Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cruising the islands

Taking a leisurely boat trip on the Mekong River
During the rainy season, this stretch of the Mekong River can expand to nearly 15km across, but during the dry season it recedes and exposes thousands of islands, hence the name, Si Phan Don or Four Thousand Islands. For our brief look at the area, we took a boat from in front of our guesthouse on Don Khong island and sailed down the Mekong past another large island called Don Som before we reached Don Det and Don Khon, two islands joined by an old railway bridge and the laid-back lifestyle that attracts quite a few of the backpacker crowd to its collection of bungalows and guesthouses. We hired some bikes to cycle around Don Khon, heading first to the Ly Phi waterfalls, some very energetic rapids that as we arrived, so too did a couple of trucks carrying a horde of Thai tourists, all dressed in the same yellow-coloured shirts and snapping away at anything that moved, including Tim and myself. We didn't see the bamboo fishermen who risk life and limb for their daily catch, but some of their basket-traps were in evidence. Our cycle ride also encountered Wat Khon Tai, a pagoda built on the site of a former Khmer temple with a few stones scattered about, as well as one of two railway engines, rusting in a field, left-overs from the French colonial age when they built a narrow-gauge railway to transport cargo across the islands. Our next and final stop before heading for the land-border crossing at Dong Kralor was the largest set of rapids on the border known as Khon Phapheng. The site is a tourist trap funded by the coachloads of Thais who arrive every day but there's no disputing the power of the rapids as millions of gallons of water crash over the rocks and into Cambodia every second. It was a great spectacle and we avoided the crowds by climbing down to the water's edge for a close-up view - mind your footing, one slip and you're history. It was a dramatic way to end our two-week stint in Laos, and it was fitting that water, which had featured heavily in our schedule, should have the last say. It was my first visit to Laos and I certainly hope it won't be my last - the country and the people are well worth making the effort.
Some of the bungalows on the island of Don Det
One of the few remaining crumbling French colonial buildings on Don Khon
The Ly Phi Falls, or Tat Somphamit, means 'trap (bad) spirits'
The Ly Phi falls are on the southwest corner of Don Khon island
One of the rusting narrow-gauge railway engines on Don Khon
The power and aggression of the Khon Phapheng Falls, on the border between Laos & Cambodia
Up close and personal with the mighty Mekong River at Khon Phapheng


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