Don Det is our last stop before crossing the border into Cambodia. Here’s a selection of photos from Laos that didn’t make it into the blog posts
The following day saw us heading down to a place called Don Det in the 4,000 Islands. We’d originally planned to stay for a while to get over the exertions of the previous few days. Unfortunately the place fell short of expectations and we only stayed one night. It could, and should, have been a great chill out place but it seems to be following the Vang Vieng school of tourism with lots of bars offering ‘Happy Shakes’ and playing non-stop techno at full volume. The guest house we stayed in was dirty, noisy and convinced us that one night was enough!
As with the previous evening we had to negotiate the Mekong without the bamboo bridge. This time we chose what looked like a cross between a lawnmower and a tractor to make the crossing. Whilst the first half of the group got across safely, we got stuck halfway (again I’m sure this was not down to excess weight!) and had to wade across to the far bank
Once we were safely back on the tuk-tuk, our first stop was Nonglamchanh temple. One of the buildings on the site is Hotay Pidek library which houses a large number of 200+ year old manuscripts inscribed on palm leaves which record the Buddha’s teachings and sermons. It’s one of only three such libraries in SE Asia and is therefore a hugely important religious site and we again had to go through another blessing before being allowed entry
As we headed down to Pakse we stopped off at one of the Bolaven Plateau coffee plantations.The tour was conducted by ‘Mr Coffee’ a Dutch guy who was travelling round Asia, came to the Plateau and never left (another familiar story!). What he doesn’t know about coffee isn’t worth mentioning and he was determined to tell us everything. About two hours later we finished the tour and were treated to some freshly roasted and ground coffee. It was a coffee drinker’s heaven!
Next stop was Tad Lo where we were spending the night but not before watching the elephants being washed in the river. This time we really got up close and personal and, as with the monkeys, it was great to see them clearly enjoying themselves!
After another lengthy bus journey we arrived in the Xe Champhone Wetlands. We parked the bus and headed off in tuk-tuks to negotiate the unmade roads and to see the soft shell turtles in Ban Done Deng. We were given some food to throw in the water but the turtles were too slow off the mark to eat it and kept losing out to the fish!
Next we visited Taleow temple which was built in 1918 and oddly looks more like a church than a temple . It was the scene of fierce fighting during the overspill from the Vietnam war and bullet holes were evident both inside and outside the building. It seems impossible to escape the ravages of war in this country
This time of the year is the end of the dry season and the fact that the roads are unmade meant that everyone and everything was covered in a thick film of brown dust by the time we returned to the bus. For a moment it looked like we’d all visited a tanning salon!
After returning to the bus we continued our journey to the village which was to be our resting place for the evening. To get to the village were told we had to cross a bamboo bridge over the Mekong. When we got there we discovered that it had collapsed into the river and our only option was to cross the river by boat. After a tough negotiation with the only boat operators (aged around 12!) we climbed aboard.
We then returned to the homestay for a blessing by the village chief to rid us of any evil spirits that we may be harbouring. This involved lots of chanting, having bracelets tied around our wrists, a shot of LaoLao whisky and a boiled egg!
We then finished off the evening with some much needed BeerLaos, dinner cooked by one of our fellow travellers (who happened to be a chef!) and finished off with a series of riddles including whose triangle is it? and I’m going travelling, can I take a xxxx? Whether you can or not depends on various things like the first initial of your name, whether you legs are crossed or uncrossed etc. Your challenge is to work out the key which can be madly infuriating, especially if you’re the last one to figure it out!
Not surprisingly, we slept soundly and woke early, ready for the next day’s adventure
The Kong Lor cave is without doubt one of the natural wonders of Laos. The Nam Hin Bun river disappears into the cave and runs 7km in virtual darkness before exiting into a stunning landscape
Our journey through the cave was taken on a long tailed boat which was skilfully navigated by two locals, one at the bow and one at the stern, both wearing powerful headlamps. Around halfway through we pulled over to a bank where we walked through a spectacular grotto of stalactites and stalagmites
After getting back into the boat it ran aground on the riverbed on a couple of occasions when we had to get out to help move it into the next stretch of water (I like to think this was due to the low water level rather than excess weight!)
In some stretches the cave is nearly 100m high and 50m wide making the whole experience slightly surreal. After the journey back we then had the opportunity to swim in the natural pool just outside the mouth of the cave with multi-coloured butterflies flying low along and across the river
All in all a truly magical experience!
As we were going to be ‘on the road’ and ‘off the beaten track’ for the next 5 days we decided to treat ourselves to a decent meal on our last night in Vientiane.
We found a French restaurant near our hotel where we had Steak Frites followed by Crepe Suzette and, most indulgent of all, a carafe of wine, the first we’d had since leaving home some eight weeks previously. I don’t think food or wine has ever tasted so good!
Next day was a six hour drive to Tad Leuk waterfalls in Phou Khao Khouay National Park where we were due to camp by the waterfalls. The scenery was stunning and sitting under the waterfalls was a great way of washing away the six hours spent on the bus.
We’d stopped off en-route to buy some food which we were told would be cooked for us that evening by the park rangers. Somehow they succeeded, without gas or electricity, and a plentiful supply of Beerlaos meant that we were fed and watered and ready to get our heads down by 9 p.m.
Heavy rain meant that rather than sleeping under canvas we had to sleep under cover in the Visitor Centre. On the face of it this sounded preferable to a tent however spending the night on a concrete floor with 18 others (including several loud snorers!) together with the threat of deadly snakes, left us feeling ill-prepared for the following day’s 5 hour journey to Kong Lor
A couple of days ago we went to the National Museum of Culture. Whilst this was interesting to the same degree that any museum visit is interesting, across the road was the Culture Centre with a big banner outside announcing the Pepsi Singing Contest 2012. Much as we would have liked to have taken part, we were told that this was the final and the competitors were already in place
Song choices covered current Laos hits and a few brave souls took on songs by Adele, Rhianna and Lady GaGa. The audience were wildly enthusiastic about every song and several of the performers were given bouquets of flowers and paper garlands, although these were probably from family members and best friends as it soon became clear that there was no correlation between the quality of singing and the number of presents received!
Sadly we had to leave before the end so we don’t know who won, but all I can say is watch out Simon Cowell the Laotians are coming!