Posts Tagged ‘Mekhong River’

  • Don Det and Don Khone, the smaller islands


    Unexpected things are the most rewardable things that may happen while travelling and we didn’t expect Don Det to be so laid back and beautiful, so it was really pleasant to stay there for almost a week. The accommodation offer in Don Det consists in many similar wooden bungalows overlooking the river. They all look the same but there are little aspects that make big differences. We found our place in Vixai Guest House on the sunset side of the island, a family run Guest House in which the ambience was really peaceful and from where it felt very difficult to leave on the last day. The Vixai family were great hosts –always with a smile and ready to help- and it was real fun to interact with them, share a ride on their long-tail boat along the archipelago, play with their son Sitta and try to make bamboo instruments with Vixai. The room was pretty basic –mattress, mosquito net and no power or light, just candles-. The attached shared terrace/balcony outside the room worked out as a living room –with hammocks, table and chairs- and was less than 2 metres above the Mekong water, so you could almost wash your feet from there. The view was superb: water, islands, birds, vegetation and the wonderful sky with its blue colour and its amazing cloud shapes and colours.

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    Most of the time we just explored the island, walked among the rice paddies while the farmers where planting the rice, interacted with the locals in rain-calling ceremonies (so much fun!), played with the kids and mostly just chilled out. We also rented a bike and visited on a day trip Don Khone island, further south and linked to Don Det by an old bridge. We saw the beautiful Li Phi waterfalls, visited villages, tried to spot the Irrawady dolphins with no luck and refreshed in a couple of nice beaches formed in the river island. The journey was great but hard, since the bicycles were pretty bad and the paths were full of stones, plus the path was sometimes an adventure like when we had to cross a rudimentary bridge made out of a couple of wood planks and an old and rusty railway line from the french colonial times pushing our bikes and maintaining the equilibrium as good as we could. The many hours we spent riding around ended up with aching bums but admiring a great sunrise from the hammock in our room balcony with an ice coffee, the perfect way to finish the day.


  • Si Phan Don, the 4000 Islands


    Si Phan Don is a vast area just north of the Laos-Cambodia border, where the Mekong river opens out forming an intrincate network of channels, rocks, sandbars and islets 14 km wide. During the rainy season this section of the Mekong river fills out and covers up most of the islets. The largest of the permanent islands are inhabited all year round and offer fascinating glimpses of tranquil river village life: the fishermen in their long-tail boats, water buffaloes wading in the water, families planting the rice in the paddies, women washing the clothes or weaving textiles and children swiming in the river.


    Is the perfect place to just sit down and relax doing nothing, although there are also several things to do if you feel active: few interesting old temples, some rapids and waterfalls, where the Mekong suddenly drops in elevation at the Cambodian border, and try to spot a rare species of freshwater dolphin, the Irrawaddy dolphin.


  • Central Laos


    On our way to the south we have visited the Mekong river towns of Tha Khaek, Savannakhet and Pakse, with their lowland Lao communities, decadent French colonial arquitecture and lethargic lifestyles. The central “waist” of Laos is full of emerald green mountains, pristine rivers, dramatic waterfalls, huge caves and rugged karst terrains. Our staying is been very short in each place, more as a stopover to catch the bus to the next town, but enough to pay a brief visit to these little towns.


    Tourism is much less developed in central and southern Laos than in the north, which means that here you can travel in a more independent manner and really interact with the local people, speacially if you travel by local bus or songthaew (converted pick-ups or trucks with two wooden benches down either side packed with passengers).


    Pakse is the capital of Champasak province, one of the most visited in Laos, with Wat Phu Champasak (Angkor-period ruins), the Mekong river islands of Si Phan Don and the Bolaven Plateau (famous for its cool climate, waterfalls, fertile soil and coffee plantations) being the main attractions. We have gone directly to the Si Phan Don area looking forward for its relaxed islands and chilled days passing by. Where is my hammock???


  • Towards the capital, Vientiane


    Vientiane, capital of Laos, is situated on a bend in the Mekhong river, which will follow our way down south Laos, crossing Cambodia and up to south Vietnam. The city is the country’s hub for travel to the rest of the country and it can be visited in one day and the truth is that there is not much to see. There are still few traditional wood houses and colonial mansions, but most of the city is now full of concrete structures with little appeal. We walked along the streets, explored the market, saw some nice French colonial houses, a couple of Buddhist temples and that was it.


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    At least we found one little stall in Talat Sao market which seemed the only place in the whooooole city that apparently could fix the camera. It was one of this stalls where they open up any electrical device with very basic but effective equipment, gut their contents and reassemble everything again as a puzzle. The guy had all short of watches, mobile phones and digital cameras and little bits and bobs all around. It was the kind of place where you wouldn’t trust to leave any valuable, just in case they mess it up even more, but hey! we where pretty desesperate and this was our only chance in the whole country (the alternative was to go back to Bangkok). So he worked for more than 3 hours on the camera, opened it up to the very little pieces, cleaned he dirt here, put some grease there, soldered few wires and played with it for a long time until he succeded to make the camera work again…. for a while. The lense is fixed, it can open and close properly, we can swith on and off the camera, and even take pictures, but after 1 minute being on the screen blaks out and asks you to switch the camera off. We don’t really know what’s the problem and this guy couldn’t fix it, but he was so nice he didn’t even charged us a kip for the long time he was working on it since it wasn’t completely repaired. At least some good news!! It seems we will have to wait until being back in Bangkok to fix it properly and in the meantime use the camera as little as we can. Mission half-accomplished, we can now head south Laos and continue with our trip.


  • Luang Prabang


    For many centuries the city was the former capital of Laos, where artisans, Buddhist monks and merchants of the Khmer kingdom lived in harmony. Dominated for several kings during 6 centuries, it was the most powerful area of the Indochina peninsula. For many years suffered the occupation of Burmese and Siamese reigns until king Oun Khan finally signed a cooperation pact with France, starting thus the French colony period.


    Luang Prabang is renowed for its outstanding cultural and natural beauty. The town is one of the best preserved places in Southeast Asia and its beautifully restored temples, period buildings, traditional cultures and tranquil atmosphere make it one of our favourite cities so far in this trip. We found a small but charming guesthouse (Mai Pai Inn House) in the old quarter just next to the Wat Xieng Thong, the city’s oldest and most magnificient temple. The wooden and bamboo lodge is run by an old Turkish ex-archaeologist who has been travelling for long time and, fascinated by the city, decided to stay in Luang Prabang. He was very friendly and thoughful, always trying to help us in any possible way and has been for us one of the best hosts in Asia, we felt like at home and will definetely come back if we ever go back to Luang Prabang.


    The city mix of shiny temple roofs, crumbling French provincial architecture with its fading facades and multiethnic inhabitants gives a feeling of a town lost in time and trends to captivate almost all the travellers. Hmong, Mien and Thai tribal people can often be seen walking around town on their way to the markets. Orange-wrapped Buddhist monks walk along the streets early morning for the alms giving ceremony, called Tak Bat. Every morning the people line up the streets to offer food and pay respect to the monks who form a procession through the town in a beautiful yet solemn religious ceremony. There are many sites to visit in the city and many surrounding villages, rural communities and mountians to explore, but above all it’s a great place in which simply relax and unwind.


    Unfortunately, our digital camera broke and we couldn’t find any place to fix it. Laos is not a developed country and reparation shops are nowhere to be found. So we have had to change our route and go directly to Vientiane, to see if we could find someone who was able to repair it, fingers crossed!!!


  • Navigating the Mekong river downstream


    We went back to Huay Xai just as a stopover before boarding a slow boat going down the Mekong river southeast to Luang Prabang. We got into the barge with many other foreigners and a couple of local people. There we found Kip and his wife again, a Dutch couple that we met in Thaton and again in Chiang Rai and who are travelling around Southeast Asia riding their bicycles (it’s not the first time that we keep on finding again and again people that we have met along the way).


    Navigating this part of the Mekong river it’s been such a scenic boat trip. The boat moves forward slowly through the Mekong’s brown waters, one of the biggest rivers in the world. The first span of the trip goes between Thailand and Laos riversides, both covered of dense vegetation and sprinkled with little villages. A sand beach in one of the shores, kids playing on the riverbank, few rocks in the middle of the river or some rapids make the journey different and exciting as we continue downstream. After seven hours we arrive to Pak Beng, a small riverside town half way of the trip and where we will spend the night.


    The next morning we hop on the boat again and navigate along the river getting inside Laos territory. Sometimes the boat stops in one of the villages to pick up more passengers or goods, is on that moments when we can observe closer the life along Mekong’s shore: children splashing in the water, a fisherman repairing the fishing nets, women in their bath time… After eight hours we arrive to Luang Prabang, a beautiful city encircled by lush emerald mountains and set at the confluence of the Khan and the Mekong rivers.


  • Huay Xai, border town


    We have been already 2 times in Huay Xai. The first one was on our first day in Laos, when we just crossed the border and spent the rest of the day wandering around the main street, looking for good food (which we didn’t find anywhere) and for information on what to do in Laos, since we had cross the border without having any idea of what to do next. We have been told by many people that Laos is great, so we were so looking forward to get in there that we didn’t even plan the first days of our stay. We were a little disappointed due to the fact that we could not communicate with people (not even with our now well developed skills in body language) as we wanted to.


    The second time was after some days, when we came back from our trip to the Laos northern region, Muang Sing and the tribal villages. This time we knew what to expect from the town and could enjoy more our short stay there. We found a cheaper guest house, a better place to eat and the information we needed to catch a slow boat to navigate the Mekhong river on the next morning.

  • Crossing the border between Thailand and Laos


    In order to finish earlier with this first part of our trip in Thailand (we will come back in a couple of months to travel the south of the country) we decided to catch a local bus, instead of the usual hitch hicking, from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong, the northern most border crossing between Thailand and Laos.


    We took a boat to cross the Mekhong river and after a couple of minutes we were waiting for the Lao border officers to finish their bingo game and food to get our 30 day visa for the country. They seem to spend all the money that we tourists pay for the permission to enter the country in that Bingo game because the table where they were playing was full of dollar, euro, baht and kip notes.

    As speculated in some travel guides, the Lao border tends to close for long periods of time every day in order to avoid tourists to catch any of the very few buses to go away from that border town, Huay Xai. So we had to spend the night there and started to get in touch with the Lao culture.