The streets of Savannaket . . .

I managed to finish “Catfish and Mandala” (which incidently is an excellent book : well-written, funny, insightful, moving, and with a fantastic use of imagery, which transports you to the heart of the situations Pham describes) sooner than i expected because, what was supposed to be a 5 hour bus journey to Nakhon Phanon, turned out to be nearly 8! I also had to tolerate a very annoying and cocky conductor (or whatever they call the people who collect your tickets here in Thailand). He attempted to speak Thai to me (the only westerner on the bus), to which i replied, “dii-chan phuut phaasaa thai mai dai” (i don’t speak Thai). He obviously gathered from my very bad pronounciation and intonation that indeed i did not speak Thai, and therefore more than likely did not understand it either! He proceeded to speak more Thai to me and had the nearby passengers in stitches, presumably at my expense. Where’s Tao when i need him? I would have loved to have understood this guy and responded with a suitably quick-witted remark, and left a stunned and speehless expression on his cocky little face.

Fortunately after a while of ignoring him (which i don’t normally like to do but with this character i had no qualms about doing so) and sticking my hed in my book, he left me alone. We eventually arrived in Nakhon Phanon at around 4:45pm, just in time for me to catch the last bus of the day to Mukdahan, in order to cross the border into Laos.

It was blowing a gale when we pulled into Mukdahan and i was shivering in my little sleeveless T-shirt, being laughed at by the locals who thought i was a bit crazy in the head when they all had coats on! Maybe they’re a bit more used to this erratic weather we’ve been having lately : 2 days ago i could barely reathe the air was so stifling, so packing a jumper in my hand luggage when i left Nong Khai was not a concept that even entered my head.

I checked into the Hua Hin Hotel in Mukdahan, expecting to have to pay at least 280THB for a room, so i was pleasantly surprised when the limited-English speaking owner produced one for 120THB with a double bed, complementary towel and soap and enough room to swing a tiger in!

In the evening i walked along the riverfront to Wine Wild Why. The length of the walk was exaggerated by the fact that, even wearing a jumper (the only one i have with me) and a scarf i bought at one of the Karen villages, i still had severe goosebumps on my arms and was longing for my cosy, warm hotel bed . . .

The restaurant was a little bamboo building right on the river with heaps of character and an extensive hand-written English menu. The only other people in the restaurant were a group of 4 Thai men, guzzling their way through bottles of beer Chang and enthusiastically singing along to the current music offerings being played through the restaurant speakers. They jovially interupted my meal on several occasions with drunken shouts of “cheers!” or “Tam Jaw!” (phonetic spelling, Thai for Cheers), to which I, amused by their friendly state of intoxication, rose my glass in response.

MUKDAHAN – SAVANNAKET

1500THB poorer and i’m back in Laos! As soon as stepped back on to Lao shores, an air of calm pervaded me; a feeling of being back off the beaten track once again . . surrounded by crumbling colonial architecture, tall trees, uneven roads, and friendly, curious children. There’s not a lot to do in Savannaket, apart from wandering through the quiet streets and observing all of the above. There are a couple of temples in the town, Wat Rattanalangsi and Wat Sainyaphum. Wat Sainyaphum holds an attractive setting along the banks of the Mekong. It’s the oldest and largest monastry in Savan, with more than 100 monks and novices in residence, and a walk around the grounds will guarantee that you are approached by at least one of them, keen to practice their English.

After my aimless and pleasant wander around Savannaket’s streets and temples, i called into the Provincial Tourism Office to enquire about the possibility of doing a trek to Dong Phu Vieng National Protected Area, home to a number of Katang villages and one of Lonely Planet’s recommended highlights in Laos. Yet again i encountered the same problem : a minimum of 2 people were required before the trek will go ahead. I returned to the office just before closing time, when i was informed that there would be no trek leaving to Dong Phu Vieng (no surprises there) but there was a 2 day trek now available (as 2 Australian tourists had signed up) to Dong Natad Provincial Protected Area and a homestay in Ban Phonsim. At $45 for 2 days, it’s a little over my budget, but the trek sounds interesting, well organised, and professional, and it’s the only trek i’ll be doing during this stay in Laos.

Photo is of a modern looking creation which looked rather out of place amongst Savannaket’s crumbling colonial buildings.

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