#Takhaek #Laos: Lazy River, Sleepy City

Takhek, Laos PDR: Sleepy City

Takhek, Laos PDR: Sleepy City

 

It’s a long way—and a tough road—from Xam Neua, near the Vietnamese border, to Phonsavan, Xieng Khoang, on the Plain of Jars, to Takhek on the Mekong River rim, even with an overnight break, down down down through bush and brush, savannah and chaparral, zigs and zags, at times the road degenerating into nothingness, but still much better than previous, with reports of deplorability, like that road back in Bokeo, back there back then, 1997 or so I believe, in the back of a truck, sending me airborne at the slightest drop of an overloaded wheel into mire and muck, at times having to drag the whole darn thing through football fields of impossibility…

Mekong River at Takhek, Laos: Room with a view

Mekong River at Takhek, Laos: Room with a view

But we make it, and other than transport overcharges and the typical tourist-town dog-and-pony show that the Interzone interface people like to put on for the international tourist, sometimes to the exclusion of all else, Takhek is a pretty nice sleepy little town, dilapidated colonial buildings in urgent need of a face-lift, in various phases of cosmetic surgery, begging for contributions and the kindness of strangers, racing the countdown, zeroes unthinkable…

Mekong River at Takhek, Laos, with Thailand in background

Mekong River at Takhek, Laos, with Thailand in background

Our hotel is trying their damnedest to be first in line for the tourist rush to come, but I can’t help but snicker at their efforts at ’boutique-ness’: so French, so full of pretench: a door that locks by securing an anchor into the floor, mini-fridge hidden by a clunky wooden facade, and of course the crowning piece of French resistance—translucent shower and W/C doors that allow you to monitor the activities of your partner in those most intimate private moments. Now THAT’s tres francais.

Takhek, Laos: Counting Coconuts

Takhek, Laos: Counting Coconuts

And of course the town itself is also trying its dammedest, new dam the key word and key to fulfillment, only a short hop now across the river to Thailand’s field of dreams and river of tears, short hop from Communism’s field-hand to Democracy’s hand-maiden, short hop from the frying pan into the fire, short hop from sticky rice to the fluffy stuff, still goes down but doesn’t stay there as long…

Herbal cures at the bus station in Takhek, Laos

Herbal cures at the bus station in Takhek, Laos

You gotta’ dig below the surface of Thakek, but the subtle pleasures are there: long walks by the meandering Mekong, sticky rice with grilled fish, sticky rice with lahp, som tam or whatever’s handy, sticky rice imbued with coconut milk for a sweet tooth unrepentant, long walks long walks and more long walks round the decrepit center that defines the town named after a former Indian port…

'Egg' Mangos in Laos

‘Egg’ Mangos in Laos

As always the epiphany comes in the form of a reward for human interaction, beyond an oversize cucumber and into the heady realms of mangoes, gobs of them, baby mangoes, no not babies, but ‘egg’ mangoes, the size of eggs with a seed almost as big inside, simply for stopping by a storefront and making casual conversation, then doing it again next day in a mop-up operation designed to Hoover up the town’s supply of native mangoes, unbelievably sweet and flavorful; I’m sold.

But all good things must come to an end, though, and my (our) sojourn in Laos is no different. Next stop is supposed to be Pakse, way down the river past Savannakhet, blown off officially due to too many hassles and too few rewards. But something’s wrong. Stay tuned.

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