Si Phane Done: Saturday 1st March 2008

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I was up before dawn, and walked out to watch the sun rising over the Mekong. Some monks were walking along the river but I missed a beautiful photo of them with the sunrise as the battery went flat in the camera and I was locked out with Michelle still asleep and couldnít change it.

We are not quite getting what is meant to be happening with our new guide. He said he would pick us up at 8:00, but was at our hotel at 7:00. Questions on whether we were late or he was early or checking the time on our watch didnít really get resolved. I guess this was laid back Laos.

We had a filling breakfast of scrambled eggs and the most beautiful sweet orange juice. We rushed our breakfast, finishing at 7:30 only to not be able to find our guide anywhere. We wandered along the banks waiting; he showed up soon after but then we couldnít find our boat driver. Eventually we were off down the river.

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The river is quite low due to the dry season, and careful navigation was required to avoid the many rapids and sandbars. The water was crystal clear and flowing quite quickly.

The French had built concrete markers in the water to assist with navigating but when the river would be in full flood, Iíd imagine that theyíd be submerged and quite dangerous.

We spotted numerous water buffalo wading in the shallows or eating weed off the river bottom. There was a group of water buffalo gathered on the sandy riverbank below a village; the normal sedate buffalo contrasting with a highly energetic calf that was running up and down the beach between them, splashing in the water.

Corn, beans, cabbage and other crops were growing on the river banks and on the small islands as we continued down river.

We passed rows of backpacker huts ($3/night) and scores of backpackers floating in the river. Nearby a large concrete pier built by the French for unloading logs from the river and moving them across land on a narrow gauge railway to get them around the water falls and rapids further down river.

The bridge, some track and the rusting locomotive still remained at the village.

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We walked to Liphi Falls, with a local dog we picked up at the bridge following us all the way. Our guide told us how the dog is the protector, and he took to his role seriously as he walked on ahead, investigating each little sound from the bushes to the side of the path.

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Liphi Falls means spirit trap. We could see fish traps built at various heights of the waterfall to catch fish at different times throughout the year. The falls were quite spectacular though we were told they are much better during the wet season.

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We bought some T-Shirts for 25000Kip and a nice cool drink too, then made our way back into the village for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong near the French Railway bridge.

Again we werenít quite sure what we were to do, as our guide disappeared without explanation. All of our guides on Myanmar had joined us for lunch but that didnít seem to be the way in Laos. Our guide eventually showed up sitting at another table with some locals, and since no food had arrived we simply ordered what we wanted off the menu. Chicken Biyani Rice, Fried Rice with chicken and very tasty spring rolls. I tried to ask the waiter what Lao Lao was but we couldnít understand each other, so being adventurous I ordered a Lao Lao banana shake, thinking Lao Lao was some type of local fruit. Turns out it is very potent rice whiskey, so I ordered another!

Then restaurant owner then came running over wandering if we had ordered, which I told him yes. He then ran off to the kitchen. Iím not sure if he was worried that we hadnít ordered, or that we had ordered and he needed to cancel whatever it was we were going to get instead. Anyway the food was really nice, as usual.

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After lunch we drove to Khone Phapeng. These water falls were very spectacular, and are best viewed in the dry season as during the wet season they are completely under water.

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Next stop was an elephant ride up to the top of Phou Asa Hill.The ruins at the top of the hill were quite bizarre, comprising of rocks piled into mushroom shaped columns bordering a large flat area with ruined crumbling temple. I walked down the other side of the hill to the Buddhaís foot, and to the jungle edge before returning to our elephant. I think Iím now done with elephant rides for the rest of my life. I feel sorry for the poor things lugging tourists up and down the hills all day, the ride is quite uncomfortable, and the elephant clearly didnít enjoy it either, spraying us repeatedly by emptying the mucous out of his trunk. At least we got to recognise the warning signs. He would drawback the mucous in his throat with an audible snort, and then pump it out first one side then the other covering us both. There was nowhere to go, but at least I could cover the camera and look the other way.

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I bought him a sugar cane for him when we arrived back anyway. I intended to give him one a time so I could watch him eat them but he grabbed both of them out of my hand. I wasnít going to argue with him, they are damn big when you are standing on the ground in front of them.

It was a long drive back to Pakse and we were in luck as there was a massage shop right across the road from our hotel (Hotel Pakse). Full body massage or foot massage for 35000 Kip. It was the best massage I have ever had and sorely needed after that elephant ride.

We dined at the hotel restaurant. Pork spare ribs (which were not like we normally have them) and some other dish I can no longer remember. At least we had learnt not to order so many dishes!