Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Vientiane to the 4000 Islands

In which I narrowly avoid getting a fine for illegal bicycle parking.
Starring an extremely shy American who might have thought I was stalking him.  

From Vientiane it was another long overnight bus ride to Pakse (these are a cinch now that I’ve learnt to negotiate my way out of the back bunk – yes, ticket was there AGAIN) which has very little to see in the town itself but there are some ancient ruins at the nearby town of Champasak.  I hired a boat with a shy American and set off at a swift drift down the river. The boats have adapted propellers on long rudders so you can simultaneously steer and propel.  To stop you just drive into something on the bank and cling to it for dear life. 

From Champasak its another 8kms down a rutted track on the back of tuk tuk.  I’m sure if you had already been to Ankor they would be a disappointment as are considerably older and much less remains but interesting nonetheless particularly because of a spring that channelled water into the temples by way of a complicated series of ducts and pipes.
The car ferry - our bus came over on this!

From there I went down to the 4000 islands right on the border of Cambodia where the river fans out, and uh, creates a lot of islands.  I spent three nights on the main islands, all of which were stunning. All the guesthouses are little wooden huts perched precariously on the edge of the river with hammocks on the balconies. 

The Waterfall
When you’re sick of lolling about you hire a bike and cycle through the rice paddies to see various bits and pieces such as the rusting remains of the French railway, a beach, a waterfall.  Most of these things (particularly the waterfall) are not really tourist attractions per se but more points on the map that provide you with a reasonable stop over point on your journey round the island.  Also they are a good way to start evolving a tourist infrastructure and create rules that require you to spread the cash around.  

In the wide open jungle near the waterfall you are required to buy a ticket to park your bicycle.  This is dished out by a little girl sitting on a bucket who guards your bike with great seriousness while you wander off to stare at the cascades.  I wanted to know what would happen if I did not park in the designated area.  “Big fine.  This very bad.”
The scenery is utterly gorgeous – especially in the stormy late afternoons and on Don Khong, everyone stares at you until you smile at them and then you get a huge grin and a ‘Sabadee’ and quite often a kid to cycle along with you for a bit.  Which is nice. 

Boat to Don Khon
As it’s the low season there were big thunderstorms most days and pretty much every place I stayed and ate was completely empty.  Every time I got a boat from one place to the next, the shy American was in it – each time looking a little more apprehensive at that fact that his efforts to escape me had apparently failed. 

More photos: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150324570611058.347908.532581057&type=1&l=d8a264dd65

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