I arranged a ride in a minivan from Pakse to Si Phan Don, meaning 4,000 Islands, in the Champasak Province in southern Laos. The trip went smooth, and we arrived as scheduled. Of the 4,000 islands in this archipelago in the Mekong River, only three are really inhabited, and two, Don Khone and Don Det are easily accessible for staying. I chose to stay on Don Khone, as Don Det is known to be the backpacker hangout, and a bit more trashy, and I was looking to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature! I booked three nights at the Sengaloune Resort, as it was recommended by some travelers I met in Pakse, and as you might remember, also the place Carmen had booked. She was scheduled to arrive the day after I was checking out, so I decided I’d just arrive and see how things worked out.
On the bus between Pakse and Ban Nakasang, the village on the mainland where you catch the boats to the islands, I met a sweet girl, Johanna, who was also on a solo journey from Sweden. We took the boat to Don Khone together, chatting along the way and getting to know each other. When we arrived, we made a plan to get checked in, grab a bite, rent bikes, and meetup to ride to the Sompahmit waterfall, just a few minutes down the road.
As I walked up the hill from the boat dock and onto the main road around the island, I took a deep breath, and instantly felt more relaxed. The vibe here is so much more chill than everywhere else I’ve been hanging out. Life is slow, kids are laughing and playing in the streets and schoolyards, goats, cows, chickens, cats and dogs roam freely. Peaceful!
Johanna and I met, and made our way to the waterfall. Even though the park has deteriorated in the weather due to lack of maintenance during the closure the past few years, it has such a beautiful, rustic charm, and the views were unbelievable!! There once was a zipline, now closed, but the rickety towers still stand and the views are still magnificent!! Later, we continued past the falls to the beach for a swim, which was a refreshing way to turn down the heat a bit!
After the falls, I returned to my hotel. When I had inquired about the bike rental, a kind woman, Monica, said she was done with hers and I could use it, so I found her to let her know I was back. She was excited to see me and invited me to join her and her husband Joel for Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant just across the old French bridge on Don Det. They had even arranged a couple of bottles of wine, a rare treat in Laos!! Oh my gosh, I hadn’t even realized it was Thanksgiving…?!?, so of course, I excepted, excited to have someone to celebrate with! We chatted for a couple of hours over a nice dinner of French Fries and Pad Thai, discussing our adventures. They have both traveled a ton, and had met in a Polar Bear center in northern Canada. She is also an artist, and Joel was an outward bound guide in his younger years. Their stories of travel and adventures were so interesting to hear, and really helped me see that I am on the right path for me!!
Later in the evening, I received a message from Johanna that she was able to arrange a boat and tuk-tuk for us the next day to see the largest falls in SE Asia, Khone Phapheng Falls. Yippee! We met the next morning and headed out on our adventure. Being on a boat on this part of the Mekong is a treat in itself as it is enormous, and looking in some directions, all you can see is water forever! It is beautiful! We arrived early to the falls, and again, pretty much had the whole park to ourselves. This one is a bit more kept up, and “touristy”, as it has more accessible paths to the viewpoints, but still offers climbing through the rocks for those who want to explore and get a glimpse of the up close views!
When we were ready to return to Don Khone, we found our tuk-tuk driver and got on the road. He dropped us at the boat dock, and here we waited, not really knowing how to find the right boat to take us back. We settled for a seat on the dock, trying to ask a few of the locals, showing them our ticket, but not really getting an answer. Suddenly, one of the guys on the dock who had made a call to the number on our ticket, untied the “dock”, started the engine, and said he was taking us to Don Det. Hahaha, we weren’t on the dock, we were sitting on his boat. It was a delightful ride as we sat in the front of this double boat/deck contraption and guided across the river. Once we arrived on Don Det, a few minutes later, another boat arrived to take us back to Don Khone. It’s funny, things always seem to work out here if you are just patient and trust. We still have no idea exactly what happened, but we had a beautiful journey and arrived back safely with smiles on our faces! With that, we gave each other a big hug and parted ways, as Johanna was leaving the next morning.
Exhausted, I cleaned up and made my way to the hotel restaurant. I felt a little sketchy about it since breakfast wasn’t great, but I just wanted something easy. I ordered a bowl of Shrimp Tom Yum soup, thinking it would be light, and yummy. When it arrived with a lot of full shrimp, heads & feet included, it grossed me out a bit. The shrimp seemed mushy and not too fresh, but not wanting to complain, I ate it. This was a mistake!! After finishing, I sat in the restaurant working on my computer for an hour or so, until it hit….ugh. I suddenly became violently ill and spent the night cleaning everything out. The next morning, I had to check out, and had booked another place just down the street for three more nights. The manager was kind when I told him what had happened, and said he was not going to charge me for the room and had one of his guys give me a ride with my bags on his motorbike to the next place. I laid in bed and didn’t eat for two days. Finally I was able to keep water down and things were looking up just in time to meetup with Carmen!!
Stay tuned for Don Khone and the other 3,999 Islands (Part 2)!