Foolishly we thought that the terrifying bus journeys were behind us, after all, the roads in Southern Laos are pretty much flat and straight. Unfortunately for us this means that minibus drivers are more akin to kamikaze pilots-although with less concern for their personal safety! We thought that we had toughened up to the terrors of road travel, but this journey was something a bit special-it certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that the driver had his phone tucked into his sun visor, and was checking Facebook as we hurtled down the wrong side of the road!
But, as per, things worked out! We got to our destination in one piece and on time-albeit a little shaken and stirred. What better way to begin your birthday week than a six hour minibus ride where you get to see your life flash in front of your eyes on a number of occasions?!
Our travels had taken us South of Pakse to the Mekong Delta, and the area of Laos known as Si Phan Don, or 4000 Islands-a beautiful riverine archipelago set in a lazy winding section of the Mekong river.
There are three main islands that travellers visit, Don Khong, Don Khon and our destination of Don Det.
On arrival in Don Det we were both a little disappointed at first impressions-thinking that this was going to be an island paradise similar to the joys of Koh Jum, our boat arrived in a little harbour and we found ourselves in quite a busy backpacker village. Feeling a little disillusioned, we set about finding somewhere to stay, and the first thing that we started to note as we walked through the village was everyone was smiling at us….People were saying hello, locals and fellow travellers, nods and smiles all round. This is something of an oddity, sometimes you find yourself bumping into other travellers and they will do everything that they can to avoid making eye contact, possibly wanting to avoid the standard introductory chat that you end up sharing with so many (are you travelling or on holiday, how long have you been travelling, where have you been, where are you going, etc.) Don Det was the first place where it seemed that everyone was looking for the eye contact, happy to make a connection. Still being a little shell shocked from the journey, laden with our rucksacks, and in need to finding accommodation, we kept the social engagements mostly cursory and continued our search for a room for the night.
As soon as we had walked about ten minutes from the drop off point, things started to change. There are no roads on Don Det, only a dusty path that circles the island, and a couple of off branches where you can cross sides-and as you walk along this path you find quaint little guesthouses and restaurants dotted around the banks of the Mekong.
Within about twenty minutes, with the heat beating down on us, we had found a hut overlooking the river for us to spend the night. What we would realise in retrospect is that we were a little hasty, but for sure there are times when you’re travelling that you just need to settle quickly-and this was one of those times!
Still, it wasn’t a bad spot for our first night, we had the standard essential hammock on the balcony, and a pretty sweet view!
Having spent some time ‘chillaxing’, we headed out to explore the rest of Don Det, and discovered a little piece of heaven in the Mekong Delta. The island is only 3km long, has a sum total of three ‘roads’ and at the one end you have a bridge that joins to the adjacent Don Khong. On our exploration we discovered a hut on a more isolated part of the island that was just £2.50 per night, and had the equivalent of rocking horse manure-a double hammock veranda overlooking the river! Not to mention en suite-what followed was a number of funny negotiations with a very little old Laotian lady who spoke absolutely no English (but hey, how much Laos can we speak!!)-but would speak at length to us in Laos. She didn’t know what we were saying, we had no idea what she was saying, but as is typical of the helpfulness of the Laos people eventually someone turned up with a phone with an English speaker on the other end to mediate our transaction, we eventually managed to confirm this as our home for the next week!
It would have been given 10/10…If it weren’t for me having a bit of an ‘incident’ with the toilet! Yes, that’s right, I blocked the toilet…and it was a nightmare! I guess that it’s probably too much information for this blog, but these things happen and I’m not going to cover it up like our very own ‘Poogate’! What made it worse was that there was a French couple staying in the adjoining bungalow, and they did not leave the hammocks for the whole time that we were there, thus making it difficult to smuggle in various unblocking tools…OK I’ve said enough, but just so you know it’s not all roses and it took a couple of days to eventually sort it out-with much hilarity and nonsense in between!
What followed was a extremely sedate and relaxed few days where we took something of a holiday from our travels. The value of just stopping for a while is something that we have realised over the last few weeks of travelling, and so we took the opportunity just to settle for a while. We did some sightseeing of another fabulous waterfall, and I celebrated my birthday in this little haven of tranquillity. Jo decided to commandeer the camera for my birthday and document it for all of you that would have liked to celebrate with me…Everyone needs a good montage eh?!
Needless to say I had a great birthday! So the remaining time in Don Det was a continuation of finding our preferred restaurants, bars and photo spots-and you certainly find some gems for all tastes! Amongst our favourites were a place set up by some hippies called Shangri La where you could get involved with some form of art project; a restaurant called King Kong, run by a rock and roll Liverpudlian with great conversation and some classic music; the Reggae Bar, which delivered on all the name would suggest; and the Beach Bar near the waterfalls on Don Khong-where you happen upon one of the many hidden beaches around the islands on the Mekong. It was a wonderful week of rest and relaxation, be warned that if you visit-you may not want to leave!
Positively soaked in good vibes, our time in Laos had come to and end-Vietnam beckons!