From Heaven to Hell in a blink of an eye
Trip Start Sep 28, 2009
92Trip End Apr 22, 2011
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Sipaseuth Guest House
We have finally have found the real Laos and what a find. The bus journey was as entertaining as all the local bus journeys have been. We arrived 45 mins early which is a must if you want your own seat. The driver was very excited about having 'Falang' on his bus and took Gary over personally to buy our tickets. We got our seat and spent the next 40 mins relentlessly saying Hello to the 10 or so kids left on the bus saving seats while the parents stock up at the market, which was next to the bus station. The bus set off piled high as normal, our rucksacks thrown on the back seat with a child's bike and sacks of potatoes and onions. The journey was slow and bus drive crunched the gears at every big hill but seeing as we had no idea where we were heading and only a rough translation of the village name all we could do was sit back and hope someone remembered we where there.
The conductors are as helpful in Laos as they were in Thailand, thankfully. In fact they really do go above and beyond the call of duty, if you think about what our conductors do in the UK, these ones, load up the bus with big sacks of produce, motor bikes, we even saw a washing machine being lifted on to the top of a bus. They then lug whatever is left down the middle of the isles. They then check all the tickets and write down who is getting off at what stop, let them know just before the stop and continue to assist them getting all their luggage and product off the bus. Our little guy ran to the aid of a mother with two kids, one of the kids was throwing a tantrum and she couldn’t get them both across the street, so he jumped off the bus and picked up the crying child and carried him on board.
We were left at the side of the road, with a toot from the driver, the bus drove off. We stood round and looked at where we were - on a main road with no idea what to do next. We knew the village we wanted was 1.8km away but in which direction we had no notion. My theory is, if you look lost for long enough someone will help you out and a helpful young girl with excellent English arranged a van driver to take us the 1.8km (for a small fee).
We had a name of a guest house and he dropped us off outside, however they had a private party on and had closed their doors for a couple of days, so we set off to find another. We are in a village named after the waterfall 500m away, Tadlo. The guest house we found is right on the river front with views of the waterfall from our balcony, absolutely perfect.
Having cleaned up after the bus journey, we ventured out to explore our surroundings. I can’t describe how picture perfect this place is, we are in a small village with one shop, 4 restaurants (if you can class them as that) 4 guest houses but only ours has a stolid building all the others are bamboo huts. There are pigs with piglets wandering round, cows pass you in the street and chickens jump on the table when you have your dinner. It’s wonderful.
We had lunch at one of the restaurants, 4 tables and chairs out the front of their house, the food was delicious and the people are so very friendly. While we waited for our food a piglet walked in snuffled around the garden before disappearing under the fence. A moment later a chicken did the same but then jumped in the table and picked at the crumbs. It made me glad I didn’t order the pork or chicken rice.
We went to bed early with the sound of the waterfall lulling us to sleep. We woke early the next morning with the sounds of the villagers going about their chores. The Laos people get up very early and it is not unusually to hear hammering or sawing at 7am. Their daily routine is between 6am and 3pm after which you can’t get a lot out of them, mainly because that’s what time the soaps start on the TV.
We had breakfast back at our village restaurant and were joined by the owner who was learning English and wanted us to say some of the words on his sheet of paper so he could write them down phonetically. He was really sweet but they mustn’t have the sound for C in their language as he found it really hard to mouth the word Central and was coming up with all sorts of variations, it didn’t help that he had half his teeth missing so there might have been some lisping involved too.
The plan for the day was to take a walk to the waterfall and have a swim. We had watched some kids go up and down this track that led up through the woods so we followed that hoping it would lead us to the top of the waterfall. The kids here love the water and are very rarely out of it. There is a platform out the front of guest house that is constantly visited by naked children jumping and swimming in the water. The path led to a manicured garden and a number of well build bungalows. To the right of these was another level of the waterfall with the view of a large waterfall further upstream. We walked over to the rocks and stared down at the clear crisp waters that looked very inviting. A noise behind us had a staring in astonishment as an elephant came plodding over the rocks towards us. Now I would like to tell you that this was a wild elephant that had just walked out the jungle for a drink of water, but that would be a lie. He was in fact connected with the hotel that owned the beautiful bungalows and was available for elephant rides up the river. He was however unaided and not tethered down, so he really did stroll into the river and start splashing water around to cool himself off.
While I was taking photos of the spraying elephant, Gary had made himself some new friends. A few local lads had come down to the waterfall for a dip and wash their cloths (the ones they were wearing) they all jumped in a deep bit of the river fully clothed. It wasn’t long before I lost Gary only to find him also jumping off the rocks into water with the boys, which they found hysterical. It must be a local swimming spot as a few minutes later a group of little kids turned up, stripped off and all jumped in too.
We went for a walk up stream, once Gary had dried off, to view the larger waterfall. We were rewarded after our 30 minute trek with a wonderful sight of a large powerful waterfall cascading down through the rocks. There were a number of people swimming in the deep pool below but we could see no way round from our side without wading through the water at the top, so we decided to come back the next day and trek up the other side of the river.
We got up bright and early the next morning and went off for breakfast at our usual restaurant, the pancakes were perfect and just what we need to start the day. We crossed the rickety bridge over the river and headed on up the road towards the larger waterfall. We found a few tracks that lead down to different parts of the river and we wandered down all of them to have a look and take some photos. We finally arrived at the large waterfall and had to climb over massive boulders to get to the waters edge. The view was stunning, we were metres away from this amazing waterfall, the pair of us sitting on a rock with our feet in the water. We sat for a while debating whether to go in for a swim or not when a couple of Americans came into view stumbling over the rocks towards us. They asked if we had been in for a swim yet, so we told them we were just thinking about it. The stayed around for a while, didn’t swim and stumbled back over the rocks. Gary decided to brave the shadowy waters and go for a dip and I wasn’t too long behind him. With the camera back in its waterproof case we tried every angle we could to get a picture of us in the water with the fall behind us. After 20 mins we finally got one good shot and called it a day. Climbed out the water, this involved me doing some sort of seal impression while rolling out the water on to a rock on my stomach, we dried off and packed the bag ready to go.
The bag was on the rocks to the side of us, we sat for one last look at the awesome sight, I turned to Gary who had been standing up and said get the bag you can’t see it sitting down. He turned to reach it but couldn’t, standing up he looked again for the bag. Walking round the rock and back again he stared in disbelief, 'It’s gone!’
The bag had everything in it, our wallets which contained our Passports, Credit cards, Cash local and US $, the camera which I had only just put in there and Ted. There was no-one around, we had seen no-one all day except for the Americans. Gary had only just sat down for two minutes before the bag went out of sight so someone was watching and waiting and knew the area well enough to get over the rocks without being seen.....we wouldn’t have heard them as the waterfall was too loud. This was our travelling nightmare and like all traumatic circumstances we went through the whole range of emotions. At first it’s just disbelief that the bag had really gone, we searched everywhere looking in ridicules places in case it had rolled down a rock into the water or something. Gary ran up to the road to see if there was anyone around but there wasn’t. We then searched the area thinking maybe they were still hiding. Then it turned to dread, that bag contained everything we owned, all our money, passports and ID and what were we going to do. Sadness was next, Ted was in the bag and finally anger, we didn’t need this, we didn’t deserve this, we are always so unbelievably careful even in this case the bag wasn’t really out our sight for more than a minute or two and even then it we thought we had a good view of anyone coming near us. The shock took over after that and as Gary raced back to the Guesthouse (the Room Key was also in the bag) the tears rolled down my face and the shaking started.
Once back to the guest house I gathered the computer and iPod together (our last remaining valuable items) and reported the theft to the manger. Gary went off back up the other track to see if he could perhaps find someone who saw the theft happen or maybe even find the bag should someone have dumped it. He went back to the top of the waterfall where we had stood the day before to get an aerial view but there was nothing to see. Everything was in our bright orange dry bag so anyone carrying it would be visible from a distance.
Having reported it to the guest house manager, she took me off to speak to Tim the other guest house owner (the place that was closed) as he spoke excellent English. He informed me that they had called the police who would be here this evening and let me have access to his internet for free. I went back to the room and waited for Gary to return, he came back looking dejected and sporting a huge blister on his little toe....but no bag. A long sad hug on the bridge and a few tear for Ted we went inside to get a drink and find out what time the police would be here.
The police arrived at 8pm, just as we had ordered some food, and we were taken up to the end table to talk to them. We had one man in uniform, who’s braiding on his shoulders was far too big but he was nice and spoke a little English, there was a guy to write everything down, and about 4 guys who I am not sure what their purpose was, probably just wanted the gossip. The old lady, who was the mother of the GH owner, had a lot to say for herself and to us but she spoke no English and didn’t really understand that we didn’t understand her. It was long and tedious and communication was a huge problem. It helped that I had already downloaded the pictures from the day before so I could show them on the laptop which waterfall we were at and where we sat on the rocks. I showed them a picture of the dry bag which they seemed interested in and gave them a list of the contents stolen. God knows what the police report said or if the story came across at all but they finished up when the BeerLoa turned up and sent us away.
We slept well out of exhaustion and emotional drain and got up before 7am the next day. Tim (the Guest House Manager) had offered us free use of his internet but the connection had been down the day before and we still had to cancel our credit cards and make arrangements to get new passports. The connection worked and Tim was incredible helpful. The problem we have is that we are in the middle of nowhere and the nearest town in 3 hours away. We had a US$100 hidden in our rucksack so we have emergency money but everyday there is a different reason why we can’t get back to town. First the police wanted us to go to the police station, but then we couldn’t as there weren’t any cars to take us. Then the next day we were all packed up ready to go but had to wait for a call from Barclaycard so we can arrange some money – BTW if you travel get a Barclaycard they have been amazing and it’s not even a card we ever use. After the phone call we had to get the chief of the village had to sign our police report (this is a version I wrote myself as we could get nothing back from the police) and stamp it with his seal. I think this was the first time he had heard about the Falang theft as suddenly things started to happen. We were summoned to a meeting of the village council and had to relay the story again but this time to someone who spoke English. We showed them pictures of the waterfall and explained what happen. A lot of chatter and two of the council left. We sat around for a while and then two boys were brought in. The boys of about seven and nine, the older one did all the talking. They were very nervous and it wasn’t until we showed them a picture of Ted did they get very animated saying they had seen him in a boy from the neighbouring village’s pocket. An official statement was made by the boys and written down, signed and witnessed by the council members. The boys didn’t have signatures so a red ink pad was brought out and the boys gave their thumb prints. After the statement was taken the boys were given a 7Up each and were happily stamping each other with their red thumbs, until they were told to wash their hands. The council members then had lunch.....nothing stops them eating. After lunch they all jumped on their mopeds and drove over the bridge to the other village to meet with the local police and the Chief of that community. We heard nothing more all day but were advised to stay close by.
It was Friday and we were now desperately low on funds, we had to get the bus back to the main town of Pakse to get some money. Barclaycard had organised £500 to be sent to a Western Union agent our only problem was without ID we couldn’t collect it. Our only option was to find a willing tourist to trust us for a start because no matter how we worded it sounded like a con. We had to get the details of the willing tourist’s passport and call Barclaycard with it. Barclaycard would then wire the money, in the tourist’s name, to Western Union. The willing tourist then needs to go with us to the bank and sign for the cash. How dodgy does that sound? However amazingly enough the first person we asked was a little sceptical at first but eventually believed our story and helped us out. The whole process only took 40 mins from us finding someone to the Western Union handing over our cash, now that’s impressive.
£500 converts to over 6 million Kip that is a large wad of money, their biggest note is a 50,000. Gary was boasting about being the 6 Million Kip man.
The day had got off to a great start, we got up at 6am and as luck would have it found a taxi waiting outside our Guest House to take us to the main road, the bus turned up on time and we got a seat. We found our willing tourist and became solvent again. Celebrated with a curry for breakfast and got back to the bus station just as the bus was leaving and still got a seat. The whole expedition took 8 hours very satisfactory for this country where the saying is LPDR (Laos Please Don’t Rush). Eager to get an update on yesterday’s events we enquired back at our guest house, only to find out that four boys were being held in jail but no news of our possessions.
We spent Saturday just sitting round waiting to hear something, by 8pm there was still no news except for the fact that the boys had been let out, apparently they had hid the bag in the woods but it had gone when they got back. There was no point in us hanging around Tadlo any longer, it didn’t look like our stuff was going to turn up any time soon....if at all and we needed to get back to Vientiane to start the process for our new passports. As there isn’t a UK Embassy in Laos we have to use the Australian Embassy to report the theft and start the paperwork , they also get the same back holidays as the UK/Australia so have the Friday and Monday off for Easter. Sunday morning we packed bags, and said our goodbyes. We had breakfast at Tim’s, who then gave us a lift to the main road. We have left our details with him just in case something turned up in the next two weeks and we could come back down.
Hope is a very cruel thing when the bag was lost we resigned ourselves to not seeing the items again but a small sighting of Ted gave us hope that we might get some bits (hopefully Ted) back, but with no news it’s like we have lost the bag all over again.
So we are back on the overnight sleeper to Vientiane to throw ourselves on the mercy of the Australian embassy. Oh and as of tomorrow we are illegal immigrants as our visa runs out today.
Please feel free to remark on any of the pictures or leave us a message by clicking the comment button below the photo gallery.