After a few days of "city living," I decided it was time to get off the beaten path and head to southern Lao. I talked to several tourists trying to decide if I would make the journey to central Laos to experience a 7km cave. I know I should not take other travelers opinions but I did. I had seen my share of caves in Laos and was ready for some island life. So, I bought my ticket to Pakse. I left Vientiane on the 8:00 PM sleeping bus. I was excited to see this bus ....you never know what experience was ahead! It was an 11 hour journey to Paske. I had not made any hotel arrangements. I wanted to see if I was going to be able to handle another 3-4 few hours down to the islands or if I wanted to rest for a day before continuing south. I boarded the bus and found my bed. Yay! It was a flat bed with a pillow and blanket! Granted, I was going to be sharing this space with a stranger. Who cares....it was a flat bed! I look for the positive with overnight travel! I got comfortable and waited to meet my bunk mate. As long as they don't smell, I am fine! I got lucky and had a Russian guy that was really nice. The couple in the bed next to us were a Lao (woman)/Swiss (guy) couple with a lot of advise for Lao travel to the islands. They were headed to 4000 Islands to buy riverfront property for $2000 USD (100 m x 50 m). He had been traveling for 18 months by bicycle and actually spent 6 months as a kayak guide in the islands. It was interesting listening to his suggestions and stories about Laos and China business that is ongoing in the country. My bunkmate was actually traveling on business and was looking for Lao exports to Russia. We all sat and shared travel stories, experiences and talked politics as the Russian shared his food. He came prepared with croissants, cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies and milk! A great picnic. The conversation and company was fun. Another example of what I love about traveling! The conversations and experiences don't happen at home. I smiled as I got comfortable and told my bunkmate he could hit, kick or push me over if I try to snuggle or steal his blanket or pillow. He assured me that he had no problem putting me in my place. I put on my headphones and fell asleep. I awoke at 5:30 AM to the sound of honking. I sat up and noticed it was a herd of water buffalo crossing the road. This continued for the next hour as all the farm animals seemed to be wandering across the highway. Definitely more laid back than Vientiane...no water buffalo crossing the streets!
Since I had slept well, I decided to continue on to Si Phan Done (4000 Islands). As I said my goodbyes to my sleeping buddies, I found a bus that was headed towards the islands in an hour. I bought a ticket, loaded my bag and waited. My Lonely Planet guide book described 4000 Islands as the land where the "pendulum swings more slowly and life is more laid back, a world disconnected with the mainland." I was excited to see how life in Laos could get any more laid back and I was ready to explore some islands. These islands are on a 50 km stretch of the Mekong River in southern Laos. You can see Cambodia from one island. During the rainy season, this stretch of the Mekong River reaches 14 km wide, the widest stretch before arriving in the South China Sea. However, during the dry months, the river recedes and leaves behind hundreds of islands and sandbars. I decided to head here since it is suppose to offer a glimpse of traditional river life in Laos villages. I chose to go to Don Khone.
The bus arrived in Ban Nakasang after 3.5 hours and I signed up for a boat across the Mekong River. I was thankful for my backpack as I walked about 500 m to the boat ramp, across the beach, over a large cement drain and to a small boat. I laugh every time I see people with the rolling suitcases...doesn't work on this type of travel! We boarded and were off on the quick trip to the islands. When I arrived in Don Khone, I walked to a couple guesthouses to check on availability and prices. I decided to splurge for the Sala Phae floating houses since I got a great discount. It is a great little bungalow floating on the Mekong. I had decided to stay for 3 days and was going to enjoy the views!
It started to rain and I took that as a reason to go back, shower and read about the island. I grabbed a drink from the fridge and went out on the porch to enjoy my view. The rain stopped and the sun came out just in time for an amazing sunset. Ahhhh...I was going to enjoy island life.
The next morning, I decided to go to Li Phi waterfall. I know about the Lao afternoon sun and decided to leave early. It was an easy 4 km walk to the falls. I headed down the main street. I stopped to watch a gibbon next to my hotel. He was a pet and spent his days outside in the cage and lived in the house at night. His name was Lao for Escargot and he screamed like an ambulance siren. It cracked me up! (I posted a video of him on my Facebook page for Continental Hopscotch)
The next day, I awoke at 5:30 AM and decided to get a little exercise before breakfast. I went walking east to another waterfall, across the suspension bridge and back up the old railway path. I got back to the guesthouse in time for a shower and breakfast. Then, I rented a bike to explore Don Det island. It is connected to Don Khone by a French bridge built to connect the railway.
Don Det was a nice bike ride and the southern road was the most beautiful. The remainder of the island is a backpacker haven, nice but not as beautiful. It has a lot of inexpensive accommodations and restaurants and caters to the backpacker crowds. I was happy at my age that I stayed on Don Khone! I enjoyed a great lunch on the island and then road back to my bungalow. It was the middle of the afternoon and time to relax by the river and enjoy my last day on Don Khone. I went for a swim in the Mekong and enjoyed a beer as the sunset on Don Khone. Another beautiful day in paradise.