Tha Khek to Lak Sao, Laos

After a leisurely breakfast at the Inthira hotel in Tha Khek (included in price) I was on the road a little after 7am.

Today was only a short drive but I had no idea how long it was going to take as I had never before travelled the route although I had longingly looked at it on a map over the last few years. Today all I had to do was get to Lak Sao where my farm is and try and get there by around 1pm as other members of the team were arriving at that time as well.

There is almost nothing better then an early and crisp morning road trip to places never seen before so I was as happy as a clam (at high tide) as I left Tha Khek behind and headed north. I had no map so was happy to see that the road was fairly well sign posted. I will apologise for the quality of these photos as I only had my little point and shoot model and I was by myself with not much time to stop and frame nice photos.

It was quite misty early on with dry rice fields dominating the view with a massive mountain range providing the back drop.

What I was driving towards.

What I was leaving behind.

As the mist lifted a short time later there were flashes of that brilliant green that I simply adore which emanate from young rice crops. It is accentuated by the fact that this farm must have another water source apart from rain and therefore able to grow two crops per year as apposed to next door where dull, lifeless and dusty brown soil await for the upcoming wet season to once again give it life.

About an hour after leaving I came across the beginning of the massive project know as Nam Theun II.

I will let this site take up the story.

“The largest hydroelectric project and largest foreign investment ever in Laos, Nam Theun II inspires both great hopes and huge controversy.

In 2005, in spite of opposition from a coalition of 153 environmental non-governmental organizations, the World Bank finally gave its support to the US$1.25 billion Nam Theun II (NT2) hydroelectric mega-project. NT2 is under construction on the Nam Theun river in Khammouane and Bolikhamxay provinces in central Laos. Its electricity generating capacity should be 1070 megawatts, of which near to 93% will be exported to Thailand, and its commercial operation is due to begin in December 2009.

The Nam Theun II project will divert water from the Nam Theun river, a tributary of the Mekong, to the Xe Bang Fai river. NT2 includes a 39 meter high gravity dam, a 450 square kilometer reservoir and a 27 kilometer long artificial downstream channel leading into the Xe Bang Fai river.”

Evidence of this project being new are scattered everywhere. From the new roads and bridges to the relocated villages set up in a grid like pattern. The dam that has been created is huge and I drove for more then 50 kms before leaving it in my dust.

As soon as I passed the actual hydro station the nice black top road ended but was replaced with quite a decent gravel road running around the edge of the water. I thought if the road was like this all the way to Lak Sao the trip would be a total breeze.
Just before leaving the bitumen the road climbed like crazy into the mountains. It was awesome fun driving it but unfortunately there was nowhere even remotely close to a safe place to park the car so that I could get a photo of the amazing view that was unfolding beneath me.

Other evidence of the dam only recently been built were the huge amount of dead trees surrounding the edge of the water. Who knows how many must be rotting below the surface? The dirt roads with fine dust and lack of traffic gave off a really eerie feeling as though a nuclear bomb may have been recently detonated and I was the only survivor.

Here is a good contrast showing what the vegetation was like before the dam went in compared to now.

My luck of having a good road all the way quickly ran out as soon as I got past the dam. Obviously that road was looked after with funding from the dam as the next 46 kms was some of the worst I have seen and it took almost three hours to complete. There was nothing particularly dangerous about it, just that the road was so full of pot holes and wash outs you hardly got out of first gear!

There was one section where for more then an hour I was surrounded by my swiss cheese road, jungle and nothing else. No road markers, no signs, people, traffic or farms. Nothing. I was twisting and turning through the jungle so much that I hadn’t a clue to what direction I was heading in and just kept praying that I was on the right track. Eventually I came across a road block that was manned by a fast asleep policeman. I awoke him with a few toots of my horn and he happily raised the boom gate and confirmed that I was indeed still on the correct road.

I eventually arrived at my home away from home, the Souriya hotel in Lak Sao with just enough time for a quick lunch before heading to the farm to start work.

7 responses to “Tha Khek to Lak Sao, Laos

  1. Hi Andrew! Good to have a big fuel tank lol. Looks lovely up through that area. Recently, I watched a doco on Australian Netwrok about the hydro scheme(s) in Laos and it was announced that there are investigations ongoing for another eight (8) dams down towards Ubon way. Sorry, can’t remember the details but there is (of course) quite a bit of ‘unrest’ re the fisheries declining by at least 60%, it may get worse as the fish migrate upstream for breeding. Quite a number of fishing villages will be ‘displaced’ hence, some part of Laotion culture will ‘disappear’ with this. Of course, the other side of it is that Laos will finally have something that will create substantial income. Okay, that’s the end of the ‘good news’. I hope you have a good time on your farm and get things straightened up.

    • It would have been a great show to see. Power is Laos biggest export by a country mile. I am in two minds about it all. On one hand it is clean and green but on the other hand there are many people displaced as a result.

  2. Great adventure not knowing what lies ahead.

  3. Andrew, mist and Thai roads aren’t the perfect combination what with some of the drivers on the road. I guess Laos is just the same though your journey seemed a fairly quiet one without much in the way of traffic passing you. That is one big dam and reservoir, give it a few years and there should be some mighty big fish swimming about in there.

    • While driving in Laos can be rather testing at times I find it a lot safer and more enjoyable then Thailand. Less cars and most of the ones on the road seem to drive at a much slower speed then their neighbours. There also seems to be a little more courtesy shown on Laos roads compared to Thailand.

  4. I agree, life in lao is much more is solw and peaceful as yet there is sound pollution. Pepole in genral are friendly and cooperative. Nice place to sit near mekong river to sip lao beer

    • Hi Jhon, I have always thought that Laos is what I imagine Thailand to be like about 30 – 40 years ago and Tha Khek is a great little town.

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