I’ll begin with a heartfelt thank-you for everyone’s comments and e-mails regarding the accident. Normally, I respond personally, but this time I would be saying almost exactly the same thing. So…to save all of you (and me) from hearing my voice over and over again: Thank you all so very much for your concern and advice and caring sentiments. It means a great deal to us.
The experience and the images still linger, but we’re left with a fresh appreciation for how lucky we are.
We could not have arrived in a better place to calm down and rest. Don Khon is one of the 4000 islands of the Mekong archipelago that sits just north of the Cambodian border. Four thousand is an approximate number, and that includes tiny sandbars and islets big enough for nesting ground birds. Tributaries wind their way through, as do fishing boats and longboats, making this part of Laos deliciously serene and sleepy. Of the few islands that are inhabited, just three cater to tourists, and of the twin islands, Don Det and Don Khon – we took a pass on the former for its hippy, happy-snack crowd and chose the latter for its peacefulness and rice paddy landscape.
We have discovered we need regular breaks from travelling. We need the recharge of staying put for a few days with no agenda. Don Khon has given us exactly that – relaxation bordering on downright laziness.
The boat landed at Don Det, where the vast majority of visitors stay.
We could not find a boat to carry us on to neighbouring Don Khon. As luck would have it, a young man called out to us that he could take us by “tuk-tuk” down the island and across the bridge. His tuk-tuk turned out to be a utility truck with two milk cartons for seats, and he demanded the money up front (he had to refill with gas first). Away we went – bumping down the back roads (we suspect he didn’t want the legit tuk-tuk drivers to see him on the main road), and eventually arrived at our destination.
We were excited to see that our hotel resembled its online photos – clean and bright, with wooden bannisters and shiny tile floors and best of all – our huge room and balcony overlooking the Mekong. We’re the third room in from the left on the second floor.
Hot showers (rarer than you might think), followed by lunch and beer on the patio – we were starting to feel human again.
There is a boat dock right by our hotel, and we’ve amused ourselves by watching the various and inventive craft transporting tourists.
This premium boat offers seats and life jackets.
We are most definitely in the south again – the comfy days and cool evenings of Vientiane have been replaced with sweltering, sweaty temps – only mad dogs and white-skinned Englishmen are out in the midday sun.
Don Khon has three main roads – one that skirts the west coast, one that follows the east coast, and one straight down the middle. Water features are the big attraction – waterfalls, a broad port and a pool that is home to the endangered Irrawaddy river dolphins.
According to one of our lunch table mates, the pod has shrunk to four dolphins, and chasing after them by boat seems designed to put another peg in their “near-extinction,” so we decided to stick to cycling as our main form of entertainment.
While the rental bikes are rough and ready, they come with a basket and a bell and the price is right – about $1.50 a day. For each of the past three days, we’ve set out in the morning to explore, and what a glorious time it has been. We’ve seen heritage homes turned into fancy hotels.
We’ve seen modest, welcoming homes out on dusty roads.
There are few island vehicles – utility tuk-tuks, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. This makes cycling a dream, and getting lost a pleasure. We rode across rice paddies, through temple grounds, past homes and small settlements, beside the river and through bamboo stands. We watched kids play soccer, and dodged cows, dogs and chickens in the road. Life on Don Khon feels quite untouched by civilization.
There is no ATM, police, or medical services here, wifi is spotty and refreshingly, cellphone sightings are less common than elsewhere. It is poor here, but without pathos. As is similar to life on many small islands everywhere, the sense of community is strong. People are relaxed and friendly and you can spot the characters after being here for a while. There is no gas station on the island, so bottles of gasoline are dispensed at stand like this one.
Waterfalls are a common feature everywhere we have been so far, but since it is well into the dry season, many of them are but a trickle. Not so the waterfalls of Don Khon – they are impressive and majestic. If they are mighty now, what they must be like in November? As we approached Khone Pa Soi waterfalls, we were warned by a couple of women, in that understated way that Brits are famous for, that the wooden bridges were a bit “perilous.”
The suspension bridge was a little sketchy, but looked as though it might hold up. Up a path we went to get to the top of the falls.
We headed over to the smaller waterfall, and came face-to-face with the “perilous” bridges – we took our chances on the thin layers of bamboo and lath and made it safely across.
The second falls we visited – the Li Phi Falls – were massive. They are one of Asia’s largest waterfalls by volume – so named as they are meant to catch bad spirits as they wash down the river. We paid heed to the dozens of “Dangerous” signs, not wanting to join the bad spirits.
Our photos cannot capture the scope and volume of water in this waterfall – what must this look like in the rainy season?
At the end of our hike, Stephen stopped to cool off his feet in the pool – still the Mekong, but clean, clear, fast water.
On our way home, we rode through one of the temples to discover a small herd of cows all cozied up together.
Further along, three young novices were busy making bricks. They greeted us with a smile and allowed us to take photos.
A perfect break in the travels, and a memorable way to end our time in Laos. Tomorrow we are in for an early start and a trip by boat, minibus, and bus to get us across the border into Cambodia and to our first destination, Siem Reap.