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Day 18: Pakse

Hit The Road Jack

Today has been a good travel day. It was sad to leave the quiet and peaceful Don Khone. However, the journey back to Pakse was interesting, as travel always is in Laos.

You really must have a sense of humour and no time limits when you travel in Laos. Fortunately I had both. Departure times are never quite exact (perfect for me!). So when we finally got on our boat to get to Ban Nakasang to make our connecting bus, not far from the river banks we turned around as the tour operator forget his squash racquet! We all applauded when he picked it up and pushed the boat off again.

The boat trip was lovely as it always is on the Mekong. Scenic and enjoyable watching the green water pass with the breeze blowing and spots of greenery on the river from river trees. The most exciting part was coming into the port and watching a boat racing team practicing. The season has already started and I haven’t had the chance to see a race yet, so just as good to watch a training session. Humorously, they stopped momentarily and we watched them bail out water from the boat! They were sitting pretty low in the water. But soon they were off again, the team counting in unison with their quick strokes.

Unfortunately, it was off on a minibus for us, couldn’t stand around watching the boat racers all day. Although when I looked back at the port, the clouds and sky was looking amazing. The sky does amazing things here that make for really good dramatic pictures.

Another funny story was before he took off, the bus driver went around closing all the windows. It’s the middle of the day and quite hot with the air-conditioner going it’s still a little stuffy. The road ahead was dusty, so the reason was evident. About 10 minutes down the road, visibility inside the mini-van started getting bad. I cleaned my glasses as I thought my lenses were dirty. But no, despite the windows being closed, the mini-van was quickly filling with dust! It was hilarious. We were all laughing on the bus. Not too long after we hit the main paved road and the windows were all opened to let the dirt out. This is why we travel! For these experiences; it was so funny. Ok, maybe you had to be there.

On the rest stop, there were the usual vendors trying to sell corn, meat and various delicacies. I picked up a few sticky rice cooked in bamboo sticks. They’re fun to eat when you can crack them open. It was a really good choice. It turned out to be sweet coconut sticky rice! I haven’t been able to find it all this trip, so very pleased I got it at this rest stop. Delicious and very sticky! :-D

Finally, after a few more pit stops picking up and dropping off passengers, we ended up in Pakse central. It was nice to be back on familiar ground and I was able to help a few travelers get orientated. It’s funny, when you’re on the islands, you keep running into the same travelers. So it’s like a nice little community of travelers, even if you’re only there for 1 or 2 days, you’re bound to run into the same person at least once. This is what happened to me, so whenever you say goodbye, it may not really be goodbye! But this time, seeing my French friend to a hotel, I think it was the last time.

So here I am, about to board my sleeper bus to Vientiane. I had my final meal of ‘Heavenly Beef and sticky rice’. Well, it was very good. Not sure about heavenly, but it was warm soft beef jerky. Very tasty indeed!

Looking forward to being back in Vientiane tomorrow – a few more things and places to eat at! :-D
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Posted by Teamworkz 04:20 Archived in Laos Tagged islands province laos thousand four southern champasak Comments (0)

Day 17: Don Khone and The Four Thousand Islands

Just Sit Back and Relax

Don Khone is the much more relaxed neighbour to Don Det. It’s easy just to sit here, watching the Mekong and be slowly caressed by the gently blowing breeze. It’s so laidback that even the waiters don’t bother you if you sit here for hours with just one drink. Not that they bother you on Don Det, but it’s just the general atmosphere here feels a lot more relaxed.

I started the day with some rather superb French toast (using baguettes, rather than a slice of bread). Then I made my sweaty way to Don Khone by walking the 5km there. I had meant to set off earlier so it wouldn’t be so hot, but I was a little tired after the night before. The guesthouse owners hosted a birthday party for one of their children that lasted until past midnight. Very loud and out of tune karaoke singing until late is rather off-putting for sleep when you can hear it all! Even the children were still singing songs that late! Surprising, but seems like they had a good time.

After just peacefully relaxing by the Mekong, I decided to set off by foot to find some waterfalls that a restaurateur in Pakse had advised me of (he even drew me a map, but none too detailed). It was a lovely stroll through the villages nearby to the waterfalls. Just watching the daily life of villagers was peaceful. I guess, because they themselves are peaceful. So many things I saw today that I’ve been seeing throughout my trip that I think I’ve taken for granted.

Like seeing the green vegetable patches that most people seem to have. There’s always chickens (baby ones too), at least one pig per yard sometimes buffalo and sometimes cows that just lazily wander about. I always wonder how people know whose chicken is whose.

Often there is smoke from people making charcoal for cooking. It really feels like an organic life. So it’s funny to see a sign for an organic farm when you walk around and the lifestyle seems very natural and organic! Aside from the incredible amount of dust, that is kicked up by passing motorbikes.

Then there are times during the day that families just gather together. There is a strong sense of family and community that you can feel and see when you walk into a village. The best act of recycling that I saw was 2 children with plastic bags and sticks remodeling into kites. They were happy running about trying to get the air underneath the bags. Very impressive and looked like fun!

After the villages, I continued on the path and found the Pa Soi waterfalls. Like Li Phi they have multiple cascades and parts that seem to snake around rocks. They were very interesting and pleasant to see. Being able to walk around the natural path and being free to wander about the area is very nice. It’s not too busy so you do get to have some time alone with the falls as you walk around. There was even a local man walking about the falls searching for fish I think as there were some large fish traps at the bottom of the falls. There were some bungalows set up, but not quite ready for operation. It would be a lovely spot to stay!

Coming back I walked into a small museum next to Sala Don Khone that documents the old French railway that ran through Don Khone. Quite interesting, had some good photos and actual pieces of the railway on display. Then – another stunning sunset….what a great day! Tomorrow will be an interesting travel day all the way back to Vientiane on a sleeping bus (mattresses instead of seats)! Looking forward to the experience!
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Posted by Teamworkz 04:10 Archived in Laos Tagged islands laos thousand don four southern khone champasak Comments (0)

Day 16: Don Det and The Four Thousand Islands

Don Det, Waterfalls and Dolphins

After an enjoyable hour long boat trip to Don Det, I arrived and was quietly shocked to find the place similar to Vang Vieng. It was a tourist haven with guesthouse and tourist services lined up side by side on the main strip.

So I quickly rented a bike and got out. The countryside was similar to Don Khong with empty rice fields creating a dry roadside scene. After half an hour of riding in the baking sun on a frequently rocky road, I arrived at the bridge to Don Khone. Don Khone was a much greener island with a lot more tracks to cycle down – however sometimes very rocky and more suited to walking or a proper mountain bike.

It was a fun experience to just cycle wherever the road led. There weren’t too many other cyclists or traffic on the roads, you could go for stretches without seeing anyone. However, turning up at the main port or Li Phi waterfalls there were quite a few others but we all seem to space our timing out that we never have to fight for space on the tiny roads.

Taking the boat trip to see the Irrawaddy dolphins was the highlight of the day. The Li Phi waterfalls were very pretty and impressive in its expanse as well as the strength of the water gushing over the rocks.

The boat trip down the Mekong was very scenic and being in a long-tail boat which just sits above the water made it feel like you were just flying across the surface.

Pleasantly we arrived at a large rock on the middle of the river that would be our viewing point. We stood on the rock and gazed around the river. Our driver was very good and spotted them almost immediately and stood pointing in the directions that he saw the dolphins. It took us a while to spot them, but then we got better and he didn’t need to point them out for us. Although they were specks and largish specks in the distance, it was marvelous seeing them pop up and sometimes even playing, a few times they’d splash about and we’d all be laughing with them at their enjoyment. I felt like I could have stayed there all day just watching the water for a fin or tail movement. Except, whenever a long tail boat passed through the area the dolphins were in, it was very sad that they left their engines on at full blast. It’d be nice if they either took a different route or if they killed their engines or slowed right down. Hurtling through this peaceful zone was so disruptive for us, I can’t imagine the impact on the dolphins. The engine sounds must be awful underwater!

Then a quick cycle back to Don Det to make it for the spectacular sunset. The sun blazed an orange hue and as time passed it turned deep pink and spread across the clouds and reflecting beautifully on the river. It was a wonderful end to a great day of cycling, wonderful waterfalls and being fortunate enough to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins!
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Posted by Teamworkz 04:05 Archived in Laos Tagged waterfalls islands laos thousand don four khon champasak liphii Comments (0)

Day 15: Don Khong in the Four Thousand Islands

Four Thousand Islands in the Mekong River in Southern Laos

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!
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Posted by Teamworkz 03:53 Archived in Laos Tagged islands river laos mekong thousand four champasak Comments (0)

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