Laos and I

(from the archives)

I flew from Siem Reap to Pakse, Laos on a Lao Airlines prop plane with neon seats and a terrifying reputation. I then took a tuk-tuk to the southern bus station (a dirt parking lot that resembles a fairground in the off-season). I negotiated a lift towards Si Phan Dom on a local bus, a pickup truck with seats in the back (and a basket of pigs). They stopped about half way and added a freezer our load, right next to the swine and just shy of my right foot.

I found people from NYC on my bus. They were a couple in their early twenties who had been teaching in China. We agreed to stick together and found accommodation on Don Det island, which involved hiring a motorboat after the bus dropped us in a another dirt field (bus station). Travel days are a pain in the ass.

Don Det is surrounded by an alleged 4000 Mekong islands and the river itself. It has about 30 guest houses (huts with hammocks) and generated electricity from 6pm until 10pm. There is a crazy rumour going around that there will be electricity here by 2010 and this means that it’s only a matter of years before float planes and a Sofitel appear. Until then, it’s a backpacking stop where days are spent hammocking (new verb) and riding around the island. The sunsets are shocking and I could easily have spent a week here doing nothing.

One hilarious thing is that the walls of most huts are paper thin and conversations easily floats from bungalow to bungalow. So does the noise of sex. Take a stroll around the island just after the generators kick and you’ll hear hut after hut of backpacking couples doing the nasty. The guy in the room next to me groaned out of nowhere last night, then his girlfriend opened their door and spit off the balcony. Total sorority girl move.

I blew the bank on a 15km kayaking trip, which was the highlight of my time on DD. We were dropped in just after the waterfall and had to traverse some nasty Class 5 rapids quickly. I flipped going into the biggest hole – anyone who has spent time in rapids will tell you that this the worst time to wreck. The realization that you have to go down the whole stretch this way is terrifying. I desperately clung to my kayak as I was thrown down the river, gulping for air and using ny knees as a shield oncoming rocks. The guide was shouting “STAY LIGHT” (right) but I was pulled by the much harsher current on the left. Scary, scary shit. I was pretty banged up by the time I was spat out. One puncture wound on my right shin is going to take months to heal and could probably have used some stitches (if there was a doctor within 200 miles).

Three nights passed quickly on Don Det. It’s got just enough tourist charm and just enough rural feel. With all of the construction going on, it’s obvious that won’t last for long.

I made a fast decision to head north for Champasak, which was a relatively quick bus+boat trip away. It’s a sleepy town with few tourists and I loved it immediately. I fell in with a couple from California, who were also staying at my guesthouse. Over the next two days we drove motorbikes up to the local temples (Wat Phu), ate a fuckload of delicious Lao food and drank cheap whiskey.

The whiskey here is $1 a bottle and is sweet, kind of like Soco. The brand is called Lion King. The best part about it is the typo on every bottle’s sticker, which purports the contents to taste “smooth and mellon”.

I have now landed on the island of Don Daet, which has increased the number of tourists here from zero to one (me). I am at the island’s community guesthouse, which has two mattresses on the floor and a balcony overlooking the river. Everyone is quite curious why a tourist would come here and dozens of kids have ridden by, smiled and shouted “Sabadii!!” (Hello). I rode a clunky bike around the island today and became a local attraction. Tomorrow morning I have to find a fisherman who will take me back to the mainland, were I can head up to Pakse.

After Pakse I meet up with a friend. She is with me for one week and I am sure that this will be a shock to the system. It’s been ten weeks since I’ve seen a single person that I know. I am not sure if I am nervous or excited. No wait. Nervous.

I’d suck off each of the Seven Dwarfs off for a slice of good pizza.

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