Four Thousand islands and On into Cambodia
Jan 12, 2007
|Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don)
VIX Blog Entry
After the Plateau, we pit-stopped at Pakse again before heading to the furthest southern point of Laos and the Mighty Mekong's entry into the Four Thousand Islands,
so called because much of this area remains submerged during the rainy season, only revealing itself during the dry months. A couple of Islands, Don Det and Don Khon
are large enough to support all-year-round communities
and, on Don Khon, where we stayed for about five days, life goes on as it has done for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. It is also home to Asia's largest waterfall, impressive for its width rather than height.
We started out staying at Sala Phae
before moving to the Khampheng guesthouse from where we explored the numerous falls on the island.
No mains electricity meant very early nights and very early mornings with most of the small population fast asleep by about 8.00pm. We adjusted our body time clocks accordingly and got into the spirit. Each morning at about 5.30am, we were awoken by the sound of cockerels, ducks, pigs, dogs and people simultaneously springing into action for the day, leaving little hope of further shut-eye. We hired bicycles
for exploration of the island and bumped our way along dusty tracks, sweating in the midday sun.
We did succeed in finding a fisherman to take us out in a boat to find the rare Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins, albeit at a distance of some 150metres and I was cursing for not having decent binoculars. (We did get close up later on, once we'd crossed in Cambodia).
We stayed in a small guesthouse
and, on our last night, joined the owners for a shared meal on our balcony,
overlooking the Mekong and next door to the only railway and bridge in Laos, constructed by the French in the 1860s but now sadly defunct save for a sad little locomotive which sits rusting and lonely in a field.
After days of chilling,
we then moved onto Cambodia
and an eventful journey involving an early morning boat, and several buses to the border. Having crossed into Cambodia, our bus broke down
and we, along with about 20 others, were left sweating by the roadside while the on-board mechanic tried to fix the broken fan belt with Selotape and a hammer (to no avail, not surprisingly!) After about four hours sitting by the roadside, it started to feel like something out of one of the 'Stranded on a desert island, what would you do?" TV programmes. Our fellow travellers, hatching various schemes to hijack the bus, hitch, camp etc, began to light fires which attracted the attention of some kiddies
who came out of the forest to investigate and stare at the fair-skinned foreigners on their patch. We did eventually get going, with a replacement bus, a terrifying journey as most Cambodians ignore the rules of the road, choosing to drive on the left, and only swerving at the last moment to avoid any on-coming goats, buffalo, children or traffic. The road is currently being improved but still felt fairly adventurous as the other feature that attracted our attention was the 'slash and burn' of every single piece of land in sight, small 'controlled' fires that sometimes raged for miles, lighting up the night sky and making the land resemble a war zone with miles of burnt tree stumps and burning grass.
We arrived in a small town called Kratie and today, took another small boat out to see the dolphins again - magic
but very sad to know that there are only about 90 left in the whole world. We were lucky enough to see about 8, but photographing them was no easy feat although Alan did succeed, despite the fact that they didn't actually leap out of the water like Flipper should.
Tommorow we're moving onto Phnom Penh. Already, it seems a very different place to Laos
- not quite as laid back but nonetheless interesting and we're looking forward to learning more - perhaps even some of the grisly history it's hard to avoid.