Laos take 2: 4000 Islands, 2 Hammocks and 0 Kip

Trip Start Apr 09, 2010
Trip End Sep 07, 2010

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Where I stayed
Mr. B's Sunset Bungalows

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reluctant though we were to leave Vietnam we were excited to go back into Laos and explore the much talked about Si Phan Don or '4000 Islands' in the Mekong. To get there though required a lot of back tracking and a pretty dodgy journey. The first leg took us by bus back up through Vietnam to Dong Ha where upon arrival we discovered that our 'accommodation included' in our ticket price was actually a back room in the roadside cafe which the owner tried to charge another $5 for (we didn't pay) and was so dirty that we slept in sleeping bags (despite 30 degree nights) and Jen refused to even go in the bathroom. However morning brought with it the prospect of escape so we left bright and early on a bus to Savannakhet in Laos. A few hours and a seamless border crossing later we arrived at Savannakhet which was a bit of a ghost town, we struggled to find anything open and were the only people all night in the local restaurant - which treated us to a delicious Phanang curry!

We caught a local bus to Pakse the next day which was busier and had a few other backpacker faces. We stayed at Sabadee 2 and saw to our relief a Colombian guy we met in Dong Ha who seemed to disappear on the journey in to Laos. A good Indian curry and nights sleep carried us into the final leg of our journey to the 4000 islands. A minibus & boat ride later we moored up on Dondet the smaller of the two main islands in Si Phan Don which you can stay over night on. The hype was definitely justified - the island and surrounding river landscape was beautiful and the laid back island lifestyle was just what we needed. We had a search round with our backpacks and settled on Mr. B's Sunset Bungalows which were traditional and basic wooden bungalows with a balcony overlooking the Mekong and smaller islands complete with hammocks and a stunning view each sunset.

We indulged in two Harry Potter filled days relaxing in the Hammocks, swimming with rubber rings in the river and eating and drinking with the millions of mosquitoes. On the third day we hired two slightly dodgy small bikes and set off to explore the islands rural villages and cross the bridge on to Don Khon - the bigger island. This turned out to be one of our best plans, the villages were very traditional and the people very welcoming and the scenery was amazing and the ride was pretty exciting off the beaten track - though James found himself caught up in a spiky bush and being shouted at by local kids - he made a hasty retreat. We found, more by chance than anything, an absolutely massive and impressive waterfall and despite all the 'Dangerous Bathing' signs we dared to have a dip in the river on the other side, the sandy bank was filled with gold flakes and gleamed in the light (James couldn't find a big lump though as I suspect we weren't the first to come across it) and the river was really warm... not so refreshing, but fun all the same.

We then had a 'difference of opinion' about what to do next, me wanting to ride the 1hr and a half back as there were massive storm clouds ahead and James wanting to find the other big waterfall. James won. However after a 45min rocky ride later we found ourselves at the very end of the Don Khon island which was beautiful - but not a waterfall. Then it rained... and I got a  puncture when we were still on Don Khon. James gallantly walked my bike to the touristy area where it was pumped up and I rode it back as quickly as possible whilst the slow puncture once again worked its magic. All in all a brilliant day, a bit more adventurous than we had expected, but James has the Bear Grylls book of survival so we are always prepared.

We met by chance the British girls from Chaing Mai again and had a couple of nice evenings drinking and catching up with them. They made us feel better about our Dong Ha stop over ordeal - they were taken to the wrong border and given a wooden platform for the three of them to sleep on!

Our last day on Dondet was spent penniless as there are no ATM's at all on any of the islands and we stupidly did not come prepared, we tried to change Australian dollars to no avail and in the end managed to get a bus operator to grant us two tickets to Siem Reap in Cambodia which he promised we could pay for later when they took us to the ATM before the border crossing. Great news... or so we thought.
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