April 14th was Lao New Year. We are now in the year 2558. I had one of my best experiences of the last couple months on the road.
It started in Pakse. I arrived in a really bad mood. It started raining as I rode my motorbike into town. Google Maps led me to a bridge that didn’t exist. Actually it was a dirt road. Thanks to the rain it was an extremely muddy road. I lost control of the bike and we went down in the mud. A few scrapes on my side and $10 repairs on the bike. I showed up to my guesthouse all muddy, tired and a bit banged up.
That day, I was planning on going to Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands) in the south. Instead, I made a friend at the guesthouse and we decided to load our bags on the bike and go to a small town called Tad Lo.
The ride there was spectacular: There was lush green forest on either side of us. Dozens of little yellow butterflies danced across the road. Unfortunately a few committed suicide on my sunglasses. We stopped at Mr. Vieng’s Organic farm and had some tasty fresh coffee.
We made it into Tad Lo about mid-day. We found a guesthouse where we paid less than $2 a night. I found it to be a charming town. There were all kinds of farm animals roaming the streets at all hours of the day. During my stay in Tad Lo, my friend and I developed a sort of routine. We took rides to see other towns or villages. We were usually the only foreigners around. We got a lot of stares. We would meander around Tad Lo or hang out by the waterfall. We found a restaurant with good food and a sweet owner and ate almost every meal there.
Lao New Year came and the town got a lot busier. The people set up a sort of carnival down the main road. People from other villages came in by the truckloads. Lao New Year was all about getting wet. The locals were all armed with water guns or buckets of water. They even set up stations by the side of the road and would soak us as we rode by on the motorbike (a little dangerous but fun nonetheless). After soaking us with water, they would smear our faces with baby powder. The fun lasted 4 days. On actual New Year’s Day, we were driving south of town. There wasn’t much there, but I saw a sign about textiles made by the villagers. We decided to check it out since we were already in the area. We sputtered along a dirt road between the wooden houses of the village. We didn’t see anyone in sight, only a few pigs and chickens running around. Then, we found the villagers. We had stumbled upon their party. They were dancing and drinking Beer Lao and they motioned for us to join the fun. We tried our best to make conversation, but we didn’t make a lot of progress. I drank a few beers with them. The kids made us dance and of course…we got splashed and baby-powdered a few times.
I was sad to leave Tad Lo. I had a great time there. The next couple of days were marked by an uneventful night in Attapeu, a tiring 7-hr drive through the mountains crossing the border into Vietnam, and a hellish 7-hr ride on the pothole-filled roads to Quang Ngai.