Thursday 21 August 2008 30 °C
The short flight on Air Lao was uneventful (apparently their safety record leaves a bit to be desired!) even got a nice snack and drink, more than you'd get on easyjet!
Pakse International Airport was quite hilarious, basically three rooms with the baggage reclaim consisting of a pile of bags on the floor near the door! no conveyor belt here!
We spent the night in Pakse, small town, very sleepy and set about adjusting to Lao time where everything takes 5 times longer than normal!
The next day we headed off in a minibus to the Don Khong in the Four Thousand Islands where the Mekong splits into hundreds of small islands.
Spent two nights on Don khong where we cycled round the island, through the rice fields, all the locals are friendly and shout hello as you pass. We passed through one village and all the kids were running along with us and giving us single flowers then we hit a dead end and had to go back..in the meantine the older girls had made us posies of flowers out of leaves, it was so sweet!
Got the boat down to Don Det, a smaller island and stayed a few more nights here. The wooden bungalows had hammocks on the balconies and it was so nice just to chill out and read in them while watching life go by the mekong! The islands only have generator power so its lights out at ten! (or 9.30 some nights!!) On neighbouring Don Kong you can take a boat trip to see the Irrawaddy dolphins that live in the Mekong. They are very adapatable and can live in fresh or salt water. The boat trip actually takes you to an island in Cambodia where you stop for about an hour to glimpse the dolphins- which we did! No flipper tricks but you can see them coming up for air every few minutes (or a Lao man with a fin on his back....?) Off to the boat only to find out our skipper had vanished! After a bit of pointing it transpired that another boat had left and snapped our propeller in the process so our guy had run off to find a new one! 40 mins, a new propeller and a bit of string later we were off!!
another early night on Don Det and we were back in another boat heading for the mainland.
The islands werent as picturesque as i thought they would be but i think its probably because its rainy season so lots of the islands are underwater and cant be seen at the moment!
We were heading for Kiet Ngong home to the Kingfisher Eco Resort, the bus didnt go all the way and we were dropped 8km from the lodge hoping we could find some local transport....waited an hour even asked some locals if they would take us on their motorbikes but to no avail, we had to give up and phone the lodge for a lift!!!
The lodge seemed very luxurious after the basic surrounds of the islands...hot water and flushing toilets! Result!
The rooms were cute wooden bunglows and there was a big wooden two storey lodge with a bar/restaurant, both with great views over the wetlands.
The next day we went on an elephant trek...spent all day going through the jungle and wetlands on elephants. It was quite an uncomfortable experience.. bumpy! Not sure i would do it again as it seemed a bit barbaric to be riding on an elephant...really not sure how i feel about it. We had a nice day and stopped for lunch by a stream in the jungle...avoided getting attacked by red ants. fed the elephants the bananas from our lunch. The hills the elephants can climb are really amazing, there were parts i thought we are never going to get up there but sure enough with steady footing the elephants just slowly clambered their way up. some of the jungles were quite overgrown and the mahouts (elephants handlers) had to hack a way through with machetes!
After three nights in Kiet Ngong we headed back to Pakse, stopping on the way in Champasak home to a large wat that stretching up the hillside to provide great views over the mekong. The wat itself was in pretty bad condition...i think anything after seeing all the temples at Angkor is going to be in second place! we got a car ferry back over the mekong (ferry is a bit of a lie...three long boats with long planks of wood over the top basically) and were befriended by the girls selling drinks who were getting a lift over on the ferry (had to wait a while as they dont leave until its full) we managed to have a chat even though they didnt speak any english! Also managed to drop my sunglasses into the mekong! luckily i have another pair with me. We had told the ferry driver we wanted to go to pakse and he arranged for us to get a lift.....in the back of a pick up truck!!! We were game and clambered into the back to join the lao family already there, they looked funny as they were huddling under towels to avoid the sun. so with the live chicken, sacks of rice, bags of crabs...and bag of live frogs we were back off to Pakse.
We spent the night in pakse preparing for our motorbike trip round the Boloven Plateau...yes another one only this time we were driving the bikes ourselves!!!
Neither Marieke or I had ever riden anything other than a bicycle so when we were trying to get the hang of them in the small yard out the back of the hotel we were hiring them from we were a bit apprehensive! Luckily after 30mins of riding very slowly round Pakse we were beginning to get the hang of them. After picking up our heavy duty ponchos we hit the open road.
The Boloven Plateau is home to the ethnic minority groups of southern laos and lots of coffee and tea plantations. There are also lots of waterfalls where rivers plunge off the side of the plateau.
The first days riding was easy on nice tarmac roads....then the rains came!!!! proper monsoon rain, riding on a motorbike it was so painful when it hit your face!! we were so glad we had the ponchos, the clouds turned the sky black and it got quite dark, luckily we werent too far from Tat Lo the waterfall we were staying near that night. Checking into the guesthouse and getting warm dry clothes on was such a nice feeling! The ponchos had kept our bags and our top halves dry but my trousers and shoes were soaked!
The next day we were heading onto the unsealed roads for a bit to get up onto the plateau, it was a bit rocky but not too bad. We started to pass through the minority villages with their bamboo stilt houses. Decided to stop in one for a drink and shortly after we stopped a van arrived. Lots of the villagers came out their houses and crowded round the van which was selling plastic jugs and bowls....it was a Lao tupperware party!!! Then some kids from a house over the road started yelling hello from their balcony so we took their pictures. We were talking to the tupperware guys and then we noticed the kids had come to the gate of their house so we went over to show them the photos at which point they ran back inside screaming and giggling!! they were so funny. eventually over the course of about 10 mins and lots of hiding behind houses we managed to persuade them to come out so we could show them the pictures on our cameras, once they were out there was no stopping them, posing like they were pros.
We headed back onto the dirt path and it got a bit muddy....then i was down on the floor in the mud with the bike....! how did that happen??!! was completely covered in mud but ok, i was more worried i had broken the bike...we were here in the middle of nowhere!! They are so heavy but marieke managed to pick it up while i was getting the mud off my hands and it looked like it was leaking petrol from a loose pipe....eek!! then over the hill came our mates....the tupperware party men!!! they looked at the bikes and figured out that the loose pipe was meant to be there and started it up and it was fine....then they proceeded to clean all the mud off with leaves and send us on our way!
stopped that night in Sekong a small town (saw one of the tupperware guys in the market!) then got up very early the next day to do the 70km of unsealed roads to paksong. It had been raining again so i was really apprehensive about going if it was muddy!!! the first 15km were pretty hard going, lots of puddles and rocks and loose grit but after that the mud became more compacted and great to ride on and we made the distance in no time. I thought the views would be like the Ho Chi Minh trail but the area is a lot more forested so its more like riding through the jungle. We stopped at the Tad Fan waterfalls which were spectacular,two rivers dropping over 100m off the plateau side by side...definitely the best falls we had seen.
Another night in paske and today i am getting the overnight bus to Vientiane the capital of Laos. its only the second bus to make the journey from paske to vientiane after they closed the roads due to the mekong bursting its banks and flooding a lot of northern laos..the worst flooding they have had here in 40 years...hopefully it will be ok!!!
sorry abt spelling, the keyboard doesnt have any letters on the keys and i'm typing this quickly before i get the bus!! have added a couple of pics on flickr but it wasnt working properly so will hopefully add the rest soon!!!