Ban Na – homestay and trekking

March 15, 2008   

14th – We were up with the sunrise as we were meant to be going trekking at 7am however, typical of Asia it was 8:30 before we left! As I had time I did my laundry and hung it on the washing line with the rest of the family. The two girls were sent off to school with a ball of sticky rice each and the older one who was going to a high school some money for the tuk tuk. We had a breakfast of basically Top Ramen – it is all about the carbs here đŸ™‚

We had to hire 2 guides as per the regulations as we were going into Wild Elephant territory. The day of trekking was long about 24km in all. We went through mostly bamboo forest and walked up empty river beds with amazing forms of erosion like large pot holes. It was good to take a break at lunch next to a swimming hole that in the wet season is upstream of a large area of rapids. The water was very cool and it wasn’t too stagnant.

This place is obviously very different in the wet season – as we walked out of town they were building a walkway about 4 feet off the ground that allows them to get out to the fields.

We stopped at the elephant tower had an hour snooze and unfortunately the closest we got to a wild elephant was lots of large piles of dung! There was a very large group of westerners who had just hiked the 4 km to the tower not doing the large hike like us and they had had to run down the path as the guides had heard an elephant nearby. As we left the tower the guide lifted up the steel ladder that allowed access to the platform and padlocked the chain.

I bought some bamboo folders and a sticky rice container then tried to figure out how I was actually going to get the purchases home in one piece. After a bucket bath at the home stay we took off with our backpacks for another 2km walk to the main road to flag down a bus to Pakse – overnight 15 hours. A lady in the village had tried to lift our bags and they were very admiring that we carried them we reciprocated the admiration of their skill with bamboo baskets etc. I did try with their machete to do the stripping into sections the bamboo but was not good at it at all much to their amusement.

As we got to the last 400 yards I heard the sound of the buses horn and decided to make a run for the road so we wouldn’t have to wait 40 minutes for another bus. I ran up to the road waving at the bus hoping it was one going to Pakse. The locals thought this was very amusing. In the middle of basically no where two women foreigners covered in red dust with large backpacks were flagging down the bus like locals. We loaded in and were met by a sea of faces – shit – not a seat in sight. We were in for a ride on the plastic seats in the aisle – for how long we didn’t know. The guy collecting money for tickets wanted 100,000 we explained with diagrams that that was the complete price from Vientienne to Pakse and seeing as we were already 80km towards Pakse and we had already paid 30,000 we were going to only give him 70000. He said he would take 75000 and proceeded to be grumpy as he hadn’t got his cut!

 So off we went in the plastic seats hoping not to be hit by UFO’s and hoping someone would be getting off at the next major town. Which to our luck two did and we scrabbled to the amusement of everyone around for the free seats before the other plastic chair dwellers could get at them.

 Annabelle ended up sitting next to the only lazy, large and slobby Loas we have met and has to elbow some space for herself on the seat. The usual karaoke movies are being shown. They are country and western themed but in Loas! All about breakups, infidelity, unrequited love and sometimes a happy love story. In the attempt at looking western all the male musicians look very effeminent.

We are the only westerners crazy enough to do this overnight trip which in the lonely planet guide says is for the masochistic. At one of the food stops much to the amusement of my Loas seat partner I filled my newly purchased sticky rice basket for 2000k.

At 3:45am I awoke from a fitful nap to look out the window and see the Mekong and a very long fire line. They were burning the fields – this line was about 15miles long extending way up the hill. I have no idea how they control these forest fires that they purposely set but they don’t seem to get out of control.

 The last 20km took 2 hours as unlike the national express bus in the UK these buses seem to take you right to your door! We were up and down dirt roads and using our phrase book when we got to what looked like town we desperately tried to figure out if the bus went to the southern bus station or not.

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