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February 26th 2007
Published: February 26th 2007
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Life in Don DetLife in Don DetLife in Don Det

This is about as stressful as it got (paddling back to shore that is). James is on the tube making life altering decisions (or about whether to eat noodles or rice for dinner).
Well my adventures in Laos only seem to get better as we head southward from Luang Prabang. Before I continue though, I want to inform all my readers that the email alerts for my blog updates have been absent for quite awhile, and I had planned to inform everyone with this update, but it seems the website has a new mail server they're testing, so if you haven't read the blog in awhile, take a peek back and there may be new entries that have been written you weren't aware of.

In anycase, Laos has been a real delight for me, mainly because there hasn't been a rush to move onwards, and it's always quite refreshing to have more than enough time budgeted for a given location. So, with our freedom of time we decided to simply first return to Vang Vien as Chantel and Patrick (Saskatoon) had planned to go tubing down the river. Since we did this already and had so much fun, it was decided we'd take a day break between north and south with a stopover on our now favourite river. Valentine's day on the river was nothing short of exceptional! Plus, as was somewhat expected,
Wat PhouWat PhouWat Phou

Upwards from the promenade, the climb, the stone and the tree reminded me somewhat of Minas Tirith.
one day turned into four days and before we knew it the tubing count reached 6 days and 8 total spent in Vang Vien. We all wholeheartedly agreed that in no way whatsoever was that statistic depressing. Our second stint tubing brought many of the same events as our first time there, though with new faces, new tricks on the swings and much unneeded experience. One of the most interesting observations I made, was just how much progress was made on new bars during our time there, as after our two seperate visits one could see almost an entire bar be constructed out of bamboo. In the end, finding people who were stuck there for nearly a month made me laugh because it was almost me.

I'm proud to announce that by day 6 on the river, we had finally after five prior attempts, actually tubed the entire length of the river as it was intended. We learned that the finish line (a bar) was only about 15 minutes beyond our furthest stop, though I was entirely unsure as it's rare any of us actually remember anything beyond the third or fourth last stop. As this was my biggest
SnakesSnakesSnakes

This one is for Ry, something that caught my eye and reminded me of scenes from Conan.
accomplishment in recent memory, many photos were taken (though not on my camera) and history can now officially document our success. Like last time, the 4 days spent in Vang Vien were a complete blur. We managed to get the local family run river bar a photo that James had developed in town, which they proudly and promptly displayed on their wall for all visitors. When it was time to leave Vang Vien, not much had changed except for our hotel room, which had experienced the brunt of a flash flood, caused by the clogged drain in the shower which everything drains into (sink etc.) Since the sink tap was broken, the water was on all day while we went out, and we returned to some very angry hotel workers busy tending to the mess. The top floor hallway in the hotel was a modest stream of dirty water, while our room essentially necessitated a canoe. After all the damage and problems caused by the water (goodbye sleeping bag) we managed to escape the next morning with only a small fine (and many arguments) on a dilapidated and squished bus south back to the capital: Vientiane. With only a brief
Canoe on the MekongCanoe on the MekongCanoe on the Mekong

Taken from our bungalow (wood shack) on the Mekong. This photo reflects how far away we were from the mighty river that seems to fuel so many nations.
stopover there for Indian food (we later cursed our decision) the three of us continued on that very night, down to the bottom of Laos on a night bus to a city called Pakse.

Pakse is essentially a border town, and like most border towns I've been to -a miss. Located 48km east of Thailand, it's a stopover point (travel hub) to most locations in southern Laos. Since ATM's don't exist in Laos and we needed more money, a visit to the bank was in order. Unfortunately for us, the phone lines for the credit card machine were down, and we simply didn't have enough cash on hand to continue with confidence knowing full well we weren't going to get any money at future destinations. For people (and technology) who rely on communicating with the outside world (Internet, phones, credit cards etc.) Laos isn't a fun place to visit. Frequently these mediums of information transfer go down, and while I was never informed of the real reason this occurred besides "it's down" there's no shortage of speculation (whether true or false) from locals and fellow travelers as to why these outages occur. While most people claim it's the government
Pakse BathroomPakse BathroomPakse Bathroom

No toillete made it even more difficult to use with our ailments caused by the Indian food. It's hard to put into words (or a suitable photo) just what it's like to rely on a terrible bathroom for an extended period of time.
controlling information, apparently all kinds of events can be linked to their closing (local tribes fighting the communist government outside Vang Vien for example, tourist drug overdoses), I can't say for sure why it happens so frequently. Furthermore it seems especially strange compared to all the other poor countries I've visited where this sort of thing simply wasn't an issue. While banks, Internet cafe's and everything else keep fairly standard hours, I'd say over 50% of the time the lines are just "down", sometimes for days on end.

While this has been an inconvenience for the use of Internet and such things, it wasn't a real problem until arriving in Pakse. Showing up there with hardly any money between the three of us, we quickly realized we were close to broke and unable to determine when we could move on. For several days things were down, and living conditions for old Jas dropped to an all time low. Situated in the cheapest hotel we could find, a squalid room with thin walls and a shared bathroom, we managed to pass the time until money could be found. After some time there we realized we were actually inhabiting what was
Living Above a RestaurantLiving Above a RestaurantLiving Above a Restaurant

This is the shot from the window of our hotel in Pakse. $2.00 each per night apparently didn't ensure that the power was cut all the time, though I felt better learning it was citywide and not just our hotel.
more like an attic above a horrible Indian restaurant, a restaurant we had to get a tab at because we had no money to pay for any food. Thankfully the owner was sympathetic to our cause, and though helping us by starting a bill, we quickly realized this must be an elaborate punishment given what the food did to our bowels, and the simple fact that we could eat nowhere else. I likely reached an all time low when I dug into the masala's for breakfast, knowing full well they would only make me more sick than I already was. This made for quite a miserable time given the state of our bathroom, and the frequent encounters with the Indian chef as he tried to do his laundry in the shower between handling orders of dosai.

Days later when the VISA machine finally came available, we made a hasty exit -but not before a horrifying confrontation with a local tuk tuk driver. Apparently (though it was lost in translation and common travel practices between tourists and tuk tuk drivers) he thought we were his clients for life, and when we discovered another tuk tuk driver (this one with an
FerryFerryFerry

This is how they cross the Mekong in Laos. Somehow this contraption floats, and somehow it actually carries vehicles.
old couch in the back) we quickly jumped ship for a ride out of town. After the first guy chased us down and forced our current driver off the road, and then forced the current driver out of his tuk tuk and off into the distance on foot, we had to sit and watch him scream and smash the tuk tuk (and hit James) until we stepped in and told him how it was going to be. With all of us bummed out by his outburst, we continued out of town and managed to hire a catamaran (two canoes nailed together with thin wood and a longtail engine) across the Mekong to the island area called Champasak.

Champasak was a highlighted location I chose because it was claimed to be a highlight of Laos and a fun sight to compare and contrast with Angkor Wat. While the ruins were nowhere near the size and stature of Angkor Wat, I did truly enjoy the fact they are typically unseen by most tourists, and an adventure to reach off the beaten path. When I thought they were similar to Angkor, I insisted we rent motorbikes to see them, and as it
PromenadePromenadePromenade

Approaching the temple along an abandoned walkway. Apparently you can cross ancient paths through the mountains in the back and reach Angkor. Sadly I didn't have time or supplies to see whether it was true or not.
turned out they were probably 1/20th the size and reachable almost entirely by foot after the 15km ride from our guesthouse. While it was more of an adventure doing it on our own and exploring the area, the ruins themselves were nothing spectacular from an architectural perspective. Climbing the staircase that led from the promenade up the mountain and seeing the trees breaking apart the stone and leaving petals scattered all about would certainly be a beautiful sight for anyone.

After leaving the temple and realizing we still had a large portion of the day with the scooters, we decided to get as far away from it all as we could, and began a motorbike adventure off into the most rural area we could find. After quite awhile on a dirt road fighting for space with the water buffalo we emerged into a small town where everyone seemed downright shocked to see foreigners. We were swarmed at a local restaurant and offered everything under the sun, my favourite being a constant supply of curious smiles. We tried some local bamboo rice snacks before moving on and cruising by the dried out rice fields and circling back to Champasak where our guesthouse was. The guesthouse there was like arriving in heaven after the time we spent in Pakse.

From Champasak we hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck onto a modified ferry to cross east back to the other side of the Mekong. From there we were dropped at a junction where we hitched another ride in a similar pickup truck stocked full of locals and buckets of fish before we making our way further south to another ferry crossing. This one was travelled by canoe where we emerged into what is referred to as the "4,000 islands" and although I suspected this might be exaggerated, it seems legitimate after seeing most of the islands and realizing half of them aren't any bigger than a car. We managed to hike across the islands dirt paths to the far west side of and negotiated a pair of bungalows (one just wouldn't fit three) and our own private combined patio for the grand sum of $5.00 in total. I tried long and hard to determine if I've stayed anyplace cheaper on this trip and concluded that I simply don't remember.

With our private patio facing the sunset and our supply of hammocks, we went for a swim in the Mekong and simply watched time pass us by for a few days with intermittent meals and the occasional wander around the island. Don Det is easily one of the most laid back and relaxed places I've ever visited, where meals take well over an hour to prepare and days turn into weeks. To make things even more interesting, our bungalows were run by a 14 year old girl (or so she claimed, I would have guessed her age closer to 9 or 10) named Nee. She cooked most of our meals and sat with us practicing her English as we wrote in our journals or played cards. Towards the end of our time there, James gifted her with his backup toothbrush and a small travel sized tube of toothpaste, all the way from Vernon B.C. Aunt Jann would be proud to see her wares in use on the other side of the world. Nee probably spent an entire afternoon practicing her tooth brushing, which was fine for us since we were used to nothing happening anyways.

After our time on Don Det, which wasn't nearly long enough because of the banks in Pakse, we hired a canoe to recross the river and then jumped in the back of yet another pickup truck (though with a canopy) where James had to sit on the roof all the way back to Pakse. From there we switched to another truck to the Thai border, and in our return back to Thailand we hitched a ride in yet another pickup truck all the way to Ubon which was a startling change from the Laos way of life we learned to appreciate. Thailand never looked so modern as paved roads and gas stations appeared and I began to realize just how poor Laos really is.



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26th February 2007

inspiring
As I get on a midnight plane to SE Asia w/next week being Chiang Mai, I have been thinking of Laos. I really want to go while I'm up north. If I can get a direct flight to Luang Prabang from CM, I'll do it! Your blog really gave me a quick start in that direction. thanks!
1st March 2007

Zanzi flashback
Dude! You are still traveling??? I met you on Zanzibar with Louisa (we were working in Uganda). You have been on a crazy long trip. Anyway I´m traveling again too (although I´ve since been home and worked for 6 months to rebuild the old finances). I´m in Nicaragua now. I seem to remember that you became ill here. Yeah, sorry fo that. Isla de Ometpe is sweet !
4th March 2007

Your travel diary is very informative. After reading yours, I want to create mine, as I travel very often. Your indepth information of the countries you have visited,great help for me. Check out my blog I am witing about KL,Malaysia www.exceldream50.blogspot.com
12th March 2007

hola
hola amigo que paso contigo? estoy a mi trabajo, tengo mucho aburrido. Ok dropping back to the mother tongue, glad to see you enjoyed laos, but am sure i would have told you venture north from luang prabang, up the nam ou to ngong kiew, then futher up towards Muang Ngoi. Truly the best place in laos, and i hear the better it gets the further up north you go. Trying to remember that mud mission, and i think it was october 2005. Damn so far. Glad to read your still on the road. Been back in uk since july 06, working now, shit, bought a house, the tentacles of possesions rstricting my future movements may have begun. Hell, could be getting married soon. Trying to avoid that situation... but yes, rock on brother. haha you looked like Fry (ahora sin pielo) :-D

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