Travelling is freedom - Basti´s global journeys

Dolphins and Drugs in the Four Thousand Islands

Hey guys!

I am still in Don Khon, paradise. We are leaving for Cambodia tomorrow and decided to stay as long as we can in this magical place

Coconut shakes and new canine friends

Last time I wrote to you guys we had basically just arrived here from Champasak and the Wat Phu temple. Most of the time we just chill in our hammocks, reading, eating… and I have been reading my Our new canine friend brothers dissertation. 100 pages on exchange rate surveillance. It’s really interesting and there are worse things in life then getting up at 8am and reading it in a hammock with a banana and young coconut shake.

Our group has a new member, a girl. Jacqueline has been with us since we got here but will stay here. She is not very communicative and stars at our food all the time. Well at some point I should explain that she is a dog. But wherever we are (well the options are not a lot, so basically either the hammock or the food terrace) she is with us and chills all day. That’s why we gave her a name and we believe she reacts to it.

Cycling around Don Khon

Spotting the Irrawaddy dolphins

Don Khon is a very nice island and we rented bikes from Papa one day to drive once around the island (10km). Basically the Mekong spreads out and builds all these islands, and in between them you can find waterfalls resulting from the narrower spaces which the water has to pass through. As there are a lot of islands, you get a lot of waterfalls. So we just slowly drove around the island on a little path through the jungle, stopping now and then to watch a waterfall. We reached the southern tip, from where you can take wooden boats to go and watch the dolphins!

  The best shot I got of the Irrawaddy dolphins At this point the Mekong gathers all his streams again and builds a huge pool right at the border to Cambodia. The water can be up to 60 m deep at this point, and this is where you can find the Irrawaddy dolphins. There are around 300 of them in the Mekong and they can all be found in this pool of 1 square km. You have take a boat to the Cambodian side of the Mekong, get on the mainland from where you can just watch the dolphins swim against the current and reaching the surface to catch some air. They always stay at the same spot and I don’t know how many dolphins we saw, but there were lots, I mean we saw them around 150 times, so I guess maybe 50 dolphins. They are pretty big, around 2m, brown and have a weird rectangular head, but it’s just so beautiful to sit there, watch this huge river and see dolphins coming out of there. On the way back we had quite an interesting experience. I am here writing this email, so don’t worry, nothing happened, but still…

Our involuntary drug run

I don’t know if I told you but the boat people are the local mafia here. Similar to some places in Thailand they smuggle drugs from Cambodia and they have quite a criminal organisation going on, dictating prices for tourists and hindering locals to transport tourists (I don’t know why Papa is allowed to, probably he is part of the gang…). Before we Our drug run! The green bag is full of weed, I felt it and saw it in a hole! boarded the boat we saw other people on boats there with an M16, and I am pretty sure you don’t need that gun for hunting.

When we got into the boat on the way back we saw these 2 rice sacks, quite big, in the boat. So we got in and I tried to feel it, and it felt like weed, then I looked through a little hole in one bag, and yeah it was marihuana. So basically we were on a drug run from Cambodia to Laos with 40kg of weed on board of a little wooden ship with two Laos people… We thought that they probably do that when tourists are on board as in case of getting busted they would just tell the police it’s the foreigners´ and they will be happy to arrest us and get more bribe money. But shit, there was nothing we could do and once on the other side we were quite happy to get out of that boat. I have been in some rather unpleasant and dangerous situations before (see Jaipur in India or Siem Reap in Cambodia) Dealing large amount of drugs on a boat from one country to another, that’s a box we didn’t plan on ticking before this trip….

ATM odyssey

After this shocking experience we got back to our bungalow and continued doing what we do all day, chill, eat and drink. Papa has 7 daughters, plus one of the neighbours´ daughters and his new 29 year old wife (he is 60) and they do nothing all day but cooking. So you order something, and they get the Classic Lao bus stop numbers wrong, even if you write them down (so every night we are surprised by the food we get) and second they would bring the starter first, then desert and then the main, so now we just order lots and lots of food and share every meal when it arrives, no matter what, which means we are basically eating for 1.5 hours straight.

But with all this eating and drinking, even though it’s really cheap, we were running out of money. We tried to get something from an ATM which is 1 hour away from here but it didn’t work. So I took one for the team and decided to do a little trip to the next ATM, not knowing I would take off at 8am and only come back around 9pm, travelling 300km in buses, tuktuks and boats! But that’s the closest ATM from here, crazy! It’s like saying in Munich: ok I am going to berlin to get some money and come back the same day.

I arrived in Pakse around 1pm, sorted out everything, and when I came to the bus station at 2pm, I was confronted with the following problem: only one tuktuk to Don Khon, 4pm. Well alright, I waited and when that tuktuk arrived I couldn’t believe what I saw. A tuktuk is meant for up to 10 people usually, and that’s not very comfortable, well try 29 (I counted) plus a scooter and a new-born child. 4 hours, two of them on dirt tracks full of potholes! It got very interesting when we had lunch stop. That means 20 women surrounded our tuktuk and started handing stuff inside and touching you with grilled chicken on a stick. So most of the people started eating chicken and sticky rice. But it’s literally 2m x 4m and the scooter in the middle! But I have to admit it was quite funny, as I got offered lots of stuff and tried from everyone. I was the attraction anyway as the only white person in there and everybody staring at me for the entire 4 hours! But it got dark and I was worried.

Preventing a certain mugging

To get to Don Khon you have to take a boat from the peer for 20 minutes. These boats are driven by the boat mafia and after the drug run the day before and the stories I had heard I was a little bit worried, or better, I didn’t want to get into a boat alone, with 2 Mafiosi, carrying 400 euros and a camera, through the middle of the Four Thousand Islands area (which is just bushes, trees, water most of the time) at night!

So I started talking to this one guy who said he was going to Don Det (neighbouring island, around 2 hours walking, as there is a bridge connecting Don Det with Don Khon) with his family on their own boat. I asked them if worse comes worst I could just go with them and either stay one night in Don Det or walk home in the dark, still better than relying on criminals. He told me that it was cool and I was a bit relieved.

But then we arrived at the peer, dark already. I get out and these two very dodgy looking guys from the boat service asked me where I needed to go. I told them and they wanted an incredible amount of money (4 times more than written on the boards). I thought screw that, I don’t want to go with them anyway, as they could literally kill me, drop me in the Mekong, and nobody will ever care or notice here.

I saw that the guy from the tuktuk was walking towards me with his family, but the two boat guys were following me and the moment the tuktuk guy saw them he started ignoring me and drove off. I knew that I didn’t have a lot of options left! So I continued looking for locals and finally found another family. I just shouted “Don Khon?” they nodded before they could see the boat guys. I turned, gave the boat guys the money they wanted for the boat ride in the first place, and hopped on the local’s boat. They were fine with that of course and I was safe! So happy! The locals didn’t understand anything and so I had to point them to where they had to go in the dark and the Four Thousand Islands area, one of the places where you can get lost most easily. But finally at The biggest waterfall in Southeast Asia 9pm I got home, exhausted, frightened but safe. I could finally chill! That was really scary, but it proved to me that 3 months of travelling have made me both more aware of danger and more capable of making the right decision, as I am sure that it was the best thing I could have done! But damn, it was scary!

Khon Phapheng – the strongest waterfall in Southeast Asia

Jacqueline also came to check on me and stayed with us for the night and Shir made me happy telling me that she did the entire laundry that day and when I came back everything was washed, dried and folded. She is definitely not that kind of woman but sometimes she just falls back into conservative role On the scooter with absolute strangers hoping to reach our destination patterns, much to the pleasure of David and me!

Yesterday, we asked papa if he could bring us to the biggest waterfall in Southeast Asia, Khon Phapheng. It’s also in this area and we had heard of it. It’s not very tall but the biggest in volume, as 12 million litres of water crush down there every second!

Papa drove us to the peer, dropped us there and was gone for 30minutes. Then 3 random guys on scooters came by and indicate to hop on. Well, why not right? So everyone on the back of a strangers scooter and we started driving and arrived at the Khon Phapheng. It was not as impressive as I would have thought as you can’t really see a waterfall but just lots and lots of water (1km width) speeding up and building stark currents. But it was still quite cool.

The one and only Papa

Once back to the peer we found Papa finally in the middle of a card game, 1 on 1, against another evidently drunk person. He looked at us very sadly and asked if we wanted to take off, we told him he could play some more and he laughed out very loudly and was just so happy. Basically they played 5€ a game (quite a lot here) plus loser pays beer for the players and all spectators, and while we were there papa lost 4 games…. all the money we gave him for the trip. His wife(s) is not going to be happy. but it was so funny, because by watching we got the rules, and we were advising Papa what to play and they would just scream at each other after every single card, or laugh and a cluster of 10 people surrounding them commenting and drinking beer!

The one and only Papa You have to know a few things about papa. He gets up at 7am, at 7.01 he drinks his first glass of Lao Lao. He fills it into seven up or M150 bottles but everybody knows it´s Lao Lao. He drinks the entire day and by 4pm he is just so wasted he can’t stand on his feet any longer. But he does not turn aggressive or anything, he is actually very funny and does everything drunk. Dim has told us some crazy stories of boat tours with him. Once the motor broke down and the current is very strong here. But he just stayed calm, handed Dim a paddle and started paddling. Or when he brings people to see the huge waterfall he drives on the upper part, turns off the engine and lets the boat get as close as 10m to the biggest waterfall of Southeast Asia. Everybody shitting their pants. Then a few seconds before you would crash down him turns it on again and drives away :). “Unfortunately” we can’t do that now as the water is too rough even for papa due to the heavy monsoon rain. But still it’s a nice experience being with this very drunk but very experienced boat driver. Moreover, he speaks of himself in the third person only. You ask him something, reply “papa telephone, ok?” and he is always laughing.

Well that game did not make him sober as you can imagine and he was just wasted on the way back. But I like him a lot; just now he is standing behind me Monsoon rain and has been starring at my monitor for 10 minutes, silently and now and then just laughing. He obviously can’t read or write (he has 9 women to do that for him) but just looks at this text while I write it :)

A magical place

Tomorrow we have to leave this paradise. I have seen many places on this trip and there are 3 so far I know I want come back to 100%. Guddu´s “restaurant” in Dharamkot in northern India, Shekhar´s Babylon in Lake Side Pokhara in Nepal, and finally Papa and Dim here on don Khon. It’s just a magical place, one of these timeless places where you could just stay for a long time. You have everything you need (obviously apart of all my people at home) and it’s just so beautiful. The scenery, the water, the hammock.

I will be back here but at the same time if people tell you the changes this area has undergone in the last 5 years, I wonder if I will ever see this place like it is again. These places are vanishing due to heavily western influenced tourism in Asia (Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, Vang Vieng in Laos or Shanghai in China, although the last is a different kind of tourism) and I want to travel to as many places like this as I can as soon as I can. Probably you will be able to find them in the future (especially in Africa) but they are becoming rarer.

Sunset from my hammock So yeah tomorrow we leave, quite sad as well because Shir is going to Siem Reap (Angkor) and we are going to Phnom Penh. We have been travelling together for 3 weeks now and it was really nice. But her visit to the Oktoberfest 2012 is already fixed and a future visit to Israel planned. Papa arranged everything, just told him about the tickets “Papa telephone, ok?” and 5 minutes later “Papa ticket, ok?“, sorted.

So yeah one last day in paradise, before we will rush through Cambodia for a week, trying to see as much as we can and then it’s already nearly over, crazy how times flies, but I can’t wait to be home with my parents, friends and Cecilia again!


2 Responses to Dolphins and Drugs in the Four Thousand Islands

  1. […] eaten on Luang Prabang´s night markets, the situations I have been confronted with such as the involuntary drug run in the Four Thousand Islands and especially the people I have met have changed me and my view of the world. You just learn a lot […]

  2. […] when I left you we were about to have our last evening in Don Khom. It was quite sad to leave as we really loved that place and the people. I will definitely be back. […]

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