It was a pleasure to see, my brother, his family and my friends in Vientiane, but we have got to leave as our return flight from Siem Reap in Cambodia is in a little more than a week’s time. We have already given up visiting Vang Vieng due to the lack of time. We will not visit Cambodia for a single weekend.
We bought our bus tickets to travel the 685 km from Vientiane to Pakse near the Cambodian border and the 4000 Islands in southern Laos. A night sleeper bus for $ 340,000 kip; which is about 20 USD each.
The VIP bus is comfortable. The bed is small, but when you’re not too fat it’s fine. We take the 8:30 pm departure, they distributed a water bottle and a packet of fried rice which are included in the ticket. The trip goes well we ended up sleeping like babies. We made a ten minutes stop to Savanakhet at night to go to the bathroom and to buy something to eat before hitting the road one more time to Pakse.
We arrived at Pakse at around 7:30 am, the bus station decor was quite ordinary and did nothing to wake us up. We expected a minibus with a dozen tourists to visit Don Kong-the largest island on the Mekong in the region of the 4000 Islands.
There’s not much to do in Pakse as it is a stopping point to visit the Plateau Boloven or go to the 4000 islands like us. Near Pakse you can always go to the bridge over the Mekong River for a short cruise to Champassak; a quiet but beautiful spot in the area. The small island on the Mekong offers some resorts where you can spend the night. You can make a day trip to the ruins of Wat Phou– a Khmer temple. It’s amazing that the Khmer civilization had built a paved road of 100 km to get to this site. You can also rent a bike to ride to the waterfall near the Pak Song.
We got into a mini bus for 70,000 kips (8 USD) per person to get to Don Kong. The organization was chaotic as the driver stopped around the city to try to fill the vehicle. After more than 30 minutes of waiting and going around the town, we finally left for our intended destination.
The 4000 Islands or Si Phan Don is a small group of islands on the Mekong in southern Laos. This is a very quiet place where time stands still. This is not a place to party. We can have a kayak trip on the Mekong and even visit Cambodia illegally for a meal or refreshment. Near Don Det we can attend a special meeting with the river dolphins. A unique species threatened with extinction which has less than one hundred representatives of its kind. A trip to the big waterfall in Khong Phapheng can be arranged from Don Khong for about $ 10.
Many of the occupants in our bus alighted at Don Det which was a well-kept secret until now as it is close to the explosion of mass tourism. It was only 5 years ago when it was difficult to find a place to sleep. Even today you will not experience hundreds backpackers singing together and that’s good like that. Now ten Guesthouses have established. Electricity is now available 24 hours. People like to come and relax here before going to Laos or Cambodia as we were.
At 10:30am, we arrived at the ‘ferry terminal’. Wow, what an infrastructure, a traditional wooden boat was waiting for us to transport us across the river to Don Kong. My girlfriend, oops sorry, my wife needed to go to the bathroom when she asked for a toilet. A local invited her to use one at her home as there were no public toilets. As she joined us in the boat, the local came to bill us for the cost of using their toilet. A new micro-enterprise was born, long live to fair tourism.
The boatman requested 20 000 kips for a 15 minutes ride to cross the Mekong River to the island. The scenery was fantastic. When we got on shore,we went searching for a hotel. There are many cheap accommodations in the vicinity, $ 15 or less for a standard room with hot water, fan or air conditioning. This is our honeymoon, let’s spend. Finally we decided on the Pon Arena Hotel (http://ponarenahotel.com) – a modern, nice room with a balcony with view over the Mekong, air conditioning and cable TV for 50 USD.
I rented a motorbike for $ 6; the shopkeeper instructed us to fill up the gas before we proceed. The bike coughed, we do not even know if we have time to fill it with gas before the tank was completely empty. Prout Prout! Finally, we spotted a makeshift wooden hut with a barrel of oil and a hand pump. The Esso station of Don Kong. We spent a big 20,000 kips to gas it up and we were ready for the adventure. The island exudes beauty. The road is paved, but bumpy, the scenery is superb, rice, bamboo houses, water buffaloes, ducks and happy dogs along our way. I was really smart, visit the countryside on a motorcycle, take lazy pictures, that’s big life. Riding began to be difficult. “What’s going on? “We asked ourselves. Ha! Shit, a flat tire. Luckily in this kind of place there are shops offering shampoo, vegetables, gasoline and motorcycle repair service every 100 meters.
A Lao lady dressed in a traditional dress repaired our tire with a master hand. We do not see that often in our city. Children were playing with a monkey in house across the street; a grandmother led her cows on the side of the road to the pasture. Stress level = zero. 12,000 kips (1.5 USD) for the repair with a complimentary bottle of water as a bonus. Thank you Miss. We’re back on the countryside roads under a blazing sun admiring the greenery. « Chik chik chik, » No no it’s not true. Another flat tire! But this time we are caught in the middle of nowhere. No fields, no more houses in the neighbourhood. I pushed the bike so as to not aggravate the damage. After walking for 20 minutes , there was still no civilisation. fu## #$%^ We got back on the bike and hoped to find another garage. Each new horizon promised nothing but fields, we were lost for real now.
Miracle! We found a garage to repair our second flat tire. Our saviour charged us $ 3 USD for a beautiful new inner tube. The island is huge so we did not take any chances and rode straight. Still, we were not back at our hotel after more than one hour. “We cannot get lost darling,” I assured her. It’s an island we will certainly return to the starting point. Big mistake, we were lost, but happy lol. The rain forced us to stop and drink a Beerlao in a Bamboo pub where girls go to the bathroom in a little shack located 50 meters from the restaurant. We were hungry; it was raining and darkness was approaching. The tension built up and everyone we asked, told us to just keep riding straight ahead. It had been over an hour since we followed their directions.
Finally we got back to the hotel, we rested a little and had dinner on a floating restaurant in front of Mekong. After a hot shower, we got into bed to watch some TV. At 22:00 here, there are no more lights in the streets and all the island is about to fall asleep. A great Journey in Peaceful Laos is complete. Next destination: Cambodia tomorrow morning.