Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lao Trip 7.1b - Ken Thao to Pak Lai

The Tha Li bawkasaw is little more than a concrete pad, with a roofed sitting area; no walls and a small separate buiding in the rear housing two very dirty restrooms. From this “station,” I transferred to a smaller sawng-theaw (also written in English as songtheaw), that took a small group of us to the Thai/Lao border spanning the Nam Heuang.

After stamping out of Thailand, I took a tuk-tuk (aka samlor, also nicknamed “sky lab”) across the Nam Heuang Bridge, purchased my 1-month Lao visa for $45 USD and stamped into this communist country once again. After so doing, the tuk-tuk took me on to a loading area not far from the impressive and new Lao immigration building (both the Lao and Thai buildings are new; when I first started crossing here two years ago, the Thai building had not been constructed and immigration was little more than a prefab). From the loading area, another tuk-tuk took me to Ken Thao’s bus station.

The Ken Thao bawkasaw is dominated by a petanque court tucked into a shaded area in the northeastern corner that is always busy. It is my impression that the high prices of Ken Thao transportation largely fuels the bets placed at this petanque court. Not much I can do about that. I pay the high transpo prices every time, no complaints and with a smile.

This time, however, the price to go to Pak Lai was extreme. The reason being – so it was said; how I understood it – that there were no more regularly scheduled sawng-theaw’s to Pak Lai, despite it being lunch time. I asked about tomorrow, thinking I’d just stay the night. I was told that all the guest houses were probably full – the reason being, I never could understand because of my poor Lao language skills. Was I being scammed? Probably, but maybe not. It is a given that in Lao, transport won’t move unless there are enough paying passengers to cover the cost of the trip and provide a profit. Maybe this was one of those instances. So, I paid what amounted to $30 USD and rode as a single passenger (excepting one pick-up along the way) to Pak Lai.

I love the stretch of road between Ken Thao and Pak Lai. It is beautiful and winds through almost a dozen mid-sized villages en route. Every once in a while, you even get a glimpse of the vast Nam Phoun National Bio-Diversity Conservation Area far to the northwest.

At one point, we got stuck behind a slow grinding gasoline semi on a very curvy section of the road. A number of times I thought my driver would foolishly try to pass the truck on a curve, but he kept his cool and finally we were able to pass the semi truck on a straight away. He turned to me and said:

“Yak,” (want to/wanted to), meaning in his heart he wanted to pass that truck, but his brain thought wiser of it.

(what I was looking forward to at the end of the line...)

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