Ok ok, I take it all back. Whatever I've said about Laos transport in the past is forgotten. Laos has the best transportation in the world. In fact, every journey from now on I want to get the same vehicle that took us from Vientiane to Pakse, a huge luxury sleeper bus. Comfortable, clean double bunk beds lined the bus from front to back and the ride was relatively smooth compared to the northern sections of route 13 (which admittedly isn't saying much). After a couple of days chilling out in the centre of Vientiane and sampling some of the excellent French restaurants there, including one that served a fantastic steak tartare for the equivalent of around five pounds, we got the overnight bus down to Pakse in southern Laos. The journey was a blessed relief after the painful trips around the north and we both slept fairly soundly until we arrived in Pakse at around 6am. We had wanted to stay in the town and see some of the sights but were running a little behind schedule so as soon as we got into the bus station we found a minivan driver to take us even further south to our
Just before the Laos border with Cambodia the Mekong river stretches out to its widest point, reaching 14km across and Si Phan Don (literally meaning Four Thousand Islands) is the collective name for the thousands of little islands and sand dunes that poke out of the river's surface during the dry season. There are three main islands that are inhabited all year round, the largest being Don Khong which is 8km wide and 18km long. Don Det and Don Khone are the smaller two and are apparantely more attractive so we decided to head to Don Khone, the quietest of the three. After a couple of hours in the minivan from Pakse we were dropped at Ban Nakasang, a grimy and unappealing little collection of houses and shops on the banks of the Mekong that serves as a jumping off point for the islands. We got into a very rickety looking longtail boat and headed out to Don Khone.
Although several of the islands are large enough to support villages others are not even big enough to stand on and as we edged through the water towards Don Khone we passed dozens and
dozens of little islands that were really no more than patches of grass and sand that rise out of the water. Perhaps "Four Thousand Islands" is a little generous a name and "A Few Dozen Islands And Lots Of Little Clumps Of Grass" would be more accurate. Either way, Si Phan Don is gorgeous and the short journey to Don Khone, via a drop off at Don Det, was nice and soothing after our 16 hours on the road.
We arrived and checked into Pan's Guest House which had been recommended by the Lonely Planet and also a guy on the pier at Don Det. Sure enough, the rooms were large and clean and worth the slightly higher price than the other guesthouses on the island. We paid 60,000 kip (just under a fiver) for the room and settled into the hammock on the balcony to watch the river drift past.
There is relative little to do in Don Khone and that is part of the point. We chilled out for the rest of our first day and just sat in the hammock, reading and relaxing before going in search of food at one of the riverside restaurants.
Rather oddly, Si Phan Don has the only stretch of railway that was every laid in Laos that connects Don Khone and Don Det and we chose a restaurant with a view of it to watch the sunset and eat dinner. I had a delicious grilled fish in banana leaves with sticky rice that had been recommended as a Laos speciality and it was every bit as good as I had been told.
The next day we went for a walk around the island in search of Somphamit Falls, a set of rapids and small waterfalls in the south of the island. We walked south from the guesthouse through the village until the houses ended and were replaced with rice paddies. The day was particularly hot, one of the hottest we've experienced so far in the trip and within minutes we were dripping in the heat. The falls were about 2km and it was cool to walk through the paddy fields and thousands of leaping crickets with buffalo grazing nearby and not another soul in sight.
Eventually we arrived at the falls and were taken aback at their size. We had both expected a small version of Tad
Kuang Si, the falls just outside Luang Prabang, but were instead met by a raging set of rapids that charged over jagged rocks and gorges below the rocky viewing area. We stood and watched for a while before sitting nearby and grabbing a bite to eat from one of the stalls set up by the local villagers. We also took a video that you can see here:
We meandered back along the same route to our guest house and had a well needed shower before spending the rest of the afternoon just chilling out and enjoying the very laid back atmosphere of Don Khone. I should mention at this point that we have started using a new phrase, "Laos speed", which means anything that is exceptionally slow. Throughout the country people do things at their own pace which is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Thailand. When you order food it is not uncommon for your waiter to lazily jot it down then go and sit and watch nothing for ten minutes before going to tell the cook who will probably have a quick nap before starting to cook by which time he will
have forgotten what you ordered and just make you whatever he feels like. It can be a little frustrating but is also strangely endearing and nowhere in Laos is this more evident than Si Phan Don. Everything seems to take an eternity but you somehow don't mind because whatever you wanted will be done with a smile.
In the evening we went on a boat trip around some of the islands to watch the sunset from the river. We paid 100,000 kip (8 pounds) to have a longtail boat to ourselves and we spent two hours drifting past the reeds and local fishing boats just watching the sun disappear. It was a beautiful end to a relaxing couple of days and definitely an experience to remember.
Si Phan Don was our last stop in Laos and we were sad to leave. It is by far the most naturally beautiful country we have visited and the people are also the most friendly. We only allowed for two weeks in Laos because we knew so little about it and ended up stetching our time to three weeks and still wanting to see more. However, on the third morning in Si
Laos was under the control of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the Communist Pathe...more info