If, regarding the month I spent in Laos, the first part had been surprising, the second one … well … would have been even more.
1 January, Tad Lo (Laos) | Day 214 🇱🇦
The 1st of January, for me, has always meant only one thing.
Another one of those habits I have unconsciously learned from my father and grandfather, and that every year I’m waiting almost with trepidation.
13 o’clock (or perhaps 14), Rai 1 (Italian Channel): New Year’s Concert.
But today I didn’t wake up in Italy, and so I chose not to tune in on any TV set and, instead, to pedal.
Up to Tad Lo waterfalls, in Southern Laos.
A dawn without a cloud behind Pakse’s mountains, my Wiener Philharmoniker’s Overture.
90 km of virtuous ups and downs on the national roads No. 16 and 20, my Musik Verein and my Johann Strauss Sr and Johann Strauss Jr.
A striking wind and a biting sun, my usual Peppi Franzelin’s voice.
A bicycle and vigorous sweat, my Lorin Maazel and Claudio Abbado.
The afternoon descent to Bolaven plateau, my “An der schönen blauen Donau”.
Street children and orange monks under the water, my crazy “Radetzky-Marsch”.
A well-deserved dive and some final resting in the bungalow hammock in front of the waterfalls, my final neverending applause.
2 January, Tad Lo (Laos) | Day 215 🇱🇦
After all the big effort to reach them yesterday, today I enjoyed ’em to the bone.
From dawn till dusk.
Tad Lo waterfalls.
Yes, because there are waterfalls in Tad Lo.
It seems that almost only the locals know about it, because there are very few foreigners around.
Maybe because Tad Lo waterfalls are quite far from Laos more traditional tourist circuits.
Or maybe because they are just nothing special.
3 January, Tad Lo (Laos) | Day 216 🇱🇦
To wake up from a sweet sleep and to observe lights reflections on the river in front of the bungalow for the last time.
To prepare to return to Pakse.
To read the message from a friend while you are having breakfast, which suggests you to spend an extra day at Tad Lo and walk to the nearby valleys.
To choose to listen to the advice, while you are watching an elephant bathing in front of your coffee cup.
To start walking, random, towards a mountain, while it’s still morning.
To meet, at a crossroad, Max, a 27 year old Germam guy who came here from his home on a motorcycle, and offers you a ride to the top, where the view is stunning.
To accept it and chat with someone who seems to be yourself a few years ago and immediately becomes a friend.
To walk back to the valley with your own legs and refresh in a pool where children are playing with mud.
To get lost in the Laotian vegetation, under a burning sun, for more than an hour.
To come across a kid who smiles because he knows you got lost and offers to bring you back to Tad Lo in exchange for some “money!”.
Kindly, to dick him over.
To listen to the call of the river and try to track down the way by your own … cause you are not lost in the Gobi desert.
To arrive in a village which is forgotten by God, where people don’t seem to care too much about it and sleep, or drink, or smoke, or dance, or sing, or play with a monkey. Above all, they laugh.
To find the river you needed and tighten your fist up to the sky, calling the victory.
To embrace the waterfall where you started from, looking at it under a new perspective.
To lose yourself in its reflections, once again, and then again, and over and over again.
Your weird, imponderable, January 3rd.
4 January, Pakse (Laos) | Day 217 🇱🇦
I just realized now that I didn’t load the last three pictures of yesterday’s post.
One of a monkey, one of the river found again after getting lost … and then the final one, Tad Lo waterfalls South, seen in a new light.
So I post it today.
Either because I came back to Pakse, it’s damn hot and the only thing I could photograph is a BeerLao bottle.
Either because it was nice.
5 January, Champasak (Laos) | Day 218 🇱🇦
If yesterday I remained silent – with stories and pictures, enough to make me feel like useless – today I went back cycling.
And, as always, when I decide to do it, things happen.
The “plan”, yesterday, was to arrive in some way to the so-called “4000 islands”, an apparently pleasant and unmissable place on the border between Laos and Cambodia.
I was about to book a bus from Pakse, when I thought that I could also cover 180 km by bicycle, in a couple of days.
But, as always, I was haunted by questions:
– How will the road be?
– And the heat?
– Will it be worth enough?
– Will I find a place to sleep?
A lucky meeting from last night, however, gave me a help: “Maybe you can cross the Mekong and ride on the other side for some kilometers. They say Champasak is a beautiful village to stop. And then there is Wat Phou nearby. It is a UNESCO site, you know? Maybe it’s not that bad either”.
I decided to overcome my doubts, and to forget about my questions.
So just starting like this, basically with a jump into the unknown, I gave myself the chance to experience:
– four hours of easy and very hot pedaling;
– a five-minutes dream in front of the swimming pool of a resort, due to a cost misunderstanding with the receptionist;
– a Guesthouse in Champasak set in an idyllic atmosphere, where for one-twentieth of the resort cost I have my own huge private pool, overlooking the Bolaven plateau … the Mekong;
– an afternoon in a temple from the Khmer empire I even didn’t know it existed, which along with Angkor Wat and My Son represents a masterpiece of humanity, where for two hours I lose myself in unexpected views, unbearable beauties and immortal silences;
– a last free dive in the Mekong, facing, again, the sun setting behind Bolaven;
– one of the most intense and surprising days my memory can remember.
6 January, Ban Boungkeo (Laos) | Day 219 🇱🇦
Quick and painless.
I started very early this morning.
At 8 it was pretty cool.
At 11 I was boiling under the heat.
After 40 kms, I found a village.
I tried to reach the river.
While I was breathing under a palm tree along the Mekong, some guys offered me a drink.
We started talking.
They were funny, as well as their children.
Those kinds of natural languages.
They offered me to stay for the night.
It was still super hot.
So tonight I’ll sleep on the ground with 5 Laotian kids.
In a place that really exists.
It’s called Ban Boungkeo.
7 January, Ban Boungkeo – Don Det (Laos) | Day 220 🇱🇦
A moved goodbye to the family that hosted me in Ban Boungkeo, shortly after dawn.
15 kms of dirt road and palm trees along the Mekong, lulled by the morning breeze.
A silent boat, with a young gentle Charon, to cross a little river.
20 kms of dirt road again, bridges, palm trees and hot sun, trying not to stumble on kids shouting Sabeydee, and then chickens, cows, dogs and pigs.
A new boat crossing, to arrive on the eastern side of the Mekong.
50 kms of straight boring and depressing paved road, slapped for hours by the sun.
All of this to get to the third small pier and being carried, exhausted and burned, on the island where everyone here – so it seems – wants to go to.
The island where I will probably stay for a few days, living it and experiencing it little by little, because the first signs, honestly … just call for it.
8 January, Don Det (Laos) | Day 221 🇱🇦
It was a long time ago since I stayed on an island for the last time.
It was Olkhon, Russia, in September, if my memory doesn’t fool me.
Before that, during this journey, there was Sifnos, in August (during my “Greek holiday”), and before that Vir, Croatia … to meet my friend Jiri Oliva, and then new friends Ida, Kuba, Michal, Jana and her two sons.
It was still June.
I had just started.
It is January now.
And I’m on Don Det Island, in Mekong River, in southern Laos, near the border with Cambodia.
It blew me away.
This fact of the island, I mean.
Being on a few-hundreds-meters strip of land, even if surprisingly charming and intriguing, left me puzzled for a moment.
Having boundaries, natural barriers to keep me away from any single free road, is a feeling that for some time left me almost stoned.
But then I remembered the great experience I had gained on the Cycladic coasts, last year, and how well I had learned how to live without rhythms, time, anxieties and possible escapes from any kind of idleness.
Then I tried to dust off the memories of those days, trying to recover the uses I had so much appreciated in the archipelago.
A beach, a long bath, a boat, and privileged view of the day itself, alone, slowly sinking down.
9 January, Don Det (Laos) | Day 222 🇱🇦
I always feel quite disappointed when you need to pay an entrance fee to see something that is not a human work, but a simple – though overwhelming – natural masterpiece.
In this case the entrance was also only a few meters from the show itself, and I could hear the roar from afar.
So I looked for alternative ways, like a river crossing, or a boat or a kayak … but nothing.
The forest was hiding, the water closing the way.
Then, when I found myself in front of Tad Somphamit (or Li Phi) waterfalls, I understood why there were no river crossings whatsoever.
And that, basically, I did well not to get there with a boat … or a kayak.
10 January, Don Det (Laos) | Day 223 🇱🇦
Although, according to my visa, I could spend three more days here in Laos, I decided that this would be the last.
Four nights on an island in the South refreshed me a lot, but I feel that it’s time to change.
To get back on the road again.
To see what else can happen, in the future.
From tomorrow, however.
Today, leaving my bicycle locked in a garden, I decided to move as many locals do, perhaps out of necessity or perhaps cause they simply love taking it slow.
I had no desire to talk.
With nobody. Not even with myself.
Partly because I didn’t know what to say.
And partly because I was busy with something else.
To look, at Laos, for the last time.
KM on BICYCLE: 690
KM on AUTOBUS: 1425
NIGHTS in HOSTELS: 25
NIGHTS in HOSPITALITY: 1
NIGHTS in BUS: 1
EXPENSES: 751 €
“GOOD DAY”: “Sabaidee”
“THANK YOU”: “khàwp jai lai lai”