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Last updated : Nov 2009
Off The Beaten Track
Rating : ( 4.8 ) ( 41 votes )

Sekong, Lao Peoples Dem Rep
Aug 02, 2003 02:39

Pros: Beautiful nature, friendly people
Cons: poverty

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 at night.

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:

"Sekong 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.