4,000 Islands

I’m writing this rather retrospectively, having had an incredibly busy few weeks:

From Phonsavan and the plain of jars ,I planned to whizz down to southern Laos, taking the bus first to Paksan for an overnight stay, then on to Pakse, if only things were so easy.

From Phonsavan I caught the local bus and meandered down southern Laos at an excruciating pace, the decrepit bus packed with an assortment of cargo, some human, some animal and some neither; sundry boxes, parcels and bags, rice, potatoes, wooden bundles and televisions. As I sat in the baking bus, willing the prehistoric air conditioning to work I watched as yet more parcels and bundles were hoisted onto the roof, to the point I thought it may collapse under the weight of the never ending steam of goods I saw go up; stacks of kindling, woven baskets, electronics boxes, steel bars, crates and boxes, topped off with a heap of satellite dishes and rolls of wire. The passengers wedged themselves in between, atop and astride the boxes and bags, I nestled between a stack of rice bags and settled in for a long journey, any illusion of comfort disintegrating within minutes as we joined the main road, or what was to be the main road, the road was so new that most of it hadn’t been built yet.

My discomfort alternated between the ass-numbing rumble of potholes and rocks to the stifling heat of sitting beneath the midday sun as we picked up more passengers, we spent as long picking up and dropping people off as we did actually making any progress, it was the kind of journey that could be described as a  local experience, or an exercise in patience. One particularly bumpy section necessitated a tire change, executed with all the speed of a formula one pit stop, albeit with a team of laid back Laotians.

We eventually rumbled into Paksan after dark, finding a small local town I headed off to find a guesthouse and something to eat to exhausted to do much else . The next day I awoke in search of a bus, after asking around I was informed by various hand signals and drawn symbols as well as broken English, Laos and French that I had missed the bus and would have to be on the main road the next morning at 6Am to wave down the bus, seems I chose a town without a bus station.

I spent the day in town, hunting down a restaurant where someone spoke English and even chancing upon a hotel with Wi-fi where I loitered in the lobby and sent some emails. The next morning I was up at 5.30, clambering over the guesthouse gate laden with my bags as the sun rose, I waited at the main road eventually wrangling my way aboard a surprisingly comfortable bus and settling in to watch cheesy Lao music videos as we trundled south. Just as I settled into this veritable luxury we pulled over and changed buses, the dire state of the new bus eclipsing even that of the local bus the day before, sitting atop a box of kids toys I eventually made it to Pakse, after two full days of the worst the road could throw at me I had survived and looked forwards to finally reaching the 4,000 islands.

I spent a day recovering in Pakse, eating sleeping and stocking up on books for the islands. The next day another short bus trip (luckily in an air conditioned minibus!) took us to the Mekong from where we caught a long tail across to Don Det one of the smaller and most relaxed of the 4,000 islands.

Don Det lays lazily plonked in the middle of the   Mekong, encircled by it’s murky water as it flows south to Cambodia, life seems to pass by slowly here even by Lao standards, it’s the perfect place to relax for a few days beneath the scorching sun.I moved into a riverside bungalow, next door to another English guy I’d met on the bus down and we booked a kayaking trip for the next day before grabbing a cold beer and watching the sunset from our balcony.

 

We set of kayaking the next morning joining forces with a group of English girls from Manchester, getting to grips with the kayaks as we headed up river to see the famous Irrawaddy dolphins. We stopped at a huge set of waterfalls along the way, thankfully going round them by bus and not taking them on by kayak!

Next we hit a fast flowing section of river where disaster struck.

It all started well, the girls capsised in the first set of rapids bringing much ribbing and laughter from our kayak, I managed to catch the aftermath on my GoPro as we paddled past in stitches, but karma it seems has its way of coming back to bite; we rounded the bend to face the next set of rapids, small by any measurement and plunged straight in, I was concentrating on filming as we went down and wasn’t concentrating on where we were going, thus we soon found ourselves tangled in a mess of life jackets and paddles as our kayak floated by upside down, wondering how we had managed to fall out. I managed to keep hold of my camera and spluttered my way back to the kayak, and hauling my paddle and camera into the kayak, we hoisted ourselves back aboard, However still being in the rapids we managed to flip the kayak again as we climbed in, sending my camera on a sub-aquatic voyage from which it wouldn’t return.

 

Feeling a little lighter but determined not to let it ruin my day we continued on our way, eventually reached a wide section where the dolphins were most commonly found. We paddled round spotting glimpses of dolphins jumping and circling our group. We landed in Cambodia for a spot of lunch, eating by the riverside looking out as the dolphins leaped and frolicked. After lunch we headed down river to another set of waterfalls, the largest in South East Asia for a few photos before heading back to the river were we paddled back across to Don Det. Despite losing my camera it was a great day and we finished off with some dinner and a few drinks in town.

 

 

The next few days I spent lazily stretched in my hammock reading and wandering between the various riverside restaurants and bars for a drink when the heat became too much. My last full day on Don Det was my 19th Birthday, a rather unconventional place to celebrate but I decided to hire out another kayak and head to explore the other side of the island. I spent the day doing what I do best; being outdoors and exploring, working my way up river and letting the current take me back down, this time managing to keep all my belongings above water! I don’t think I’ll have many more birthdays where I can say I landed on a deserted tropical island with not another person in sight.

Alas, all good things come to an end and my time to leave Don Det had come if I wanted to catch my flight to Nepal (the fact that I still managed to miss my flight is another story for another time. )

So after 15 hours through Thailand I ended up back in good old Bangkok. I got a double room with a Canadian guy I met on the bus and we headed off to Khao San Road that night, his last before he flew home and my last before I flew to Nepal. A bottle of Hong Thong from 7/11 ensured not many memories remain of that night, however some images of him “befriending” a Swedish girl will perhaps remain etched in my mind for quite some time.

 


                                 (Stock image )

I’ve been in Nepal for a week now and hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be able to get together a post on Kathmandu, my bungy jump and white water rafting trip.

 

Backpacking Jack

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