I feel like I’m on the cusp of something, a transition point between what was and what will be. But it’s frustratingly hard to define beyond that… perhaps it’s best not to force it. I should just do what I do and see what comes of it. And Pakse is as good a place as any for such contemplations…
For a couple of weeks now I’ve felt vaguely unfulfilled with where my travels are at. Not that I’m over Laos – far from it – it’s just that after five or six weeks here I feel like I have the measure of the place, that I understand it well enough to find staying here easy. Since Paksan(probably before then actually) I have not been fazed by the practicalities of getting around, getting a room, being fed and watered; whether in English or Lao I can manage my way here perfectly well now. Which means the wonder of the country has faded somewhat. Most places here are much like the others: relaxed, lazy even, with a gentle approach to life that feels both natural and pleasantly indulgent. Maybe too my desire to shut down and relaaax has finally run it’s course and I’m simply eager for more action? The truth is there are few attractions worthy of the name between Kong Lo cave and Pakse, so perhaps I’ve just been bored!
Pakse, in the far south of the country, is a fine place to be suffering this dilemma. It offers the best combination of Laos lifestyle and western tourist infrastructure I’ve yet come across. There are enough western-style hotels and guesthouses, restaurants and tour options to keep any traveller interested, yet it is understated and still undeniably Lao in atmosphere. And it’s not a busy place: though westerners and locals appear in equal numbers on the streets it is a sedate town where the streets are mostly empty and nothing hurries. There are loads of attractions in this province: nearby is the elevated coolness of the Bolaven Plateau with some spectacular waterfalls, there are several national parks with loads of trekking and kayaking options, the ancient ruins of Wat Phu Champasak which predate Ankor Wat in Cambodia are only an hour away, and the near-comatose serenity of the islands of Si Phan Don is just a couple of hours south.
Pakse is the last large town in Laos I can stay in before heading to Cambodia, and I’m reluctant to leave this country yet. I guess I don’t want the spell to end so I’ve spent almost a week in the area already, and will spend another week or so more before finally moving on. I haven’t been completely idle though: a one-day tour trekking to several waterfalls on the nearby Bolaven Plateau also took us to a tea plantation, the markets of Paksong and a model village where several minority groups are on display and sensitively explained; and I’ve just finished a two-day kayak trip to the Cambodian border which was awesome (and about which I’ll post separately shortly). Learning how to ride an elephant next week will also be a great experience, or perhaps just a unique and very memorable distraction?
I guess what I’m really feeling is the change in tone of this trip brought about by the sheer passage of time. Until now it has felt gloriously open-ended, and I genuinely haven’t given a thought to how much time is left or the fact that I will, eventually, have to return home. But even though I’m not quite at the halfway point I can already feel the downward slide, the inevitable increase in pressure caused by the knowledge that as every day passes I get one step closer to calling time on this idyllic journey. It’s a real catch-22: I’ve greatly enjoyed my time in Laos and I don’t want this part of the journey to stop, but I know that if I stay too long I’ll sully the memory of it. Yet while I know it’s time to move on soon I’m still hesitating at the point where I have to say goodbye… but I won’t whine any further. I know I’m very fortunate to be in this spot: it’s the kind of dilemma most people would kill to have to deal with 😉