The Beaten Track
: ( 4.8
) ( 41 votes )
Sekong, Lao Peoples Dem Rep
Aug 02, 2003 02:39
Beautiful nature, friendly people
I renege my wish to be a guy traveller. Solo female is the way forward.
I love hanging out on these sangthaew trucks because this is the
ladies domain. We haggle with the stick sellers, buy sticky rice,
rambutan, longans and share them around; throwing all the scraps
out the side. I'm the one who just smiles and says, "Lao dai
nyoi-nyin" whenever the conversation gets too much. To which
all the women smile, nudge each other and cackle, "Lao nyoi-nyin!"
Sekong and it's neighbouring province, Attapeu, are the poorest
and least populated provinces of Laos, and are close to the Vietnamese
border. Because the Ho Chi Minh trail runs through these provinces,
they were heavily bombed during the Vietnam War and UXOs remain
to wreak havoc.
Poverty is more visible here than any other areas I have been so
far. Lao people pride themselves on looking neat and tidy, so when
the truck stops in villages and people get on the bus with dirty,
torn clothes, even I can sense the disapproval. But apart from situations
such as this, I am having difficulty reconciling the fact that Laos
is one of the ten poorest nations in the world when I see ramshackle
wooden shacks with satellite dishes attached! Poverty with 'Cable'??
It's very strange.
I had the choice of staying in the nice hotel or the spartan guesthouse
cubicles opposite. Walking in to the latter and seeing the seven
kids, the mother in bad shape and the daughter looking both hopeful
and incredulous that I might stay, the choice wasn't too difficult.
Mind you, when i encountered a massive spider crouching in the outside
squat toilet that night, I wondered at my decision!
The restaurant next door was a wealth of information. The menu had
some writing inside that stated: "If you can endure a place
with virtually no action whatsoever, apart from the public radio
broadcasting the local and national news in the mornings and evenings...
then Sekong Town or Muang Lamam as the locals say, is a place for
you." And that about summed up this dusty little town.
Sekong is on the plain below the Bolaven Plataue. The Bolaven is
where Lao's famous and coffee is grown. I'm sure if I were a coffee
connisseur, that I would appreciate the Bolaven even more. AS it
was, I just thought it was a beautiful mountain range, that seemed
to be covered at the top by clouds for most of the day and invisible
For me, wandering the dusty streets was amusement enough in Sekong.
It's quite an effort to "Sabadee" every second step. The
people here are so friendly. I decided to look around for the river
but could only find little streams. I contemplated for a moment
crashing through the undergrowth, then immediately dismissed the
idea. I remembered the words of the menu:
Province is extremely contaminated with residue from the vietnam
War, and there is unexploded ordinance all over the place. So if
you have brought a spade in your backpack and had planned some recreational
excavation of local soil, sorry mate, unless you're not interested
in getting yourself blown to fragments and making an impact on the
local statistics by adding to the list of annual casualties, you're
in the wrong province."
So I eventually walked the convuluted route down a dirt road and
found the river. It involved lots of "Sabadee!"-ing to
little kids who raced onto the road, squealing, "Falang! Falang!
Sabadee, Falang!" I could just scoop up all these littlies,
they are such beautiful children. It's sobering to think that a
quarter of children in this province die before the age of five.
Poverty, malaria and health risks being a deadly combination.
On a happier note, carrying around a few kilos of rambutans ina
plastic bag is great for making friends here. All the kids love
them and want to be pushed along in their go carts. I met a local
teacher and chatting to him, I realised that here in Laos, English
is still really the domain of monks and teachers.
It took a few hours to get here and though nothing more exciting
than seeing water buffalo be herded happened, I'm glad I made the
effort to find a different Laos away from the tourism veneer.