grill! I pointed to one that looked edible and she shook her head. In a while a large portion of grilled pork, some noodles and plenty of raw vegetables appeared in a large plate. I could not see much of meat in the pork dish. However, the sweet chilly sauce added flavour to the fat of the pork and noodles and the beer did the rest to make the meal enjoyable.
The drive tomorrow is about 530 kms to Pakse from Paksan, which I estimated could be done in about 11 hours, based on reviews I had read about the road. Many friends on Facebook and other social media think that I have misspelt Pakistan while mentioning Paksan in my despatches. To them I must quote Rudyard Kipling, “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”.