Waterfalls and Dolphins
Trip Start Nov 26, 2007
44Trip End Apr 17, 2008
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After my Vietnam experiences I had made sure we booked a sleeping bus for our trip to Pakse, the jumping of point for Vientiane. I never thought it would actually materialize to be a sleeping bus but it turned out to be a beautiful little number. When we got there that was, after the most horrific tuk tuk ride ever; as we had negotiated the price down too far the driver decided to get us onto a crappy old tuk tuk which wouldn't go faster than 15 miles an hour - by them time we arrived my flip flops had almost melted from the heat coming from the engine. On the bus we had Dave, Margeaux, Ed, Tiffany and myself taking up the whole back seat (see pics) like one massive slumber party with Cookie and Ollie in nearby seats. It would have been really weird sleeping in the back seat like that with strangers but as we were all friends it was a top laugh and a good nights sleep. We pulled into Pakse at 6am or so and there was a bus leaving to Don Det an hour later so the journey turned out to be ultra smooth.
Apparently Don Det is what Vang Vieng was like 10 years ago. Its basically a 3km across island ringed with clusters of bamboo bungalows. Its is the kind of place that you can totally get away from everyone and just chill out in a bungalow for days and days occasionally going for a swim in the Mekong (I remember Mark Berger telling me that him and Sarah had been swimming in the Mekong before I came away and me thinking not sure I'll be dong that as its bound to be dirty...transpires that I was in some kind of river every single day in Laos!). There is a central town near the beach where the boats come in and that is where we stayed since there was a lot of us. Don Det only has electricity from 6 till 10pm so is all about the day time really...well in theory that is the case but in reality every night we were there when the restaurants and bars closed each night a pile of people moved to the beach for a bit of a party. This was good fun and a good way to meet people - I even had a job there for a local woman helping her sell some beer, always one to help the local economy me. Its amazing there aren't more fires with everyone heading back to their bamboo and straw bungalows with a handful of candles.
On the 1st day there was just me, Dave, Tiff, My Girl, Cookie, Ollie and Ed in town but by day two the cowboy hats of the rest of the South African girls were spotted getting off a boat. Dave left soon after as he had to go to Bangkok to the hospital (the 1st of many from the original Vang Vieng crew) to get a malignant mole seen to. It was a sad goodbye after spending nearly everyday for 2 weeks together but I am sure we'll meet again and certainly talked up all sorts of plans of going to festivals etc in the summer together. No sooner had Dave left than the Canadian Gord arrived suitably entangled with Vanessa who had been with us in Vang Vieng too...this is quite an impressive feat given the 22 years between them and just goes to show that sometime persistence is the key!!
There are 2 reasons to visit 4000 islands other than chilling out; waterfalls and dolphins. The waterfalls are the biggest, in terms of water volume, in SE Asia. We didn't go to the biggest waterfalls as there were nice, impressive ones you could cycle to just across the island. The power of the current is amazing even in the dry season. There was a pretty poignant sign at the beach where people swam saying not to cross the string stretched across the river as this signified where the current got really powerful and someone had died there a few years ago. After the waterfalls we cycled to another beach on a calmer part of the river where local boatmen will take you to the area where the freshwater (Irawaddy) dolphins come to feed in the mornings and evenings. Although they are extremely rare it's a bit of an anticlimax to be honest as all they do is pop their nose up every now and then about a 100 metres away. They are not like the curious, fun loving sea water dolphins in flipper. It was actually more fun jumping off the rocks (and attempting to back flip - as usual Tiffany was perfect I had no idea at all about to back flip - this is 3 days after I nearly tried it from the 30 foot jump when kayaking). There were some very moody and unhappy French people who kept moving to block our jumping antics; I guess we were spoiling their romantic cultural experience...
I did meet some nice new people on Don Det but it really had that 'party over' feel about it. We all new that this was probably the last time we would see each other and several peoples trips were coming to an end. It sort of felt like a fitting natural conclusion when I eventually waved goodbye to everyone as they boarded their boats to go to Cambodia. Once again I seemed to be going in totally the opposite direction to everyone else (thinking about it this being out of sync with those around me may be a repeating pattern throughout my life). I also finally said a proper goodbye to Constance from the boat as we knew this would probably be the last time we randomly bumped into each other.
I had a lot of mental torment about what to do next...China as originally planned, Malaysia and Singapore (originally I had been trying to get my mum and dad to come out an meet me there for their 60th and 65th birthdays but the idea didn't seem to go down that well but it firmly planted the seed in my head to make my way down that way) or India where my flight home if from. In the end I settled on Bangkok to get my finger looked at...that is the one I hurt way back in Samui on Xmas eve. Ever since then it has been numb down one side, which I can handle, but has also consistently felt like there is something still imbedded in it.