“Sabaidee”, welcome to Laos

Laos   /  
Vergezicht vier duizend eilanden, Laos blog

From the border with Laos we travel to Pakse, a small town next to the Mekong river surrounded by karst mountains. This beats a picture from National Geographic a thousand times over. We move into the last room of the Nang Noi guesthouse, owned by a Lao family with small children. We’ve come to Laos with Thai Baht and therefore try to withdraw Laos Kip but two out of four ATMs are broken and the working two charge hefty fines for withdrawing money. Too bad, but we have to withdraw money here because next week we’ll be on an island without an ATM. Noa befriends the children of the owner that night, and after playing we all fall into a deep sleep.

Golden Buddah looking over Pakse blog

A vision from my dreams

The next morning we are picked up by a minivan that brings us further south, and from there we take a 20 minute boat to the island of Don Det, one of the four thousand islands in the Mekong. The view of the islands is like you see in travel documentaries: karst mountains, green as far as you can see and simple wooden boats float on gorgeous water. Don Det is a sleepy island where the locals live side by side with tourists. Many houses have a few wooden cabins build near the water which can be rented for as little as 10 dollars a night. We made a reservation with Mr Tho’s, he’s a laidback man with a ponytail and it looks like he just walked away from a reggae band.
We have booked a small, simple hut looking at the river with two hammocks in front of it. We spend much of the following week swinging in the hammocks and looking out over the river. Everywhere on the island you can rent bikes for a euro a day and explore the island of Don Det and neighboring island Don Khon which is connected with a bridge.

Gehuurde fietsen Don Det, Laos blog

Thunderous waterfalls

We rent two bikes almost every day, and spend our days (except for lunch time when the sun is scorching) biking around to get a feel of the day to day lives of the Lao people. At six thirty the roosters start crowing and the inhabitants start waking up in the villages. All the houses are built on stilts and people move from the top of the houses to the shadow underneath their house while the men take their boats to go fishing. We wake up early as well and defy the dirt roads full of potholes and dust on our flimsy bikes made in China. Our first stop are the waterfalls Li Phi on Don Khon.
What an amazing sight, as far as we could see thousands of gallons of water fell of hundreds of rocks to form a dangerous wild river underneath. We had never seen such an impressive set of waterfalls (also see the movie). And we’re not the only ones being impressed, hundreds of years ago the French couldn’t manage to pass the waterfalls and build train tracks over the island to transport their boats and weapons in parts and put them together again at the other end of the island. There are two sights remaining with locomotives and a couple of old french buildings. The French customs that still remains are baguettes, which are on every breakfast and lunch menu and are served right out of the oven, hmmmm.

Don kon waterfall blog

Washing in the river

At the end of each day, right before sundown all inhabitants move towards the water and wash themselves with soap in the river. Whole families splash about and children scream while playing in the water. Looking for some place to cool down in the scorching heat, Noa and I play in the river during the day. And this doesn’t happen without an audience, all around the island children and adults moor their boats and make small talk with us in Lao.
Talking with our hands we chitchat about each other’s children and Noa’s is lovingly but endlessly pinched in his cheeks and upper arms. With Noa loudly protesting because he hates all the prying hands of strangers.
When the sun is down, the villagers move into their houses to eat and we move to the mattresses and triangular pillows that are laid out on the floor of Mr Tho’s restaurant, while Noa goes to play with Mr Tho’s sons. The mood is always relaxed and so are the waiters, we spend hours waiting for our food drinking fruit shakes and Lao beer while waiting. Life goes by on the river and fishermen going out to fish in the pitch dark. Before arriving we read that a lot of people come to this island for just a couple of days and end up spending months or even years here. And we can understand why, one day turns into another and another without any notice.

Back to civilisation

After a week Mr Tho brings us back to the mainland in one of the wooden boats the fisherman use to fish, see the movie I made of the trip. Mr Tho’s oldest son comes with us to say goodbye to Noa, in the harbor he guides Noa to the busstation while protectively holding his shoulder. We are amazed by how easy it is for a toddler to make friends with strangers without understanding the language, we watch their friendship unfold being proud, touched and respectful.
Back in Pakse we have the same guesthouse, and our reservations was none too much because it’s full again. Which isn’t very strange because for eight euro’s (about 10 US dollar) you get a clean good room with a nice bed, hot water and in the morning a great breakfast is being served. And on top of all that the guesthouse is right in the centre of town in a quiet backstreet. Because there is not much to do in the town itself we rent a motorbike and visit the impressive old Khmer temple Wat Phou. After visiting the impressive Angkor Wat a couple of years ago we don’t have high expectations. But we are pleasantly surprised to find a gorgeous and impressive temple, and a staircase up the mountain surrounded by flowering magnolia trees. It’s a fairytale setting at which I can’t stop looking. We climb the staircase that is build against the 1400 meter high mountain and the views are breathtaking. Also check out our photo section for more pictures.

Grand view from Wat Phou blog

Preparing for the Bolaven loop

The last day in Pakse we spend resting, we do some groceries, visit a temple and prepare ourselves for the Bolaven loop, a 111 mile (180 kilometer) loop in a green area with coffee plantations and waterfalls. We will leave our backpacks at the guesthouse and travel with a small daypack with clothes and spend the night along the loop, we are really looking forward to it. And will let you know next week how it was.

We have a new gallery with pictures of Laos ready if you would like to see more pictures.


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