4,000 islands of lazy fun (and pork)
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Today I'm broadcasting from the 4,000 islands area of southern Laos, a stretch of the mighty Mekong river at the border between Laos and Cambodia. The river seems to widen at this point, and a number of large, permanent and inhabited islands can be found here, surrounded by thousands of smaller landforms, sand bars and emergent tufts of vegetation that can be referred to as islands, hence the name.
Although it doesn't seem like much to look at, it's a unique and quite beautiful landscape, so it is no wonder that this little corner of the world is beginning to open up to tourism.
There is not a great deal to do here, which is part of the attraction. The main past-time is rocking in a hammock over the quietly flowing waters of the river below. Many guesthouses have opened to accommodate this, along both sides of the main island Don Det. I chose the sunset side, a little quieter and relaxed than the other side, and with the evening views wonder why more people don't do so as well. They can keep the main side in my opinion - I'm not a morning person anyway...
This is getting back to nature living. Everything is a bit decrepit and haphazard and there's a definite hippy feel about the place that draws a certain type of laid back person who stays for the longer term. You can get your happy shakes and the locals don't mind a jay or two, even on their balcony to watch the sunset.
Not many of the bungalows have electricity and even the restaurants and bars only have generator power for short periods during the day. Washing is in river water, the drinks are warm and the cooking is pretty basic, so make sure you bring a solid constitution.
The result is a curious mix of agriculture and tourism that seems to be working well for the time being. You wander around the place and bump into cows, monkeys, kids, frogs drying for consumption in the breeze, ducks and chickens, a pig or two and a crazy Aussie pastry chef that somehow cooks wonderful donuts and then delivers them by bicycle all over the island. There's not much use questioning anything, it just is, so relax and go with the flow.
And if you do want to get more active, hire a bike or there are various river day trips that can be arranged. I took a kayak adventure to see the Irrawaddy dolphins, an endangered species in the region only found on small stretches of the Mekong.
This involved a lot of paddling but we were rewarded with a couple of waterfalls including Limpi falls above and the Mekong fault line falls (called Khone Pha Pheng waterfall) below. Both are wider than high (the latter is about 15 metres) but a lot of water flows through a small river width here so hence the claim that Pha Pheng is the largest waterfall in South East Asia.
Dolphins were in evidence and we actually hung out with Cambodian soldiers at a border control post to view them, which was a little odd and slightly disconcerting. Still, we weren't detained and as we saw three or four of the 20 resident dolphins in this stretch of the river the trip was worthwhile. Unfortunately we were about 50 metres away which made it impossible to capture any decent images or video of them. Good to see them out and about though and hope that they start recovering in numbers in the near future.
The other highlight of this stop was watching a group of Vikings devour a whole pig. Three Swedes and one loopy Icelander (nicknamed Frosty, see with knife above) bought the live pig from villagers for $US65, helped kill and prepare it and then had it cooked on an open fire to celebrate the recent full moon. Crazy bastards just kept eating and eating, polishing off plate after plate of prime pork before heading out to party on with a Mekong whiskey bucket or three. Still, it's a part of their history and culture so to all the Scandinavians out there in the audience, I won't think of you as any more or less crazy than I already do just because of this event. And yes Olof, I'm ready to eat a kilo or two of crayfish when I get up there, but preferably not raw please! (You know what happened last time ;-)
On that note, I'm going to sign out from down south.
Next entry -> Phnom Phen and a holiday in Cambodia
Great brands of the world
For a small, poor country, Laos can contribute two great brands worthy of the world stage. Unfortunately I didn't get a decent shot of either as they are only heavily promoted in northern tourism towns but here goes anyway.
Beer Lao - adorning a T shirt of just about every traveller that passes through the country, this is a great beer and a great brand. Simple, catchy and mysterious, the taste compares to Bintang as one of the best beers in Asia and the shirts say 'intrepid traveller' if worn anywhere else in the world. The latter may not be true as Lao is a pretty accessible country these days (if you make an effort), but they make for cool shirts whichever way you look at it.
Tango - well it does take two doesn't it? To talk on the phone anyway... This groovy mobile network provider has hit on one of the more imaginative, distinctive and rounded brand concepts I've seen in Asian or global telecommunications and it will be interesting to see what prviders in Europe and neighbouring regions are doing in comparison once I get there. Nice one Tango - I like it.