Connect the dots

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mama Mekong: Si Phan Don

After two border crossings in 5 days, two long bumpy bus rides, some boat rides in between, and a night in the border outpost of Stung Treng, we deserved some serious chill out time. Nowhere are you more able to do that than in Laos' very southern point, where the Mekong reaches it's widest point. Here, life is as slow as it gets. Wooden homes with rattan and bamboo walls, mothers and children taking a sunset bath in the river, pigs rolling around in the mud and taking a snooze in a hammock. But if you choose to explore the islands - there are 4000 of them, known in Lao as Si Phan Don, a boat ride on the Mekong or a bike ride through the rice fields and muddy, river stone roads is an option. 

We heard about Don Det's party streak, so we headed to the quieter Don Khon to stay at Auberge Sala Done Khone, an elegantly restored 1921 French villa, with plans to do absolutely nothing.  Well, that almost worked except we're just not the type to be somewhere new and not explore. So after a day of resting (since I also had a bout of sinusitis), we rented some bikes and took to the mud filled roads. Not only is the road a nice thick chocolatey mess of mud, so is the river during rainy season when it is filled with sediment from the run-off. Don't expect a leisurely ride - this is a serious workout in some parts and strategy is vital to keep from slipping or getting yourself ankle keep in muck. In the dry season, the water is a more appealing and slow moving, turquoise-blue.

There are definitely some sights to see if you choose to exit your state of comatose bliss. We spent a morning checking out the gushing Somphamit falls and... well, napped in the afternoon. Close by you'll find an old locomotive and remnants of the 7 km railway that were built by the French. They were intent on creating a trade route to China via the Mekong and this was the best solution to circumvent the rapids and cataracts that stood in their way. We somehow peeled ourselves out of the rattan chairs to take a sunset bike ride to Don Det. But that was cut short since we wanted to make it back before dark and avoid any muddy mishaps. 

If serious relaxation is on your itinerary, make sure this place is on your Laos list.

Si Phan Don - A backpacker's mecca
Chicest digs on the island - Auberge Sala Done Khone
A cackling, gymnastic Gibbon. Pure entertainment.
The mighty Mekong
Skipping a swim and respecting its force

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