Hamockology on the 4000 Islands

Trip Start Sep 11, 2010
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Trip End Aug 19, 2011


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

At the southernmost point of Laos the Mekong River widens significantly to a few kilometers in some parts. Within this wide stretch there are many islands, almost 4000 by some estimates... hence the name.  The three of us had originally planned to head for the 4000 Islands the following day but Bec decided to stay behind and do a few days of motor biking around the Bolaven plateau.  I had to kill the days for my LCD to be delivered so thought it best to do the islands before heading back to Pakse and considering doing the plateau.  Tim and I set out to the Southern Station where we picked up a Song tao to the Islands.  It was only about 125km but that took over 3 hours in a Song tao, quite a long time to be sitting on a bench in the back of a pickup.  The swarms of food stick wielding women in the villages were thick, they were thrusting their snacks through the song tao's window, some with beetles and cockroaches on a stick.  There was one other farrang in the Song tao, an American lady who must have had at least five years on us.  She was everything I hate about farrangs; always complaining to us and moaning and groaning at the driver wanting something.  She couldn’t just chill knowing that we would get there… eventually.  When we arrived in the village we made haste to get away from this grouch for fear we would be stuck with her.  As we boarded the longtail to the island we met a Belgium guy who is living on the island for a few months and he had some good recommendations on where to stay, eat and drink.  Since we were late arriving all of the river side bungalows were full so we had to settle for one inland.  If the pace of living in Laos is sleepy then on the 4000 islands it is actually in a coma.  It was getting to oppressively hot and wet summer season so the tourist numbers are right down.  The place was so dead that at first I imagined that I would be bored off my head killing a few days here… but the laid back and lazy feeling was infectious and it would soon consume me.  The service here echoes the feeling of the island.  It is almost non existent, even worse than what is normal in Laos.  Usually you have to get the menu yourself, go back and order yourself and then wait for an indeterminate period of time to maybe get what you ordered thrown in front of you by a teenage girl with a sour puss on her face.  It hilarious and when you get used to it its totally fine, I guess you get what you pay for and when you are paying 1 or 2 Euro a meal you cant really complain.

On the second day our first priority was to get another bungalow on the river, sunset side.  We found one easily, two actually as they were only 30,000 kip.   It was very basic consisting of a bed a light and a fan and nothing more, the toilet was a squat out house.  The killer was the crappy hammocks and we decided almost immediately that we would be moving on the following day.  Once we settled in, and spent enough time lazing in the hammocks we set out on foot to explore Don Det.  It was nice that as you walk from the main village the guest houses and restaurants die out and it looks a bit more authentic.  Even still I felt that the locals on this island had already seen far too many farrangs to care, so for the most part they were not all that friendly.  We hung out in some hammocks sipping a Lao coffee for a while and watching the traffic go back and forth to Don Khon before heading onward to check out the King Kong place that the Belgium recommended.  The place was run by an English guy who came here six years ago and just never left.  There are quite a few farrang on the island who passed through and stopped dead, or returned soon after to settle.  They have taken local brides and traded their western life for a much more chilled existence.  Sure enough the food in the place was amazing and the guy was into poker.  I was delighted to make a plan to come back and play later in the evening.  On the way back we completed a loop of the islands coastline which took us through a totally non touristy looking village which was nice.  We did return for and evening of poker, only to be cleaned out twice by the guy, still it was good fun to play again.

The following days rolled by quickly.  Not a lot was done apart from lounging in the hammock watching the fishing longtails slowly glug by in the day and watching thunderstorms brewing on the horizon by night.  We did rent bikes one day and took off to explore the adjacent Don Kong Island.  We checked out the old colonial locomotive, a Buddhist monastery and an especially cool waterfall.  It was another mesmerizing spot where we could have chilled for hours.  I was itching to go down in a kayak or a white water raft; it would be crazy fun although probably stupidly dangerous.  After burning 30 minutes there we headed on following a sign to a beach.  We found ourselves in a maze of bushes but a group of foreigners told us to follow the dog (and horribly mangy dog) and he would take us there.  Sure enough the dog did actually lead us thread us there.  We had a bit of a dip in the water but didn’t venture too far from the bank since the rapids upstream made for some serious undercurrents.  On the way back one of the thunderstorms caught up with us and we took refuge in a small restaurant.  The cutest kids ever we having fun playing in the rain and it was amusing to watch.  There was a Danish guy having a beer there, so we joined him to ride out the storm.  This guy had previously spent 6 months living on the island and had now returned to set up some kind of volunteer English teaching there.  I was initially excited about it but after chatting for an hour I was convinced that this hippy guy had very little by way of an actual plan and didn’t really know what he was getting himself into.  My Laos language was better than his and nothing about him made me eager to give him my contact details.  That evening we checked out Reggae Bar where the menu had a whole range of 'Happy’ items… from the standard happy shakes to happy birthday cakes, happy pizzas and even happy mashed potatoes.  In fact you could order anything and make it happy.  We tried a happy shake and decided the following morning that they should either call it ‘lazy’ or ‘sleepy’ as that seemed to be the only effect we got from it.

For the last few days on the islands we moved to Paradise Bungalows on the sunrise side.  I had met some girls in Malaysia who said I had to go there, so I dragged Tim.  It was much the same as all the other bungalows but the Laos family was very nice and friendly.  There was an old Canadian couple there who seemed to be running the show; I could only hope that the money was going into the Laos families pockets.  Anyway after another lazy day there we got off our asses and booked onto a kayaking trip.  We joined with about 6 more farrangs and two guides and launched onto the river at about 9 in the morning.  The first few hours we paddled to Don Khon and covered many of the places we had already seen on our bike trip.  In the afternoon we pedaled down stream from Don Khon a couple of kilometers where the river was flat and we could see far.  We spent a good 30 minutes scouring the horizon for a shot of the famous Irrawaddy dolphins (highly endangered freshwater dolphins, only about 100 left in the world).  We had no such luck in spotting one so we stopped to have lunch on a rock in the middle of the river.  The guide told us that the west bank was Cambodia while the east was Laos.  He didn’t actually know which country the rock on which we were picnicking belonged to.  After lunch we paddled back to the same open water area.  This time we were in luck and caught a glimpse of three dolphins (or perhaps the same one three times).  There were no flipper acrobatics, just a quick pop to the surface for air before disappearing below again.  Satisfied and excited to see such an endangered animal we paddled onto a small village where we were picked up by tuk tuk to be taken to a landmark waterfall.  Measured by water volume it is the largest waterfall in south East Asia.  Although it wasn’t really something very beautiful it was awe inspiring due to the sheer size.  I was also impressed by the crazy fishermen who were climbing right down to the rapids edge, and hopping from rock to rock to collect fish from nets and traps they had set up.  From there we took the tuk tuk back to the mainland village where we had to take to the river for an upriver struggle back to Don Det.  There were a few cool people we met on the trip including an Irish –Scottish couple and an Italian-Canadian striper couple.  We met with those guys in the evening for dinner and a few beers.  All in all it was a nice way to spend our last day on the islands     
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