- Holy elephant´s head cave near Tah Kaek
- The bat hunter cave
- Laos´ Angkor – Wat Phu
- The lifeline of Southeast Asia
- Don Khon – laid back paradise
- The story of an expat
- The first Hebrew skat instruction
I am in Don Khon at the moment and will stay here for a while, as this is paradise, the perfect place. We are in the far south of Laos now, 2km from the Cambodian border.
Holy elephant´s head cave near Tah Kaek
The last time I wrote we were in Tah Kaek, a rather big town in the centre of Laos, just after our Route 8 and Kong Lor experience. We rented some scooters as we just love scooters and because they are by far the best way of exploring remote villages and caves. In Laos they have one main north-south road and the moment you go east everything changes, dirt tracks, laid back villages, amazing nature and so on.
We took the scooters and were looking for a cave with a stalagmite resembling an elephant head and holy to local people. We didn’t find it and even when we finally saw a cave the problem was a river between us and the cave. There were no bridges and some young girls offered to ship us to the other side with their wooden boat, but by the time they had reached our side of the river their boat was half full of water and sinking and we thought it would be probably better not to get in there :) So we kept on looking and eventually decided to just cross it walking as it was quite wide but didn’t seem too deep. I went first, hoping for the best and with all the experience we got crossing streams trekking in the jungle. It was actually ok with water up to the hips, standard. The cave was not that amazing but it’s just nice to sit in these caves, watch the plain lying in front of us full of green rice fields, with bats flying around your head all the time and Buddha and natural spirit statues surrounding you.
On the way back I saw a little child in the village and couldn’t believe what I saw: he wore a FC Bayern Munich jersey! I stopped and looked at him and I was wearing an FCB jersey as well, trying to make him understand our common interest by pointing at him and then at me. But he didn’t really get it and I think I kind of scared him. But still, the moment the one and only FC Bayern reaches remote villages in one of the most remote countries in the world I dare to say that we are everywhere!
The bat hunter cave
The second cave we visited was even further in the middle of nowhere as you had to take a dirt track for 8km to get there. The road was really horrible and the scooters the worst we have had so far. David´s brakes were far too strong and he had an accident. At least he was not going fast and Shir was on my scooter. But still bruises and scrapes are very annoying in these countries as they take ages to heal.
The cave itself was used as a Buddhist place of worship until the 16th century. Only a few years ago a bat hunter accidentally ran in there as it is located 20m up a cliff, has only a small entrance and is in the middle of nowhere. Now it’s open for visits, and really nice as in most countries they would take out these 500 year old Buddha statues and put them in a museum. But there you can still marvel at all of them and they were not moved since hundreds of years. To get there we first had to hire a guy who brought us with his small wooden boat through the swamp land at the feet of the cliff. Once inside you could really feel the energy of the place and that’s what I like most. As many places are nice to see but only few have an energy that you can feel. It was really nice.
Next we wanted to head to another cave but my scooter went on a strike! I got a flat tire and even inflating it didn’t help, so I had to drive back with 20km/h for 15km on a completely flat tire. We gave them back and thank god they didn’t see it or want money. Rest of the day standard: night market, fish, chicken, weird stuff to try, loads of fruit shakes from the nice fruit shake woman, banana pancake, Skat and finally Matrix Reloaded in Laos language and Lao pop clips. Great night!
Laos´ Angkor – Wat Phu
Next day we wanted to head to Pakse, which is quite south and also a bigger city. You just have to follow these cities as it’s the only way of travelling from north to south. We filled up with lots of Lao style baguettes, bananas, water and caramel peanut snacks and started the bus ride. I mean 10 hours in a bus are just standard now and we kind of enjoy these rides, it´s part of the backpacker experience.
Pakse is nothing great, just a place to spend a night and as we arrived late we just played some Skat, ate well, Beerlao and slept in a dormitory. We came here because from here you can easily reach Champasak. This is a village on the western side of the Mekong, but in Laos, south of Pakse. Close to this village is Wat Phu, which is the most important religious and archaeological site of Laos. It is a temple complex built during the Angkor reign in the 12th century. It was connected to Angkor with a road and build on a hill close to a spring. Because it is not that easy to reach and like everything else in Laos, it doesn’t get more than 50 visitors a day.
We took a tuktuk to Champasak were we found this amazing guesthouse right on the Mekong. The owner took care of everything: food, drinks, transport, Wat Phu, a really nice guy. Wat Phu was nice, as I have repeatedly said; I am not a big fan of just seeing stuff and taking pictures. I mean a building can be impressive because of the architecture or the size, but in the end it leaves you pretty much unchanged. I like to visit places where you can feel something. Places of real worship, that’s why I loved Amritsar in India with its Golden Temple of the Sikhs. Not because of the temple itself but because you enter there, you are the only white and you feel the spirituality. I have been to many ruins and usually I don’t like them too much.
But Wat Phu was really nice. You start in the plain and walk along these ancient roads, then some crooked stairs sided by trees growing everywhere lead up to the upper plateau with the main temple and the spring. It’s very untouched and nice. You have a view all over the Mekong valley and this place still has a huge importance as once a year in February thousands of Laotians come here in a pilgrimage. We spend the afternoon there and as there is not a lot to see apart of Wat Phu.
The lifeline of Southeast Asia
The rest of the day we ordered pancakes, meals, shakes, liquors and so on our terrace, looking at the Mekong and playing Skat. Next morning we got up at 5am to see the sun rise on the Mekong, and were quite upset as it was too cloudy and we didn’t see the sun at all. Still it was amazing because everything is just so calm and at this time all the fishermen ship out on their simple boats to collect the cages made for fishing small fish and crabs, check them and drop them back. We didn’t go back to sleep and just sitting there, Lao coffee, pancakes, good stuff.
The Mekong is full of fish and you can see how an entire country (75% of all Laos’s people) relies on the fish from this river. If a neighbour upriver such as China would decide to build a dam or other ways to change the environment of the Mekong it would have devastating effects on the entire country of Laos. Now it still seems fine but I hope they acknowledge just how much they rely on this river and keep it like it is.
Don Khon – laid back paradise
So for that day our aim was reaching the Four Thousand Islands. We heard a lot about this area and everybody agreed: amazing place! Basically the Mekong flows south and at the border with Cambodia it spreads and reaches a width of 14km. It builds a lot of islands which are only accessible by boat, some inhabited and all without motorized vehicles. Most people, especially the beloved stereotypical English tourists, stop here on their way down to Cambodia and invade Don Det. We heard from travellers we met in very remote areas (and these travellers usually like the stuff we like) not to go there as it got very touristy over the years and basically turned into a small Vang Vieng (tubing city) with people going there for two reasons: cheap booze and lots of drugs. These places are horrible as they destroy this country and its culture and are so disrespectful to the local people. But well they told us to go straight to Don Kon, the neighbour of Don Det.
Don Kon did not have roads, electricity or running water until few years ago. We arrived here and what should I say, it’s just paradise. We have a bungalow built on the Mekong, with the water running beneath it. We have a terrace (on the water of course) with 8 hammocks, all with an individual fan. The view is stunning, Mekong, islands, palms, water buffalos, wooden small boats. We can order food and drinks (cheap and good) straight from and to the hammock. We have internet (the only 3 computers on this island) 5m from our bungalow. We can jump from our terrace in the water and take a swim against the current. We face westwards and get the most amazing sunsets. It’s just soooo good! And everything for around 10€ a day, including accommodation, internet, lots and lots and lots of food….
The story of an expat
We met Dim here; he is 32, French and is the first white person to settle down on this island. He has a crazy story. Turned orphan in Paris at the age of 14 he grew up on the streets of a suburb, until someone took care of him and taught him how to cook. Aged 18 he moved to Senegal and got a job as a cook for 5 years, but still living in poverty and working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. He stayed 10 years in Senegal, married a local woman, has a daughter (separated now and they live in Paris but the daughter comes by and just left Laos). Two years ago he moved here with his cousin and his Laos wife, they bought property and are building a restaurant and guest house. He wants to cook his bread, make his cheese, bake cakes and patisserie stuff and have an open air bar.
It sounds really nice as there are two kind of foreign investors we have encountered. The first comes to a place to make money, sets up western business makes money without respecting the local culture and population. The second type comes here, learns first about the culture and the language and then sets up a business complying with customs and rules of the locals. He is of the latter kind. And it sounds really good.
The first Hebrew skat instruction
He also offered us to show us around the island. As I said in the last mail they have the only schools of fresh water dolphins in the world here (around 300 exist), Dim saw 40 a few days ago and he said they are south of our small island and we will probably go there tonight for sunset to watch them, can’t wait. Also east of our island is the biggest and strongest waterfall of Southeast Asia, definitely hitting it soon. I believe that, considering that the Mekong transports 12 million litters of water every second.
Well now we are chilling here, have literally everything we need, lie in the hammock, listening to some nice music, drinking banana shakes, ordering food, reading, watching sunsets, going swimming and just enjoying this incredible place. We will stay here a few days, because then our trip will pass quickly.
One week sightseeing in Cambodia, Bangkok shopping, bam back home! So a few days of chilling first. And also after this place Shir will head in another direction and it’s the last place we are staying together. She also wrote down the probably first instruction to Skat in Hebrew in the world. It’s funny when we play it as they use all the German words as I do not know them in any other language.
Guys I hope you guys are fine; I have quite a lot of time here and might upload some pictures of Thailand and Laos on FB soon.
Sabbadii from paradise, I am having fried coconut rice and a banana shake now on the terrace with dim