Sabaii-dii! Welcome to Laos - the land of a million elephants.
We were picked up bright and early last Sunday morning in a nice comfortable minibus, driven to the outskirts of town and then deposited at the grottiest road-side cafe I've ever had the misfortune to visit. It makes Greasy Lils look inviting! Here we sat for 2 hours with the other 10 tourists who had forked out a not inconsiderable sum for a bus to Laos. A ramshackle local Vietnamese bus arrived...yes, our transport for the day. Toytown seats so a very uncomfortable journey, but on the plus side, it went straight through the borders without unloading the luggage so it was a case of grin and bear it...or whinge if you were the spoiled young Canadian guys!
The border crossing itself was no problem, very low key. Oh yes, apart from having to pay the "weekend tax". Only a dollar, but they must love getting the weekend shift :-)
Straight away you could see differences in the scenery: sandy soil, almost desert-like in parts, different style of houses, no paddy fields and expanses of forests - if it wasn't for the goats, pigs and orange-robed monks you could have been on Cannock Chase.
We crossed the Ho Chi Minh trail on the way, the supply route for Northern Vietnam. The Americans bombed it heavily, but not too successfully during the war. Interestingly, they denied bombing it and Vietnam denied it existed.
Savannakhet is a very quiet town with little traffic, along the glittering broad stretch of the Mekong. Here you can sit with an ice-cold beer eating BBQ chicken and look across the river at the bright lights of Thailand - a complete contrast to Laos. We also tried the Mekong fish - baked whole in a salt crust and stuffed with lemon grass - very tasty.
Accommodation seemed a bit more basic in terms of decor, a bit rundown, but we still got a room with aircon and a fridge...right next door to a late-night karaoke bar - how lucky was that????
A trip to the bank was interesting - huge piles of money just stacked up on tables out the back with just one security guard outside. People were withdrawing money - getting wads of it and stuffing it in black carrier bags! And we worry about cashing a hundred dollar travellers cheque.