A huge part of travel is the process of getting there. The often heard phrase of ” it’s not just about the destination” is 100% true. If I had to add up all the hours spent so far on this trip getting from place A to place B, I would have to write off a big chunk of this trip. So it’s important that I remind myself that the process of getting there is to be enjoyed and not just endured, which is probably one of the most challenging things to do when traveling.
As with all the traveling we have done so far in South East Asia, the bus is not full until it is FULL. We are squeezed into the minivan with 15 or so other travelers and make our way for 2 hours from Pakse to the boat site, where it’s a short boat ride across the river to Don Khong, the largest of the riverine archipelago islands on the Mekong. This will be our home for two nights where we hope to catch a glimpse of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.
With the check-in admin out-of-the-way, we hire a couple of bicycles and set off to explore this sleepy hollow. The road is bumpy and slippery and it’s great fun trying to get my cycling rhythm back. Soon though, my out of cycling conditioned butt starts to feel some pain and I vouch never again to complain about my bike back home, which compared to the one I am currently on is the equivalent of a Mercedes.
It’s impossible not to get into the laid back energy of the island as the fastest moving things around are us, pedaling along slowly to take in the surrounding sights. Children play around in the sand, dogs and cats lie in the shade and hardly lift their heads as we pass by, people sit under the cover of their houses on stilts or lie on their hammocks.
A lady and her daughter tend to their rice paddy and smile broadly for my boyfriend as he stops to take photos of them. He beats a hasty retreat when the old lady starts signaling toward her daughter and making hand signals which leave no doubt as to her intentions for her daughter to be “coupled” to him.
The afternoon light is exquisite as we stop at an old temple to admire the paintings and architecture. There are signs of monastic life with a number of orange robes out to dry, but it’s too hot for anyone to venture out to chat.
We make our way back to our hotel where the only activity available to engage in, is to sit at the restaurant deck overlooking the river and drink ice-cold beer and eat delicious food.
The next day starts early with a lovely sunrise over the river, some breakfast and then it’s off on our adventures. We sit for hours on a long-tailed boat as we meander our way around the islands then finally get to Don Khone. Our boat handler, come guide, organizes us bicycles, whizzes us through the old railway locomotive and waterfalls and then we cycle off in haste down a sandy, windy road where we are sent off with a local fisherman on his 5 m long x 1 m wide wooden boat down the Mekong, through some rapids, onto the Cambodian border where we get to see the shy, elusive and highly endangered dolphin.
It’s the middle of the day, the sun is high and hot and we have no shade or cover. But regardless of the heat and the discomfort (a tiny wooden boat with no room to move), the setting and the experience is magical. As I dangle my legs over the edge of the boat into the cool waters of the Mekong, with rare, endangered dolphins occasionally coming up for air around us, and the beat of Gangnam Style being played full volume from the Cambodian border post, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people alive.
All too soon our guide starts up the little engine and maneuvers the boat up the rapids and back to his little village where we do not give up the chance to plunge into the river to cool off. There is nobody around and we have this little bit of Mekong paradise to ourselves, which makes all the bum-numbing hours to get here a very small price to pay for the privilege.
The islands have provided us with a much-needed reprieve back to nature. We feel invigorated and ready to continue our trip northwards to Luang Prabang, which we will start tomorrow. For now, we have a little more lazing around to do on the hammock mecca islands.