Four Thousand Islands in the Mekong River in Southern Laos
17.01.2011 - 17.01.2011
Traveling in Laos is quite magical. Somehow it all just works. This morning I got up for an 8am bus to Don Khong (the largest of the 4 thousand island region). About 7:50am my breakfast arrived and I quickly consumed it and pointed to my bus ticket to the waitress/hotel staff. She made a quick phone call and in a few minutes a tuk tuk arrived with 2 other foreigners and sped us down to the port. We then joined a few other foreigners on a long tail boat that quickly transported us to the mainland. From there, a bus full of more foreigners was ready and waiting to take us to the ports to the 4 thousand islands. With nothing more than a few words spoken and few fingers pointed in the direction of travel we arrived. It was a very surreal experience, but yes, it works.
I thought Champasak was laid back, but Don Khong was even more so. Only 3 of us came off the bus to come to Don Khong and on arrival there seemed to be very few people stirring. A walked around a little to get orientated but it really was very quiet that the goats bleating while roaming about were really the noisiest things around.
Four Thousand Islands, Mekong River, Champasak, LaosThe best thing to do in these places is either get a good book and hunker down somewhere or rent a bike. I rented a bicycle off an older lady away from the guesthouses. She only knew a few words: thank you madam and 10,000 KIP for 1 day. That’s all you need, really. Having rented a few bicycles over the last few days, it always a wee problem finding one that is short enough for me. It seems most are set to tall foreigners. Luckily, some young man was walking along and helped the lady and me out with wrenches etc to adjust my bike seat. With only Lao words exchanged, we communicated with a thumbs-up and a smile. When I was all set, the lady pointed in one direction and in that direction I headed.
I cycled through a few villages and rice paddies and just watched the local life. After a quick lunch stop I continued on my way only for my bicycle chain to become unhinged. I tried to fix it myself but wasn’t able to achieve too much. I peddled a bit with my broken bicycle, there was nothing around for 100 metres so fortunately when I got to a few shops (huts), a man hailed me with a ‘sa-bai –dee! (hello!)’ and pointed to a shady spot where there were 2 other bicycles.
I wasn’t sure what was going on, but if he could help, better than me trying to walk all the way back to the village where I borrowed the bicycle. He had a quick look and then went to the wooden planked wall behind him and pulled a couple of planks out. This revealed a little hardware shed of tools hanging up ready to put my bicycle back in action! It was very surprising. So away he worked with a cigarette hanging loosely from his lips. He grunted a bit, used some wrenches and basically fixed my bicycle for 50c. I couldn’t believe my luck that I happened to break down not far from this helpful man.
Back on my bicycle I decided to head west. It was quite a desolate road out west with a few green rice paddies in between. What was nice is the number of children saying hello with big grins on their faces. Many would wave from their house, or wherever they were. Adults too would do the same. A lot of people who passed me in either direction would turn to have a good look at me or to say hello. I must admit it felt rather celebrity-like waving my hand about and saying hello to all these people. It was really nice. The cows I passed made a bit of noise but I don’t think they were really greeting me like the people were. The buffalo just continued on their way, munching, or they may have given me a bleary eyeballing.
There were few people riding bicycles and I was the only foreigner that I saw in 3 hours of riding around. It was fun to see groups of boys/men playing volleyball, or petanque or soccer. Children were playing and doing handstands in the fields. There was so much to observe and nice to be away from the throngs of tourists. Fortunately, less pot holes so no serious injuries from me gawking at the countryside.
Heading north was a lot greener, such a different landscape to out west! Closer to dinner time the smell of smoke and sound of knives chopping up food for dinner were abundant, which told me it was time to head back to my village. It’s very easy to forget that this is an island in the middle of the Mekong River!!!
Tomorrow Don Det - where I’m sure there will be many more tourists. But over the next two days I’ll be able to see the wondrous Li Phi waterfalls and hopefully glimpse the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins!