Lao PDR: Lao, Please Don’t Rush

It’s been a while since we’ve done a full on proper blog. So sit back, settle in and let me bore you no end with an overview of the rest of our time in Laos (post Luang Prabang). Just FYI, the photos here are all from Don Det. It’ll make sense soon enough.

While in the north of Laos we headed out of Luang Prabang to a village so tiny I can’t remember it’s name. What I do remember is the bungalow hanging over the Mekong and the storms that rolled in every afternoon. After that there was nowhere to go but south. We found Laos is very much a place where you end up on the tourist trail. I’m not going to pretend that we are going to places so remote that they haven’t seen white people before, but as much as we can, even in common tourist destinations, we try and avoid ‘the backpacker scene’, mainly because we are a bit lame. But Laos doesn’t lend itself to this as easily, and it turns out I don’t mind so much.

Our first stop south was Vang Vieng. Known only for it’s tubing/drinking down the river where some 27 odd tourists a year die, we stayed a little further out of town and did civil things like bike ride, hike and jump off bridges with local kids. We stayed only a few days before heading to the capitol of Laos, Vientiane, to meet up with Gens brother, Pat, in time to celebrate Gens birthday. Our original plan was a quiet dinner with the three of us, a bottle of red wine and some good food. It turned into us inviting anybody that dared to walk near our table to join us and before long the restaurant was empty aside from our 7 or so tables haphazardly put together and spilling into the street. The most common introduction was, “Where are you from? … We don’t have any French, have a drink!”. In all I think 30 or so people came through our table that night, though how accurate this is I can’t say but since then (Sep 3rd) we have been travelling with different people from that group.

Our next stop was the border of Laos and Cambodia on an island in the Mekong called Don Det, part of the 4000 Islands, though at this time of year the river is quite high and a substantial number of these islands are under water. Of all the places we have been in Laos we stayed in (or is it on?) Don Det the longest. This wasn’t the plan, but turns out it was not at all a bad thing. Some of the acquaintances we made on Gens birthday were traveling on the same overnight bus to Don Det with us, solidifying into friendships. The brief version of the story is that the bus company oversold and almost refused to let Gen, Pat and me on the bus. We were more stubborn then they anticipated, but not so stubborn that we got our our beds (I should probably mention it was a sleeping bus). Pat and I ended up sleeping in the aisle in between two small ‘beds’. The end result was 6 white sized people in a space designed for 4 Asian sized people. Add to that a bottle of whisky, a valium here and there and a national highway that would put most 4-wheel-drive courses to shame and you’re starting to get the idea.

Back to Don Det; the place we stayed at was empty until our group of 8 arrived and with its balcony communal area complete with hammocks and beer not too far away we rarely strayed, aside from the odd walk for food until it got dark, but what happens on Don Det stays on Don Det. In the 10 or so days we stayed on Don Det, we spent a couple exploring and bike riding and one afternoon made a ‘trip’ into Cambodian waters to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin that is only found in the Mekong. It was much more disappointing than it sounds.

I think I’ve wrapped up most of my blogs the same way, but Laos was amazing. While it might not be my favourite country, I’ve definitely had the best experiences of our trip. Almost all of these memories are from Don Det and one has to assume that while the place itself was amazing and naturally beautiful, the people we shared it with definitely made it as memorable as it was.

Not only did Gen take stunning photos as usual, she has also pieced together a video of our month spent in Laos which you an find here: http://www.youtube.com/embed/sCb1lBXnDoc

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