Lak Sao, Laos revisited

I had previously talked about Lak Sao here.

I thought I would have another go and trying to explain this interesting border town. I didn’t bring my camera with me on this trip so am going to attempt the impossible (for me) by just using words. I guess I can only write what I have seen over the last three trips of which I have spent almost a month here in total. There are a few pics on the link I mentioned above.

Every day feels like ground hog day. I wake at the same time, go to work where I remain until dark. Work is a small rented house on the grounds of an unfinished hotel building site. It looks like the money for the hotel dried up years ago. I supervise on average about 15 workers with whom I hardly speak their language.

When I get back to the hotel I shower and go to the same restaurant for dinner before retiring early with a book. I can’t read as much as I would like to because I only have a few books that have to last my time here so I ration my reading time.

However occasionally I get to see a little bit of Lak Sao apart from what I just mentioned. Every now and then the monotony is broken by the need to drive someone to the market for a spare part for the chain saw or some more bags. Driving I must admit is rather exciting due to the fact that they drive on the right hand side (sometimes) something which before now I had never had the experience of trying. Apart from slamming my hand into the side of the door with my left hand trying to find the gears or climbing into the passenger side much to the amusement of my passengers I have been doing pretty good! A couple of times I have also made the 4km walk back to the hotel and again to work the next morning for some exercise and something different.

Lak I believe means marker in Laos and Sao means 20, therefore Lak Sao is the 20 mile (32km) marker from the Vietnamese border. It is the first town inside Laos for the hundreds of trucks a day carting in and out all sorts of stuff. As my work place is right on this main highway I get to see plenty of interesting trucks go past every day. They all need to stop just a few hundred metres down the road where the government import/export office is located. Sometimes there can be 30 or more trucks parked up there half blocking the road due to some paperwork not being in order awaiting for a little extra tea money to be paid to let the load continue.

A friend of mine takes a keen interest in what goes past on his visits here and he has pointed out certain trucks going past full of endangered animals. The other day he explained to me about a law brought in by the Laos government banning the export of full sized trees to Vietnam. They would cut the trees down and load them straight on a truck to go across the border and be cut into smaller pieces over there. The government decided that Laos people should be doing this work and that all wood must be processed locally before export. My friend was explaining this to me as 15 trucks loaded with some of the largest trees you have even seen slowly rumbled past, the truck engines struggling with their heavy load. As he explained to me, rules mean nothing when tea money is involved.

The people here are a mixed bunch. There is a huge contingent of Vietnamese workers. They are noticeable by their hats and for the fact that they seem to be the only people who walk around trying to sell all sorts of things but mainly fruit. They are very pushy and basically are a real pest. They sometimes will not take no for an answer. I have been sitting in the car once with the window half open when this woman tried to sell me some oranges. I said no about three times before ignoring her. This didn’t stop her putting the oranges in a bag and trying to hand them to me, when I didn’t take then she put them on the dash and then asked for her money. I should have just wound the window up I guess.

Most of the Laos people are shyer then their Thai neighbours around foreigners. The younger girls giggle when I walk past and sometimes the younger blokes will try their English skills which always consists of nothing more then, hello, what’s your name and see you tomorrow.

I am yet to see a beggar here although yesterday I saw a man who had obviously not showered since the last thunder storm who on all fours was trying to cross the road being missed by just inches from cars speeding past without even slowing down.

There is a foot path for about 200 metres near the main intersection that has has holes big enough to swallow up two of me!

The dust, oh the dust. Dust is everywhere and gets into everything. I don’t request a room with a balcony anymore as you never use it due to the what appears to be inches of dust on top of the balcony rail, floor and chair. Once I saw a plastic bag blow down the main street amongst a dust storm and it reminded me of tumble weed in an old western movies showing a one horse town, it still makes me laugh when I think of it. This isn’t a one horse town however and at a guess there must be at least 10,000 people living here.

The only beautiful thing in the town is the magnificent mountain range on the outskirts of town. Lak Sao is 500 metres above sea level and this range towers at least another 500 metres high. Unfortunately due to cloud but mainly smoke from burning off it is always hard to see.

According to my blog stats one of the most read posts on my site is when I talked about the bucket truck. Last night as I was walking home I came across one of the trucks pictured in that post. For some reason they were unloading them and I had a close up look at the cramped conditions these dogs had to stay in for days en route to the dinner plate in Vietnam. i counted 12 dogs in a cage no bigger then 1 metre wide by about 60 cm deep and 60 cm high. The noise those dogs made when they were literally dropped the 2 metres from the truck to the ground below was quite horrific.

Although the area is very poor, in one 100 metre stretch of road outside my hotel there is three shops selling motorbikes and 7 shops selling telephones.

Some of the old cars you occasionally see are a delight. Jeeps from world war two and some cars left over by the French look quite out of place in these surrounds.

There is a huge market near the centre round about that is a rabbit warren of dirt tracks making it all to easy to get lost when looking for something. Be prepared to bargain here and bargain hard. I won’t go in the market if I can help it and will send a Laos person because no matter how hard a bargain I try to drive I still fall way short of what a local can get.

I have a love hate relationship with this town. If you can look above the rusting metal roofs you can see God’s beauty but everywhere else is dust and poverty. Every now and then though a local person will break into a smile that would light up a room and say sabai dee (hello) which makes spending time here just a little more bearable.

3 responses to “Lak Sao, Laos revisited

  1. I think you did a pretty good verbal job without your camera. It does all sound a little bleak and lonely at times but in some ways that can be part of educating and manning yourself for events into the future. I’m sure a few bottles of the local beer are joy to saviour at the end of the day.

  2. You got that right Hoo Don!

  3. Pingback: Tha Khek to Lak Sao, Laos | Life in rural Thailand

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