I had to be physically shaken to be woken up when the bus arrived in Pakse, Laos. It was an overnight sleeper bus. We left Vientiane around 8:30pm and arrived in Pakse at 6:00am. I had heard some not so great things about sleeper buses in Southeast Asia - crowded, hot, bumpy, dangerous. Mine was lovely.
First I got really lucky not to have a bedmate. Each bunk is about the size of a twin bed and your one ticket entitles you to half of it. There's no barrier or anything; you're just snuggling up with your new found spooning partner for the trip. We started pulling out of the station and the bus was barely half full. I didn't get too excited because buses here always stop randomly along the road and pick up passengers. And we did, but the bus was still not full and no one was next to me. Eventually we were on a dark two lane highway type of road heading south and I figured it was ok to get excited about my full bunk. Pants came off, blanket tucked in, and I was out until Pakse. One of the better night's sleep I had in quite a while.
Pakse is a flat, dusty town. Not a lot to it. One main tourist road with decent restaurants. The tallest building in town is a six or seven story hotel with a nice restaurant and bar on the roof that hosts the best view in the city. Like several cities in Laos, Pakse lies at the intersection of the Mekong and another river - the Xe Don in this case. The rivers make for good sunsets. Which is good because there's not much else to do but watch the sun go down over the river.
I did stumble across a barbershop and decided I needed a haircut. It was funny getting a haircut from someone who doesn't speak your language at all. I'm not too particular about my hair; it always grows back. She trims up sharp though using a single razor blade. I did notice a sizable square nick in the hairline on the back of my neck later. I assume it's a mark she gives to all her foreign clients as a cruel joke. At least I hope so. That would be hilarious.
The reason I stopped in Pakse was to explore the Bolaven Plateau. And the best way to do that was by motorbike - especially if you are an experienced motorbiker like me. I mean all my scrapes from my last bike trip were pretty much healed by now. So might as well get some new ones, can't dance.
The Bolaven Plateau sits just east of Pakse. You gain some 3,800 feet of elevation heading out of the city. As I set out it started raining on and off. I kept stopping at different places to get out of the rain. The only "problem" was that this area is known for its coffee production so every place I stopped was a coffee shop. I had so much coffee this morning. All of it so delicious. I didn't mind. I was shaking a little bit by that fourth cup or so but not enough to affect my motorbiking skills apparently.
Besides delicious, freshly roasted, amazing smelling coffee, the plateau is known for waterfalls. That first day the fog crept in as I climbed up out of the dusty plain and onto the lush green plateau. The ride was nice. The trees, hills, fields, and rivers looked cool in the fog. The waterfalls however where out of sight with the dense fog. I stopped at two waterfalls that SOUNDED really awesome, but that's all I got. The loud, powerful sound of water falling off a cliff and endlessly hitting rock below.
So I just continued on to Attapeu. This little town is a world apart from the Laos I had been before. It's the biggest town toward the Vietnam border. Every single person that I spoke to here was originally from Vietnam. All the signs above businesses were in Vietnamese. People here spoke about as much Lao as I did - which is my favorite language I've encountered on this trip so far. It was very much a mini Vietnam. I tried to order Pho for dinner, but they only have it for breakfast. That's how you know it's a real Vietnamese place.
The second day I took the northern half of the loop back to Pakse stopping multiple times along the way for more coffee. You really have no other options when you keep passing coffee plantation after coffee plantation and then you pass a huge factory which gives of the smell of roasting coffee beans that follows you long after you pass it.
I finally got to see some waterfalls today. I think six in total. Some wide and massive, others with several short falls strung together, all near coffee shops. The best however was Tad Suong. It was a smaller river that fell off of the plateau itself. A single stream jumps off of the highland above and down onto the flat plains below. It's about a 150 foot drop maybe. It's really a cool sight from the top where you can see for miles and miles at the flat lands below you and from the bottom where you watch the water splash down among huge boulders that must have taken that same tumble long ago.
It rained off and on again today. Sometimes hard enough to not be able to see all that well. I didn't realize how much rain stings. It really hurts when your moving through it at speed. The bad part about a motorbike is that you get wet really quickly when it rains. The good part is that you dry off really quickly with any break in the rain. And if the sun comes out, you go from drenched to desert really fast. Even with all the rain, I had no accidents on the motorbike this time. I did get a little nervous once when going through mud with a group of locals sitting there watching me, but I made it through unscathed.
Back in Pakse I had a productive evening eating ice cream and getting ready for my bus trip the next morning to Phnom Penh, Cambodia! At least I thought that's where I was going....