Four thousand islands

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February 3rd 2019
Published: February 3rd 2019
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Pakse to Don Det

We are up early to get breakfast before our bus trip to Si Phan Don - otherwise known as the 4000 islands.

Our bus arrives at 8.10am so really not bad as pick ups start at 8am and the bus is half full already. It’s a big bus with reasonable legroom and efficient air con. The last time we did this route we were squeezed on the back of a lorry - things have definitely improved in 16 years. :-)

An hour in and we are now passing Champasak. We are not stopping here this trip. Billed as the Laotian ‘Ankor Wat’, all that we can say is that it isn’t! We were here before in a tin roofed shack with a concrete bath which we declined to use. It took us all of half a day to see the ruins and that was it. In short, there’s not much here and certainly not worth making a long detour in our opinion. I believe there are posher hotels on island now but that the ruins remain unaltered.

Our bus speeds past, honking its horn at a small group of cows on the road. Instead of moving out of the way, they move towards the centre of the road. Our driver swerves in an attempt to avoid them, but still they keep running in front of the bus, completely blocking both lanes of the road. Our driver squeals to a halt but is unable to avoid hitting one of them. It was either them or us. We are dangerously close to the side of the opposite carriageway which has a big drop to the side. Phew, that was a close thing. Our driver alights to survey the damage. The cows have scampered off and there is a crack in the bus’s side panel.

It’s 11am and we have arrived at Naksong. Here we must alight to catch the ferry. First we purchase our return tickets for Pakse and then we walk down to the riverside to work out which of the many boats we should be taking. It’s not entirely clear but a friendly local points us in the right direction. We show our bus ticket and two blue ferry tickets are issued and then we join the long queue of backpackers waiting for the same boat.

Our transport is a long boat, and amazingly they squeeze us all on, including our luggage. We’re so glad we only bought one bag down here! Squatting on planks which are practically on the bottom of the boat, we chug off towards Don Det Island.

There are supposedly at least 4000 islands here (hence the name, to state the obvious), but some are just tiny clumps of greenery poking through the water. Don Det is thankfully larger and not quite as isolated as the guide book suggests...there are a handful of restaurants, shops, tour touts and money changers.

Our hotel is just off the main drag. We have a nice room complete with balcony overlooking the river and mosquito net for the bed. We even have WiFi...well after a fashion, anyway.

If we thought Pakse was hot, this is much, much hotter but then it is quite a bit further south and we have arrived at the worst time of day.

We investigate the doesn’t take long...and suss out bike hire possibilities for tomorrow. Now I have spotted a sign for tubing on the river. Ian is not keen and they won’t run the trip for one but the guy tells me to try again at 3pm. I’m happy with that as it’s far too hot to be tubing right now.

By 3pm there are two more customers so I set off with my new friends, Anna and Tall, for my first ever tubing experience. A boat takes us up river and from here we are set afloat in huge inner tubes. It’s really good to hit the water and the sun is less strong now so we all enjoy a nice gentle float back towards Don Det.

It’s been two hours and Don Det beach is now in sight - we can see Ian standing on the jetty. Unfortunately the current is not playing ball and before we know it we are swept away from the beach and around the some small islands. Hello, this is not so pleasant now! A pick up boat is sent to rescue us but we miss that too. Fortunately it comes back with reinforcements in the form of an extra guy to help to get us onboard.

All three of of us have now been sent off in different directions. The boats goes to pick up Tall first as he has been swept the furthest. This is fortunate as it requires both guys to help to haul me back onboard. Believe me, it is no mean task. My arm feels like it is being tugged out of its socket by the Laotian who foolishly thinks he can lift me out. Result...I fall off the tube! I indicate that I should be allowed to lift myself higher before my arm is tugged out of its socket. I heave myself back over the floating ring which is desperately trying to escape and from there I can kneel on the sides and pull myself up with the help of Tall and the Laotian. Now they zoom off to pick up Anna. She is much younger and more supple - she is onboard in no time without any bother!

Back on dry land, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed my tubing adventure although I could have done with being told about the boat pick up procedure before we set off. :-)

Back in our room, there are good views of the river from our balcony....just a pity we missed sunset today. It’s also much cooler up here than in the street below.

We finish our day at a little restaurant nearby...we decide against the pricier river view ones as we don’t want to get bitten to death. We both choose spaghetti - Ian orders chicken whilst I have cheese. We receive interesting takes on the dishes - different but tasty all the same. Definitely not what the Italians would describe as carbonara. :-)

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4th February 2019

Well Gill you are certainly brave and maybe a little mad but glad you got back safe from your tubing experience!!!

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