Phonsavan - Paksan, by bus, 20th-21st of March 2017
Phonsavan to pakse through Paksan
Phonsavan has at least three bus stations and we decided to buy a ticket directly from one of them to make sure we're getting the cheapest option.
After scooting up to all three of them, we decided that Bounmixay Southern station had the option we liked the most - a big bus leaving at 8:30am that takes 6 hours to get to Paksan.
A night before Zach told me:
I looked at him like he was a weirdo, which made him explain further:
"Let's pray to the God of Buses".
Hahaha! And so we did. And the God of Buses must have listened to us! The journey from Phonsavanh to Paksan was great in comparison to the previous crazy rides we've had.
Phonsavan to Paksan - The Bus
The bus was quite funny - there were three rows of seats which could be set in a seating or laying down position. The person behind you would keep their legs under your head. This worked pretty well although both of us were too tall to be laying down with our legs straightened up.
The journey has been great until an hour in Zach's face turned into a horrible grimace and he run to the front of the bus with a packet of baby wipes. The driver kindly stopped after Zach repeated: 'Toilet! Toilet!".
I needed to pee as well so we both got off the bus...which stopped on the side of the cliff.
'Toilet?!" Zach asked the ticket boy.
The guy pointed to the strip of a few low bushes next to the parked bus.
Oh well, the dignity doesn't mean anything in situations like this - if you gotta go, you simply gotta go!
After 10mins of driving Zach was stopping the bus again. This time he was lucky - we stopped by some wooden hut and the open door of a wooden cubicle showed the glamorous hole in the ground. What a relief!
The rest of the ride was easy-peasy. Zach's stomach settled down, the driver drove like a normal human and even though the roads were a bit rough, we had our quite-comfy laying down seats.
We walked around for a bit until we found a hostel. Our hostel in Paksan was the cheapest we had in a while (£8) and one of the nicest ones we've had so far! They even had their branded toothbrushes with a little toothpaste and clean towels! We couldn't find much information online about Paksan so instead we decided to just go wherever - just somewhere where we can grab something to eat.
Paksan - where to eat
We headed down towards the strip of the Mekong river that was pointing out to 'the main street'. It was a 45min walk and there were no tuk tuks on the way, but we were surprised to see that all the locals were super friendly and the kids bursted with joy when we waved back to them.
After walking for 40mins we were really hungry and almost stopped in some wooden hut to get a standard Lao soup, when we heard:
'Where ya guys from?' in an American accent.
To our surprise the local-looking man on the motorbike was from Seattle and he found himself in Paksan because his wife grew up here.
He recommended us a joint specialising in grilled duck at the end of 'the pier'.
He drove off on his bike and we walked up there to find him sitting at the table with his wife and her family.
We shared the delicious duck and Lao beer all together and although the stall run out of rice, the man's wife's niece scooted up with a bag full of sticky rice that she brought from home.
The refugee story
We asked Rose, our new friend's wife, how old was she when she left Laos.
'I was 19 when I run away.' she said in a calm voice whilst we wrinkled our foreheads not knowing whether it's appropriate to ask or just let go.
Her husband helped us though:
'She run away from Laos because it's been a communist country and Lao people weren't allowed to leave it.'
She followed on with a story pointing to the Mekong river down below and then to the Thai side of the river bank, more than 500 meters on the opposite side:
'Me and five of my friends decided to leave about 1am in the night to make sure it's dark and nobody sees us. We had this little canoe boat and we were pushing ourselves quietly towards the Thai side of the river. We didn't even use paddles - if the soldiers heard any noise, they would start shooting to us!'
She continued and our eyes were getting bigger and bigger with astonishment.
'Once we got to the Thai side, we were 'safe'. We went straight to the police station and from there we were taken to the refugee camp where I stayed for a year.'
We couldn't believe in Rose's strength and in what she achieved! From the refugee camp, she managed to go to the US, where she arrived with two little kids of her own. She then juggled taking care of her kids, working and learning English. Sometime later she met her husband-to-be and now they were sitting in front of us, visiting Rose's family here, in Paksan.
They also told us that every time they visit, they try to help the family and improve their house. Before we finished talking on this difficult subject, Rose pointed to the lady, who scooted up to bring us all rice,
'When I was leaving, I was crying the most because of her. She's my niece and she was four at a time and I was missing her so much. Today she's 40!'.