I spent a couple of days in Savannakhet which I found out was the child-sex tourist capital of Laos. That explained the packet condoms in my room that I thought was a shower cap. *******And in answer to all the replies to my email about this - I had not opened the packet, I didn't actually try to put the condom on my head!!!!*******
I had dinner with 2 Americans who were working with AIDS victims in the town and got all the awful details from them. I had thought it was nice seeing all the young girls wandering around chatting. So often in my travels I have seen the females working very hard: it is usually the men who are sitting around doing nothing How naïve!
But I did have a New Zealand T-Bone steak for my dinner. It cost me $NZ11 and that is a very, very expensive meal here. Usually I have paid about $NZ3 and that includes drinks. I asked to see the meat packaging just to be sure it came from home and now wonder why I can't get a T-Bone for that price in NZ. So if you feel like a good cheap steak let me know and I will give you the name of the restaurant. The nearest hotel only charges $4 for an air conditioned room so it could be a cheap night out.
Bus to Savannakhet
It left on time, surprise surprise but stopped only 50 metres down the road to allow the foodies on. About 25 passengers were bombardered by 15 young guys selling bags of bread roll, baquettes as they call them her - very French. The bags contained either 5 or 10 rolls of fresh white bread. Laos is the first place I have visited where I like the bread. I didn't buy any as I had bought a filled one at the bus station for my breakfast. So 15 guys vie for a sale and it looked like they all got a couple each. They all excited and I was desperate to get going as it was already hot and with no air con I was beginning to stick to my seat. But no such luck.
12 young girls then filed onto the bus selling bottles of water in plastic bags which were tied in bundles to their shoulders. Again no sale from me as I had purchased mine before getting on the bus. After another 5 minutes of muddle everyone seemed happy about the fluids and the girls left the bus.
Only to be followed by the women who came on with big trays of dead stuff on sticks probably chicken, and hard boiled eggs-. They also had buckets of canned drinks. It was now 25 minutes since we had left on time, so my reckoning was that this was just a late departure in disguise. The driver was obviously used to this as he was settled down at a roadside stall having a cup of tea and a chat with the owner. So we waited for him making our departure time about 40 minutes late which, by experience is bordering on being in the "not too bad really" category.
I was the only Farang on board and a young Monk came and sat opposite me and chatted with me for the next 4 hours, which was half of the 8 hour journey. He had good English and was really pleased to have the opportunity to practice it. He had lots of questions about New Zealand and was able to point out things of interest as we drove South into what is called "the Panhandle" of Laos.
Of course we stopped frequently to pick and put done passengers and cargo. At one such stop they were loading big baskets of tobacco onto the roof of the bus so I got off and found shady place to stand and wait and watch. My Mon friend waved at me from the bus, and I waved back feeling happy to have made anew friend for the day.
There are usually a couple of co drivers on each bus who sit on plastic stools in the isles, along with an overflow of passengers. These guys do the loading and unloading and are very skilled at piling and balancing goods of all sorts on the roof and heights that would never be allowed in NZ. I haven't seen anything fall off a bus the same my pack has always arrived safely so that is why I say they are very skilled.
I admired the Laos who were able to stand out in the hot sun and not sweating at all while I was hiding in the shade looking like a fountain. But when I got back on the bus I found out why. My long flowing layered skirt was covered in prickly seeds from the long grass so I spent the next hour and a half picking them out one by one. The dear Monk had tried to warn me.