The Island and the Unknowing River
I meet Heiji, a tall, lean, and nervous Japanese traveler, during the border crossing from Cambodia and find that he is also heading to 4,000 islands. We agree to travel together until we get to the island of Don Det. The small motorboat struggles along the river as we slowly cut across, moving in between the small islands that fill the Mekong. The island is alive as we arrive. Dozens of tourists have returned from a day of kayaking and are now pulling themselves back onto land. As Heiji and I walk hostel to hostel we look for the best price on the best room. The Mekong gently floats past, unaware of our presence.
Three Australians carry large bottles of beers in their hands and a joint in their mouths as night begins to descend on the island. They laugh and yell at girls walking in the opposite direction. A dog chases a chicken larger than itself and the chicken struggles with the idea of fighting back. I lazily lay in a hammock while I smoke a pipe filled with crisp Danish tobacco. The smoke sinks into my skin and dances under the moon’s soft light. The Mekong gently floats past, unaware of our presence.
Our boat struggles against the current to take a large group of twenty-somethings upstream. Each of us is equipped with at least three beers and an inner tube. The water is refreshing as we climb out of the boat into our tubes. As the river pulls us downstream almost imperceptibly, we sip our beers and talk about our adventures. Far off in the distance, the sun splits the horizon and sets the river aflame. The river, the conversation, and the beer swirl through our minds as we attempt to stand on top of our inner tubes. No one accomplishes more than a few seconds before balance fails and gravity pulls them forcibly through the sun’s reflection on the water. The river suddenly forks and we are pulled in different directions. Many are pulled back to the shore, but the unlucky ones are pulled towards the waterfalls. Boats quickly hurry to rescue the intoxicated castaways, pulling them into the boat before any danger comes close to befalling them. The Mekong gently floats past, unaware of our presence.
An Indian-Laotian man cooks us Nan out of an authentic Tandoori oven as we plan the next day. The mango Lassie tastes delicious and smooth, perfectly combatting the dry heat of South Laos. A wild-eyed French man rushes into the restaurant yelling about a famous DJ playing down at the corner bar; his eyes are bloodshot, his shirt missing, and he constantly clears his nose. By some strange miracle we are all drawn to the bar like insects to a neon blue light. We drink beer and talk about all the pointless wonderful topics that only arise in the presence of alcohol. Late into the night the music plays too loudly for conversation, and so we dance like the rhythmless children and lotus eaters we are. The Mekong gently floats past, unaware of our presence.
A young Austrian girl asks me to bike ride around the island as we talk over stiff bread and greasy eggs. The bike frames look as new as the bike chains look old. Dogs, chickens, roosters, geese, and water buffalo cross the small dirt path creating traffic jams at their leisure. Fields stretch out far in every direction, bearing long stalks of brown grass. At each turn-off, we revisit the river as it stretches and bends. Eventually, the river spills over the rocks that try to bar its way. Small waterfalls turn into rapids and slide down and around the grey, stone sentries. We take an afternoon dip in the water, hidden out of view from the bike path. On our way back, a tire pops and deflates. Our gentle ride becomes a long walk in the sun. The Mekong floats past, unaware of our presence.
Stay: Mr. Mo’s Guesthouse $3/nt (wooden bungalow on the water).
Eat: Jasmin Indian Restaurant $3-$5 (Ask to see the Tandoori oven!)
Do: Take a bike out to explore the island and waterfalls during the day, then relax by floating down the river with an inner-tube. Don’t forget to meet up with all the other travelers at Reggae Bar in the evening.
Note: If you liked the post, check out the video of Don Det and motorbiking through the Laotian highlands.