Monday, December 3, 2012

Getting to Tad Lo Falls

We woke up in the Sabaidy2 Guest House in Pakse, the transportation hub in the Southern part of Laos. Our goal for the day was to make it to Tad Lo, which is a waterfall and guesthouse area in the Bolvean plateau that had been recommended by our friends Chalain and Chris.

They had actually recommended that we take motorbikes from Pakse, but we opted to take the bus as we didn’t want the expense of two bikes per day and thought we could rent a bike in Tad Lo and explore from there, so the bus it was.
When traveling, there’s two kinds of buses. The first is the tourist bus, which is usually air-conditioned, the seats recline, it’s at least comfortable and it goes from place A to place B.
Then there’s the local bus, which is never as predictable, but always an experience.
After a quick breakfast we hopped in a three wheeled vehicle that was a bit like a small pickup truck with a cover. It took us to the local bus station, which had no pavement.
There were dogs everywhere along with people in Vietnamese-style triangular hats carrying a stick on their shoulders that had baskets hanging off both ends. We purchased the bus tickets and waited for our bus. Thirty minutes later we were shepherded onto the bus, where we were given a seat in the second to back row; by the rear door. The back row was piled with bags, so our seats wouldn’t recline. We were the only non-locals on the bus.
I couldn’t sit without my knees banging into the seat in front of me. The whole seating apparatus was about 80% the size of the USA, so I just didn’t fit too well. The sun beat down through the window, quickly making me hot. There was a curtain, tied in a knot that could be used to provide some shade, so after untying it, and beating as much sand and dust off it as possible I pulled it partway close.
The smell of marijuana soon filled the bus as the guy two seats in front of me started smoking the largest joint I’d ever seen. I’m not sure what it was rolled in, but it looked like a corn husk. Large bags of rice began coming in the door and were piled in the aisle, only to see more Lao people get on and begin using the rice bags as seats, as well as the bags in the back. A woman named Ped, sitting on the rice actually pretty good English, and we talked to her until a seat opened up front and she pounced on it.
Finally, the guy who worked on the bus got on and sat at the rear door. He shut the door, letting me see that only three of the four window panes in the door had windows.
Soon, the bus was rolling down the road. You can imagine the dust bowl that the bus soon became. Fortunately, I’m reading “Dune”, so the dust seemed apropos. Propeller fans connected to the roof of the bus oscillated, keeping the heat from being unbearable.
The Bolvean plateau spread out before us, soon reminding us that the vast majority of Southern Laos is very rural. Wooden structures that only partially obscure the elements created houses while pigs, chickens, dogs and the occasional water buffalo ran all over the streets. Trees, bushes, plants and farms made the rolling hills very green and jungle-y, but somehow dry at the same time.
Small farming villages flew by as farmers sold their wares to each other in local markets. Small standing pools of water on the side of the road reminded us that although the risk is small, this is a malarial part of the world… meaning those mosquitoes that are usually just annoying and itchy can give you malaria.
Our guidebook told us that the ride should be about two hours, so after an hour and a half, we started asking if we were close to Tad Lo.
“Tad Lo?” we’d ask, gesturing forward.
Soon, we knew we were close, but all the locals began arguing about where we should get off. “Yes” and “no” were really the only words we understood. We decided to go with the advice of a woman in front, who seemed to know what she was talking about. Ped agreed with her, so we went with that.
Once we got off, we were offered a ride to Tad Lo for 20,000 kip, which is about $2.40. We took it, but it wasn’t worth it. We could have walked.
Finally, we found the waterfall, although this was Tad Hong, a waterfall a further down the river that is surrounded by accommodation. We ended up getting a bungalow set a little back in the jungle for 60,000 kip. Tad Hong is only about ten feet, but makes up for the lack of height with impressive width.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the woods. We found some weird plants that embed themselves five feet up a tree, Leslie was attacked by fire ants after sitting on a bamboo fence and some really cute puppies attacked my sandals.
The guest house has a nice restaurant situated so you can see over the water. There’s more impressive glass-windowed air-conditioned houses set right over the waterfall, but those are 180,000 kip, or about $22 a night. That’s out of our budget. Those appear to be filled up with 60 year old Germans who arrive by the tourist-bus load.
Good for them, and they’ve seen the waterfall, but they missed the culture. We’ll take the local.
Tomorrow, motorbiking around the Bolevean Plateau.

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