Friday 15th December 2023 – travel to Thakhek
We are sad to leave Don Det island but excited about the next adventure. We get to the “ferry terminal” a grand name for what is only a small tarmac bit where only a small boat can stop. The area is full of tourists leaving. With the usual disorganisation characteristic of Laos, there are plenty of discussions between locals. They finally settle on some plan as we eventually start loading into a thin long boat. After crossing into the mainland we walk to the vans’ carpark, where once again, we sit and wait. Not much happens for a while, and after more discussions decisions are made, the people going to Thakhek (us and few more) are called in. We are only 7 so they also pack in people going to the nearby town of Pakse. Eventually we are off. Late, as usual. Alistair has a long chat with a Dutch/Argentinian retired couple: Anabel and Vim. One row behind I sit next to a Swedish nurse who proceeds to sleep all the way. After few hours we arrive in town. The bus station is just within a 100m as we pass and continue, while dropping people here and there. Then we proceed to drive back passed the bus station again and more up and down the main road. Our driver then gets on his phone for long discussions. Finally things are settled and we are dropped at…. Guess where? The bus station!
There, we are hurried into the “VIP bus”. Well, is has AirCon so this is luxury I think. We barely have time to board and we are off. The bus is not what we expected. It has no seats! Instead, rows of two level bunk beds. The bunks are tiny but allegedly we must share them. Maybe it’s big enough for the locals but they are smaller than a single bed so very hard to fit in. As the bus is not full we both settle into two lower level bunks, one each. That is more comfortable. Our travelling companions ( tourists) are Anabel and Vim, two French girls (Marion and Julie) and a retired small stocky long haired guy from America / Iranian called Mozie. We will keep meeting them for the next few days.
Our drive to Thakhek takes forever. First of course, we stop after 10 minutes to buy fuel. Then we stop everywhere around town. It takes an hour to leave town. Then we proceed to stop every 20 minutes as the driver is hungry. Very hungry, as he stops constantly to have a meal, again and again. Then for drinks. The road is awful. So no luck. The bus was supposed to arrive in town at 8pm. In real life we get there after 11pm. It has been a very long tiring day.
We all pile into the same tuktuk and get dropped into our respective guesthouses.
We are exhausted and go back to sleep after a quick shower.
Saturday 16th of December 2023 – Thakhek
Early morning we go around the scooter rental places to make a choice. Most scooters seem to have had a hard life! Midway we bump into the French girls. They are on their way to pick up their scooter and ride the loop for 4 days, two up. After a chat we keep going, certain to meet them on the road.
Late afternoon we go back to book our scooters. One place seems better than the others. They are actually maintaining the bikes: changing oil, tyres and checking things. Alistair tests drive 3 and decides on the two best.
Once the paper work is done we walk back by the river front. The Mekong is a very long river and form the border between Thailand and Laos. A border pass is nearby, nicely named the Friendship bridge.
The river side is lined with bars and restaurants. We see Anabel and Vim, drinking a beer and we join them for a chat. They are travelling to Vientiane, the capital, tomorrow.
We want to get back to our hotel, as the owner has a 6pm meeting to talk about the loop, but we arrange to meet the guys later.
Back at the guesthouse, Jeremy, the French owner, makes his presentation. He also has waypoints for the loop that we can load into Maps.me. It’s very useful. We ask about the weather as it has been so hot since we got into Laos. He says it is winter and temperature can change overnight. We decide to pack our thin plastic rain jackets as they pack tiny, and leave behind our bulky jumpers.
After repacking we go out for dinner and Anabel and Vim join us for another drink.
It has been a long time since we socialised with anyone. These days backpackers are more interested in their phones than the real world.
Sunday 17th December 2023 – Thakhek Loop
After a quick breakfast we leave our big backpacks in storage at the guesthouse, like everybody else, and go pick up our new steeds. The morning is definitely cooler than before but still comfortable with just a t-shirt. As we start going it gets cooler and by mid morning we have to stop to put our rain jackets, to at least, cut the cold wind.
The road is beautiful with big ragged high rocks sticking out behind the fields and forests.
We arrive to our destination for the night, Sabbaidee guesthouse, mid afternoon, rather cold. Once settled and booked for the evening BBQ, we go for a walk.
When we come back a big outside fire is already going and we huddle around it with everyone else for a bit of warmth. The weather is cold by now. We spot Mozie who settled on a tent instead of the dorms and the private rooms. All is very cheap anyway.
With the wifi not working well, people actually talk to each other! What a shock! The fact we are all on scooters doing the loop helps a bit i guess. One French girl is already out after falling off her scooter , we learn later that she got her scooter trucked back to Thakhek while her friends continued.
The BBQ is ok but not much meat, mainly a lot of aubergines in all dishes.
We eventually go back to our room and, for the 1st time in our trip, we are glad to have a quilt!