Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Don Khone to Vientiane

After spending our last night in Pakse we took an early morning mini-van ride to the 4,000 islands region of Laos, about 3 hours south of Pakse. It is named 4,000 islands because there are tons of tiny islands, although the two that seem to have the guesthouses and tourist infrastructure are Don Det and Don Khon.

Let me back up a little and mention that a European young man walked up to us as we were walking to breakfast to ask if we knew how to get to the islands, as he had just arrived on the overnight bus from Vientiane. Trying to be helpful, I suggested he see if our minivan was full yet and if not he could buy a ticket on it for the islands. Big mistake. He ended up being incredibly loud and crass, swearing loudly and talking about his sexual exploits during his travels. Think typical frat boy, only Dutch. He said we seemed responsible and fun so he latched on to us and ended up deciding to go to Don Khon with us (which is significantly less touristy then Don Det). In a way I feel bad writing this because he didn't seem like a bad person, but truly so loud and uncouth. During our first lunch on the island I just wanted to say to all the locals "he's not with us- really- we aren't going to be acting like that!". The islands are so quite it's like shouting in a library when you loudly talk about "getting fucking pissed in Vang Vien". After lunch we managed to get a different guesthouse than him, telling him we just wanted to chill in our hammocks and that we would see him around because it's such a small island. We did run into him several times on the road, and he always asked where we were going and we would just say "out for a snack and then back into the hammock" which was actually true. The rest of the time we actually avoided him because he found another traveler to hang out with and when he was talking he was so loud we could hear him before we saw him and run away. Isaac described it as being like a cat with a bell.

Anyhoo, we ended up at some little 5 dollar bungalows with grimy showers but clean beds and most importantly, decks with hammocks right on the Mekong. We walked around town a bit but it was rainy so we decided to forgo trekking or taking a long boat ride in the rain to try and see some rare freshwater dolphins. That would have been nice but we were unanimous in thinking reading a book and drinking lao lao by candlelight in the hammock would be nicer. It was lovely.

There were baby water buffalo, little chicks, kittens, and other cute animals everywhere, and everyone was very friendly and said "sabadee" (Hello) when we passed by.

The locals all bathed in the river (adults wearing sarongs) and all the open air restaurants were almost always completely empty. There were very few falang around, although we kept ending up at the same places as this group of 3 younger and 2 older french people. We orginally planned to only spend one night on the islands but ended up spending two. The only real downside was that everything became damp so quickly and started to smell like mildew. The second day we ran into the manager of Green Discovery from Pakse (whose uncle we stayed with during the homestay); he was giving a family a 5 day rafting tour. Small world! He had us convinced we should go see some waterfalls but then it began to rain and the lethargy set back in. Back in the hammocks we went. We did get the energy up to go to Don Det, just to see it, check our email, and get a drink. Well, the email was not so good (see previous posts), the town had this nasty Khao San Road vibe, and the menu was full of western food and "happy" shakes. We got a very non-happy drink each and then hopped on the boat back to our hammocks.

The next day we took a minivan back to Pakse, stopped by Green discovery to pick up some things we had left there and got to see Udon and Aot again. I also got to talk with a very interesting American woman who has been living in Laos for 7 years teaching English, and is just about to start managing the hotel that Green Discovery operates near Wat Phu. We bought overnight sleeping bus tickets from them, said goodbye to Pakse and left on the 8pm bus.

When we got to the bus station the man assigned me and Kat in one bunk and Isaac in another. The bus bunks consist of smaller than double sized beds that they put 2 people in, which might be a stranger if you are traveling alone (but same sex if it's a stranger). We asked if we could have me and Isaac in the same bunk and he seemed very put off by the idea, so we figured maybe opposite sex was against Lao culture so we agreed to me and Kat sharing a bunk. When we got inside the bus we saw lots of other couples, both Lao and Falang, sharing bunks! Turns out his being put off was just that he had assigned a man with Isaac's bunk and if that had been Kat's bunk he would have had to do 2 minutes worth of work to rearrange the seats. There ended up being a empty bunk, so that would have been ideal because then Kat and Isaac's bunk mate would have had their own beds. Le sigh. Isaac spent the entire night with a strange man and Kat and I ended up bunking together on a top bunk of a swaying bus with Kat trying not to fall out of the bunk and me trying to wedge myself up against the glass so that I didn't push her out. None of us got much sleep and we all agreed it was the worst night yet during the trip. When we arrived in Vientane we all had a touch of GI distress but Isaac's was the worst and we couldn't do much other than blog and (finally) mail that huge @#$% musical instrument back to the states. Oddly enough, I have had a fine day just hanging out and blogging. We will spend tomorrow in Vientane as well and hopefully get to see some of it, because it seems lovely. Kat roamed the city alone today and said it was very nice. She is resigned to taking the bus to Luang Prabang the day after tomorrow to save money but if Isaac's GI distress isn't absolutely cleared then the two of us may fly and meet her there. At $80 a ticket vs $20 for the bus, it's an expenditure we don't want given the news about Isaac's job, but the road to Luang Prabang is supposed to be hellish if you get motion sick (which I do), and even Dramamine won't keep me from falling out of a bunk that's wildly swaying back and forth for 10 hours. So we are going to think about it tomorrow, but the flight is only 45 minutes vs 10 hours. Tempting. So we will see. It's looking less likely that we will fly down to Siem Reap to see John and Narissa, as much as we would like to, due to finances and time. So that remains to be seen also but if we don't go then we will have almost a full week in Luang Prabang, which I think would be fab. So either way, we win!

1 comment:

jesscera said...

It's so cool to see your trip via your blog! Say hi to Kitty! I just finally read the first blogs of the trip - so funny! Love ya all!