February 15, 2010

301206 Monsavan Guesthouse

Travel guidebooks, websites & fellow tourists all warned about the unique baggage retrieval system that Pak Beng ground handling services imposes on arriving passengers. On arrival, baggage is grabbed unloaded from boats at a speed that puts 'first bag on belt within 12 minutes' Singapore Airport Terminal Services at Changi to shame. Service is delivered with an efficiency rather uncharacteristic of Laos - passengers often realise that their bags have been taken hostage carried to the top of the boat landing only when they discover them missing as they disembark, & find themselves with no choice but to pay the baggage handlers in order to free claim their hostages bags. In some cases passengers succeed in negotiating discounts on the ransom extorted sum baggage handling fees or even a waiver, by agreeing to stay at the guesthouse that their baggage kidnapper handler touts represents.

As such, the cat realised that we were approaching Pak Beng when the other foreigners on board (a Kiwi who'd travelled downriver 4 days ago, & 3 don't-mess-with-me Korean ladies) went to the front of the boat to retrieve & strap on their backpacks before the boat docked, & told the cat to do likewise.

Arriving at Pak Beng:


ETL (left tower, above) & LaoTel (right tower, above) are the mobile network service providers covering huge swathes of rural Laos far beyond the reach of their rivals.

Guesthouses & restaurants lining the main road leading from the boat landing into town:


Reception was muted - turns out that we'd arrived ahead of the downriver backpacker 'cattle boat', & guesthouse touts waiting at the top of the boat landing didn't seem to be expecting us. Perhaps (1) Pak Beng ground handling services is under contract to cater exclusively to downriver boats, or (2) upriver boats aren't expected to have foreigners + backpacks & manpower is thus reserved for richer pickings from the far more heavily (over)loaded downriver boats, or (3) they simply realised that they'd be pre-empted when they spotted the foreigners already carrying their own backpacks...whatever the reason for their lack of enthusiasm, we were left to carry our stuff up a steep rocky + sandy slope in peace :) The few touts armed with A4 printouts of guesthouse room photos who approached Mr Kiwi - the only Western face among the foreigners - were easily taken care of with smiles & the cat bluffing telling them in Lao that we already had rooms.

Recommended by the French/Thai couple the cat first met in Phongsaly, & then again in Luang Prabang:


Photo taken the next morning as Mr Kiwi (bottom right) had breakfast outside:


Breakfast (not included in room rate) may be ordered in advance when checking in - realised this when Mrs Monsavan Guesthouse asked the cat to help her explain to all guests in English that she had run out of baguettes & new supplies would not arrive in time.

Room #2 on the ground floor - cleanest lodgings on this trip:


Newly rebuilt 4 months ago in August 2006. In its previous incarnation it was a bamboo structure with toilets across the road from the rooms. 2.5 years later the description/review on Travelfish (but not the room rate) has finally been updated.

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