Si Phan Don is the real name, but 4000 Islands is easier to remember. To get there from Vientiane was easy. All we needed to do was get a truck 40 minutes across the other side of the city in torrential rain, covering treacherous potholes, jump in a sleeper bus for 12 hours to Champassak, wait in a tour agency for the van that took us from the bus stop to start up again, drive 4 hours to Nakasong, transfer to an skinny overloaded boat and cross the fast flowing Mekong River to our accommodation on Don Khon island. Easy. The best thing about the whole thing was the sleeper bus was actually a “double” bed, and I could fit in it!
No matter how long or how hard the journey was, it was worth it. We opted for four nights on the floating bedroom at Sala to try and relax/repair our livers, damaged by the Irishman Kevin (after all, ‘e was fram Cark!). There are two island, Don Det, which is the party island, and Don Khon where there is not much happening. We opted for the latter and after quick lunch we chilled out on the water the rest of the day.
It was a late start the following day, but after some quick negotiations for some cycles, we headed across the bridge towards the other island in the hope of organising a last minute cooking class. The ride to the other side is quite scenic. After a quick payment to enter the island we were already staying on – yes that’s correct – we road across the Old French Bridge, and cut through the fields to the main part of town. A lot of people say that 4000 islands is just a nice place to stay, but you will never get the real Laos there as it is just touristy. We couldn’t disagree more. Okay, so there hotels, backpackers partying and partaking in the Happy Menu scene, but life here seemed a lot more real then everywhere else we had been. Luang Prabang had beautiful Indochinese buildings, but they were full of tacky souvenir shops and travel agents. Veng Vieng was great fun and the landscape was beautiful, but it is a town built on tourism. Vientiane didn’t posses much character at all (save the local bowling alley), it was just a city. Here was different. Majority of the island was rice plantations and farms. It was the beginning of the harvest season so everything was in full swing. Even amongst the hostel and bars, families would be pushing rice through their mills, still manually operated. Ladies walked the streets trying to sell fresh fish to restaurants/houses/walkers by. The income generated by the tourists didn’t seem to matter, it was the busiest time of year so that could wait. They had buildings to erect, rice to harvest, Buffaloes to manoeuvre. It was just good to cycle around watch life go on as it has for years.
The only downside was we were unable to organise a cooking class with a local as they were too busy. But if you are there at a different time of year, and want to do a local cooking class, try The Last Resort. Chat to him when you go to their outdoor cinema. Nevertheless, we began cycling back via Adam’s Bar for a quick drink and look at their options of filling our hard drive with movies. Which we did. We cycled off to dinner at a little restaurant where we ate a Chicken Special, a delicious morsel of spicy chicken mince steamed in a banana leaf.
We had heard that Laos Papaya Salad was even more spicy than their Thai neighbours, so after ant other late start, we went looking for it. After trying to explain to the chef we wanted it local spicy, we finally had the meal on the table. Unfortunately, there was not much heat, but the flavours were still nice. We bought their last bottle of white wine and ran back to out floating house in preparation for the sunset that evening.
We grabbed some more bikes and headed out to explore our island. We were stopped to pay the island fee again. It was a daily fee, but with backpackers trick of giving a blank expression that says “We no speaka the language” we handed over the previous day’s ticket and bored them into letting us pass. Through more and more rice fields we rode, until we arrived at a intersection and turned towards Li Phi Falss. It turns out the ticket was for entry to this waterfall after all, and as we didn’t use it, they let us in. The waterfall is the little one in the area, but still quite big. It was hard to get an elevated point for a good photo, so we instead wandered to a beach on the river. It was hot, so we opted to ignore the no swimming signs, along with everyone else and jumped in. The water was warm but refreshing and we sat in the small natural pool, watching as the river raced along just metres from us.
On the bikes once more and we headed down the long tree lined road that formerly acted as a railway to the port. We arrived there for the sole purpose of seeing the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins that congregate in a small area of the Mekong. The price of a boat was horrendously extortionate, so we grabbed a beer and sat watching the water incase the bumpy headed Dolphins decided to entertain us by appearing. A couple next to said they waited an hour and a half but did not see any. As soon as they left, the Dolphins popped up to heads a few hundred metres from shore, so we sat watching them with our delightfully warm beer. No power on Sunday’s it appears.
We started riding back but a few minutes in Sarah’s chain fell off and jammed in the guard. We could not seem to get it out, but soon a scooter appeared. We had only seen two other cars all day on this road, but when the lady got off to help we realised it was the owner of the bike shop. With her help, we levered the chain out and were on our way. Every five minutes, the chain would fall off, we would fix it and continue on. The whole time the lady, with her sister and baby on the scooter would kindly ride behind making sure we were okay. The chain delays were amusing, but soon it would be sunset and we had a Chilean Suavignon Blanc waiting for us. We dropped the bikes and ran on back just in time for an incredible sunset from our balcony, wine in the hand and our feet in the Mekong. Not a bad way to spend our last day in Loas.