"The roads are not that good... and
we have more hotel in Luang Prabang.... It is the old capital, more interesting for you",
I was told when when I enquired about the road to Savannakhet.
Fifty people, eight novice monks, and some chickens cramped
on the back of an old, olive-green truck with only one headlight and bald tyres.
The high, wooden sides were braced together with rope, that doubled as a handrail. The
sealed road had finished before the end of the bus-journey; the lorry now bumped along,
leaving a cloud of red dust behind us.
girl was sick in her lap, and began to cry.... I think I would have been sick
too, if I had eaten the chicken feet, and drank the unfiltered water that was coaxed into
frequent village stops, children cried out 'Soviet'. A Western face was
rare on these roads, even the Russians on business usually flew.
sunset, I was transferred to another lorry. This one was a petrol tanker, with a wooden
frame on top. Six large sacks of rice were strapped within the frame, and 13 of us tried
to keep our balance and hold on to our luggage on top of the sacks.
was clearly written on the back of the lorry, but I though no further than the bags of
rice. A leaky radiator slowed us down; the driver had to stop at river crossings to top it
up with murky brown water.
Sometimes, one beam of
light would pierce the darkness, but the rumble and rattling that followed announced more
than a motorbike.
I arrived in Savannakhet
covered in red dust, with hair that felt as though I had slept on a beach for a week.
Were people staring at me because I was
foreign, or because I was covered in a filthy, soil red?
"You have come from Vientiane by
road? That is very interesting..." Vasily Poolshivalov looked me over.
He worked for the United Nations and said that there were twelve
Russian soil scientists in town, and two or three Hungarians.
"But I theenk you are the first
Englishman. And to come by lorry....very interesting."
He had waited
20 days for permission to come to Savannakhet, "And I am Russian!"
I felt like
saying that I was English, and had waited 30 minutes for the bus.
They were guests of honour in the town's New