Si Phan Don: Leaving the Land of the Lotus Eaters

Right above the Laos-Cambodia border, the Mekong River runs through an area known as the 4,000 islands. Si Phan Don. The slow moving river breaks up the land into small islands, I am not sure if there are exactly 4,000 but there are quite a lot. I spent my last three days in Laos on Don Dhet.

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I was worried that Don Dhet would have the same “Friends” re-run-playing atmosphere as Vang Vieng. If it did, it passed completely over my head. I was too distracted by the landscape. The Mekong Delta is such a different landscape than the rest of Laos that I have seen. It has a very beach feel but it is a river with lots of trees and forest in the middle of the islands, with waterfalls and rapids, and there is some beach, the roads are all sand or grass. It’s not like stunning beautiful but it’s beautiful because it is a mix of different landscapes. River, forest, beach, tropics, farmland.

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I took a bus from Tad Lo to the Pakse South Bus station, not bothering to stop back in Pakse, and from there the bus brought me to (name of town across the islands) and I got the “ferry” (a narrow motorboat) over to Don Dhet. The boat pulled up on a small beach, and surrounding it was a packed street full of shops and restaurants. I walked out of the main area until the mash of bungalows and guesthouses spread out and I found myself a bungalow with a hammock and a nice view of the river on the sunset side.

The first afternoon I spent exploring and orientating myself. The second day I rented a bicycle and explored Don Khon, the bigger neighboring island to the south, and the last day I dedicated to just relaxing.

I rented a bicycle from my bungalow and set out to see the Tat Somphamit, or Li Phi Falls, that Don Khon is so famous for, early in the morning. I made it to the waterfalls before it welled up with tourists. Li Phi means “spirit trap” Lao people believe that the falls are a trap for evil spirits, and swimming is strictly against custom. It is also extremely dangerous and would be really stupid to try swimming there.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

After Li Phi, I did some exploring on the eastern side of the island. At one point I crossed a bridge and ended up on another island and decided to turn around after a while before I got completely lost.

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The next task on my list was going dolphin watching.

The stretch of Mekong Between the Laos-Cambodia border is where the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins call their home. They have been hunted heavily by Cambodia in the past and their population was on a steady decline for a number of years. Now, they are starting to make a comeback due to recent education efforts.

So, I made the slow ride on the dry flat rocky road to the southern tip of the island where one was able to charter a boat to go out to see them. Fortunately for me it was only 4km. Unfortunately however when I arrived I realized I had a flat tire (that would account for the slowness), and the boats were out of my price range (90,000/boat unlike a lot of travel information on-line that notes it as 50-60,000). So no dolphins for me. After a short break I made the painful ride home, I found a nice little spot to stop for a swim and called it a day after being on a bicycle for 4 hours.

The next day was the only day I have spent on this entire vacation doing what most people do on vacation; I wrote, I read, I napped in my hammock and drank a lot of shakes. I could have stayed in Don Dhet for weeks, my bungalow neighbor was a middle aged German man who was doing just that, but Cambodia (and the reality that I would be returning home in a week), was calling.

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