Having woken up early and got ready I waited for daylight before setting off for Pakse. By 6 am I thought there was enough of it to check out of the hotel. The girl at the reception gave me back my passport once I had made the payment and she had personally checked the room. She had to return change of $2, for which she had neither USD nor adequate change in LK. Finally, I accepted what she had; she gave me a bottle of water when she saw me filling bottles from the dispenser near the reception. I got on to Route 13, just across the hotel, at a quarter past 6 am. The road condition I encountered surprised me. The surfacing was good in most parts and the traffic was sparse. In the first two hours I covered nearly 170 kms. I then realised why Phoukong, in Luang Prabang, had a hurt look on his face when I asked him if the road to Pakse is motorable. He simply said, “Yes, yes”. But the eyes and face told a different story – that of incredulous betrayal. Instead of the 11 hours I had estimated for the 530 km drive I did it in less than 7 hours.
I have been using Google Maps to get me from one place to the other using the WiFi network in the places that I stayed. In like manner the Maps got me from the Paksan Hotel to Pakse. However, the road to the Phetphaylin Hotel did not exist once I reached a certain portion of 13 South Road. A bridge was being constructed and there was no way in which I could get across. When I stood at the edge of the bridge under construction a worker came up to me and asked if he could help. I was surprised because no one actually offers assistance unless it is sought. He gave me directions for a diversion to cross the bridge, which I took without any hassle and reached the landmark mentioned by Google Maps. However, the hotel was nowhere in sight. Despite a few enquiries I could not get any clear suggestions. In desperation I walked into a house, which by the looks of it belonged to someone affluent. I was lucky; a guy who was at the wheel of a swanky BMW connected to the Net and gave me clear directions. In a short while thereafter I reached the hotel. I was stunned, for the colour combination of the hotel and that of the branded car was so similar that I considered it a good omen. A young guy with a peculiar hairstyle manned the reception. He confirmed my booking as I showed him the Booking.com mail and showed me to a room. The room was small, but comfortable and clean.
After a while in the room, a coffee and cup o’ noodles later, and trying with little success to connect the Net through WiFi I went to the reception and started work on social media. The net connection was faster in the reception. I had been there for a while when the guy at the reception asked me to shift to another room. It was a large suite room with a big area to work and a larger bathroom. I do not know what prompted him to give me the larger room, but I was extremely happy with the change. I worked for a while and fell asleep, perhaps because I had woken up at 4 am.
By the time I woke up I realised it was time to go for a drive in the city. Pakse literally translates to “mouth of the River Se”, in Laotian language. The city has a population of 88,000 and is considered the third most populous city in the country after Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Many railway stations in India could claim to be more populated than this city! The city is situated at the confluence of the Rivers Xe Don and Mekong. The claim to fame of the city is that it served as the capital of the Champasak Kingdom till it was integrated with the rest of Laos in 1946.The city is in close proximity of Thailand; the construction of a bridge over the Mekong facilitated road traffic with Thailand. The bridge, built with Japanese aid, has been another step in integrating Laos with its neighbours.
The guy at the reception was at a loss to tell me where I should go to in the short time I had, even though he wanted to, owing to problems of language. Anyway I decided to go to 13 South Road that looked to be the most important part of the city. I got there without much difficulty, parked at a convenient location and took a short walk through the city. Naturally, only eateries were open at the time. The Historical National Museum and the Stadium were closed. I located the A Sia Sin Dar restaurant to have a couple of beers and food. The owner of the hotel came forward with an English menu. I ordered a pork omelette and shrimp fried rice. Even though I had intended the omelette to be a short eat with the beer it came along with the fried rice. The omelette was oily but filling by itself. I felt that I should not have ordered the main dish. The fried rice was presented in such a manner as to suggest that the portion was full of shrimps. It had exactly three of them. The art of deception was the most prominent part of the presentation. Beerlao compensated for all that.
Back in the hotel, I went over the route map to the Cambodian border and to the town I was scheduled to halt the night in Cambodia, a place called Stung Treng. The bad experience at the Vietnamese border has made me wary of border crossings. I hope that the story at the Cambodian border is very different from what I experienced at Tay Trang, Vietnam. In case of any problems I have to think on my feet to remedy the situation.