We woke early to the sounds of crickets and cockerels, and the smell of wood fire and incense. The early morning light filtered through the coffee trees and made the red earth glow beneath our feet. In a tranquil mood we packed up our few belongings, drank some Lao coffees with breakfast and then spent a good half hour agonising over which textiles to buy from Mrs Vieng. They weren’t in our budget, but they were so beautifully handcrafted and we want to make the effort to bring home some lasting souvenirs. So, those are our Christmas presents sorted.
Back on the road we continued northeastwards for a whole 28km before arriving at our destination for the day, Tad Lo. Tad Lo gets described as a bit of a backpacker hangout so I was expecting a small rural town or maybe just a decent sized village. When we arrived to find a junction with a few guesthouses spattered down the lanes, and a few more along the riverfront and nothing much else. Pigs with their piglets roamed the streets while chickens pecked around and cockerels crowed. A tethered horse munched grass by the side of the road. A few cows roamed in front of the Tad Lo Computer Education Centre.
We settled into a bungalow amid the lush, if somewhat sulphurous smelling, gardens of Palamei Guesthouse.
Alex and Ben went off to explore, Chloe hung out in a hammock reading. I had a lie down for a bit, then wrote in my diary and drank the most delicious honey, lemon & ginger tea. Those 28km and lots of doing not-very-much really took it out of me! An hour or so later Alex and Ben returned with stories of having seen a waterfall and some elephants.
After the heat of the midday sun dissipated we all struck out together for a wander. We walked down the road to find Tad Lo Falls then followed a path upstream alongside the river to where the two elephants were kept at Tad Lo Lodge. Chloe was initially disappointed at not being able to feed them, but I pointed out to her that these elephants were chained up, and were displaying repetitive stereotypic behaviour such as swaying side to side. It was a good chance to have a discussion about the ethical treatment of animals, and how it isn’t good to support unethical practices as that will encourage them. Chloe came away feeling sorry for the elephants, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing for her to learn at her age. After we left the elephants we continued alongside the river through light jungle to a second waterfall.
There was a way to get down to the river but I was dubious, and Chloe absolutely forbade any of us to set foot on it:
The late afternoon light was fading so we set off back to Palamei for the evening. Every night they start cooking a set family meal around 6:30pm, creating a range of Asian and Western dishes in which you can partake for 35,000kip. If you wish, you are welcome to join in and help with the preparation and learn how to make some dishes. Like a very loose and informal cooking class. The kids were super hyped to get involved and thoroughly enjoyed making the Fresh Spring Rolls for the evening. The meal was tasty, filling and convivial, a really nice way to spend an evening that I’d recommend to anyone. You know, if you so happen to be in that remote part of Laos.
Dinner was consumed, banana cake was scoffed down for dessert; then it was time for bed. We retired to our bungalow while the family who runs Palamei retired to their mattress on the floor behind the reception desk, a thin curtain pulled across for privacy.
The standard of living here in Laos is reminiscent of what I saw when I first visited Thailand 20 years ago, when guesthouse staff could usually be found sleeping on pool tables and deckchairs near reception. You don’t see that much, if at all, in the more touristed areas of Thailand nowadays. Certainly on Koh Pha Ngan tourism has brought with it wealth for the local islanders, who mostly live in decent concrete houses now instead of the ramshackle stilted wooden houses that you see in other parts of the country and still find in most of Laos.
But for us, it was off to a private en-suite bungalow with a hard bed and lumpy pillows, practically luxury. We’d have a decision to make tomorrow; do the “Short Loop” and head back to Pakse, or continue on the “Long Loop”, committing ourselves to a few more days on the road.
General Loop Info:
Cost of semi-automatic motorbikes : 50,000 kip/bike/day
Distance travelled Day 2 – Mr Vieng’s Homestay to Tad Lo : 28km
Hours of rain : 0 (again!)
Accommodation : Family Bungalow with fan and private bathroom @ Palamei Guest House (1 Double Bed and 1 single bed): 80,000kip/night
Food: Evening Family Meal @ Palamei Guest House: 35,000kip/adult, children free.
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