Heading down to Four Thousand Islands - running out of time in Laos!
September 1st. Can't believe it is already September! Arrived from my overnight bus into Pakse around 5:30am. I really couldnt see very well at all from my dreaded lurgy red eye disease, so a lovely tuk tuk guy drove me around to about four different clinics to try and find a doctor! Apparantly doctors in Laos don't like to get up early so we finally got a pharmacist to help.. so nice of the driver who translated and even helped me put the drops in my eyes.. what more could you ask for!
However, he did drop me off at the wrong bus station where i sat for an hour and a half (after checking like ten times!) waiting for the next bus to Champasak, but apparantly he thought i said Ban Muong Tho.. ahhhh.. no! Oh well, finally realised i was in the wrong place, so took a tuk tuk to the other bus station, where i waited for another 2 hours for that bus to fill up and then we were off! Got chatting to a lovely boy called Kekong, who guess what.. wanted to practice his English! This was a real local bus, where if kids need to go to the loo, they just drop their trousers and have a wee! I was the only tourist here but having a great time and feeling quite adventurous...then two lovely young chappies got on board! Hit it off with Silas and Matthew (both from London) right away. Really nice guys.. oh yes and Jean-Yves, a farmer from outside Paris, also jumped on just as we were heading off! This bus was seriously PACKED....but everyone was in good spirits, sharing fruit and monkey nuts and whatever else we bought from the sellers who would mob the bus everytime it stopped! So after a bus and a ferry ride and then back on the bus, we arrived at Champasak!
Champasak, famous for its ancient ruins, is a really relaxed place to hang out and we met definitely the smiliest man in the entire world, Mr Khong, who ran our guest house! He literally laughed at everything any of the guests - or himself - said - what a jolly fellow, or maybe he was on some sort of happy pill - who knows around here, anything goes! Great place - chilled out with hammocks and a beautiful view of the mighty Mekong (yup, that river gets around!). We were to find a similar scene throughout all the Four Thousand islands (or Si Phan Don to give it its correct name) that we pottered through over the next few days.
Technically the Four Thousands Islands are literally made up of thousands of isles and sandbars that rise from the Mekong River – this area is the widest part of the river’s breadth, expanding about 14 kilometers or nine miles. The islands can be seen from January to March but as we were there during rainy season, many of the islands were submerged.. but still a gorgeous place to visit!
So after we all checked in, it was off on the bikes again for Silas, Matthew, Jean-Yves, Darryl (an English guy at the guest house) and myself! Super hot today as we biked up to the Wat Phu Champasak ruins.. which were so beautiful and in the midst of being restored (have to admit i posted my LP book home so cant give you too much details on the historical perspective here.. i know, it kills me too, you are all desperate to know (yeh, right!!!). We climbed up to the top, and what a view we had. Silas boldly went where no man has gone before (ok slight exaggeration) but he did find the famous and somewhat elusive elephant rock, that has some amazing spiritual meaning that i dont know about!! But hey, it looks good! . Checked out the museum afterwards then we all headed back to the guest house for some, you guessed it, well earned beer Lao! Met up with Jeremy and Nadine, a lovely couple (Irish and Welsh respectively) who filled me with lots of stories about India where they had just been for 5 months! Really got me excited about that trip I have to say...
Had a great nights chat - one of those evenings where you have deep, meaningful conversations about life, love, religion, politics - everything you shouldnt really talk about with people you dont know very well, but we had a great time. Jeremy even got his guitar out - he is a beautiful singer, so we had a fab finish to a great night! (well, apart from the Korean man who got up to tell us off for being too noisy, wearing only his boxer shorts - nice look!). So glad i managed to squeeze this part of the trip in as it wasnt originally on my itinerary - hey, its the new me, going with the flow and not planning every single second of my trip.. well, im trying!!
September 2nd. The boys (did i mention how great they are - too too funny, they have been best friends for ever) and I are off to Don Khong today. Silas is a quad brother - so interesting - with three other brothers and sisters (obviously). He works in TV in London but his family live in Brighton so we are going to meet up when im home visiting my brother, Myles! Matthew is going to be a trainee solicitor in copyright law with a music firm (and couldnt be further from your perception of what that type of person is!). Also met a lovely guy from Switzerland, Oliver, who had just arrived... super nice and definitely a traveler not a tourist (from some of the amazing stories he told me! wow!). Anyway the boys and I were soon off to wait for our "bus" (always a loose term here) to turn up for our next island, Don Khong, which it did pretty quickly, even tho' the local guy told us it wouldn't be around for another few hours! Hmmn. So on to another ferry that took us across to Don Khong; yet another beautiful island. Great guest house with lovely folks again! We relaxed for a while then as we were only going to be there for one night, we all felt the need to explore so it was on to the bikes and off we went! Pottered around town then headed out to the countryside a bit... you can bike the whole island which is just 34km but we all felt that was a tad too energetic especially in the heat (ok good excuse we just couldn't be bothered!) so we just pottered along, cycling through lovely wee villages, till we came upon some gorgeous kids who found the boys hilarious, especially when they held hands and biked along the road together - dafties!
On our way back to town, we passed a big gang of wee boys jumping in the river from a rope swing. Now Silas and Matthew had been talking about swimming the whole way back, so of course they jumped right in with the kids and what a laugh they had. The wee boys were delighted to have Silas and Matthew join in; at one point Matthew threw this tiny boy in (he wanted to) but he looked shell shocked when he came out.. then laughed his head off. So cute! Then two little girls who were watching the whole proceedings gave me flowers .. i put them in my hair which started a whole new round of giggling. These kids are so gorgeous!!! I want to take them all home!
September 3rd. Up early again today (one island after another folks!).. as we were catching the 8am river boat down to Don Det. Yet another idyllic setting -we stayed at Mama Tan's. She was officially crazy from chewing too much betel juice (either that or a tad too much wacky backy .. she was lovely but a little strange - she apparantly liked you if she slapped you around a bit.. lucky me cos i got alotta slaps...a little strange but whatever!). We hung out in the hammocks for a while, then as was our pattern, we jumped on some bikes and headed off to the local waterfalls . .which were absolutely gorgeous! All that water and the incredible heat made us want to go for a swim, so we found this "beach" that some French people had told us about! Hmmn more of a bay really and even then, that was pushing it! We didnt care and jumped right in - ahhh the cool water - fab! Until, and we had been swimming around for quite some time now, we saw the local kids bringing the water buffalo in for their afternoon dip - and no surprise, once in they were quite impressive with their poohing abilities. Sorry but its true. We must have been swimming around in tons of buffalo pooh and not realising it! So - quick smart out of there for us, we had our picnic lunch and then headed back to our guest house.... it was SO hot! I mean i love the heat, but really the last few weeks were scorching! We went in search of the perfect rice field shot -couldn't get it so decided to take a silly one of me sitting in a rice field instead!!
These last few days are probably some of the most relaxed I've had on my trip. I mean who can ask for more - sunshine, hammocks, biking around.. just magical i have to say! Thanks Matthew and Silas for a fun, fun time (and yes, you both look quite charming in your new head gear.. they snuck into Madam Tan's closet for some bizarre reason.. but they do look good, in an 18th century kinda way, right? I had to put this shot in boys.... too good to miss!). And yes, i do humbly apologize for spreading the dreaded red eye lurgy to you both.. so, so sorry!!! Such a nice memory of our time together - not! So it's goodbye to Four Thousand islands as we all head off tomorrow to the border crossing and into Cambodia for a whole new adventure! I have to say I always thought Vietnam would be hard to beat but i have loved my time in Laos, and I'm really sad to leave. I had met a ton of people who said there is no way you need to spend a month here- but I could easily have stayed another month! So Laos is now edging up there to equal or maybe nudge ahead of Vietnam.. but lets see what Cambodia has to offer! Stay tuned!