It was another travel day. A lot of people hate them, I love them. It is the act of travel itself that excites me. Moving into the unknown to discover a new place, meeting new people and not knowing what adventures lay ahead of me. It’s even more exciting when that travel day takes me to a new country. It means another stamp on my passport, a new currency, language and customs to get used to.
Even though I have actually been to Laos before, it was still exciting this time around. Our Cambodian visas were about to expire, so it was time to move north from Kratie and follow the Mekong across the border into Laos.
Our bus journey took us from Kratie through the countryside of North-Eastern Cambodia to the fairly quiet and relaxed border station just north of Strung Treng. Like Cambodia, Laos has an easy and straight forward visa on arrival system, and most of our time was actually spent waiting for the bus on the Laos side of the border to continue on our journey. I knew from my previous time in Laos that things just don’t happen in a hurry there, so it’s best just to relax and not worry about it.
When we were finally on our way, we travelled a short way through southern Laos to the Mekong town of Ban Nakasang, where the boats leave for the few inhabited islands of Si Phan Don.
The wait for the boat was easily taken up by the one ATM in town that decided not to dispense our money, followed by the arduous task of explaining it to the bank across the street. The fact that there is an ATM in a place like Ban Nakasang is pretty amazing, so expecting it to actually dispense money was probably a long shot.
Our boat was narrow and wooden with a canopy over the top, similar to the one that we took to see the Irrawaddy Dolphins in Cambodia. There were half a dozen travellers on the one boat while our bags were all piled up at the front.
Zooming across the muddy brown water of the fast flowing Mekong River, we passed through a maze of channels that are separated by a seemingly endless amount of tiny islands. Si Phan Don translates to 4000 Islands, and that number isn’t far off in the dry season when the water is lower. Even at this time of the year when the river is high, there are still hundreds and hundreds of islands of different sizes, the larger ones being inhabited by local fishermen and farmers.
Our first stop on the boat was Don Det which is the most popular for travellers and where most of the people on our boat hopped off. Don Det can be a bit of a party island for backpackers, at least in the main part of it where the boat stops. We instead stayed on the boat and headed to Don Khone – a much quieter island separated from Don Det by a channel of the Mekong River, though connected by an old French railway bridge.
There were only three of us on the boat as it pulled up to the river bank on Don Khone. There was no dock or jetty and we just jumped off the front of the boat, bags and all, straight onto the muddy river bank.
I was instantly struck by the peacefulness and relaxed vibe of the island as we walked along the dirt track that serves as the main road. There were hardly any other foreigners in sight and the only people we passed were locals going about their business. A couple of kids rode past on bicycles, and we walked past cows lying around on the side of the road, not even seeming to care about us at all.
Finding a place to stay was easy. For $7 per night we got a bungalow right on the river where I instantly claimed the hammock on our balcony.
I already knew that I was going to love this place. That hammock was going to get a lot of use over the next few days.
Yep. It’s a tough life.