Zipping through the trees

After a long discussion the night before Dudley and I had finally settled on a plan for today. We left our Hotel Inthira and Champasak at 7am on a tuk-tuk in the rain. We were both miserable since it was so wet and cold. I at least got a spare rain coat from the tuk-tuk driver.

Once we arrived in Pakse we got the driver to go to the office of Green Discovery Laos because we wanted to check if we could go on a 2 day tour with them today. They hadn’t answered our online inquiry nor the email I sent the evening before and we both really wanted to do the Treetop Explorer Tour.

And really, we made it there in time and signed up for the 2 day tour. So good that we tried it because they were booked for the next two days and we wouldn’t have waited that out.

Within 10 minutes I had my smaller backpack ready and we were on the go. We were a group of 10 people, one couple from England, another from Australia, mother and son from the Netherlands, two girls from Vientiane and us.

I was not really sure about the itinerary, I read it yes, but after reading about the zip lining I was already hooked. I had tried that the first time at the Adventure Cave in Phong Nah and was a bit nervous about it. But in a good way.

Anyway it took us a good hour on the road and another hour on an ‘adventure road’ (Sinsay’s more than generous description for the worst dirt road ever. There were holes on this road in which you could have easily buried an elephant).

Eventually we arrived though and we’re all outfitted with a harness. By that time it was still raining and cold. At least 10 degrees cooler than in the city and I was very happy about my long sleeved shirt that I found in the backpack.


I put the rain coat which I had bought in Sapa on top of it and then we started into the wild. It was not really adventurous the first hour. Just walking along a dirt road in the wet and cold.


But eventually the scenery changed and we entered the national park.


If I said before that it was just boring trekking, all that changed in an instant when we had to cross our first ‘bridge’.

The boring part was definitely over! When we got to the other side I was sweating so much that the rain coat was not necessary anymore and Dudley had already some leeches attached to his calves. This was going to be one interesting trip.

More walking through a wet and misty forest brought us to our lunch destination. The guides, Sinsay and three locals prepared the ‘table’ and then we ate in this beautiful meadow.

  

Further trekking was necessary after lunch, it was very slippery going downhill in these woods. Until we came to the next bridge which was a walk in the park compared to the first one. I actually took a selfie in the middle of it. Which was going to be my only selfie while doing stuff (with the petrified look on my face already on that bridge maybe understandable, I seem to be holding on to my safety line for dear life).


After that it was zip line after zip line with a bit of abseiling in between.

  

Over time the zip lines became longer, passing in front of the waterfall and it was the best feeling ever to step off the platform knowing the zip line will catch me. Just the one step into nothing until you get caught from the line was such an exhilarating experience! Best thing ever!

     

The zip line above was done together. So I was attached to Dudley and he to me and together we zipped across. If you want to see a regular zip line click here and for abseiling here.

We were almost at the end of our first day, just a couple more zip lines and then we arrived at our tree house location for the night.

        
I went for a swim in a natural pool and later we had a great dinner in front of the waterfall. To get to our treehouse we had to zip line in the dark and just a while later it was lights out for all of us. Lying alone in the dark and hearing the sound and noise of the forest was pretty intense, more so when another downpour started and I had to move my bed a bit to not get wet. Yours, Pollybert

Vat Phu

There was of course something in Champasak because otherwise what’s the point of going there. Champasak was the home of Vat Phu another world heritage site and supposedly older than Angkor Wat.

So this was our destination for the day. To go there we rented another scooter and Dudley drove us to the site. It was actually quite easy to go there. 10km straight ahead, over two bridges and then to the right. All very easy and straight forward, so we found it without trouble.
We paid our entrance fee and then sat down on the electric bus to get a lift up to the actual site. All very sophisticated especially since we were the only two tourists going up. Which is a bit unfair because there were other people once we were at the site (but nothing compared to Angkor Wat).
Having arrived on site we first got a bracelet full of blessings around our wrists for which we donated handsomely. Because what’s the point of money if you can’t share it with others?

So this was the start of our tour with a blessed bracelet and I was ready to be amazed again by a temple (see it’s enough to let some days go by and I was able to see another temple). Also Vat Phu was a bit different from Angkor Wat since it was built at the foot of a mountain, with another temple on top and a small spring.

 

We didn’t take the obvious column lined road, no Dudley wanted us to take the paved one and leave via the boulevard.

So coming slightly from the side we could first see the two mirror temples with the one on the left side under heavy reconstruction.

We therefore visited the one on the right side.

    

The way up was long and stony and had of course super steep steps again. But while going up the structure of Vat Phu became more and more visible.

  

  
Once up we were rewarded with a view over the valley and the Vat.

While visiting the temple on top we heard that if you pour the water from the spring on your head it brings good luck. One can never have too much of it, so of course I poured some.


     
I don’t know if it helped but it definitely hasn’t hurt to get as many blessings and good luck bracelets on this trip. We went to explore the area further and came upon some rocks higher up with elephant carvings.

  

The way down was steep as up with the added challenge of actually going down. The steps were in some parts so narrow that I had to navigate them sideways.

The fallen statue of a Buddha had something tragic but walking through the boulevard lined with columns on both sides felt majestic.

  

Since we were already in the area we set our sights on another temple just around the corner. The Hong Nang Sida Temple was just 2km away from Vat Phu but also in another world. The road there was no longer paved but a small dirt road with deep tracks, extremely muddy due to the rainfall last night and still half under water. Dudley managed to gut us there, I would have given up by at half way through. So this was how it looked in former times


and this is what we saw.

This temple has seen better times but it was still interesting to walk around. Not only we found that but also the local cows.

  

Of course the moment we walked back to the scooter it started to rain again. So we took shelter under the only construction at the site, a local house which looked lucky to be still standing. It helped with the rain though.

When we left the dirt road had changed into a mud pool and I was never more happier to drive shotgun. Dudley sneakers got dunked more than once.

Back on the paved road we had to stop for shelter a second time, the rain was coming down really hard (please see here).

But eventually we made it back into Champasak and Dudley had had it with me always sitting in the back, so he set out to get me driving. And of course I wanted to, it’s very limiting if you can only take the bicycle. Anyway, here we go.

  

 

I drove a couple more rounds but definitely not enough, so I will have to do it again soon. It was a very liberating experience that I could that. Good to know that you are never to old to learn a new trick! Yours, Pollybert

Champasak 

At 8am we said goodbye to our Australian friends Angie and Peter and at 11am our shuttle boat picked us up. There would be no private shuttle tour to our new destination, I had insisted on public transfer.
The shuttle boat took its time to pick every on up and only when every available seat was filled did we go to Ban Nakasang.

  

So the little place we saw at our arrival three days ago was the official gateway to the islands. We made it from the boat with only a little accident (this time Dudley fell, but in another boat) and were then transferred like sheep to the bus station. There we boarded our minibus and since I had insisted on drawing some money from the ATM we were the last to board. Big mistake, really something I have to remember: Always be the first to board a bus. Dudley and I sat in the last row and he was more than uncomfortable due to his size. To make matters worse he told me what could happen with the minivan (accident wise) so that I had to tell him to stop his horror stories otherwise I would start to panic in the confined space of the last row with no way out. I kept on reading and tried to loose myself in a different world.

But all good things must come to an end and so must also must bad things. Eventually we got off the bus with the station Champasak being in the middle of nowhere. Literally there was nothing there. We had just time to ask in which direction the Mekong was because we knew we had to cross it and then the bus left.
When we started walking with our backpacks and my front pack I felt already tired. And when Dudley showed me on his phone that the Mekong was easily 5-6km away I slightly despaired. How could our Australian friends send us into this nightmare?

We walked for at least two km, all the while trying to hitch a ride. But none would stop or they would just slow a little and then drive on. If I had been alone, now would have been the right moment to sit down and have a good cry. I was tired, I was hot and sweating and I was exhausted. But since we were two I couldn’t do that and so just drudged on. And eventually, oh miracle, a car stopped to my hold out thumb and we got on its cargo area.


This wonderful lady gave us a lift to the boats (I am sure it was more than 6km) and we had no trouble to cross the Mekong.

    

Once we were on the other side we had finally reached Champasak.

Again we had no ride and were told that the hotel was just 3km away. With a storm threatening we walked as fast as we could when suddenly a minivan stopped and offered his services. With its driver it was the first and only time that I spoke French in Laos.

So with a couple of miracles and angels watching over us we made it to our Hotel Inthira before the rain started. Quite a feat!


And here the view out back from our rooms across the street. 

Champasak had not really much to offer as we would notice shortly after checking in. Dudley and I walked up and down the main street, visited one of the many temples and then bought ice cream. There was not much else to do.

  
     

After a short power nap during which it had started to rain in earnest we met for dinner at the hotel restaurant and I enjoyed a local delicacy called laab. Minced meat with lots of herbs especially mint. Very tasty and just a bit spicy. With this new experience under my belt I was ready for bed. Yours, Pollybert

More waterfalls and some dolphins

After breakfast the next day we rented some scooters. Actually just one. Because in a country where already kids drive around I was deemed a safety hazard since I couldn’t deal with it. At least I had tried it and could now sit shotgun with a good feeling.

There was no real plan for the day except to start with other waterfalls on the island. They were so small that they hadn’t even made it onto the map but they were there nonetheless.

We started with the French history area which had exactly nothing to offer beside precarious bridges and a wall along the Mekong.


  

The way to the fish monger had only one bridge which looked bigger and sturdier. I didn’t see any monger just a couple of traps that hopefully get filled during rainy season.


  

The main goal for the day was to see the Irrawaddy dolphins for which the best time was the afternoon. Until then we had more exploring to do so we turned back and set out in the other direction. Upon turning around we also managed to find the temple that was in our area and which we had missed on the way to the falls.

  

We crossed the French Bridge into Don Det and on the only available road traveled to the village of Don Det.


Here we parked the bike to explore the village. Not that there was much exploring to be done but still. We saw a big pig and a small one and a monkey that wanted to grab my bracelets all the time. He probably needed just a bit of attention since there were not so many tourists.

  
  
Outside of the village (because in it there was nothing) we found an inviting looking place and had a rest stop there. The Crazy Gecko seemed like the best place on this small island. Very cozy and inviting with a good wi-fi connection an excellent food.


  

After lunch we circled the island on the scooter until we landed again near the French Bridge.

Right beside the bridge an American had built a huge pool which we could use for a fee. Looking at the comings and goings of backpackers (ok maybe not on this picture) it was quite the clever business model.

After 3pm we left to look for the port and hitch a ride to the dolphins. We were told that the best time to see them was either in the morning or after 4pm. As it turned out we didn’t need to go to the port since a few enterprising boat owners offered the same as the harbor boats at competitive prices. And you can watch the dolphins at any time,

We got on the boat and traversed the Mekong. To our right side we could see Cambodia, so near we could almost touch it.

  
  

We stopped in the middle of nowhere, just somewhere on the river. And really in a minute the dolphins were here. Not that I could really prove that, but we definitely saw larger fish/mammals (depending on what you want to believe). I have a few pics were you can see ‘something’ and these should be Irrawaddy Dolphins. To see the ‘something’ you’ll probably have to double click the picture and hope that you have still 20/20 vision.


Going upriver after was also great to see. If you want to get a taste of it, please click here.

  
  
  
Once we got back to our little cove (harbor would be too much for it) with good luck and prayers that the gas will be enough, I got off the boat and fell flat to my feet. A very graceful exit with Dudley standing by and holding out his hand which I had completed overseen.

Except for some scratches though nothing happened, so I just got back up, fixed my invisible crown and off we went back to the hotel. Before going to our rooms we stopped for a picture with the local monkey. The owner of our hotel had bought it at some market so it wouldn’t end up in a stew. We were told that for a while she walked with him on a leash around the island but other locals threatened to kill it. So now it lived in this big cage and the owner came every day to give hugs and kisses on it. It was really beautiful to watch the love they had for each other. And instead of cocks crowing it was the banshee shrieking of the monkey that replaced the alarm here.       

We spent the last evening again with my next door neighbors, the Australian couple. They were leaving for Cambodia the next day while we would go back north to Champasak on their recommendation. A long and hard shower made the muddy road to the restaurant almost impassable and I was glad the we were leaving the island the next day. Yours, Pollybert

Exploring Don Khon

After an interesting breakfast watched over by a hawk

(Ok, maybe he was looking in the other direction) Dudley and I rented a bicycle and got ready to explore our island. In the area of the 4000 Islands there are three islands which I found mentioned online and in the guide-book. Don Khong, the largest and the most quiet place, and then two smaller ones, Don Khon and Don Det. Don Det is the backpacker place with cheaper bungalows (and after seeing them I know why) and lots of parties while Don Khon is the place in between in every way.  So the perfect place for us.


Next to the rental place I saw fish hanging outside for drying. I am not sure if I want to eat it though.

Looking at the map we decided to try the Somphamit Waterfalls. It was just a couple of kilometers to get there and after paying our fee to get into the park we walked around following the sound of water. Doesn’t the bamboo bend like this make for a great walkway?

The falls themselves stretched over a large area and were impressive. In some places the river was channeled for electricity.

  
     

There were signs to guide us to a beach area and a bit later we arrived at a small restaurant.


  
  

Once we saw the hammocks we fell into them spent a couple of hours there. It was so comfortable and when I was hungry Dudley just ordered a mix from the menu.

Around 3pm we decided to try out the beach. The park was closing at 5pm and we still had to walk back so no time like the present. The beach was a small sandy cove where I could walk in the first two meters and after that I needed something to hold on to because the current was so strong. We couldn’t swim so much as just getting wet and holding on for dear life. Especially since the current was also constantly shifting.

  

On the way back to the hotel we decided to cross the French Bridge to Don Det and give the train a visit. Both islands had a train during the French colonization. Not much was left of them, especially no tracks but two locomotives were still here for everyone to see.

  
  

Not so much left from the locomotive either, but it was still there as sign of former glory. We left the small museum (around the locomotive were panels with the history of the area and the train) and headed back to the Auberge. Nothing could beat a swim in the pool now. Yours, Pollybert