Sunday, February 14, 2010

Our Last Stop in Laos: 4000 Islands

Our last week in Laos typified our entire Laos experience: laid back and relaxing. We spent almost an entire week hanging out at the southern tip of Laos in an area known as 4000 Islands – a place where the Mekong River fans out and is littered with islands. Some islands are as small as a bush (actually they are just that: bushes) while others are inhabitable – complete with small sandy beaches.
We split our time between the larger island Don Khong and the smaller, but more densely populated, Don Khon.

Sunrise from Don Khong

Although the area has a fair amount of tourism, due to its proximity to Laos’ southern border, it is still a place that allows you to really take in the Lao way of life and live among it.

The villages on the island are vibrant places (no doubt economically bolstered because of the tourism industry). And everywhere you look is Lao life: farm animals always underfoot, children playing, women doing the washing, men doing the fishing…
I almost ran over a couple of baby chicks on my bicycle

A fisherman setting out on the river at dusk

By the end of the week we were bathing in the river with the locals, where they wash their children, their clothes, and themselves.
Amazingly there were fewer mosquitos near the river than there were in our bathroom! We even indulged ourselves a couple of times with ice-cream cones from the local ice-cream man. Homemade coconut ice cream, made from fresh coconuts – it was amazing!

One of the great things about Laos is that the people don’t pay much attention to tourists. They’re not cold, nor are they overly friendly, they’re just indifferent. It is a stark contrast to Indonesia where locals were literally following us down the street hounding us to buy something. In Laos we never felt like we were targets to be ripped off nor did we feel like minor celebrities (as is the case for a white foreigner in Taiwan), we were left alone to feel like a regular Joe… and it was so refreshing.

We spent most of our time relaxing on the river, reading and taking in the sunset, and floating down the river in tubes.
The most activity we did was taking a bike ride around the entire island of Don Khong (which, incidentally, I don’t recommend. It took almost 5 hours and there really isn’t much to see) and another bike ride later in the week around Don Khon to check out the resident waterfalls.
After a full day of biking, Nick found an alternative way to ride the bike to give his back a break

Although it was a pain in the butt to find the waterfalls - both of us ended up with flat tires from the bumpy trails - at the end of the day, it was worth it.

Tat Somphamit waterfall

It was a fantastic way to end our time in Laos – so great in fact that we were actually quite hesitant to make the leap across the border into Cambodia – but we had to go!

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