Friday, June 23, 2017

4,000 Islands

June 23, 2017
Don Khone, Laos (4,000 Islands)

An early start (for us anyway), checking out of the Hotel Athena in Pakse, followed by a few hours on a bumpy bus. The goal was to get to Don Khone, an island in the Mekong River near the Cambodian border, before the forecasted rain started. We had one pit stop on the way, where other buses were stopped as well to partake in some corn on the cob, a skewer of fried crickets, or some mystery meat on a stick. 

Fried crickets, anyone?

The kitchen didn't look overly sanitary and we’d had good luck with health thus far in Laos, so we didn’t push it.  There would surely be many more weird snacks awaiting us in the near future.

The dishwashing area at the rest stop on the way to Don Khone.  Surprising, they did not appear to be serving chicken.
Eventually, the bus pulled onto a long dirt road and dropped us at a bus station in a small town that we assumed was near the river. We and the other tourists on board didn’t really know where to go from there, but eventually figured out we’d need to walk a ways down the dirt road and would end up at the right dock. 

At the longboat dock, Caroline exchanges our trip vouchers for the necessary ferry tickets
A little bit of rain on the scenic boat ride over, but no downpours. Our boat dropped off a few people on Don Det on the way to dropping us and a pair of friendly Australian women off on the next island south, Don Khone.

The approach to Don Khone, our stopping place for the next couple of days

Scott had done a fair amount of hotel research, and learned that the accommodations on the river islands were going to be more rustic than what we’ve experienced on our travels thus far. So climbing off of the boat with all of our bags, we trudged down the main (only?) muddy street along the waterfront to check out some of these hotels in person. The hot, humid day was made more oppressive having backpacks and frontpacks hanging off of us, making time of the essence in finding a place to plunk down. We ended up at the pricey ($30USD!) Sala Don Khone hotel, which had air condition(!) and a room, accessed by a rickety gangplank, floating on the Mekong and which featured a small deck that made you feel like you were in the river (because you were).

Walking the bridge to our room as it swayed precariously beneath our weight. The adventure continues!
After grabbing some lunch and Lao Lao, Scott went out to explore the island by rented bicycle ($1 per day), leaving Caroline back at the hotel for some much-needed rest after that bumpy bus ride. However, Caroline didn’t get much R&R in, as she discovered the A/C wasn’t working, turning our tiny, rustic room into a tiny, moist sauna in the setting sun.

Our snug room at the Sala Don Khone was comfortable enough and clean(ish).
The hotel manager, it seemed, had gone on a three-hour break after he had checked us in and it was a challenge getting the non-English-speaking staff left on duty to address the situation.  After much confusion and misunderstanding, eventually Scott's powers of communication prevailed and by the time he came back from his island recon mission, the staff was working on it, while Caroline was starting to wonder what we were doing here. 

Eventually the A/C was fixed, and Scott cooled off after his bike ride in the strange little plastic roof-covered pool.  Caroline was a little wary of the pool but just knowing the A/C was functioning, promising cool, comfortable sleeping temperatures later, her stress and anxiety began to cool off as well – a bit.

Awaiting us back in the room, there was a very large and fast moving spider that was hanging out on the back of the toilet, that we couldn’t seem to catch or kill, which made using said toilet or walking around barefoot in the bathroom a more thrilling experience than desired. Especially at night.

The next day we set off on foot to explore town and photograph the many cats (and other various animals) of Don Khone. There were only a couple of trucks on the island; otherwise, it’s all bicycles and motorbikes on muddy roads or what would be considered mountain bike trails back home - a very primitive feel. On his bike ride the day before, Scott saw some beautiful lookouts where raging rivers cut through the island, forming waterfalls here and there, one of the top reasons to visit Don Khone.

There were a few reasons we wanted to see the 4,000 islands, waterfalls being just one of them. We were also intrigued by the fact that people seemed to take “beach vacations” here, as the Mekong widened and sandy beaches with clear waters lined parts of the islands. Not like the brown murky rivers we’d experienced so far to the north. Most importantly, this was another (and our final) chance to see the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins that we missed while in Myanmar. It was also helpful that the islands were near the south border, and on the way to our next destinations in Cambodia.

After only a bit of exploring, the rains did eventually come, making the one road that led to the dolphin boats completely impassable. Scott rented a motorbike and made a solo attempt, trying to pick up enough speed to slide through the slick muddy tracks without stalling out or falling over. 

Um yeah, maybe not...
Eventually he had to turn back, and knew it would be even harder with a passenger on board. So once again we were thwarted in our attempt to see the dolphins. Between the not-so-great accommodations and fun-preventing weather, Don Khone would not be a highlight of our trip to Laos.

 After our second and final night, we got a boat back to the mainland. Once again we made the journey with the friendly Aussie ladies we had met on our way in, and discovered they were also catching the same bus as us to Siem Reap, where one of them had been living for the past couple of years. But that’s a different destination, so a different post. Next stop, Angkor Wat!

More Photos:
Caroline, looking quite happy to have a break from the bouncing bus for few minutes
Almost to Don Khone and ready for adventure!

  Our ferry boat, plying the murky waters of the Mekong

We had a lovely view from the deck off of our floating bungalow
Scott enjoys the river views from the pool

 A goat, just relaxing on his front porch

Look, kittens!!!!
Sunset over the Mekong
Strolling down the main street of Don Khone before the rains came
Goats on a train!
I can totally see why that spider would want to hang out in our luxurious bathroom, can't you?!
The pool at the Sala Don Khone
Modeling the "pool towels" the hotel kindly provided for us in our room, before going for a dip in the pool
Is it a pool towel? Or is it a scarf?  Answer: it's both!
And then the rains came...I guess we'll go have a drink...
And they even have pastis!!  In the middle of nowhere, southern Laos!
Caroline's favorite Don Khone resident. Meeeooow!

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