02.2.17 Don Det, Laos to Bangkok, Thailand

Its mixed feelings this morning, sad to be leaving the relaxing tranquility of Don Det but exited to be heading to the bustling Bangkok, one of our favourite cities in the world.

We catch a boat across the Mekong to the mainland, then walk 300 metres to the bus station where backpackers congregate before the 2 hour bus journey to Pakse. Once there, we are dropped at the Green Paradise travel agency where we wait with four Malaysian guys for a minivan to the border. One arrives with only four seats, so another is called and as it is empty, we tour around Pakse picking up people before finally heading to the border.

A guide meets us from the van and takes us to be stamped out of Laos. This process involves swapping your passport for a ticket, handing the ticket and 10000 kip in at a separate window where a second ticket is issued, then returning to the first window where you get your passport back.

With our guide leading, we walk down the road, through a tunnel and into the Thai immigration building. Entry forms are filled and stamps issued and we are in Thailand. Our guide then bundles us into a tuk tuk and within 5 minutes we are at the bus station where we swap our ticket for an overnight bus ticket. The whole process was pretty smooth for a boat, bus, minivan, tuk tuk journey and all the Green Paradise people were very helpful.

The bus is a double decker and we are sat downstairs behind the drivers cabin. We set off at 6pm and curtains are drawn and lights turned off straight away. I can’t sleep yet as it only 6pm, so I continue to boost my phone’s ego by allowing it to beat me at chess. Eventually I get tired and I start to drop off and the lights come on. Its 1am, obviously time for food! Despite the hour, I enjoy our complimentary noodle soup and red drink but I’m awake again and struggle to get back to sleep.

At 5am, the lights come back on and we are at Bangkok main bus station.

28.1 – 02.2.17 Don Det

Our bungalow has a double bed, mosquito net, ensuite and two hammocks on the balcony from which we can see the sunset over the Mekong and Cambodia on the far bank. All this for the princely sum of 50,000 Kip, or £5 a night. We decide to stay a while.

Don Det has the most backpacker infrastructure of the river islands with many restaurants, bars, travel agencies and shops. The daily temperature peaks around 31° so the days main activity is sweating. We spend all day in flip flops, feet slowly going brown, feeling the smooth wooden planks of restaurant’s floors underfoot. There is something I find comforting about being barefoot in hot countries.

We drink watermelon smoothies and the deliciously rich, sweet milky Lao coffee over ice. We eat rice and veg, Indian curry, asian coconut curries and on the night Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Liverpool at Anfield we had fish and chips. Beerlao is always being drunk, not necessarily by us but someone, somewhere will be enjoying a cold one.

The island is covered in feral creatures. Chickens, cats, dogs and kids. The kids play endlessly and are free to roam unsupervised. They play in the dirt, in the river, paddle boats, balance on floating logs, run around with catapults, always shouting, screaming and laughing.

Cockerels, chickens and their chicks are everywhere, strutting, clucking, scratching and chirping. You never have to wait long to hear Cock-a-doodle-doo. I see three cock fights in my first three days here. 

The inevitable mosquitoes are giant and silent. They hover ominously and you pray that the herbal spray you bought works.

Sundowns are spent in our bungalow restaurant with my teenage idol Jimi Hendrix accompanying the cold beerlao. The owner tells me to help myself to the fridge which saves him a job and makes me feel like a local. The privilege goes to my head and some nights I test our tight budget which is imposed as there are no cash points here.

Some nights at sundown the sky goes red. I think its a beautiful thing to watch.

Next up is a rendezvous in Bangkok with some good friends. A world away from here.

27.1.17 Don Khong to Don Det

Today we left Don Khong for the smaller but busier Don Det. The wind was up creating small waves on the river and spray over the boat. We had done this journey two days ago, so it was familiar but still mesmerizing.

Al waited with the rucksacks whilst I headed down the west side of the island to find a bungalow, just like the old days. 

We dumped the bags in the room and explored the backpacker friendly restaurants and shops, stopping for a rice soup and a delicious spicy coconut curry.

At 4.30pm ish, I sat in our guesthouse restaurant and rekindled my teenage obsession with Jimi Hendrix whilst drinking a cold beerlao and watching the sunset.

We then went for an Indian curry. Malai kofta, chicken tikka masala and aubergine curry with naan. It was very good. We passed a bar playing The Stone Roses so popped in for a beer on the way home and sat facing the street, watching the comings and goings of the folk out partying.

25.1.17 Don Khong. Day trip to Don Khon

As we were up early we chose a table for breakfast overlooking the Mekong in full morning sunshine. We soon realised this was a mistake, as even at 8am the sun is fierce and we were glad we had already used factor 30 suncream. Al ordered Beans on Toast, a menu item we could not believe we were seeing and as we excitedly waited, we stared at the river.

Today we were going on a day trip to Don Khon, another popular tourist island. Personally I wasn’t that bothered about the destination but I was really looking forward to slowly puttering up and down the river and it was an opportunity to see if we liked Don Khon and if we should move there.

We wait with our fellow day trippers while Mr Phoumy, the organiser sold last minute tickets to a French and Spanish girl. He shouts ‘let’s go’ and we descend down the steep river bank and board our vessel. The French/Spanish girl’s scooter is carefully lifted into the boat but when they come to pay, there is some confusion whether they have bought a one way or return ticket so the scooter is lifted out again.

We set off and turn downstream. The sun is bright and there is no wind, so the river is smooth. We are transfixed by the palms lining the banks, such an exotic view. There are kids playing on the shore, women washing clothes, water buffalo resting in the shallows. We pass a Wat where the bright orange monk’s robes are drying outside, adding colour to the green bank side. 

I have to pinch myself. I’m in Laos, travelling on a boat down the Mekong. I could not of dreamed of this scenario when I was young.

We arrive at Don Det where everyone except us and an Australian family get out. Twenty minutes later we pull up to Don Khon. We chat to the Aussies as we view the old French railway. They head off to hire bikes but we decide to walk and under a fierce sun we make our way down a dust road to Somphiant waterfalls.

The falls aren’t the highest you will ever see but they are impressive and we watch kayakers descend down scary looking rapids. One guy goes under and we don’t see him for a while but thankfully he pops up and his friends pull him ashore.

We follow unexpected signs to ‘The Beach’ and pass through a small beautiful resort of open bungalows with hammocks and a small bar. The sand burns the feet but the beach is a relaxing place. We have worked up a thirst in the heat, so stop at the resort for a beer lao shandy and sit and watch the river. It’s a great spot.

After some time we walk back to the main restaurant area and stop for rice and veg. We reach the boat and once the Aussies have arrived, head back to Don Det to pickup the Spanish/French girls. They aren’t there so we wait and wait but eventually we need to leave to get back before dark. The two hour trip back is spent chatting to Aussie dad, Paul, discussing capitalism, Trump, immigration, left wing politics and generally putting the world to rights.

The conversation continues over our evening meal, late into the night as we eat and drink with them at the restaurant next door.