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.

24.1.17 arriving into Pakse then on to Don Khong

I open my eyes and its daylight. I am amazed that I’ve slept through the bouncing. Al wasn’t so lucky. Her fitbit said that by 4.30am she had done 10,000 steps!

After some time I check maps.me and we are only 40km away. At 30km to go the bus engine stops, the Aircon goes off and we ‘glide’ to the side of the road. After a few minutes people get off for a smoke and we decide to stretch the legs. We chat to a Laos guy who explains we have run out of diesel. This pleases Al no end, as she predicted it would happen. Chorouses of “I told you so” rain down onto my stationary ears. During last nights gear repairs, the engine was left running the whole time, which apparently was four hours.

We wait in the shade. A van turns up with a load of plastic tubs of diesel which are emptied into the tank. The driver and his mate then have to pump the fuel back into the system and as the engine rumbles into life plumes of black smoke are coughed from the exhaust. We pile back on.

Progress then slows. We make multiple stops to drop passengers off. As we enter Pakse we gingerly pull into a petrol station only just clearing the roof. As the huge tank is filled we watch the drivers crew buy snacks and drinks from a fridge on the forecourt. The mechanic inevitably takes two cold beer lao cans and spends no time draining them. He then mimes to the driver how to change gear. We watch this scene for a long time.

At noon, four and a half hours late, we arrive at Pakse bus stop. Songthaew hawkers are waiting for our custom and after dropping the other passengers at the market we are transferred to a different songthaew who takes us out of town to the bus station. With the wheels still turning, a hawker jumps onto the vehicle and shouts “Don Det, Don Det” at us. We explain we’re off to Don Khong and he takes our bags onto a big songthaew then takes our money. We wait while other passengers are rounded up. 

We pondered an overnight in Pakse as we are tired but decided to push onto Four Thousand Islands and get the travelling out of the way. The area is named from the amount of islands where the Mekong widens to 15km. Its an area of rural relaxation for backpackers with some islands louder than others.

We bounce down a straight dusty road for two hours. The scenery is dry with wooden stilted houses and paddy fields breaking up the scrub. People get off at random stops and soon its our turn. The drivers mate points down a road and we set off on foot in toasty conditions. Householders shout “sabaidee” as we go by and a family of water buffalo stick to their side of the street more cautiously than we do as we pass.

At the end of the road is the Mekong and on the opposite bank is Don Khong, our days destination. There are some boats abandoned on the beach but no ‘ferry’ or people, except for a guy with a squealing piglet in a bag. We go to a restaurant and ask two Laos ladies if there is a way we could cross the river without getting wet and once the dramatic scene on the soap opera they are glued to finishes, they point vaguely outside of the restaurant.

We walk down to the beach, take off our bags and sit on them. For the first time on the trip I feel like I’m travelling. The situation is beyond our control. We stoically have to wait to see what happens. Perversely, I find this exciting. Of course, within 10 minutes a bloke appears and offers us a decent price which we accept. We climb into his boat which he casts out into the river and says “bye bye”. We laugh and he climbs in and we cross a bit of the Mekong.

We find a guesthouse and pay for two nights and have a stroll round the village. We are back in five minutes as its so small. On our way we see goats and chickens roaming around and a woman using a hand mill to grind something. We watch the sunset with a cold beer, then finally  eat at the guesthouse and we are so tired, lights are out by 8.30pm!