Meandering Through the Mekong and Champasak, Laos

We are met by our second guide, San, in Vientiane airport and start straight on a tour at 08:00 as our hotel check in is not until 14:00.

Our guide is an ex monk.. Although we learn alot from him, Deb and Steve quickly get bored of his bossiness and the lines that started with “Buddha says” and “sit here and listen, then you can take photos”

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He then goes on to tell us about not being able to have children but by the end of our 2 days, Steve enjoys having great fun with him. Turns out day one was a rushed tour because he and his wife are trying for a baby and he had to rush home because it “was time” By day two Steve has taught him new English words, revolving around ovulation. San was going home to tell his wife she was ovulating and that they are trying to conceive.

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We found ourselves in Vientiane as Deb wanted to see the Buddha Park. It’s about 45 mins from the centre and was built by a man in 1958. It’s an interesting place and even Steve liked it as he had already over loaded on Buddhist temples and really didn’t want to see more, although this one is different and interesting.

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Upon returning to the hotel we chill out as we’ve been up since 5am to catch the flight down south. In the evening we wander to the night market, very busy and just full of the usual tourist rubbish, street food was limited so we walked back and had dinner in our hotel.

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Happy Birthday Deb, 16th Jan and what do you do on your birthday in Laos? Well you start by checking your guide had a “good night” Wink, Wink.
Then you pop off to a lovely temple and get to make a wish and bong the gong inside a big temple. Rather intimidating having people and monks watching you.

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Next you go to COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) which is the main source of artificial limbs, walking aids and wheelchairs in Laos. Unexploded weapons still litter the countryside as a result of the Vietnam War and continues to injure and maim thousands of people in Laos. Well worth a visit, free and it’s very interesting to see and read about.

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Last stop is lunch at Makphet, a restaurant run to help Street kids get a career in the hospitality industry. Food service is a bit hit and miss, well they are in training. Steve enjoys his lunch and then about half an hour later Deb enjoys hers, our guide jumps about behind Deb and Steve hasn’t a clue what he’s on about but says yes.

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Soon the guide returns and all the staff come out of the kitchen singing happy birthday with a great big creamy cake. We have a piece and then let the staff share the rest, so sweet.

We go back to the hotel and relax, then start planning the next part of our journey when there is a knock on the door and the staff of the hotel are all at the door singing happy birthday with another big creamy birthday cake. Traveling is never going to make us thinner, cakes, beer because it’s cheap than water, me thinks we need to join a gym when we get home. Vientiane is really only a one day stop as there’s not much to do, so if you don’t have time you could easily give it a miss.

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Next morning it’s up at five again to catch the next flight to Pakse, we arrive in the airport and meet guide number three, surprisingly he also says just call me San. This time we have a guide who practices Animism and Hinduism so get another perspective of the temples and religion. Just two temples here as we have come to visit 4000 islands and the nature.

As we arrive super early again, the tour starts at a local market, the smell…… Not something easily forgotten. You name it you can get it, fermented fish, dry fish, half live fish, fried fish stomach, raw fish complete with flys. Apparently chewing a stick of raw dried buffalo skin is rather nice too! We could go on but won’t. Then it’s a quick temple stop to re-hear another version of the story of Buddha, amazing just how many different interpretations there are?

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Then we trundle off to Muang Champasak to go and see a temple ruin Vat Phou, believed to be earlier than Angkor Wat.  It has very few tourists and has a rather interesting tale to tell, right down to the pre-Angkorian human virgin sacrifices. This place was so warm, there was no breeze. Now we know why our guide has a girly umbrella with him. If you look around carefully you can see carvings found no where else in Angkor depicting Krishna ripping someone called Kamsa apart.

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The Sacrifice Stone

Ask Steve about carvings in South Laos, he can tell you all about the Hermits and Indra riding an elephant. It had become the standing joke between Deb and Steve, our guide would spend most of the day saying “Steven, look at the hermit, Steven look at Indra riding the elephant” He seemed to be stuck on repeat.

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We look at the time and realise why we are flagging and feeling a bit shabby, it is 14:00. We go off to find lunch at a restaurant over looking the river and then back to the hotel for a snooze. There aren’t many hotels around here, our room is huge and rustic, we have an outside shower and no hot water, what we think are bats in the roof, bed was very very small and last but not least the fastest WiFi yet, how does that happen?

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Next day we have recovered and are up and ready for a day on the Mekong exploring the 4000 Islands, where the river becomes 14 kilometers wide. Opposite the hotel is our boat driver waiting to take us to meet our guide on the other side of the river bank. As we drift across you see the river in full use. Where else do you see a lorry crossing like this?

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Once we land we transfer to a mini bus for a 2 hour drive to Ban Nakasang to take a boat to Don Knone. About half an hour in, the van has a blow out, the remolded tyre completely comes apart. Luckily we are all safe and have a replacement, another bus stops to help put out the eco friendly warning triangle which consists of 3 piles of branches laid along the road. Eventually the wheel is off, the herd of cows has gone by and we set off again, then we stop again to push the bumper back up, go again, stop again to screw the spare tyre bracket back in, then finally are on route!

We arrive at the next boat and hop on and down river to Don Knone, passing loads of tiny islands and grazing buffalo on route.

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We arrive at a lovely island with stilted houses and locals  in abundance, our tuk tuk driver is waiting and off we go down a bumpy track to take yet another boat to go and seek the Mekong river dolphin or Irrawaddy dolphin, which in Oct 2016 has been classified “functionally extinct” in Laos as there are only 3 left and no breeding pairs.

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Are we lucky enough to see one? Of course we are, feeling very privilaged and not going too close, we do see one and get a picture of a hump, more that most people will ever do. Local word is that the dolphins have been killed by the illegal fishing technique of electrocution of the water to get lots of fish but this in turn just kills everything.

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On our return we have lunch at a riverside restaurant and enjoy watching the locals going about their business, kids practicing for the local dragon boat races and everyone using the disused railway track as a crossing over the river. Our guide, keen to learn new English words takes a few more lessons from Steven the teacher, wanting to know the word for the big lorries of gravel that are being used to make new roads. “Hardcore?” This english word has many meanings, yes? Says San..Next new English word he learns from us is “impressive” Then everything we visit he says, “this is impressive,yes” 10/10 for wanting to learn English. Next question from him was, don’t you BBQ crows in England? We had some intresting chats as the journey continues.

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Back out into nature we go and off to visit Lippi Falls, interesting place that holds a sort of mysticism for the Lao people who believe the falls capture evil spirits. There is also a tree that used to sit on a rock in the waterfall, the country saw this tree as sacred and when it finally fell into the water the Laos goverment brought a helicopter and rescue team to pull it out and it now sits in a temple by the falls so people can still come and worship it.

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The falls are beautiful and rather mesmerising and if your crazy enough you can always have a go at canoeing the rapids? When we were there, we watch the guys shooting down and bobbing back up somewhere else.

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Soon we are back on the mainland and off to see another waterfall, The Khone Falls are the largest in SE Asia and are the main reason that the Mekong is not fully navigable into China. There are thousands of small islands and countless waterways as far as you can see, hence the name ‘The 4,000 islands’.

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To end our beautiful day out Deb slips on the boat and slides a lovely old nail into her knee and peels off a bit of skin and cuts and grazes another bit. Dr Debs 1st Aid kit to the rescue again. After a rinse in freshly opened clean bottled water, sterilisation of a pair of tweezers then unpick the skin that’s rolled inside the cut, a squeeze of anti bacteria cream, a couple of butterfly stitches, a non stick sterilised pad we are all sorted and ready to go to dinner. That’s one all now due to Steve slipping on mud in The Philippines whilst avoiding bikes and super pickup trucks and leaving a tasty bit of finger in a dirty puddle for the bugs.

Time to catch the next flight off to Cambodia,

Speak again soon,

Live Happy

Debs and Steve

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