Southern (Un)Comforts

It was our last full day in the south, and what better way to spend it than walking across a crazy bridge?

Actually, the bridge was not that precarious, but it looked like a bunch of twigs and strips. Like a piece of wicker furniture from Pier One. We were tiptoeing across it gingerly when a couple of local kids blasted across, laughing, making us look REALLY DUMB. Stupid kids.

Luckily, there was a lovely waterfall nearby to ease the shame. Can’t remember its name, though, and the sign in the picture doesn’t really help me.

On our way back to Pakse (where we’d stay the night and fly out of the next morning), we stopped by a roadside stand to buy some durian, that shittiest-smelling of fruits, which were hanging from the roof on plastic strings. The points on the outer shell are so needle-y sharp, you can only hold the fruit by its stem.

We then drove to To’s cousin’s house nearby where we cut them up and had a taste.

Durian was once described to me as smelling like rotting flesh and I was expecting the worst, but our durian didn’t smell that bad. Maybe because it was super fresh or maybe perfectly ripe, I don’t know. Tasted better than I thought it would, too – like a creamy, sweet onion. It’s not pleasant, though, and the more I gummed the slimy flesh around the seed, the more I just wanted to eat something else. Like the plate, maybe. I think durian has a spiky casing for a reason – it’s nature’s way of saying KEEP OUT.

Much more delicious was mangosteen, which tastes like lychee. And look! No spikes.

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view from the roof of the Pakse Hotel

Compared to the villages of Champasak Province, Pakse felt like a big city. It’s actually big-ish with a population of 66,000 with shopping centers, ATMs and parking lots. It also has a new-ish bridge connecting it to Thailand (built in 2002), and the foreign goods are flowing in.

welcome to the mall

Just a block from our hotel was the Champasak Plaza Shopping Centre, a three-story indoor complex that featured, among other delights, a food and sundries store called Tang Freres, where all the merchandise came from Thailand. Everything! All boxed, canned or vacuum sealed. We walked around for a full half-hour, blinded by the fluorescents and mesmerized by the crazy packaging. A bizarre mix of soft-rock hits and old movie soundtracks was playing over the loudspeaker – “Feelings” followed by “Layla” followed by the themes from “The Godfather” and “Love Story.” It was very strange.

snacking is universal

Later that night, we ate the cheapest meal of our entire trip at a restaurant across the street from our hotel: $3.75 for two big bowls of Pho with one soda and one bottle of water. And it was pretty good, too.

And then we did some laundry.

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