Mekong River SOS

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jan 01, 2014

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Saturday, May 12, 2012

I think it was only the fact that we had procured two North American travel buddies that gave us the strength to continue our southbound journey on Thursday morning, rather than just collapsing into a bed at the nearest reasonably priced hostel in Pakse...

By the time the minibus arrived to take us on the 140 km or so journey southwards to the 4,000 Islands in Laos I was feeling distinctly off colour and had started to encounter "backstage problems".  I was hoping this would pass and decided that sleep was the best option for the three hour journey in the crammed minibus.

On arrival at the small fishing village which serves as the port for the islands, there is a minor dilemma to deal with but not one as great as the name of this area may suggest - there are essentially three large islands offering guest house options and the vast majority of the islands which give this archipelago its name are actually single bushes or rocks poking their heads out of the Mekong River; population = one beetle.  On the basis of my delicate condition, we opted for Ban Khon, a slightly less exciting option than the neighbouring "party island", Ban Det (I was having enough problems avoiding a whole different sort of party in my pants), but more exciting than the larger Ban Khong.

Despite the numerous signs for guesthouses, it took us quite a while to find and settle on our little slice of paradise - a wooden bungalow, perched above the water and complete with hammock, all for the scarcely believable price of two pounds 50 pence per night.  By now my stomach also seemed to have settled somewhat (although every wind break was a potential shart) and so we decided to hire bicycles to explore our island.  This may sound fairly mundane for two 30-somethings but was slightly more exciting on the basis that Shelley had not ridden a bicycle solo (tandem in Dalat acknowledged) for nearly 26 years, after an accident on her cycling debut, and a slightly enthusiastic father's push, landed her in hospital with concussion.  The young man from whom we rented the two lurid coloured bikes, which were sans gears and generally would not have been fit for ET nearly 30 years ago, looked on with bewilderment as after a couple of aborted attempts, we settled for pushing the bikes around the corner.  This must have been particularly astonishing on an island where most of the eight year olds seemed to be riding motorbikes.  Anyway, on our third launch we achieved success as I let go after around 10 metres of guidance and Shelley was off by her slightly wobbly self...

What our island lacked in night life it made up for in sights and we were soon nodding in appreciation at an impressive waterfall before taking the long ride through barren looking fields, followed by woodland, to the huge pool at the south of the island which is where the Mekong continues its journey into Cambodia and where one has the best chance of seeing the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins which call these waters home.  Despite staring at the water for nearly an hour, including taking in a meal overlooking the spot, we didn't catch a glimpse of this odd looking, snout-less, dolphins, but I took comfort from the fact that I have seen one of these creatures during this trip, and he was wearing a cowboy hat (at the dolphin show in Pattaya) - not something one can see in the wild.  On the return to base, we took in an attractive but bizarre beach overlooking an impressive rocky stretch of the river.  The sand was occupied only by two pigs and around a dozen chickens - one could say it was fowl, but should then be punched.  My body was still acting as a hugely impressive liquidizer, turning all food consumed - almost instantly - into an horrific smelling paste and so we decided to eat next door to the bungalow, in case a speedy return to the facilities was required and were treated to an epic lightning storm which passed right around our island...

On Saturday morning we again hired old school bicycles and this time crossed the old French railway bridge around 100 metres from our bungalow to explore Don Det.  Don Det was clearly a much more happening island as signs for "space cakes", "beach parties" and "party barbecues" abounded but, despite that, it retained its charm and only a small sandy track ran through the island, in contrast to the rocky road behind our accommodation.  Life here must be odd for the locals who - aside from those chasing the tourist dollar - live simple lives of fishermen and farmers in wooden shacks which look as if they would collapse were an old woman to breathe heavily on them.  Seeing a league of nations coming through, partying and taking pictures of them battling to survive in life must continually confuse them although the vast majority still greet any passing tourist with a "sabaidy" (hello) and typically beaming smile.  As for the kids, most seemed to entertain themselves by playing skid the flip flop (a budget take on crown green bowling or curling I guess), with the object being to skid one's flip flop as close as possible to that of the first thrower.  It is all quite lovely but heartbreaking to see - especially coming from a country when it is now difficult to get the average child to walk across a room to push the on button on their PS3...

In the afternoon, I had taken the risky, unilateral, decision to book us in for tubing - basically a hour or so's float down the Mekong in a tractor tyre inner tube.  Shelley was less than enamored with this decision, particularly in light of (1) her dislike for water and (2) the fact that ominous looking rain clouds were rapidly closing over the pockets of blue in the sky and there was already a heavy rumble of thunder in the difference.  She was nearly in luck when the family booked in at the same time as us expressed that they shared concern (2) above and so our trip was postponed for an hour.  However, I think the two kids in the family won the day as - in spite of a deterioration in weather prospects - we all boarded a small wooden boat at 3pm and were taken up stream for around twenty minutes, where our rings were thrown into the warm water of the Mekong and we duly climbed in.  After initial problems in getting comfortable, and reaching an area of the river where the current was flowing, Shelley declared she was actually enjoying the experience.  Around 30 minutes later, after the heavens had opened, and a slight navigational error by yours truly - which took us through an area thick with bushes and with numerous jagged rocks just below the surface which removed quite a bit of skin - and there were tears and a demand that I "find the man, and get me off this river NOW!!!"  I pointed out we could now see the end but it was too no avail and fortunately our smiling "guide" (who had buggered off as soon as he had dumped us in the river) appeared and was able to drag a shivering, angry girl from the water.  I stayed on for the conclusion of the experience (much more sedate than the previous tubing experience I had in Laos in 2008 when I had to be rescued face down from the water several times after way too much fun) and shamelessly played the sympathy card when I crept back into our room, knowing full well that I would be persona non grata.  I reminded Shelley how fragile I was with my stomach problems and successfully defused a potentially tricky evening...

Our last night in Laos was spent sipping fearsomely strong Laos vodka, before enjoying a meal next door (at least I did, Shelley's never materialised - oh dear) with our recently made travel buddies.  With no ATMs on the island on Sunday morning I was again in the bad books, having "invested" our final kip in delicious Beer Laos the night before (I had forgotten this) and so we sat in near silence for an hour waiting for the boat which would take us back to land for the start of the long journey back to Shelley's parents in Pattaya...  
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ley and phil on

Hahaha nearly peeed ourselves reading this! X

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