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Si Phon Don (Don Det), Laos

Four Thousand Islands, two hundred dollars short

sunny 95 °F
View Francis & Edward, Taste of the World on edcastano's travel map.

In spite of some harmless misadventures and inconveniences, we're back to civilization. We spent the last 3 days on Don Det, a remote island in the middle of the Mekong river in an area known as Si Phon Don (Four Thousand Islands), on the border with Cambodia. The island runs on generators from 6-10pm, but otherwise has no electicity or sewer system.

We had a blast on Don Det despite realizing on day 3 that the $200 we thought we had, had magically disappeared. Luckily we had 350,000 Kip with us, which despite all the zeros, is equivalent to $35. We made that stretch: breakfast, lunch and dinner, one night's stay in a bungalow, boat tickets to the mainland, and a minivan back to Pakse, where we have our flights to Vientianne, the capital of Laos PDR. By the time we got to Pakse, we only had $9 on us. We quickly made a run for the ATM and visited Lao Development Bank to replenish our funds. Crisis averted!

Local bus from Pakse to Don-Det
Even though it was likely we were pick-pocketed, one of the highlights of our time is Laos was our road-trip from Pakse to the remote islands of Don-Det. We departed from the Southern bus station, which looks a lot like a large swath of dirt.

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We rode in a songthaew, a covered pick-up truck outfitted with benches. With us rode a Japanese backpacker, several Laotian tourists from the Vientiane, the capital, several local people riding to and from their rural villages, 100 watermelons, and a bunch of assorted food items and merchandise for rural stores.

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We made a lot of friends on the bus, including a very, very old, village matriarch and her chicken, which she carried by its legs, a Japanese back-packer, and a westernized "city" girl that was visiting her village.

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Road-tripping with 100 watermelons was a wonderful way to observe rural life in Laos. The photography below depicts a crude motor, typically used as a tractor to haul rice/hay/dirt, etc, throughout rural Southeast Asia. The one below that depicts a typical rice paddy.

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Riding in the back of a pickup truck was at times exhausting, even for locals.

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After two tuk-tuks, an airplance, a songthaew, a motorbike (to the pier), and a boat ride half-way across the Mekong, we finally reach the island of Don-Det, our final destination...now the sun is setting...where do we stay?

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Don-Det's biggest asset was it's authenticity. Just walk or bike around the island and you'll see life as it has been in the area for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The island is dotted with rice fields, buffalo and rural village homes.

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The traditional Laotian home is a raised bamboo edifice. The understory serves as a place to hang out and cool off during the hot afternoons. The bamboo walls protect the people from the elements, but allows the building to breath and stay cool at night. Residents use the surrounding grounds to keep their chickens, pigs, ducks and, in many cases, children.

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While in Don Det, we biked the length of the Island, crossed the old French built railroad bridge to Don Khon island. and saw a large waterfall. On our way there, we were stopped by a group of backpackers, who had a drinking toll. Anyone that wanted to cross the bridge , first had to sit with them for 10 minutes and have a drink. They were a crazy bunch!

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We were going to see the famous and rare pink river dolphins and the other massive waterfall on the other side of the island, but realized we couldn't after we found out we had $0 dollars to pay for it. We'll have come back again :) . However, we did meet some nice people and had simple fun talking the night away with a Dutch couple (Mark & Malou) under the candle light in the middle of a rain storm and surrounded by darkness.

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Our final day, having nothing to spend but our time, we hung out on the beach with 3 other couples. We shared travel stories and a couple of beers. It was a great way to pass away the scorching afternoon heat.

Next stop, Vientiane, enroute to Van Vieng, were we'll volunteer at an organic farm for 4-7 days before leaving for Bangkok, Thailand.

Major Sacrifice: Francis gives up her blow dryer. Edward was then able to trade it in for a pair of sandals at the guesthouse.

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Posted by edcastano 22:20 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking

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