Friday, 19 February 2016

321 ADVENTURE THRU THAILAND, LAOS AND CAMBODIA (4-16 January 2016), Day 5 - S for Sabaychay

Pakse Hotel
The road to Attepeu
Nan's new abode still underconstruction
Chickens at Sabaychay

Do not assume! When you assume, you make an "ass" out of "u" and "me"!

We soon discovered the phrase is so true when Alvin hung a punctured tube on the room's door for KC to patch. It was the wrong door. Housekeeping sent it for recycling when we checked out to start our scootering tour of Bolaven Plateau.

3 bikes sharing the same type of inner tube but with only 2 spares to go around doesn't balance the equation very well. You factor in the terrible road conditions, 250 km to go, the rarity of that particular sized ended up with W.O.R.R.Y!

We bid Pakse Hotel goodbye with a commemorative group photo. Then we rode out to the crossroad and turn right onto Road 10. Here we bid Xuan Mai Restaurant goodbye. When we hit the T-junction much later, we turned left. Here we rode along the Mekong river. 

We spotted the faint figure of Buddha on top of the hill. We saw the bridge we crossed on Day 2. We couldn't resist stopping for a group photo. 

Colin it seems is plagued with bike problem today. Alvin helped him to fix it. 

When it was done, we followed the road and turned left to the market place. Pigs the size of dogs were kept in screw pine baskets. So were chickens. They were placed on the curb. 

Right ahead is Pakse New Market. We turned right at the T-junction and came upon Friendship Supermarket. This is a larger store than the one we shopped in last night.

We slowly left the hustle and bustle of the markets. We came upon a large hyper market selling building materials. Tiles, bathroom equipments, Cotto, Hafele, etc.

Then, we started our first climb. It was a long climb. At the top of the slope, Alvin made a drink stop by a shop. Everyone were grateful for the respite.

Soon after, we climbed the second slope. VT swept Papa Mike. When the duo finally reached the top, they were beckoned to move on. The poor guys were not allowed a rest.

We turned right and hit Road 13, a dusty road, which is also one of the main arteries of Laos. The signboards here are world class! Vat Phou, turn right, another 43km!!! These are actually very useful information for a traveller as it helps them estimate time to destinations. 

After holding our breaths till we turned blue at every passing vehicle that stirs up dust, we finally reached the outskirts of town. To our left is a green lung of forest. We could finally breathe better and open our eyes wider!

We hit a few industries. A concrete factory, a brewery and a water factory. 

Passing by homes, we see children waving to us excitedly. They called out, "Sabaidee!"

We made another stop. This time a hot day calls for ice creams. After our treats, we kicked off only to see stalls selling fruits a few meters away. This is the dilemma of always never know where is a better stop!
As the day advanced to noon, the weather was getting quite hot. Alvin had earlier mentioned a temperature of 34 degrees Celsius. We laboured on. Each village we passes, the kids seems to cheer us on with calls of, "Sabaidee"! We could only gasp a greeting, not wanting to disappoint them.

On a hilly terrain shaded with trees, Ian turned back to check on Anne. His wheels slipped off the road and almost had a fall. It was a close call.

Not long later, we saw a high security fenced up area. The sign says, "Monkey Farm'!!! On the gates were the flags of Laos and Vietnam. The idea of monkey brains jello served in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom made Claudine gag!

We rode for another hour before making another stop. This stop appears to be the verandah of a house, doubled as a shop. The floors were tiled and clean. It was customary for us to remove our shoes when we enter and that was exactly what we did.

There was a toddler in a rattan basket hung from the ceiling. Her caregiver swayed her so vigorously, she must have felt like being in those Viking ships at amusement parks! Perhaps the idea was to make her sooooo dizzy she finally passes out! Whatever happens to 'Rock a bye, Baby' where the baby is lulled to sleep with soft swaying???

We had another taste of Laos hospitality when a man pulls out a giant umbrella to shade our bikes! We were really stumped with such thoughtful gestures and felt embarrassed we only bought water from them!

After a good rest, we left the family. It seems like Supreme Commander, Alvin was timing the stops at one stop per hour. We had another hour later! 

Spotting a stall selling watermelons a hundred meters before the stop, Claudine turned back to buy one. Buying was easy, carrying a watermelon on a bike was not! The seller resorted to removing her pre-packed 6 bottles of drinking water to reuse the sturdier plastic bag. It was a clever after thought as the swaying of the melon on the bike would have tore any ordinary plastic bags!

When Claudine returned with the watermelon, Papa Mike and Frank were already eating Pho, aka chicken noodle soup. The watermelon was handed to the shopkeeper who kindly cut the fruit up for us. Some of us tried the shop's fried banana chips. Meanwhile Claudine and KC helped to clean up the Pho and the remaining coagulated blocks of blood in it!!!!

Powered by banana chips and ...... blood, we rode again. A few kilometers later, we passed by a shop selling elaborate coffins and altars. All the coffins were beautifully decorated with gold paint and paper. They were heightened with a lower structure and topped with a cover that resembles the pyramid at Prasat Thom, in Koh Ker.

Our next stop will be where we will spend a night before heading out to our ultimate destination, The 4000 islands of Laos! We had to the break the journey as the ride beyond was known to resemble the wild wild west...a long ride with almost no shops along the way. But before we can rest our weary bones, we must first look for a place to "camp". So, 9 km later found us actively looking for a place to stay.

On our first guesthouse cum restaurant with man made ponds, the proprietor ushered Alvin to move ahead. It seems like they were not keen to do our business.

A few kilometers later, we spotted another guesthouse. The gates were chained and locked. As there was a wooden stall meters away, Alvin went over to make enquiries. Out came an old man with a bunch of keys. He resembled a cheery, smiling prune, all wrinkled and tanned! Prune face showed us the place. 

With what little we could understand, there were 2 air-conditioned chalets and 2 non air-conditioned ones on the estate. A room viewing reveals a double bed with overhanging mosquito net, 1 gecko droppings on the bed, a squat toilet, a pail and a dipper. The whole estate could only accommodate 8 of us! 

Taking this smiling old man's guesthouse as a backup, we rode ahead to Sabaychay guesthouse. Sabaychay was recommended to Alvin by a passing tourist. Nan, the "front desk officer" showed us the rooms. Nan only had 5 chalets that can accommodate only 10 people. This put us in a better pickle than the one offered by Prune face.

The first room was a double bed with 1 gecko droppings on the bed. This will later become Alvin's and Celia's room. The other 3 adjoining rooms are in the similar sorry state of overhanging cobwebs, curtains that fell off their hooks, yellow toilets with brown stains, beds with dust that are inches thick at the edges! These 3 were given to the other 3 couples.

The bachelors' room was the worst! There were 3 gecko droppings on a pillow and a lot more on the floor! There were so many, they gave an illusion of raisins being sun dried on the floor! Claudine requested Nan to provide a mattress on the floor for the third person but was offered a mat instead! Alvin suggested pushing the 2 single beds together instead and then hurriedly stepped out. It seems Alvin could not bear to spend another minute in that filthy room! 

Desperate times calls for desperate measures. We paid for the rooms immediately as the earlier R&D reveals the scarcity of places to stay in this outback area! In fact, Alvin had scoured the internet months before the trip and there was not much information on this route, less alone places to stay. 

After securing our rooms, we requested Nan, to at least, clean up the bachelor's room. We also asked him if there's a place we can go to for lunch. Nan was quick to assure us we will have no problems finding food outlets in the village nearby. He was so wrong!

A hundred meters later, we came upon our first food outlet. We were ushered to move forward. They were not keen on our business!

We moved to the next shop and were told to do the same! Move ahead!! They are closed for business!!!

A third stop seems....completely closed, with no signs of activities!

It was then that Celia suggested unloading our panniers at Sabaychay before recceing for food. So, we all trooped back to Sabaychay. When we returned, the rooms were in the same sorry state. No cleaning was done!

This time, Alvin was getting cranky with the heat and sweat. He wanted a shower badly and gave orders to meet for food in 15 minutes. Clean rooms or dirty rooms, we all went inside to unload. When we met again, Anne said she was quick to jump out of the toilet. It was the kind of toilet you wouldn't want to stay one second longer!

While waiting for Alvin, Claudine and VT surveyed the estate. They spotted a pond behind the guesthouse. There was a line of towels by the water edge, one of which had fallen to the ground. They saw Nan picked a towel for the extra person in the bachelors' room. The fallen towel remain fallen.

There were many chickens in the estate. They have a free reign on the grounds. Some chickens were roosting under a shed made out of a zinc roof, 4 wooden poles, a wooden flooring and just one
wall. This will be referred to as "reception". 

Claudine found Nan lying down at reception, watching TV. She queried him on places to eat and was given the same suggestion of where they had just come from. After Claudine's relentless questioning, Nan decided to help us find a place to eat.

When everyone was ready, we followed Nan. He led us on his scooter, while we rode on our bikes. He made the same stop in our earlier quest. Failing which, he led us past the small village shops to a restaurant he later clarified was operated by his relative. The restaurant seems closed for business as it was past lunch time, but the ladies fired up the wok for us all the same.

To simplify the order, Alvin requested for 1 chicken dish,  1 pork dish, 1 vegetables dish, 1 egg omelette and 1 soup cooked in whichever way they deemed good. It came in 2 dishes.... a soup and a medley of chicken, pork vegetables with 2 eggs cracked into it. But it was delicious!

While waiting for lunch, Papa's keen eyes had spotted a shop selling watermelons. VT, Claudine and Papa were sent to buy. They returned with bananas too! The watermelons were cut up and served as an after lunch desert while the bananas were distributed for breakfast the next day, A Test of One's Resolves!

Meanwhile, there was an accident just before lunch. The second entourage led by Colin crashed when Colin's hand pump fell. KC reacted with an emergency brake. Frank who was following behind, crashed into KC! KC suffered a small cut on his knee while Frank bruised his stomach!

We invited Nan to join us for lunch. His English wasn't too bad and from what we could understand, he is a government officer working in foreign affairs and that he once wanted to be an English teacher. He is also helping his sister with the management of Sabaychay. Now, Nan's story did not hold too well when we got to know him better.....

We had another taste of Laos hospitality when Nan's relative carried a stand fan from a room inside the shop for us! But it would seem the restaurant is built without much planning. There was a running tap to wash our hands but without a sink! Instead a basin sitting on a plastic carton was used to catch the waste water!!

After lunch, we found the road leading to Attepeu. It was an extremely dusty road. The trees and shops flanking the road were in a monochrome of brown! We... did not... go to Attepeu... as we forgot our gas masks!

With the thoughts of Day 6, hovering over us, many of us made a quick stop at the shop nearby. Milo, biscuits and chocolates were purchased for the next morning's sustenance. Sabaychay definitely does not have a kitchen to prepare breakfast for us and by the look of the village, we will not be able to find food in the morning.

Next to our shop cum grocer, there was a karaoke joint. Karaoke system, simple wooden tables and chairs with the standard serving of Laotian beer, the village folks were singing their hearts out. Delighted, Papa Mike joined in with a dance and was honoured with a beer!!!

Back at Sabaychay, VT was getting ready for a shower. He thought cleaning the dirty floor before a bath was a good idea and started spraying the floors. The more he cleaned, the dirtier it became! It seems, the dirt in the grooves between tiles were getting dislodged!

"Oops! Better to leave a dirty floor, dirty!"

Meanwhile, a baby frog resting in the toilet was getting ruffled by the flooding. It jumped on to higher ground, the wall! So, for the rest of their stays, VT and Claudine had to stick to their space and made sure they did not encroach on the frog's! The humans and the amphibian developed a mutual understanding.

Not trusting the towels provided, Claudine and VT decided to use their own hand towels. Then, there was the fight for the silk blanket, a gift from Alvin and Celia. It was really meant for a single person and thus, VT had to make his bed out of the 2 unused towels at Sabaychay.

Most of us had an afternoon siesta at Sabaychay. Claudine and VT slept till dusk and woke as soon as the fluorescent light in their room went off! Nan was summoned to the room. He was found at "reception", watching TV again. He tried changing the fuse, failed and said, "I am sorry I can't fix the light." That was it!!! Case closed!

It seems the reception is where Nan sleeps. There was a mosquito net by the wall and his beddings were on the raised wooden flooring. Nan pointed to a half built brick structure at the entrance of the estate. He will sleep in the new abode when it is ready! 

Sitting in a dark room illuminated by only the light from the toilet was not fun. Claudine and VT decided to leave for dinner. KC, Papa and Frank followed suit. The Howards and Meadows were out since evening and the Lee's decided to wait for their return.

Following Papa's suggestion, the five went to a restaurant recced by him at lunchtime. Walking towards the restaurant, they saw the Ozzies on their home run. KC signaled the Ozzies with a "Yoo hoo!" There was a dip on the road and KC half fell. He survived with a few scratches but his slippers did not! So, KC had to borrow Barbara's bike to get a change of shoes while the rest proceeded to the restaurant.

Minus Sabaychay, we had a nice relaxing evening. Barbara made a new friend with the owner's shih tzu puppy that was relatively not browned by the surroundings.....yet! 

The Howards and Collins related how they had gone out looking for tea. They were given the same negative response from the restaurants we entered at lunch. Not welcomed, they proceeded to the Karaoke joint where Papa had danced with the locals. Somehow, after a few "no's" the owner had brewed them complimentary teas!!!!
We said grace for dinner. Barbara thoughtfully asked for Carolyn's speedy recovery. Poor Carolyn,
had a crash with multiple fractures while training for 321. We miss her exuberance!

Our dinner were cooked by woodfire. The usual palate of Pho, basil pork, omelette.....

The Ozzies packed their unfinished mixed vegetables for breakfast. Alvin and Celia were relying on Papa's stash of canned mackerel in chili oil and KC's baguette, compliments from Pakse Hotel's buffet spread! Meanwhile, Claudine and VT were settling on biscuits and bananas.

As we headed back to Sabaychay, some on foot, some on bike, Papa Mike blurted out that he was down to one can of mackerel in chili! He had opened the other one to eat as supper the night before!!

Dear, Papa!!!!!!!!!!!

Good night, Nan!

Good night, stick insect! Please continue to stand guard in front of the boys' room!!

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