The Boloven Plateau and the last of Laos
Jan 12, 2007
|12th January 2007
VIX BLOG ENTRY
The Champasak Palace compulsory Grand Gala Dinner put on by our hotel for New Year's Eve was fun with ethnic dancers,
and a buffet offering Vietnamese, Thai or Western food. The Western option (opted for by most of the Thais present) was actually a rather sad looking squish of brown meat calling itself a burger with garlic bread. We opted instead for the alternative gloopy but unidentifiable minced Lao stuff although the fermented sauce accompaniment was pretty disgusting. Following the ethnic dancers and musicians was an audience participation karaoke slot (with a prize of two glass tumblers emblazoned with the hotel's logo). Then there was a 'Lucky ticket' raffle (prize = two glass tumblers emblazoned with the hotel logo), followed by a Lao disco which involved shuffling very very slowly around the dance floor whilst gyrating and twirling ones wrists delicately in the air to wailing pop music. Invited to join in the fun by the hotel manager, I did my best to look elegant and graceful but think I probably failed miserably.
The compare for the evening (the hotel's receptionist) did her best to keep things going but by about 9.40 pm almost all guests had given up any attempt to stay awake so late and retired to bed. We followed suit at around 10.00pm and thus saw in the New Year with a shared can of Seven Up and some footie on cable TV in our VIP suite.
The next morning, we set off on a little bike for the Boloven Plateau, a rich agricultural area, famous for its Lao coffee beans - apparently pound for pound more valuable than gold. We were just thinking how unspoilt and natural this area was when we came across a massive billboard
advertising the hideous advent of a "Las Vegas style Casino" ...miles from anywhere!! We could only surmise that the Lao entrepreneurs were planning for tour parties of visiting Chinese sometime in the future.
Next we found our first industrial scale coffee production. After blagging our way past some security gates and a little family guarding the entrance, we drove for miles and miles past neat rows of bushes, eventually coming to a 'main building'. From nowhere, three armed young men bearing rifles and, in one case, a machine gun of Russian origin, came walking (almost purposefully) towards us. Alan mimed his desire for a cup of coffee but it transpired this was not a retail outlet so we beat a hasty retreat (or at least as 'hasty' as the little 100cc would take us.)
After that, we stayed in various 'Wild West' places, remote, provincial but fun. We stayed at a famous waterfall called Tad Fane
and another called Tad Lo
. The only other place listed to visit was the UN's Unexploded Ordinance Centre in Sekong where we were invited in and shown around. The 90 staff certainly continue to have their work cut out for them according to the horrible map of bombings we saw - mainly along the route we were following -which co-incided with the famous supply route of the Viet Kong to Ho Chi Minh. At least, it transpires, the Americans are contributing the cost of staff salaries to help with mine location and removal.
We finished up at Tad Lo,
a tranquil, laid back backwater with some amazing falls,
elephants and some new friends to share some Lao Lao with (the Lao version of whisky made from rice).
ALAN'S BLOG ENTRY
We are sitting overlooking the beautiful Tad Lo river situated on the Northern tip of the Boloven Plateau. For the past four days we have weaved our way through, around up and over this Plateau and have been in the three most Southern provinces of Sekong, Salavan and Attapeu all bordering Vietnam. The highest point of the Plateau is 4000 feet and once you have made the ascent, the roads and dirt tracks follow the contours with gentle inclines. This has been fortunate as we are on a Honda super wave with only 100cc to establish momentum. There are a couple of main roads which have tarmac, but the rest are well worn dirt tracks.
Resting/reflecting up today, as we will be leaving tomorrow and after a bike, bus and boat journey should reach Don Khon, a small island within the area of the Mekong that they call the Four Thousand Islands.
Reflecting on the past few days is quite a challenge as we have covered a lot of the region, had numerous wonderful experiences and added to our knowledge of this area that is often called the 'wild west' of Laos.
So where to begin? We set out to get deep into the country, experience the wildlife and forests and visit the major river features. We also wanted to see the 'garden of Laos' which produces vast quantities of coffee, bananas, coconuts, rubber, papaya and a vast range of fruit, vegetables and nuts.
Our first night we stayed at a lodge overlooking a massive 340 foot waterfall.
A little bit touristy as this can be visited in a day from the nearest town of Pakse, where we had welcomed in the New Year..lots of "Zaibahdee Pee Mai" Happy New Year.
Wanting to get off the main road and break from the Lonely Planet travel guide, we decided to take an 'unpassable' road that covered three quarters of the Plateau running West to East. This 75Km section took us through the most wonderful countryside and later on, into deep forest and river valleys. ).
was everywhere, surrounding individual wooden houses one would find small clearances hacked from the forest for coffee and banana plantation. Some of the plantations were reasonably large but seemed to be run by the small villages. When we came across a large gated and fenced coffee plantation we were intrigued and blagged our way through the main gates. This was our first, and only, to date experience of a large scale organised plantation. After about 2kms into this 'plantation', we came across a collecting station and three armed guards, carrying their rifles. I attempted to ask them for a cup of coffee, but to no avail. We had wanted to find out more about coffee production, was this a government run establishment, who and where were the pickers, but we smiled and left with many questions unanswered. We did learn one thing that the pickers have to do a hell of a lot of squatting, as good coffee shrubs are covered in shade by other trees and are kept small and bushy.
We continued on our dirt road and make a few wrong turnings. The longest was an 8km drive to a deserted work camp that had been built to house the workers of a dam and power station. Well not exactly deserted, as a hut housed the inevitable security guards. Fortunately we passed a couple of small villages and they all seemed to sell of petrol in litre glass bottles, so we were able to top up the tank. Putting aside the slight worry about the bike breaking down in such a remote area, we enjoyed these detours. To rest our bums).
and my arms from the constant pounding of the dirt track, we stopped often to listen to the sound of the forest birds and hopefully see some exotic colours.
We were pleased to get of the mountain and reach the small village on the Sekong to Attapeu surfaced road. Only 35km to go to find a room in Sekong, so we decided to have a drink in the village. In villages there will be one or two houses that sell drinks, and they then invite you to sit at their tables. Such stops are always interesting as there are so many ethnic groups that each stop presents a different picture..and this one sure did. A row of houses/huts on the road were positioned next to a sideroad with a large sign "Forest Regeneration Project", further down the road was a sign to a major dam. These were displaced people. We sat down in their hut to have our drink and suddenly right in front of us we saw a bunch of colourful wild birds,
shot and trussed, being plucked by members of the family. Here were the very birds we had been looking for in the forest. We heard that in some cultures birds from the wild are revered as excellent food and command a good price..but in this case it was their natural food source and their dinner. Being near to a dam and on a main road, this village had electricity, but all water was still collected from a communal hand pump.
I left thinking about how the wildlife (what's left) ).
could be protected. From what we have heard about Laos government initiatives, it seems unlikely that the forest regeneration project will have any impact on the behaviourial patterns of these villagers. Over the past few days I had been watching with fascination, groups of very young boys playing tracker/trapper games deep in the forest and along river valleys. Such observations have been magnified by nostalgia and a smattering of romanisicim as I recalled the many 'hunting' hours I spent as boy. The difference was that I was educated by my grandfather not to kill or cause pain to animals..It will take many generations to educate their young about endangered wildlife.
Finally we arrived in Sekong. This area borders on the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, and after the war the town was established to be a provisional centre of the area. We found a 'guesthouse' which had been built in anticipation to service a thriving trading town, but so far it survives on charging the very occasional traveller £3.00 a night for a double room with hot shower. On the food front we struck lucky,.
Having given up all hope of getting a decent meal, we stumbled into a garden, we thought a private party, but is was a restaurant serving only 'Hot Pot'. In this region of Laos you are presented with a small barbeque at your table. On top is a conical metal dish with a rim round it. The rim acts as a moat, for yout fish soup to which you add any or ALL of the ingredients contained in a wicker basket.egg, noodles, green herbs and vegetables.
Simultaneously, you cook your fish on the conical dish..After the day we had, this was bliss.
The town was not very interesting, but we did visit the offices of the UXO.
. All provinces bordering Vietnam have active Unexploded Ordnance Offices. This one had 90 salaried staff and we were eagerly shown through their offices and control room. We were informed that only recently has America joined the funding countries, and now pays for the salaries.
sits on the northern borer of the Boloven Plateau, We arrived and we stayed. Longer than planned. A beautiful village setting by two waterfalls ).