After another corrupt border crossing we made it into Laos. An immediate difference we noticed was that it was much cleaner than Cambodia and sticky rice is eaten at every meal. Often the Lao will refer to themselves as “luk khao niaow”, which can be translated as “children or descendants of sticky rice”. Once arriving, we took a long boat to the 4000 islands. We stayed on Dong Khon, an island on the Mekong River and enjoyed relaxing in hammocks. It was quit the journey following the Mekong from Vietnam to Cambodia and Laos. We rented some bicycles and explored the neighboring island, Don Det and enormous waterfalls, Khone Falls and Pha Pheng Falls. We ended each evening with a beautiful sunset over the water.
We had the opportunity to see the critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins (freshwater dolphins). According to WWF Global, there are only 85 Irrawaddy Dolphins left in the Mekong of which only 5 in Laos (the remaining are in Cambodian waters). The main cause of death is entanglement in gillinets, which we saw hundreds of throughout the Mekong. The largest threat to this species is the proposed 260 megawatt Don Sahong Dam in Laos, just 3 km upstream from the pool. This dam would destroy the waterfalls (photographed above) to create a reservoir upstream. Although hydroelectric power is less damaging to the environment than other forms, it is still unsettling to know we are pushing species to extinction all in the name of energy.
This sleepy town was a refreshing break from the tourist loop. With less than a handful of small guesthouses, restaurants and convenient stores it was easy to enjoy the serene riverside town. The main attraction in this town is visiting Wat Phu which overlooks the Mekong Valley. This is an impressive archaeological site with 2 ruined palace buildings, and a once Hindu now Buddhist temple. After climbing narrow stone steps surrounded by dok jampa (Frangipani) trees you are rewarded with an outstanding view.
After a short ride in a sorng taa ou (truck with benches in the bed) we arrived in Pakse. This large province capital had a big tourist scene as it is a hub for transportation north and south, to Vietnam and to Thailand. I was feeling sick so I skipped out of the days activities while Nick and Dan (Nick’s dad) rode scooters to the Bolaven Plateau. On the way to Paksong, Nick dropped his scooter in the rain but only received minor scratches and there was no damage to the bike. On the muddy road to Lao’s largest waterfall, Dan dropped his bike in the mud. Finally, to make a hectic day even more chaotic, Nick accidentally locked his keys in the scooter and had to drive the other bike to Pakse and back for the spare. This was a long day for Nick and Dan driving in the rain and into the night, however it sounds like it was a perfect day for me to miss!