Relaxing in the 4,000 islands, Southern Laos

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I took a 10 hour 'VIP' sleeper bus from Vientiane to Pakse in Southern Laos and met some English girls and Irish chaps, who were sharing two person beds next to me. Having heard stories of sharing beds with rather rotund locals (the beds were approximately 4 feet wide, so can be pretty cosy if you double up), I was fortunate to get a bed to myself. The trip was enjoyable and much more comfortable that I had expected. We arrived in Pakse at 6am and got on another bus going South; after two hours, those of us (four travellers) heading to the 4,000 islands transferred to a tuk tuk for a 20 minute drive through countryside on narrow, muddy lanes to a small village 'port'; it was then a 20 minute longboat ride to Don Det, the most popular island of the 4,000 and very much geared to backpackers.

I spent a week chilling on the island and meeting fellow travellers and locals. In fact, some of the friendly backpackers I've met so far have been here, and I plan to stay in touch and link up in Indonesia with a few people, including a couple of Finnish guys and German chap who were a good laugh, and Chris and James, both top lads. The islands are very laid back; most accommodation consists of small bamboo huts on either the West, sunset side or the East, sunrise side, of Don Det. While there's not a huge amount to do here, you can easily spend a week lying in hammocks, reading, eating and sleeping. A few highlights:

Chilling in hammocks in restuarants and bars that line the Mekong river- Sunset View guesthouse (where I stayed) had a great vibe, thanks to it's location and an English chap called Mani who worked there, who really built the atmosphere. For a few days we had a brilliant crowd of travellers based here - powered by my netbook and 70GB of music, which I hooked up to the soundsystem

Cycling around the island and across the bridge on the south side to the adajacent island of Don Khon, which is even more relaxed than Don Det. I spent the day with a German couple and English girl visiting a waterfall and taking a boat to watch the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. Worldwide they number c. 7,000 (with 90% found in Bangladesh), but in Laos/Cambodia (in the Mekong river) they number between 66-86 and are classified endangered. We must have seen 30 or 40 sightings in late afternoon - surrounded by fantastic island scenery - on one side of the Mekong Cambodia and on the other side Laos.

Hitting the beach and gathering around the fire after the bars close at 11pm - another great spot until someone gets the LaoLao out, at which point things go downhill

Swimming in the Mekong - a great way to cool down as most days the temperature has been ridiculously hot

Discovering local insects and animals - there are some seriously weird creatures on the island and in the river; Don Daet is also home to several water buffalo, that roam around the guesthouses and, on rare occasions, stampede around the place!

Mixing with locals - although not the most friendly I've met in Laos (partly because of how touristy the place is - around 50-100 travellers come and go every day), the majority are a chilled bunch and willing to mix with guests of the island. A small minority did rip me off, which left a bit of a soar taste...

It was also great to be disconnected from the world for a few days. My guesthouse didn't have wifi, and I didn't check emails or news, which was a great feeling. When I did check, I read about the Thai-Cambodian border dispute over a 900 year old temple that had kicked off less than 100km away. Both sides have been exchanging fire for several weeks - strange to think of such a conflict given my current surroundings and slightly concerning given my next stop: Cambodia!

Music imprint on time & place: All Star Easy Stars - Dub Side of the Moon
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