#7 Laos, Feb. 27, 2007

Dear Everybody,

I loved the little island of Don Khong. While there were lots of backpackers, island life still went on naturally. On two mornings I rented a bicycle and pedaled across and around part of the island. I saw rice fields, water buffalo, ducks, turkeys, chickens and lovely gardens, some of which were on raised beds.

 

 

The town across the island, Muang Saen, was bustling—a market was in full swing and while there I had a cup of Lao coffee. There were a lot of boats on the Mekong. As always, the people were friendly with greetings—“Sa-bai-dee” (syllables equally accented).

The next day I went for a two hour walk, but on the way back to town I had trouble convincing a young woman (using gestures) that I didn’t want a ride on her motorbike and that I wanted to walk for exercise—what lovely people!

Another scene—two women were using a teeter-totter-like device to knead bread. The younger woman would step down on one end of the teeter-totter to raise the other end which had a ‘pummeler’ on it. When she’d let it go, the ‘pummeler’ would plop down into a dishpan full of bread dough. An older woman would then gather the dough, while the younger woman raised the ‘pummeler’ again. Another time I also saw this device being used to separate the rice grains from the chaff.

On my last day on the island I took a boat south to the island of Don Det. There were 10 passengers in the boat and I had an enjoyable conversation with Libby from London, and with a young man from Finland, so the 1 1/2 hour boat ride passed quickly. Libby and I walked across the island together to see the old railroad bridge that the French constructed and to see an old locomotive rusting there along the Mekong River. There was also the opportunity to hire a shallower boat and look for Irrawaddy dolphins; unfortunately because of dynamite used in fishing the Mekong in Cambodia, they are now near extinction and so not probably worth looking for, so I didn’t. Three of the 10 passengers came back in the boat, (including me); the other seven all stayed on Don Det.

This is kind of how Laos is—the ‘sights’ are pretty low key—mainly an excuse to go somewhere and observe life as it goes on here, so you’re never really disappointed that not much is spectacular. Yet I like visiting Laos very much, and would recommend it to you. It’s just so pleasant!

Monday, upon leaving, I got a ride across the Mekong on the ferry and up to the highway. There I waited for a bus/truck to come so I could go south—and waited and waited. In the meantime two motor bikers were willing to take me, but I thought it was quite far and so a little dangerous. Well, good thing! I flagged down a minibus that was going south to Cambodia and they had room for me, so I went in safety, comfort and style!

We stopped at Phouphapheng Falls but I had told the driver I wanted to go to the Phouphapheng Falls Resort. I guess he didn’t understand “resort” so I said ‘hotel’. He said there were no hotels around here. And I was kind of in the middle of nowhere! I said I was sure that the Phouphapheng Falls Resort was near here. After awhile of repeating all this, he said that oh yes, the Phouphapheng Falls Resort! We passed that on the way here. All this was in fractured English as a Cambodian passenger could speak a little English and attempted to translate the Lao, which I don’t think he understood very well, either. Anyway, we finally got it all clear and I was dropped off at the gate for the Phouphapheng Falls Resort.

It was a lovely upscale place that will have, but doesn’t yet have, a golf course, spa and swimming pool. It’s on a beautiful part of the Mekong and my view was gorgeous—many islets and some white rapids were 50 feet from my balcony.

I was the only guest although the desk clerk assured me that sometimes they were very busy. The Mekong looked so inviting that I had a little dip, only on the sandy edge of the river. Fifty feet away it was rushing along over rapids—not something anybody should tangle with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning after an early breakfast, one of the desk clerks took me to see the falls on his motorbike. They really were quite spectacular! Not exactly Iguazu or even Niagara, but this is Laos, and for Laos they were outstanding. I’m glad I took the trouble to find this place and see the falls.

Then I got the same motor biker to take me 15 km to a bus station where I caught a truck/bus back to Pakse—3 1/2 hours. The bus was completely overloaded with 21 passengers inside the backend plus eight sat on top of the luggage on the roof. Needless to say, this made a VERY high center of gravity of which the driver was well aware, as he slowed down for the smallest curves and didn’t go very fast ever. But once again, I made it to Pakse without mishap. I got a shared jumbo into town (8 km) and when he parked and I got out and paid him his price of 5,000 kip ($.50), I left three European tourists arguing with the driver that it should be $.40, not $.50. Good grief!

Tomorrow I shall leave Pakse for Tad Faan, a waterfall and resort, and later I shall go to Paksong where Art, my Vientiane friend, has put me in touch with a woman there, whom I shall visit.

I hope all is well with all of you. Thanks to those of you who have emailed me—it’s fun to get them.

Carol

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