I’ve been looking forward to visiting Laos from the start of the trip, maybe longer actually. I’ve never been, the KP neither, so it’s an adventure into the unknown for the both of us. Okay not the strictly unknown thanks to the guide books, the net, hear say & Billy’s visa runs. If you’ve not been yourself tho’ you can never be sure can you? We’ve not heard a bad word said, so we should have a good time in the three to four weeks we are expecting to be there. First we need to get there, which involves another mini-bus. Fuck we are one of the last to get picked up. It’s not overloaded like the last one, but it’s full, we take the last two seats, central they are. Soon we collect a mum and her child, the guy in front of us relocate’s to give them space. He takes the seat next to me, which results in myself being half on a seat and half on a rest. The new road is yet without it’s surface course which means the journey is a bit of a bone shaker. Soon my left side ass cheek is dead. I don’t think I will be able to stand if there’s much more of this. I check my Seiko, we are 20mins into a three hour journey. The hands then move at a snails pace for the next hour n half. Finally we stop to allow the mum and child off and travel bliss is resumed, sort of, even if my left leg doesn’t want to come back to life for a bit. Leg back in action we arrive at the last Cambodian town of Stung Treng at 10:15. The bus to Laos has departed 15 minutes before. I doubt there ever was one to be honest, I’m feeling we’ve been tucked up. We wait at a cafe with three other travellers, germans, and we wait and wait and wait. I’m the only one on the booze, so maybe they are Austrians surely they can’t be proper Krauts? As it’s way past holiday boozing time. Other travellers arrive, minibus loads, and we wait and wait. We finally fuck off 5 (f-i-v-e) hours after arriving, in a bus destined for the border and Laos beyond. It’s our first bad day of the trip so far, so we can’t complain really, but just get on with it, happy to be moving in the right direction up the road, after being bored out of our minds.
A thief at the border does the Visa’s for the bus, a big one by the way with leg room, the bus, not the thief who makes $5 or 10 a head, good on him, his aggressive tone was enough to worry the backpackers into parting with their coin. He reminds me of Billy’s twin and the english at the scrap yard, where as much as a 500% mark up would be applied. We’re happy the pair of us as we didn’t want to walk in the direct sun packed up, fuck that! Like a Canada Goose jacket when you’re in the RoK (forget North Face, even Rab, you’ll regret it with bells on! Trust me) it’s worth every penny of the eight hundred or so extra pence we’ve parted with. Whilst at the border we meet a fellow traveller from Kazakhstan. Zayeybis! This is super rare and funny as they both clocked each other a while back, but didn’t believe it’s possible to meet another Kazakh so far from home. They have a good chin wag, no doubt happy to converse in their language of choice about their travels. We all enjoy a beer together, I show much respect, Rakhmet Bratan. Firstly that he has the Yeitso to travel on his todd and secondly to make the KP’s day. Then we’re off on our separate ways. He’s heading to Pakse, us to Si Pan Don, the 4000 islands.
So it’s bye bye Cambodia. We loved it with bells on, everyday apart from the last one was fucking top. We even enjoyed that tho’ thanks to the kazakh. We’ll be back for Battambang, ohhh and the wedding of the year in 2016, for sure, sure, sure. For sure!
A good friend from home, CJ, had enjoyed a trip to the one of the four thousand island’s ten year back. Don Det just as it was kicking off, we choose to stay at it’s sister island Don Khone, where we arrived at dark, needing a moto taxi from Don Det, one by one. We picked the larger island Khone which is joined to Det by a bridge the french built. Our selection was made as we’ve heard that Don Det has been over developed and also overrun with backpackers. The majority of our bus who are such, they were all having a good bloody moan at the border over $5, are also heading there. At least that was until I advised some of them that moaning now here when your passport is there. Is like complaining in a restaurant before your food arrives. One agreed, saying yeah let’s shut up you never want them to spit in your food. The bodily fluid I was thinking of would much more offensive, it begins with a J and ends with a Z.
We are greeted in the morning by a smashing view of the river from our balcony at Pan’s residence. We enjoy the complimentary breakfast of traditional rice soup, with egg and maybe just a bit too much garlic. No kisses for the KP today then, or maybe later, she’s too bloody sexy to resist. The rice soup is a nice welcome, and much preferred by myself over the noodle soup in Cambodia which is more difficult to chow, especially when it’s boiling hot.
The coin now is the Laotian Kip, 8,000 of them to a yankee dollar. One colour money is accepted Tho’ you just might not get what you should. Certain establishments are offering 7K but most are fair and give 7 point 8. We are OK for now as we became multi Kip millionaires (yippeeeeee), at the last ATM (Bankomat for you kazakh’s) on the mainland. 2,000,000 kips deposited so we have about $250 (our departure was delayed 15mins as two BP’s discuss if they should dispense 800K or push the boat out and go for a cool mill, honest, i kid you not!) We use 10,000 for our laundry and another 20,000 for two pushbikes. This time I inspect both bikes, especially the brakes on the KP’s so that she’s actually able to stop when required.
We set off, the first stop is at one of the locomotive engines on the island, left over from when the french were here with plans to control the Mekong routes.
The French wanted to control the Mekong due to the British Empire gaining serious footholds almost everywhere else. The natural barrier of the rocks and the rapids were impassable then and also now. So the French gave up leaving their railway behind to be encompassed by the jungle, the remnants of which still remain. Some being used for garden fencing, not that we got to see any apart from in photo’s.
We cycled in no particular direction as it’s all interesting. We’re in the middle of the Mekong again but not on a sand bar, a full blown island. Peddling in tandem, not on a tandem, two separate sets of wheels, following a few signs we arrive at a kiosk, pay our 50,000 kip fare and wander through the greenery with a few cows and their calves, then there we are “Danger!” That’s what the sign says, maybe the French erected it, but it’s in English and Laos so maybe not. The reality is tho’ you don’t need a fucking sign. The rocks and rapid flow of water signal that loud and clear even tho’ it looks like the water is at half flow.
Whatever the French were thinking I really don’t fucking know, maybe they were on drugs, or wine for breakfast, not just the usual lunchtime aperitif. How they thought they could navigate this section of the Mekong is baffling? Even in a canoe it would be a bit of a mission.
There’s more ants, the little bastards, on yet another mission of their own.
We continue on our way to where signs point to the ‘beach’. There is one complete with cocktail bar, hammocks and even a pool table?
Following a cracking start to the day, we decide to defy the heat and cycle to Don Det. It’s a fair distance on the traditional bikes, but not so far that its breaks our balls (thats Yeitso kazaks). There’s a collection of budget accommodation, restaurants and bars located along the river. In my opinion it’s not over developed like some destinations can be. It’s defiantly come on a bit since CJ was here, when they stayed in a $3 room and bathed in the river. Development is not always bad see, tho’ the two bars showing re-runs of Friends (fucking constantly) and the other South Park at blaring volume question this theory to the max. Who are these fucking weirdos who travel half way around the world, to watch fucking Friends! The mind boggles as it was shit the first time around when you was at home, numpties!
We take some lunch, at a venue where it’s possible to take almost anything on the menu and make it ‘happy’, this means it has the added ingredient known medically as THC. Hence its chilled, but it’s not the vast numbers of stoned out tourists, we were led to believe.
We like it here and decide to have a night after we agree to go on a kayaking trip. The general trip is a full day of the Mekong, Dolphins and waterfalls, too much sun exposure for us. Therefore we agree on a double price half day trip, just the two of us, VIP the man calls us, it’s suit our flash-packer style. I know Billy will be laughing for sure. VIP is what we want as 2/3rd’s of the full shabonka we’ve already done, we just want to do the big waterfall near the Laos/Cambo border.
Once the sun has cooled down about four-ish we head back to Don Khone. There’s a big exposed straight then a few forks and turns, fortunately the majority of the way is shaded by trees. We are not always sure whether to go left or right so we just follow the road which has more wear, it’s not like you can get totally lost anyways. As we are nearing our destination there’s a group of four travellers, the eldest of the group, a well built guy most probably in his early fifties, hollers out to me “are there any guesthouses that way”. I stop and explain there are but, its a hell of a walk 30 to 40 mins minimum. I spot his wife has a case not a backpack, so only a fool would attempt the journey on foot. I ask what’s wrong with the guest houses here? We not keen on any he says, I explain that there they are cheaper, obviously meaning they are also lower in quality. He seems keen of the fact they are cheaper. I’m not sure of his nationality, but he’s translating all I say to his mrs, whilst the rest of the group consisting of two boys in their twenties listen on. My last words directed to one of the youngsters is that “it’s quite a way, and I’m not really sure as we only arrived yesterday”. Then we all wave each other bye, and soon I’m catching up the KP for our evening meal and obligatory beers to discuss when we’ll do the kayaking, tomorrow if possible?
Renting a motorbike is not possible so we decide to move to Don Det later the next day, followed by kayaking early the next morning before heading north to Pakse. So we’ll have a chilled day and we need it. We start with a leisurely breakfast, the KP is on Skype whilst I’m blogging. Then suddenly a guy on a bike stops sharply at our table. “Hi” I naturally reply good morning but I can’t recognise the face, but it’s not a happy one, so well out of place. Then I click it’s the guy wanting cheap accommodation. “Thanks a bunch for sending us the wrong way yesterday!” What do you mean? you asked if there was accommodation that way. “You sent us the wrong way!” How did I do that, we cycled from there? I explained it was a hell of a walk, are you suggesting I sent you there on purpose? Why would I do that? “Well you best want to hope you don’t bump into the youngster’s. I think they will give you a big head” From his snarly grin you can tell he wants to give me a sore head himself, which would only bring more embarrassment upon him. In the eyes of his mrs, that’s what I’m hoping anyways. “Hey mate if you got lost I apologise, but I explained we only just arrived” I wanted to tell him it would be best to ask a local next time, but decided it best not to. It might have sparked his red mist, I was not only concerned for my good looks but also the mac in front of me. Thankfully he went on his way with his mrs, telling me to best watch myself, I thanked him for the heads up. So 9 weeks into our travels we experience our first bit of aggression, which just so happens to be in the most chilled location of our travels yet. You never know what each day will bring do you? For the record I’m a lover not a fighter, but I’m from an area which is notorious for tough cunts. Lots of my mates were Cardiff City front line hooligans, the Soul Crew Valley Commando’s. The key is don’t show weakness and never back down, if needed strike first. I’ve not thrown a punch in a very, very long time, but my stance or street awareness has kept me safe, ohh and a fair bit of luck of course, not forgetting crazy friends who really are fearless. Which helps as I’m not the best fighter to be honest! Well we can’t be good at everything can we ?? 🙂 Also let’s not forget the valley that I’m from, once people know which one, they tend to be wary of causing you bother, we’re as thick as thieves, with many of us just plain thick and hard as nails, literally. Not that it’ll help here, regardless, the last thing you want when overseas is ending up in a scrap, especially with locals, you need to avoid it like the plague, however pissed off you may become. There is only one winner and it won’t be you, in Kazakhstan it would result in a swift flight home, jobless. Even if it wasn’t your fault that you got your jaw broken and flying home in a head brace. In Asia there’s a good chance you’d go home in a box, or not get home as planned but have an extended holiday, not being able to select your accommodation, or your meals from a menu.
I must admit it’s unwelcome news. Not that I truly believe two youngsters would want to start trouble on this island, just for walking the wrong direction for a bit. Especially after the heat of the moment. You never know tho’ so best be on our toes, hopefully we’ll bump into them sooner rather than later, we’ll know then if it will kick off or not?
As the conversation was a little bit heated the KP only got the the gist of the situation. So I fill her in on the bits that were conversed too swiftly. It all makes sense now as to why when we returned to Don Khone we came under the bridge and not over it? We both laugh like school kids, there must be a loop road. We discuss the chances of anything happening unlikely, but if it does and I’m getting the worse off the two of them, and they might be kickers, I ask her what she should do? Her reply is scream for them to stop? No wrong answer babes, you smash the biggest one hard across the back with a heavy chair. I’m half jesting, whether she knows that or not, I’m not sure so I leave her to think what she wants.
We move as planned to Don Det to a room near where the boats land. It’s tidy enough for just over $15. Shortly afterwards I think I see the guys, but can’t be sure, they don’t react or even acknowledge me. We enjoy the rest of the day, keen to avoid the friends rerun bar, tho’ we pass it numerous times and its always densely populated! Now each to their own, we’re all individuals but who are these people? True numpties that’s who! Just to put the antagonism included in this blog to bed. We see the same two guys again the following day this time I’m sure it’s them, our eyes meet and nothing. So as I thought it was just the guy doing his best to unsettle us, maybe wanting to spoil our time on the island. Why? Maybe coz he looked like a fool in front of strangers, for the sake of five or ten dollars a night. So If your reading this big guy, I once again apologise for giving you a sore head, which made you want to make a mess of mine. It was a genuine misunderstanding and a bit of stupidity on both our behalves. My excuse is I had about 6 big beer Laos. If we meet in the future I hope we’ll share a beer and a small giggle. Maybe you wouldn’t want that, so please invest in a map and a rucksack for your Mrs. Ohh and of course avoid asking half cut Welshmen directions. Myself I just won’t try to be so helpful in the future.
We’re early birds once again as we need to pack and check out before we set off on our latest adventure which starts with brekkie at 6:30, by seven we are getting geared up with paddle, life jackets and water proof bag, then we’re away. Myself and the KP in a two man (are we allowed to say that anymore? Or is it not politically correct – bollocks anyways) and the guide in a one man kayak.
The KP is upfront (engine) myself at the rear (navigation). When we booked I stupidly ask if we’ll have a guide? “Well you can go without one, but you may not come back” was the reply. This soon becomes apparent a few minutes into the trip, as you need to navigate to the smoothest section of the river either side of various sand bars. Who would know where we’d be heading if we were guide-less. The river has a life of it’s own, the sensation is that it’s moving at you at pace, small trees look as if they are speeding up river with an engine, whirlpools and wave breaks just popping up from nowhere. It feels as if something is going to launch out of the water at us. I later discover the KP was actually worried about this and didn’t start enjoying the trip until we were almost at the end. I also shit them when we almost capsize, my poor navigation taking us broadside to the rising waves. Writing this now I wish we had, it would make for a more interesting read for sure. At the time tho’ I’m very thankful we managed to stay afloat, much to the amusement of the guide. Right on cue the KP wants to know when we’ll get there, just as the guide points in the distance….. “Waterfall there”. You can see the spray of crashing water maybe 800 or so metres ahead.
Soon it’s six, then four hundred. When will we fucking stop? At about 200 metres away it’s music to my ears “OK we stop here” thank fuck for that! We dock our vessel at the rivers bank, the KP is soon out on dry land, and with that I’m moving again down stream. I doubt I’ve gone more than a metre but it’s enough for me to scream out in a panic “stop the fucking thing!” which results in hysterical laughter and no help at all. I manage to get back to the shore before I’m in the fast flow before the drop.
As part of the trip we are soon collected by lorry and taken to the safe side of the fall. Where we crack off a load of shots. A Japanese tourist kindly provides the shots some scale maybe the french were without any?
If the French thought they could also surpass this natural obstruction, they really were off their heads! A special tree with supposed mystical powers has recently been removed from the ridge of the fall, and now preserved, very popular with Thai tourists, who visit here in their droves. A helicopter was needed to assist with that, something that at the time of the French plan, would have been a super crazy idea, but not as crazy as thinking it could be surpassed by boat. Even tho’ boats did actually exist back then.
We return to Don Det on the lorry with the kayaks on the back feeling relaxed and happy our busy fun filled morning is over. Ha ha, no is it fuck! Sorry I’m being silly again, of course we need to paddle the kayak back to base, across this mighty river, at least the waterfall is safely 20 klicks south. Thankfully the other side is down stream, no stress the water is calm, well at least it seems so. She’s not happy about the latest revelation “what, we need to fucking paddle again?” We navigate the trip with relative ease, powered by the engine that is the trojan known as the KP.
Soon we are boarding a long tail, back on the Mekong heading north against the tide towards the big island. It’s us, two Dutch and four big beer Laos. It’s a chilled but an eventful trip highlighted by the natural events that no doubt occur daily, well maybe not the boat transfer as the engine packed in.
We have one night on Don Khong the big Island, super slow it is and we welcome that. Two things of note do happen……… We take a bike with gears, not such an event actually as the clutch is automatic, but it is more to think about, helping my two wheel education.
Ohhhh and we see the big guy & his Mrs, this time she’s not dragging the case. I’m so tempted to beep and wave, but decide against it. We’ve had an eventful enough few days, hopefully this, the longest blog to date is interesting enough without a small fib at the end.
Pakse, we’re coming for you!