1. Set off this morning, 6 May, Day 10 of the journey, from Vientiane to Savannakhet, Central Laos. At about 400 km away, it is about mid-point to Pakse, our final destination in Southern Laos before we crossed over to Cambodia on 10 May. Highway 13 is a 2 lanes paved road, going down South all the way to Savannakhet. The road was surprisingly good, better than expected. We could see work has begun for it to be expanded to 4 lanes. Long stretches of dry padi field flanked both sides of the road, with small villages or isolated houses scattered along the way. Driving along this road would requre full attention as we encountered school children walking or cycling to schools, children playing near the road, and cows taking a morning walk.
2. We made a couple of stops along the way. At Ban Na, 82 km from Vientiane, we saw hype of activities at an open area near the road junction. Stall keepers in temporary tentages were busy preparing their food, games and retail stalls for some form of celebration later in the day. We took a stroll among the stalls. At the fruits stall, we just could not resist the durians there and bought one for 28 000 kips (about US$4). You could see Sunny about to try the durian here. Like the Thai, the durians are eaten when they are still dry, not quite as ripe as those preferred by Singaporeans. Sunny took a picture of this small boy and printed a copy for him. The kid looked a little lost but his parents were certainly thrilled.
3. We stopped at Tha Khaek for a quick lunch. This sleepy town was almost like a ghost town. Even the central Fountain Square looked empty (as you can see on the right). With some restoration and better maintenance, this square could be very charming. We had lunch at a corner "coffee shop", and Sunny demonstrated how a fried cricket should be eaten.
4. At about 4 pm, we reached Savannakhet and, after some hunting, found this new beautiful resort that we are currently staying, Daosavanh Resort & Spa Hotel, just opened a few months ago at US$50 a night. Located next to the Mekong River and facing West, it has a great sunset view of the Mekong.
5. We found time to take a dip in the jacuzzi while enjoying the sunset view. I can assure you that the 2 persons in the pool were Sunny and I and not any other combination.
6. Yesterday, Day 9, in Vientiane, Sunny and I carried a small back pack each to go sightseeing, using the Lonely Planet walking tour as a guide. No driving for the day, for the first time.
7. First stop was Patuxai, Vientiane's most prominent monument, sort of like the Arc de Triomphe of Paris. Some would describe this as "good from far but far from good". Built in 1962, the monument had deteriorated. A plague on the wall honestly said, "From a closer distance, it appears less impressive, like a monster of concrete". We climbed more than 200 steps (Sunny counted, I got distracted) to reach the top, to get a wonderful view of the city. Here, you could see the opening to the top and Sunny and I at the top of the monument. If given a good facelift, this monument could be attractive, befitting its status as the most prominent monument in Vientianne.
8. Another stop was the Morning Market. A huge complex; buzzy, crowded, and somewhat chaotic place, selling gold and jewellry, shoes, dresses, electronic goods etc. One stall that was particularly crowded was this one below. Guess what it was selling. GOLD jewellry. I supposed its a good way to hedge against
9. Another interesting stop we made was Sisaket Museum (or Wat Si Saket), temple with thousands of buddha figures. This was the only building left undamaged after Siamese forces completely destroyed Vientiane in 1827-28. Though it had deteriorated over the years, one could still see the sheer beauty of the buildings and the buddha statues. We sat in the sim for a few minutes and enjoyed the quietness. Overall, it was a solemn and sobering experience visiting this place, even for a foreigner like me.
10. We ended the day with a dinner at Kua Lao Restaurant, which
served wonderful Laotian food (and live cultural performance), and a drink at Khop Chai Deu Restaurant & Bar at Nam Phu Square where I had dinner with my STB colleagues some 5 years ago. It was just as crowded.
11. Day 11 (7 May), we will be off to Pakse to spend 3 days there; about 200 km away. There, we would see Champasak, a world heritage site, waterfalls etc.