Paksan - Pakse, by bus, 23rd - 25th of March 2017
Paksan to Pakse - how to catch the bus
We spent just one night in Paksan and in the morning we wanted to catch the bus to Pakse as soon as possible - we had to get through the long strip of the country and we just wanted to get it done and get to the South. Unfortunately everyone, who we asked about the bus, was saying different things. One person said the bus leaves at 9am, the other person told us it's at 8am and yet another one was sure it leaves at 7am. The only thing, which was common in what the people said, was the place the bus stops - by the main road (no. 13), near a wooden bench under a tree.
Decisions, decisions! Confused with all the different times, we decided to aim for the middle one - 8am.
We got to the wooden bench and believe us or not, maybe 30 seconds later a bus with a big sign 'Pakse' stopped in front of us!
Paksan to Pakse - the bus
It was different to all the buses we have caught so far in Thailand or Laos. It reminded us the Nepalese or Sri Lankan buses - old and overloaded ones with stuff, as well as people. Oh well, that's what we have asked for - we were quite sick of 'convenient' (mistreated 'luxury' minibuses with a bunch of moaning tourists), and because of that expensive (for our tight budget), minibuses with crazy drivers.
We got on and there was the last seat in the second last row, or actually, it was the 6th last row but the last four rows of the bus couldn't be seen from under a mass of crap - bags, plastic bags, baskets, fans, boxes, and a cage with a little exotic bird.
Also, when we entered the bus I felt like it's quite low as my head was hitting the ceiling. But soon enough I realised that the bus was of normal height, but the floor couldn't be seen - it was filled with long and square boxes of all kind. There was only a little gap for each passenger's feet, but no space under the seat for any bag.
After a closer look, we investigated that the boxes' contents were different kinds of pipes and pumps. Also our backpacks hardly fit in but the driver's helper somehow squished the boxes and the backpacks under the bus. What an efficient way to transport things and people! Isn't it?!
Paksan to Pakse - the road
The bus was maybe 10 cm over the ground so that at least meant the road won't be too bumpy - even a small hole and the bottom of the vehicle would get smashed.
We thought the journey would be 8 hours but there was no rush - the driver could only go 50km/h with all these things.
Did I mention there was a huge mountain of bags of all kind tied up to the roof? And each time we stopped, another sack would made its way to the roof or to the back of the bus.
When passengers wanted to get on, but there were no seats left, the ticket boy had a great solution - low plastic seats were placed in the middle, between the two rows of normal seats, and so another 5 people had a not-so-comfy journey. But they seemed to be alright, just sitting straight and looking ahead. No moaning!
The baby and a little boy also did well and there wasn't much crying going all.
All was going well and on hour 10, we thought we just have another hour to go. But the police cars standing on the way halted the bus and delayed us a bit. Luckily all was sorted quickly - cash in hand and the police let the driver go. When another police car wanted to stop us later, the driver flashed some pink light inside the bus, and the police officer put his hand down. Phew!
When we were bored, we just ate. The bus stopped quite often and on each stop 'a herd' of women with plastic bags full of different foods would rush to the open windows. Some of them would come inside. Each one selling the same and each one seemed to fight with another one but as we were driving off, they would become friends again. Zach's favourite was a big piece of barbecued chicken caught between two wooden sticks. Served through the window. Yum.
Finally, almost 13 hours later, we got to Pakse. I don't think I've ever been that sticky before. Thank goodness we could keep the windows open and when we got off about 9pm, the sun wasn't a killer anymore.
What is Pakse like
When we finally got to Pakse, which is only a couple of hours from the Lao border with Cambodia, we were quite relieved. We were really scared a few times taking the crazy buses throughout Laos. Cambodia has some rails, same as Vietnam. This meant we only have a handful of bus rides left and we can change to our favourite trains! They were so much fun in Sri Lanka.
Pakse is a little town, although it's 3rd biggest one in Laos. The city was a funny mix of a developing country and traditional ways of thinking and doing. The highlights included the glossy stores with new mobile phones, with best technology for taking selfies, which invited the guests with multiple adverts featuring glamorous and retouched people, as well as with loudly playing music coming from the large outside speakers.
Not far away, there was a park. Or at least google maps showed us a square of greenery. Unfortunately grass could only be seen in some places because in general brown soil was showing through, together with bunches of rubbish. But we did see people cleaning the rubbish later on, so there was some progress going on!
Pakse - the waterfall
To get away outside the hot and a little bit smoggy city, we rented a motorbike. The plan was to go to the nearby waterfall.
The road to the waterfall was nice and straight. All the people seemed to live by the main road so when Zach was riding, I was looking around at all the things we were passing: the wooden houses, schools, stalls selling fresh veggies and fruit, running chickens, starring-at-me cows and waving-to-me children.
The star of the show was the lady, who I managed to capture, speeding on her bike. There was nothing unusual about her, besides literally a million of pots and pans and bags and sacks hanging from her motorbike!
choosing the Tad Champee Waterfall
Eventually we turned in a dirt path to the waterfall. When we got to the barriers, a ticket boy wanted us to pay for the tickets straight away, but since we saw 4 or 5 huge tourist buses and masses of people, we drove away to go and search some other nature's wonders. We thought that the poor waterfall had enough of the tourists and it doesn't need any more photos taken.
Luckily on the way, we noticed a sign to another waterfall (Tad Champee Waterfall). It didn't really say where was it or how far away was it but there was an arrow pointing to another dirt path.
We started driving through the big muddy puddles and the little street, which was really quiet. There were only a few wooden houses on stilts on the way.
After driving for some time, maybe two kilometres, we got there! There were just a few motorbikes and two little food shacks. The lady came towards us and gave us the tickets to the waterfall and charged us for the parking and the waterfall tickets (only 13000 LAK = £1.30 !).
We walked down the steep hill and the waterfall emerged from the bushes...it was pretty spectacular! There was a big rock shelf with water flowing fast down to the pool that joined with the river.
We walked down to waterfall via the steep wooden murky stairs. The waterfall seemed to have its own little ecosystem - the sky over it was dark blue and the droplets of water were in the air. There was so many butterflies flying around that we easily made them sit on our hands.
A local group of youngsters was having fun on a wooden raft tied up to the string going towards and under the waterfall. They were falling to the water with big splashes and jumping around in joy.
We found our little nature's wonder in the end! After that, we were ready to hit the road again. Down towards the Cambodia border, stopping briefly in the land of 4000 Islands...which you can read about here!