4000 Islands, 2 Bikes and 1 Sunday Dinner

Trip Start Mar 01, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Sengahloune Guesthouse

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blog Writer: Jen

We got up early on the morning of the 12th so that we had time for some breakfast. It just so happened to be our 4 year anniversary so we celebrated by having a pre-breakfast of chocolate cake - Yum!

Once we were up and ready and full of cake I went to the ATM and got some Kip (Laos currency) whilst Boff went to the bank to get some Kip changed into 20 dollars (no cash machines on the 4000 islands so you have to plan ahead). Whilst I was still waiting at the ATM behind a man who did not know how to use one Boff returned without any Kip left over and 62 dollars in hand, it would appear we had a mis-understanding.

After our 2nd breakfast we climbed into a tuk-tuk after agreeing a price with the gentleman that waited throughout whilst we ate breakfast (we didn’t ask for this he just did in the hope we would need a ride). We arrived at the southern bus station 10 minutes before 11am and asked about a bus to Nakasang, from Nakasang you then take a boat to Don Khon. We were pointed in the direction of a jam-packed tuk-tuk heavy with people and goods. The journey to Nakasang takes 3 hours and we didn’t fancy being squashed like sardines in the tuk-tuk for that amount of time. I asked if there was a big bus that would be leaving, to which we were told “No” only a tuk-tuk. The information desk confirmed this but also suggested a mini bus to Muang Khong and from there we should/maybe be able to get a boat down to Don Khon.

Me and Boff stood in the car park (mud pit) of the bus station weighing up our options, both the tuk-tuk and mini van were due to leave at 11am and we had a crowd of people around us some in favour of the mini-van some in favour of the tuk-tuk. Both the mini-van and tuk-tuks are supposed to leave every hour so we made the decision to escape the crowd and spend an hour deciding the best course of action, we could then get either the tuk-tuk or mini-van at 12pm.

We sat down and decided on the uncomfortable tuk-tuk after a while, we didn’t want to end up in Muang Khong and be stuck there so we accepted our fate and bought two tickets to Nakasang leaving at 12pm on the tuk-tuk. It did cross our mind that we should return to Pakse stay another night and get a tourist mini-bus in the morning but we wanted to get to 4000 islands and the tuk-tuk is also half the price.

During our wait we got talking to an Ex-pat called Carl from Wales and his girlfriend Nong. Carl used to work as a commercial diver until he had a turn of bad look and decided to leave the UK, 6 months ago he visited Don Khon, built a house there and is starting a business selling cheese and bacon (luxuries hard to come by). Carl shared his knowledge of Don Khon and asked if we would like to get the boat with him and Nong at Nakasang, to which we agreed.

At 11.59am we all got on the tuk-tuk ready to leave. At 12.30pm we were all still waiting patiently having not moved. We found out through Nong that the tuk-tuk wouldn’t leave now till 1pm, Monday is a Buddhist day so the tuk-tuks are quiet, they wanted to wait till they could overfill it and squash everyone in.

When we finally set off we were crammed in as expected. The worse thing is that the benches are not padded and after 3 hours you literally lose all feeling in your bum cheeks. People got on and off along the journey and woman showed up selling the usual chicken and rice. It rained about 15km outside of Nakasang and we all got dripped on. When we finally got to our destination I also found that although there was a rain cover on the top of the tuk-tuk my bag was wet through, AGAIN! I was starting to think I won’t need laundry done at this rate.

Me, Boff, Nong and Carl got of the tuk-tuk and then Carl and three Lao men got Carls freezer of the roof. In case your wondering in order to run his cheese and bacon business Carl needs a freezer, which you can only buy in Pakse and as there is no big bus only a tuk-tuk he had to ferry it back on the top of the tuk-tuk. I am not joking when I say that the box on top was just as high and wide as a tuk-tuk and only slightly shorter, I don’t know how it stayed on with all the potholes.

Nong agreed a price for a boat to Don Khon and we all climbed aboard the long tail. The Mekong which flows through 4000 islands is currently at the highest it has been for the past 28 years and its raging, I’m being serious when I say it is running faster then I can, you would not want to fall in. The freezer also joined us in the boat and was loaded on the front making me all the more nervous. It took about 30 minutes of swaying, twisting and turning to reach the shore of Don Khon, during this time Carl told us about places to visit on the island and even explained that there was an Ex-pat on the island at a restaurant called ‘King Kong’ who did Sunday Dinner. If I had of fallen out of the boat I would have swam all the way to Don Khon with the knowledge I could get a Sunday Dinner there.

After saying good-bye to Carl we walked up one side of Don Khon and found a lovely guesthouse called Sengahloune. The bungalows have balconies over the Mekong and views of the nearby Cambodian mountains.

Si Phan Don (4000 islands) is as far south in Lao as you can be. Its an archipelago of sand bars and rocky islands set amid the Mekong. Most of the islands are quiet with only a few inhabitants and fishing and rice as a main source of income. Over the years Don Det and Don Khon have become popular with travellers seeking retreat. Don Det is now full of bars, western restaurants and guesthouses and it’s a little livelier then Don Khon. Don Khon on the other hand has a strip of guesthouses and restaurants, its closer to the waterfalls and dolphins and its more peaceful.

Initially we were meant to stay on Don Khon for 5 nights but this changed when we met Mini. Mini from Liverpool owns King Kong and does a Sunday Dinner BUT only on a Sunday we met Mini on a Tuesday!. We decided it only right to get a Sunday Dinner whilst we could and stay 7 nights and leave on Monday the 18th.

So we had 6 days to enjoy Don Khon relax and un-pack. During our travels through Lao we have had to move every two days due to a tight schedule and a poor bus network. It was reliving to finally stop for longer, it also meant we could finally get laundry done. To put into perspective the degree of smelliness we had reached Boff had every item of clothing he has with him washed and had to wear swimming shorts for 2 days.

We spent several days on Don Khon and Don Det riding bikes around. There are no cars on the islands and its not wise for the un-skilled to try riding motorbikes around these parts. Due to the rise in the Mekong most of the dirt paths around Don Det and Don Khon (there are 4) have been flooded which has left huge muddy pits in the path as big as a small car, there impossible to ride a bike through let alone a motorbike. The bikes were once again the old classic bike with the basket on the front and bright pink. We rode them around Don Det stopping when we got stuck in muddy puddles until it began to rain and we took cover in a place called ‘Adams Bar’. After the rain the muddy puddles had become muddier and wetter and the ride back to Don Khon took twice as long with me submerging my foot and trainer fully into the muddy bogs at-least twice.

The following day we set off on our bikes once more, today we were both in a little bit more pain but trundled on. We visited ‘Li Phi Falls’ and ‘Khon Phapheng Falls’, both waterfalls are so swollen that it just looks like a raging sea as far as the eye can see, its pretty immense.

Boff had wanted to visit the Irrawaddy Dolphins and when we were back on the road we found a sign which stated ‘Irrawaddy Dolphin Viewing’ we followed this for about 1km, excited at the prospect that we may see the Irrawaddy Dolphin but when we got to the shore where the Mekong awaits you have to charter a boat for a further 3km to see the Dolphins, we decided that we would bide our time and see if we could visit them in Cambodia instead. In Laos there are only 20 Irrawaddy Dolphins left and during monsoon the high waters make them hard to see.

The rest of our time on Don Khon was spent reading, relaxing, wandering the islands of Don Det and Don Khon and going to see Mini at King Kong to chat and eat his good western grub.

On Sunday I woke up like a kid at Christmas at the prospect of finally getting a Sunday Dinner after 7 months. We headed out to King Kong at 3.30pm and found that we had to work for our dinner. Due to the rise in water the path that runs around the outside of the island (the only path you can take) was submerged in brown water as high as your knees. The brown river which had now expanded and covered the path had also hidden from us the wooden bridges we needed to cross and some very deep muddy patches we would have to walk through. We took off our shoes and had to wade through the water feeling with our feet so we didn’t fall off the path or slip over, Boff had a near miss but we both made it dry and mud free apart from our feet.

Mini had made a lovely Sunday Dinner and we sat down with 15 others to enjoy it. It wasn’t My Mums Sunday Dinner so I can’t promise that I’m going to stop talking about eating one daily. We had some drinks and played some card games before Me and Boff had to walk back along the path (which is now a river) in the dark. Once again we both made it back mud free and dry.

We would soon be leaving for Cambodia, another country and another part of South East Asia explored.

Laos Final Thoughts……..

Laos is a small country and tourism is relatively new. The borders were only opened to tourist in 1988 and tourism didn’t begin to have an impact until 1995. This has meant that the country has remained relatively undeveloped, with the exception of Vang Vieng of course.

Transport is slow and poor, most routes are only served by tuk-tuk. The villages you arrive in are muddy and dusty, most of the locals don’t speak English but there happy to smile, laugh and try and help.

The scenery is beautiful, lush and green. There are mountains and blue skies and no concrete buildings or shopping malls interrupting the view.

Out of the countries in South East Asia we have visited Laos has to be one of my favourites. Its beautiful and untouched and the people are welcoming and friendly, maybe some of the friendliest we have met.

Some facts about Laos… it’s a landlocked country which has been squeezed by all of its neighbours at some point in the past. It is the MOST bombed country in the world. There are millions of unexploded bombs remaining in Laos left over from the Vietnam war.

I would suggest that anyone travelling in South East Asia visit Laos. Marvel at the amazing mountains and villages, laugh with the children and smile at everyone who passes by and always get one in return.

Bye for now Laos!
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