Tag Archives: lak sao

Souriya hotel, Lak Sao, Laos

There are five guest houses that I am aware of in Lak Sao although I am sure there are a few more tucked away as well. The five I know about I have also been inside to look at their rooms and quickly came to the conclusion that the Souriya Hotel is the best of a bad lot!

Over the last three years I reckon I have stayed in this place for at least five weeks in total. I find it funny that the first four letters of the hotels name is ‘sour’ as the lady owner and manager sure fits the description! It took me until about my third visit to win her over and now I even get a smile when I arrive.

There are a few different rooms to chose from and I recommend getting one towards the back as the front ones can be quite noisy. Sure they have balconies but the dust is so thick you will never use them! When I stay for longer then a few nights I usually take one of the larger rooms for 80,000 kip per night which is $10. (Some photos here) On this trip I wasn’t hanging around for long so took a much smaller one for 60,000 kip, about $7.

The rooms get serviced every day and I have often left a lot of valuable items in the room and nothing has ever gone missing. The beds are terrible but the hot water burns you clean at the end of the day. Although it is not widely known, if you drop your washing off in the morning it will be waiting for you that evening on your bed, clean, pressed and smelling great for a price so cheap you don’t even need to ask.

No facilities to speak of at all and if you want something to eat that is not Laos road kill and has an English (well sort of) menu then cross the street veer left and take the driveway down past the beer shop where there is a outdoor restaurant 50 metres down and on your left.

These pics are from the 60,000 kip room. The bigger 80,000 kip room is twice the size and has a second bed.

Trip to Laos part IV

Trip to Laos part IV. Following on from Part I, Part II and part III.

Day four was a much more interesting drive then day three. We left Tha Khaek a little after sun up and breakfast at the hotel. We continued north-west for two hours before turning East towards Vietnam and the farm. Filled up with petrol and a few snacks and we were back on the road again.

The scenery quickly changed as soon as we approached the foothills of the mountain range.

We stopped at a few look outs but as per usual it was very hazy.

At one of the places we stopped I was pleased to see a dog truck approaching en route to the dinner plates of the Vietnamese. I had told Dad and Des about The Bucket Trucks earlier so it was good timing.

As per usual the drive was very nice and there was always something to see or take a photo of. At least these little piggies were not (yet) off to market like the dogs. Here they are running allllll the way home.

We arrived into Lak Sao at midday….

… and checked into my home away from home, the Souriya hotel.

After lunch we headed out to the farm to get proceeding underway for another harvest. It was an exciting day as the results were the best that we had achieved so far with some trees showing good strains of dark wood.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cutting down trees and sorting them ready for the carving crew who were due to start in the morning.

Next: Day V. Tree harvesting and Dad and Des explore Laxsao by motorbike.

A Loas road trip and a new stage in life

Phew! What a road trip!

A few quick decisions were made on Thursday and Friday regarding work in Laos and then a sudden offer of a lift to the main highway on Saturday meant a quick departure home for me. At midday I was lugging trees out of a plantation and by 3pm I was riding shot gun for the 2.5 hour drive to the junction. This is where the road from Lak Sao joins the main highway in Loas which heads to the very bottom of the country.
I got out there and as luck would have it the very first bus along 5 minutes later had the Paxse written on it which was exactly where I wanted to go.
Paxse is about an hours drive from the border with Thailand with the road then going direct to Ubon Ratchatani.
I was told that the bus should arrive in Paxse about 11pm that night but by my calculations I figured about 12 – 1am allowing me a few hours sleep somewhere before the 7.30am bus to Ubon.
The bus was a shocker! No air con, no fans, broken seats, no toilet, no leg room. The only thing that worked was the engine (just) and of course the Karaoke TV and speakers.
I can just imagine these buses returning to the depot after a 24 hour return journey across the country. The driver drops the keys into the office and yells out to the mechanic “Hey Somchai, those seats are still broken, the left wheel has lost 5 wheel nuts and 2nd and 3rd gears are still missing.” The reply is the same as the previous week “yeah will look at that some time.” The next bus driver then walks in and tells Somchai in an urgent quivering voice “The karaoke machine packed it in at 90 mile marker”. Somchai drops his comic book that he was intently studying and jumps to his feet like superman who just picked up a distress signal. “Onto it now” he yells and he races out the door to the bus in distress. A bus without a karaoke machine is not a bus at all now is it!
The bus only made two scheduled stops and two stops on the side of the road for pee breaks in the bushes but we still managed to get in just after 3am! I must admit it actually wasn’t that bad as my window opened so I had a breeze and most of the trip I had a spare seat next to me plus they did turn the karaoke off just before 1am. The best thing was that I had told the driver where I was going to next so he dropped me almost next to the small terminal that handles these direct busses to Ubon and right outside a hotel that thankfully had a security guard who was able to give me a key to a room. It was a dump and the previous visitor had smoked a packet of cigarettes in the room the previous day but it was a bed after all and I managed a two hour sleep.
I arrived with plenty of time for the 7.30 am bus but found out it didn’t leave till 8.30 am. Time for two yummy Laos Mochachinos before a much more comfortable ride to the Chong Mek border crossing. It was a very easy transfer through immigration before re joining the bus for the two hour ride into Ubon to be reunited with my family.
I have been away from them for five out of the last 6 weeks working with the week we had together totally consumed by the funeral of my father in law. This is way too long to be away from them and I hopefully will not have to do this again.
So I was very excited to see them and the look on Ariya and Marisah’s faces were just beautiful to see. They were so happy it was great. Ariya has since checked with me a few times when I have had to pop out for a few minutes that I am coming back and not going away for a long time again so this trip obviously has had an affect on her.
Now the regular reader may be thinking why I met my family in Ubon and did not head straight home to the village. Well things have changed. Life has changed once again and we have now moved to the city of Ubon. Currently we have rented two rooms at Pan House for a month until we find a house to rent.
Why have we moved to Ubon when we have only just finished building our house in the village? It is a long story and one that I look forward to tell once the contract is signed and things are underway! Life has been so busy the last two months but it seems to have stepped up even another gear now but hopefully I will always find a little time to blog about it.

New Year, Laos style

As I feared in my last post, my day in day out Ground hog day existent wasn’t leading to any exciting new posts here on my blog. Thank fully that all changed on Tuesday.
Now before anyone starts leaving nasty comments that I am a slave driver, this current group of workers were organised about a month ago and were told well in advance that this job will mean working over the Laos New Year. When I first arrived we did have a talk about it and I agreed to their request to take one day off which they decided would be Tuesday.
As per usual I awoke around 5am that morning (when your in bed by 9pm that is to be expected I suppose!) I waiting until dawn and then put my walking shoes on and heading out along a road that I had never been on before but appeared to head off towards those beautiful mountain peaks that I have shown you before in a previous post.
It was a great walk and I was gone for almost 2 hours. I certainly caused a stir amongst the locals as I guess they don’t see too many foreigners talking a morning stroll at sunrise.
Laos New Year is basically a water festival. In days gone by a little bit of water would be sprinkled on your neck from someone wishing you a happy new year. These days it has turned into a full on water fight with hoses, water machine guns, 44 gallon drums on the back of pick ups with buckets for the dozen or more people crammed in next to it to throw on pedestrians, motorbike riders, bus passengers etc – no one is safe! Well no one it seems apart from me that morning.
Kids would see me walking down the road and would rush out with a bucker of water or their water pistols only to stop dead in their tracks when they realised I was a whitey! Those with buckets would stand still as I walked past, those with guns would slowly lower them in defeat. I never got wet once for the entire 10 km walk!
The mountain range was awesome and I managed to walk right up to the base of it. I also discovered a guest house which I inspected the rooms but they weren’t any better then were I currently am staying plus I had a few interesting people stop me to talk. One wanted to show me some type of Jewell which looked like a button of one of my dress shirts, the other one braked so hard on his motorbike he almost lost his passenger when he noticed me. He wanted to practice his English.

Him: “Hello, how are you”
Me: “I am fine thank you, how are you”
Him: “I am 17 years old”

As I got back close to the hotel I found a lady making sandwiches on the side of the road. Fresh baked bread (The French did leave something good behind) with bits of meat, lots of herbs and chilli sauce. 5,000 kip = .80 cents AUS or 20 baht. Delicious.
I then went over the street to the busiest shop in town for this time of year at least, yes it was the beer shop. There is only one beer in Laos and funnily enough it is called Beer Lao. In the bigger towns you might find an imported beer or two but not out here. One beer and one beer only and the Laos people are very proud of it. They should be as well as thank fully it is one of the better tasting beers in the world. I had promised the staff a box of beer for New Year so picked up 12 bottles (630ml) for $10 US dollars. In the pick up it went and I drove out to the farm.
They were all just finishing a late breakfast so for them the beer was well timed as bottle tops were soon opened and the beer was gone within 45 minutes. I politely had a glass and thank fully that was all as i was then asked if I would drive them out to see a cave. I gladly accepted as I had no idea what I was going to do with myself that day and have never had a look around the area before.
Before you knew it, the car was loaded with a big bucket of water, smaller buckets were found and a crowd of people climbed in the back and in the front. It was slow going due to the insane amount of traffic on the road, all pickups and trucks were loaded down with water and people. People lined the road with there own water arsenal and it was a full on war.
On the edge of town there was a police check point but once we cleared that it was more plain sailing. We went about 30 kms west before turning off to the cave. The cave was, well a cave I guess with the usual statue of Buddha inside.
Outside was a real eye opener as it had been set up for a huge party. As we were there quite early there was hardly anyone there but basically it was a dusty car park, you did your business in the bushes and then there was a stage with a little shade and some tables and chairs where you could drink beer. And drink beer they did!
After polishing off another box they had a few dances before we were off to the next place. Back to Lak Sao, chuck a right at the round about and 5km later you are at the river. Set up in the river (yes the water was flowing past our feet at ankle height) was another stage, shade, tables and chairs and of course more beer.)
Although I was having a good time it did wear thin after a few hours. The music (live band) was typically loud but I did meet two nice teachers from the local school, one who spoke pretty good english. It was just a shame as to how drunk they, and everyone else was.
A few local girls with a lot of dutch courage approached me for a chat and on a few occasions a dance but I politely declined entering the mosh pit in the river in front of the booming speakers.
By 4pm I had had enough and starting trying to gather the rabble that were by now pretty far gone. It took a while but obviously no one fancied the 9km walk home so eventually I had everyone in the truck and we were off.
By 5pm I was back safe in my hotel reflecting on lets say an interesting day. I must admit it was better then feeling sorry for myself in my hotel room all day long.

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.

The internet blues

Well here I am back in Laos. Sitting on the floor with my back against the wall watching the carvers weave their magic on our agarwood carvings. I have no idea when this post will actually get uploaded as I have the Loas internet blues! 4 days ago when I arrived in Vientiane I went to the Tigo phone company head office and they managed to get me connected through my mobile phone like I do in Thailand.
Unfortunately the signal in Lak Sao, 30 kms from the Vietnam border isn’t as strong as that in the capital and whilst being able to always connect the speed rotates between stopped and nearly stopped. I can occasionally send and receive emails (text only) and very very rarely open web sites.
I am back in Laos for part two of our harvest. This time I am hear by myself with someone coming to relieve me in a few weeks time. You can read all about what I am doing on my posts from back in November here and here.
I left Ubon a week ago and had a few days in Bangkok meeting with various agarwood dealers in soi 3. On Sunday I flew to Vientiane where I went straight from the airport to go and look at a plantation about an hour away. I stayed at the new Laos Paris Hotel and want to warn anyone reading not to go there. Over priced rubbish with an attitude.
The next morning after organising my internet we made the 6 hour drive to Lax Sao and then started work. I expect to be here for a while and internet permitting will make a few more posts although how interesting they will be I am not to sure as every day here feels like Ground hog day!
However I have just remembered that I have some photos uploaded from a little while ago that I wanted to share with you so hopefully I will be able to get onto that.
I also need to apologise for not blogging about my Father in Laws funeral but without pics it isn’t really worth it so I will need to do that when I get back to Thailand. It will be worth the wait though I assure you.