We left at 10:00am Sunday morning driving south toward Savannakhet. Driving in a Toyota Hilux double cab Ute with a ministry driver and two ministry of education interpreters. It was good having two interpreters. I could switch off when the Lao conversation was going on and think about what I had heard and what my next question might be. They had to listen, repeat to me, ask their own questions etc – so for one person interpreting is hard work, two makes it manageable.
We headed out of town and just prior to crossing a major tributary of the Mekong, we stopped beside a roadside stall. One of my colleagues purchased a package of a biscuit and something else for 20 or 30,000 kip. I thought she was buying some snacks for the journey. We then stopped on the bridge and the offering was thrown out the window of the Ute and over the bridge rail. I was told by the 2nd interpreter that it was an offering to the gods for us to have a safe trip.
The roads were in reasonable condition and relatively straight. The southern roads are better than the northern roads less windy. The only issue was that the alignment of the approach to bridges was not too good. The road drops as you get to a bridge and it gives a bit of a thumping ride. Spine jarring. Roads are also raised to protect them from flooding situations.
|Buying big bags of cabbages on the journey home
as the area was well known for good cabbage
We stopped for noodle lunch and along the way passed the major construction underway for another bridge across the Mekong between Laos and Thailand. The bridge at Savannakhet where we were heading has 100,000 people cross it each day. The major export across the bridge is copper.
The drive took 7 hours and it was about 450km.
|A typical lunch spot|
We arrived in Savannakhet and had to find some accommodation. We had no places pre-booked but we had recommendations from local Min of Ed staff. I passed up the top of the range 400kk (NZD 65) place that had internet but was OTT for a much more reasonable 80kk (NZD 13) guesthouse. This fitted in the budget of my colleagues also. If I had stayed at the 1st place they would have stayed elsewhere. The Guesthouse had been doing some R & M work on the room and mine had no key so someone came along, installed a new lock and gave me a key. The air conditioning had a slight issue and dropped water on the glazed floor tiles. So I had to be careful which side of bed I got out and walked on.
We had the best breakfasts of the trip here as there was warm fresh bread, butter and jam and excellent coffee. This was a Vietnamese restaurant.
Monday was spent visiting the Provincial Education Service, District Education Board and a school. This was an urban school which made a lot of money from their school canteen which subsidises their school fees. The province has 7,134 teachers for a population of 860,000.
|A school (actually from the end of the trip, but I deleted
some early photos from my camera by accident)
We had a busy meeting schedule but had a spare half hour around lunchtime. We took the opportunity to visit some cotton spinners and weavers, a skill for which the area is quite well known. The cotton was quite thick and is often used for winter clothing.
|There were some particularly red sunsets while I was away|