Sabaidi Phaktai Laos!July 9 in Laos
Today was another full day of travelling. I left Siem Reap at 8am, and after 6 hours in a bus we (myself and an Israeli couple) reached the border town where we waited for over an hour for our next for of transport to arrive. We then bundled into a very questionable minivan (no MOT here) along with a local family, a few sacks or rice, six crates of beer (making up the floor) and possibly a chicken rammed into the boot (like Aladdin’s cave) and traveled the last hour to the boarder (stopping along the way to deliver said goods). Unfortunately due to the numeroia delays we reached the border “after hours” at 4:30pm (office hours end a 4pm) which meant we had to pay an additional $1 for the staffs inconvenience. That added to the $2 extra for each countries “ink” budget to ensure we left with official stamps brought what should have been a $35 visa up to $40 dollars - the joy of the land crossing. After jumping through all the hoops we finally made it into Laos and were met (after a slightly worrying ten minute wait) by a very nice, air conditioned, 4x4 (plus driver) which would take us to our final destinations, me to the 4000 islands, and the Israeli couple to Pakse further north. After just half an hour I was dropped off at the small pier where I got my own private long boat across the Mekong delta to Don Det, one of only three inhabited islands out of the 4000. The official name of the island archipelago is actually Si Phan Don (meaning 4000 islands) and the number of islands is more likely in the hundreds. As it is low season in Laos I decided to throw caution to the wind and just turn up on the island without any accommodation booked and see what I could find. After 5 minutes of walking down the “sunset” side of the island I came across the “Sunset Bungalows”, a very quiet line of six bungalows each with their own porch and hammock. And to my luck they had one free. Well actually they had six free and I was the first guest to stay in a month. I checked into my own private resort, dumped my stuff in my room (very basic but very nice to have a private room after three months in dorms) and headed to Adam’s bar for dinner. Again I was the only customer in this Don Det staple, but the food was great and the constant loop of Friends episodes playing on the TV was a welcome change to watching YouTube videos on my phone. After dinner I headed back to my sanctuary for some much needed sleep.
Laos itself is a very laid back country (the saying “it will happen in Laos time” is common here) but Don Det is even more laid back. I quickly got into the island vibe. After a much need lie in I found a cute tavern for brunch, enjoying the food and people watching. I then walked around the rest of the main village (which consists of two main roads down each side of the island with an adjoining alley, so takes a grand total of 5 minutes to cover everything) and headed back to my haven to enjoy some hammock time. This is where I spent the majority of the first day, with a break for a lunch, and also dinner, at Adams bar (being able to have a home comfort of a TV again really is enticing).
After a full day enjoying the guilt free bliss of lounging in a hammock I decided to explore the rest of the island and the adjoining Don Khon island. I rented a bike and circled to the other end of the island. Once you leave the small tourist village the rest of the island is just farm land with a few houses and cows dotted about. It only took 20 minutes to read the other end of the island and the old French bridge which connects it to Don Khon. Whereas Don Det is more for the “backpacker” crowd, Don Khon is more for families and older travellers, with more modern guest houses and restaurants. The island also a few walking trails and waterfalls making it a nice place to visit for a day. I decided to cycle to Li Phi Waterfall, the larges one on the island, first. To my complete surprise as I was parking my bike I run into Irene (the Italian girl i met in Phong Nha National Park). What are the chances?! We catch each other up on our travels since Phong Nha and then say goodbye, hoping to meet for dinner, as she didn’t want to pay the entrance fee for the waterfall. I cross the bridge and head to the waterfall, which is more like a large rapid cascading over rocks as opposed to an actual waterfall. I take a few pictures and then follow the signs for “the beach”. After ten minutes I come across a true deserted island paradise - a white sandy beach with a four deserted sun loungers and a palm leaf umbrella. As it’s a bit of a walk away no one else seems to make the journey so I had the whole beach to myself. And the cherry on the cake is that there was a little beach bar close enough that I could use their WiFi, but still far enough that I felt like I had the place to myself. I spent the next two hours enjoying the serenity of my island paradise (with the best WiFi connection I have had in months!). I then forced myself to leave my paradise to go explore more of the island. This was the wrong decision. I spent the next hour cycling down increasingly bumpy and narrow roads, stopping at a couple “waterfalls” which turned out to be little more than trickles (thanks maps.me), avoiding a few water buffalo and numerous puddles until I got so fed up I headed back to Don Det, exhausted. I should’ve stayed on my beach! Only one thing would salvage the day - dinner at Adams bar. Irene never made its as she ended up walking around the whole of Don Khon (in hind site a better option than cycling) and was so exhausted after she went straight to bed. While I was at Adams the heavens opened. I managed to make it back to my bungalow fairly dry where I watched the storm from my porch before heading to bed.
It rained all through the night and continued into the next day. Luckily I had already decided it was time to leave my little island today so it didn’t affect my view of backpacker heaven. After breakfast I got the boat over to the mainland and then found the minivan that wild take me up to Pakse. The journey only took a couple hours so I arrived at my hostel just after lunch. In the common room I met Chloe and Jack, a Welsh couple who were backpacking for six months. We spent the next two hours chatting and then giving me tips on Thailand and Indonesia before the left for their bus headed north. I then headed out for an early dinner in a small vegetarian restaurant and then back to the hostel for a shower and an early night. In my dorm room I met the most unlikely traveller, a 70 year old Korean-American solo female backpacker. Myself and the rest of the travellers in the room (two Swiss girls and a German guy) spent the next hour listening to her travel stories in absolute awe. She has spent the last two years backpacking from San Francisco to Laos. Life goals right there. I went to bed that night picturing the next 50 years of my life travelling around the world!
The main reason I stopped in Pakse was to see the Wat Phu temple which is actually an hours drive south of the town. As I refuse to drive a scooter the only option to get there was to hire a tuk tuk for the day at £20. Luckily, as it was raining, the Swiss girls decided to join me as they didn’t want to drive their scooter tour in the rain, so I was able to split the cost with them. Our driver was very nice and dropped us at the entrance of the temple and would wait until we were finished exploring. Wat Phu was built around the same time and in the same style as the temples of Angkor Wat, and although it isn’t as grand as it’s more famous counterpart and not as preserved, it is still worthy of a visit. Especially as it doesn’t have the crowds of Angkor wat so you can fully appreciate the serenity of the place. We spent an hour walking around the complex, which is set over four tiers of a hill, taking in the views from each level, before heading back to our tuk tuk. On the way back to town we stopped at the base of the giant Golden Bhudda and climbed the 200+ stairs up the hilltop to take in the view of the city. The Buddha itself looked better from a distance (the gold paint showing cracks up close) but the city view was worth the climb (sort of). We then climbed back down to meet our driver and head back to the hostel where I packed once again ready for my night bus to the capital, Vientiane.
So there you have my few days in the south of Laos. Next stop, the backpacker hub of the north!
La kone!Read more