[Excerpts from the journal I kept on my first trip to Lao (
2012, part 1]:
Apparently, Thai banks don’t ever carry Lao kip. Thip and I went up to the currency exchange counter at the provincial capital’s biggest bank and were informed, more or less, to this effect. We were told what is in the guidebooks: that, in Lao (
Laos), Thai and American currency
is accepted same as their own... This I gotta see.
Thip and I are taking a break from the village at a near-perfect time (mid-May, 2012). Thip’s mother, Khun Mae, is stable; I need to leave LOS before my 3-month travel permit expires; and there’s so much needless drama going on with Thip’s family that’s it’s just a pain to be around and within contact range…
Two and a half hours from our village, riding the bus west on Highway 210, we reached Loei (“loy”). Thip and I have passed through this provincial capital a number of times, usually en route to or from Chiang Khan and Khaeng Khut Khu, north of Loei, on the Mekong River. This time, after switching buses, we split off from Highway 201 and got on 2115, which is a really beautiful, slightly mountainous, ride to Tha Li (“tah-lee”).
The road from Loei to Tha Li was so scenic, I started expecting Tha Li to be a hidden gem. Although located in a beautiful area, upon arrival it did not appear to me to be other than another dumpy roadside community; the kind you see all over the Thai countryside. What I’ve heard of the development plans for the area is even worse. There may well come a time when we come by this way again and look back fondly on the funkiness of the “old” Tha Li…
At the Thai/Lao border, Thip started to get excited. I had started to notice a new shine in her eyes as we rode Highway 2115 to Tha Li; the country girl in her really starting to come out. At the Nam Heuang border crossing, her eyes and voice of wonder continued to grow, especially when she compared this crossing with the one at Nong Khai. While it’s common to see many westerners at the Nong Khai border crossing and bus loads of people, here on the Thai-Lao Nam Heuang Friendship Bridge, we were the only non-Lao making the crossing and there were only a handful of us…
After doing the paperwork for exiting Thailand and then, on the other side of the bridge, getting a one-month visa for Lao, we took a travel bus to the Kenthao bus station, which wasn’t much more than a petanque court. Petanque is somewhat like botchi ball and is a hold-over from when
colonized by the French. From Kenthao, in the company of some locals getting
off along the way, along with a lot of groceries, we traveled by truck bus to
Pak Lai northbound on a highway that – for the life of me – I couldn’t find a
number for, but there must be.
The road from Kenthao to Pak Lai is beautiful and in good shape. The area reminded Thip of Thailand many years ago. Later, after walking around Pak Lai, we agreed that if you discounted the cars, trucks and motorcycles, Lao could pass for the the Thai countryside as much as 30 years ago, when Thip was 10.
Pak Lai is often spelled “Pak-Lay” – even the town’s own signs that have English translations show this spelling. However, the pronunciation of Pak Lai is “pack-lie” or “pack-L-eye”, not “pack-lay.” It is a relatively small town. I’d guess the population at about 10,000 Laotians. The only reason tourists would come here is as a stopping point between points north (especially Luang Prabang) and
Thailand. I later learned that
there are caves in the area that attract particularly Japanese tourists. While
Thip and I were staying in the town for three full days, we never saw anyone
that wasn’t Lao or Thai.
I specifically took us to Pak Lai just to hang out in a lesser-known corner of Lao…