Rebel Without a Clue
Pakse Travel Blog› entry 79 of 115 › view all entries
"You ride moto bike before?" The Lao mechanic looks uncertain as if, given the choice, he'd rather not let me loose on his shiny red Honda 100 cc motorbike. Wise man.
"Yeah sure - I'll be fine." I reply, adjusting the strap of my scratched helmet, unsure whether or not I believe the statement. Oh whatever - it'll have to be true as the rental company have taken my passport as collateral on the bike and I'm not going to be going too far without that. Besides, I have ridden a motorbike before, for at least 30 minutes, up in Phonsovan.
The mechanic just nods and then watches as I struggle to kick start the bike. He lets me try a few times without success before demonstrating the convenient switch starter located next to the right hand grip.
Thirty minutes and a brief stop for petrol later, I'm out of town and on the way to Tat Lo, a small village to the East of Pakse, close to the Bolaven Plateau. The bike is humming smoothly, the sun is shining and I'm smiling, relishing the feeling of freedom. Suddenly the decision to take on a three day motorbike trip seems to have been inspired. I have the basic route in the Lonely Planet Laos book, it's called the Southern Swing, and should take me through some beautiful scenery, small villages and a few larger towns.
You see I'm looking for a slice of "The Real Laos TM" and, having missed the chance to trek in the North of the country due to days of continual downpours, this trip seems to be my best chance of getting my fair share. My first proper stop is at a random waterfall, signposted from the main road, I decide to give it a try and hope that I can get lunch there as well.
I pull up to the ticket counter, stop the bike and struggle to put the stand up as there's a slight incline. I manage eventually and smile at the pretty girl behind the counter. She returns the smile, as the Lao generally do, even when confronted by sweaty falang (falang is the word Lao use for white foreigners) like me, and asks for 20 Kip (about 2.20 USD) for entry. I take off my sunglasses, placing them on the counter and fumble in my wallet for the money. I pay and then pick up my shades, forgetting they're broken. One of the lenses falls out onto the dusty road. I stoop to pick it up, try to clean it off and press it back into place. Bugger - this never happened to James Dean.
"I'm pretty cool don't you think?" I say, beginning to blush and hoping her English is good enough to pick up the irony.
She just smiles again, clearly amused and possibly bemused by the ineptitude of this inexperienced falang biker. I straddle my trusty steed once more and shift on through to the waterfall and away from embarrassment as quickly as possible. As it turns out, the waterfall is quite pretty without being hugely impressive. I chew my way through a swift lunch of pork and rice and am heading for the exit when I spot a column of tourists heading my way. It seems I've chosen the right moment to leave; there are a good two hundred people descending on the restaurant as I make my escape. They're all Thai and have arrived in VIP luxury aboard massive air con tour buses.
I exchange a polite "hello!" with at least 10 of them on the way past to my bike and decide to skedaddle without further delay - Tat Lo awaits - hopefully these buses won't be going there: the "Real Laos TM" has yet to be found. I pass the ticket counter on my way out, not daring to wave to the ticket girl in case I lose control and fall off the bike. A few minutes later I'm back on the paved main road, urging more speed from the throttle and feeling a whole lot cooler, broken shades or no broken shades: nothing to it really eh Jimmy Dean? Nothing at all.
Then Han Solo's voice echoes through my head: "Great kid, now don't get cocky!" Good advice Han; and if it's good enough for Luke Skywalker then it's good enough for me. With that in mind, I ease off the throttle and cruise rather more gently into the afternoon breeze and on towards Tat Lo.