Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chilling on Koh Chang

I arrived on the beautiful island of Koh Chang with a smile on my face and happiness in my heart. I was ready to relax on the beach for a few days and this was the perfect location. Crystal clear water, white sand beach and the smell of salt water. I felt like I was at home immediately! It was an extra bonus because I arrived on my birthday! Happy Birthday to me!

The trip was very easy. A bus ride from Bangkok to the ferry, a short ferry ride to Koh Chang and then a taxi ride to White Sand Beach.  I had wanted to be on the beach for the weekend so I booked a room at the Rock Sand Resort. The taxi dropped me off at the local 7-11. I had directions to my hotel. I was told to walk along the path beside the 7-11 that goes to the beach.

I had met 5 Chinese girls that were going to Rock Sand Resort so, we had shared a taxi . I told them I had directions and they could follow me. I waited while the got their luggage. Oh no! They had rolling suitcases! I laughed as they tried to get the taxi to take them to the hotel. You just walk the beach until you get there. I was hungry and decided to get a little street food for the walk (500 m). They started tugging their suitcases towards the beach. I decided to grab a light meal outside the 7-11.
I got my corn and ate as I walked down the beach. Thank goodness for the backpack. The girls were struggling carrying their suitcases in the powdery sand. I passed them and smiled. People on the beach were laughing at the scene. Small girls with huge suitcases! Luckily, it was an easy walk for me and a beautiful view. I was already thinking about a swim!
I was greeted at Rock Sand Resort with a cool iced tea and a quick check in. As I was waiting, a man came up and asked "Where are you from?" As we talked, I found out that he was the owner of the hotel and he even bought me a birthday beer! It was so nice and I appreciated the kind hospitality. I knew I was going to like my stay here on Koh Chang. A nice peaceful birthday weekend. Ahhhh! I went to my room, unpacked (I was staying 3 nights) and put on my swimsuit. I had time for an evening swim before the sunset. I have one goal for this trip to Koh get rid of my crazy tan lines!
I swam out in the water and relaxed. It was wonderful. Then, I grabbed my camera to get some sunset photos of the area. 
I spent the next few days relaxing on the beach, reading my Myanmar travel book, watching dogs and crabs and napping on the beach. It was fantastic! I was relaxed and rested.  After 3 days, it was time to book a trip over to Koh Samet. I was ready for a few more people and some activity.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Adventures with the Thai Mafia in Bangkok

My time in Laos was running out. I had some personal business I had to do and needed to call the USA from Bangkok. So, Bangkok here I come! I decided to do an overnight journey by train. This required a 2 hour mini-van to the Thai border, a walk across the border, another 1 hour mini-van to Ubon-Ratchanthani, Thailand and then a 12 hour train to Bangkok. The one thing you find as you travel this distance is that you meet other travelers with suggestions. We all shared our experiences and I got several suggestions from others to only spend 2 days in Bangkok. Everyone said to get in and out. I was warned about the Thai Mafia (tuk-tuk drivers) and to hold my grounds. As everyone talked, my first reaction was they were all overreacting. I stayed optimistic.

As I was sitting in the back of the minivan, the back of the van flew open and two backpacks went flying out onto the highway. We were all thankful nobody was behind us because it would have been a serious accident. The van stopped and backed up down the highway to the bags, loaded them up and we were off again. Who knew you could backup down the middle ot the road. Everyone was cordial and moved over as we went backwards. Luckily the bags were fine. They were placed back in the minivan and we were off to Ubon-Ratchanthani. When we arrived at the train station, we waited and waited for the train. It arrived an hour and a half late. We noticed that there were no sleeper cars. Our car number did not exist. At this point the 4 of us compared tickets. The van driver had randomly handed these out to the 4 of us that were going to Bangkok. As we waited, the girl from Spain asked what our bed numbers we were assigned. I said 21, a guy from New Zealand responded 19 and the guy from England said 17. The Spanish girls eyes got huge and she said she had seat 19 also. We all compared tickets and laughed as we realized Spain and New Zealand were sharing a small bed for 12 hours. The sleeping cars were brought from the train yard and added to the train. We decided to play dumb and get on the train and deal with the seat issues when they came to check the tickets. It ended up that the Spanish girl and the New Zealand guy actually had the same seat but NZ's ticket was booked for two months from now! What?!?! He showed them the paperwork for his ticket with the correct date. The conductor told us he would have to buy a ticket for second class seating as the beds were sold out. He said they do this frequently when tickets are over sold and a tourist wants to go to Bangkok. He could get a refund of his sleeper seat when we get to the station. We all offered to rotate seats with him but he said no. We bought him beer and gave him some sleeping pills to make it easier on him. I felt so bad. We all crawled into our sleepers and went to sleep.

I was rocked to sleep by the train. I was fine until I woke up and had to use the facilities. I looked up and on my curtain was a huge cockroach! UGH! I grabbed a book and swatted it. I was really grossed out. I did not sleep the rest of the night. I swear I could feel bugs crawling on me! It was worse because the next morning I had little bite marks all over my ankles. Ugh! Yuck! The train was really gross and I could not wait to get to the hotel and take a shower.

I arrived at my hotel, Baan Dinso 2, and they let me check-in at 10 am! Yes! The woman was very sweet and insisted I have free breakfast. I asked if I could take a shower first and she said of course. I felt better once I had washed off the grime of the Thai train. After a quick breakfast, I was off to explore Bangkok. I needed to get a little business done so my first stop was Pantib Plaza for an external drive. I had filled up my computer and dropbox was downloading very slowly. Time to  just get a portable external drive to make certain I would not lose all my photos. I was told the easiest way was to take a taxi to the shopping area. I could do that. It was suppose to be about 75 Baht. I walked over to a taxi and asked if I could get a meter. He looked at his tuk-tuk buddies, they all talked in Thai and came back and told me 300 Baht ($10). I looked at them and laughed. I said "no, this is Bangkok not LA!" I offered them 50 Baht and they all laughed. One tuk-tuk driver offered me 60 Baht. I asked him how many stops. He got out his map and told me "No my friend. I take you to Big Buddha, another Buddha and Pantib for 60 Baht ($2). I was tired and just wanted to get my external drive. I countered with "No, just Pantib for 60 Baht." He responded that he wanted me to see the beautiful temples because it was Buddha day. I was tired of negotiating and said fine...against my better judgment. We traveled from temple to temple.

I walked in looked around but really I just wanted to go to the electronic store. I was a girl on a mission. I insisted he takes me to Pantib. He starts driving. He stops. Yes, this has to be my destination! I look around and he points to a travel agency. No, no,  no! I explained I want to go to Pantib. He gets the man out of the store and I am told we will not go anywhere unless I go in and talk to them. I was angry and kicking myself for not insisting on a meter taxi. I felt sorry for the girl. I chatted with her watching my watch. After 10 minutes I thanked her and left the store. Again, I insisted he take me to Pantib. He said "Next stop Pantib." Ok. Off we went, but not to Pantib. It was another tourist agency. I refused to go in. He finally said he would take me to Pantib. When we arriaved I asked "Pantib?"  He said yes and pointed to a large building. I paid him and walked into the store. It was a book store. Ugh! I found a sales clerk that informed me my tuk-tuk driver had taken me to another area. I was a long ways from Pantib. She explained how to get there on the bus. I was angry and mumbling to myself as I started walking. Several tuk-tuk drivers stopped to ask if I wanted a ride.  I said no and that was when they started calling me stupid. For some reason they thought this would stop me from taking the bus?!?! I had sworn off the tuk-tuks (Thai mafia).  I finally arrived at Pantib and got my external drive and a cheap waterproof camera. Then I asked for directions on the bus back to my hotel. The saleswoman was wonderful and helped me get to the right bus. The trip back was easy and relaxing. If you are in Bangkok, figure out the bus system. It is cheap and easy.
The next morning I was off to see the sights in Bangkok. I started off walking and found out it was "Buddha day." A man walked up to me and told me he was a school teacher and off for the day. I thought he was just friendly, like the Laos people, and chatted with him. Then a tuk-tuk driver pulled up and I got told how I need to use the tuk-tuks with yellow license cause they were government sponsored. When I said "no thank you, I prefer to walk" he got angry at me and told me I was a stupid girl. Whatever! I walked off. An hour later I met another teacher off for "Buddha day" and he was insisting that I wanted to go see a Thai boxing match today. I nicely told him no and I was not interested. The man had a complete meltdown. I don't know why or what caused it. At this point, a tuk-tuk driver pulled up and he got in. It was humiliating because he kept yelling that I was a stupid American that did not know anything. I just wanted him to go away. I waved goodbye and smiled then turned and walked away. He circled the block to yell at me. Ugh! Nice hospitality. I walked along to the river, through a park and then back down Koh San road for some street food.

I was full, happy and hot. It was time for a shower. Since it was starting to get dark, I walked a little faster. I stopped to throw an empty water bottle in the trash and turned to walk away when 2 huge rats ran in front of me. I screamed! Ick! Time to get home and off the dirty streets of Bangkok!

The next day, I had to go to the Myanmar Embassy to get a visa. From all of the books, this was relatively easy. I just had to get a taxi and arrive by 9 AM. I had the address and was ready. Now to negotiate a taxi. I waited and waited for a taxi to stop. Everyone was full. All I was getting were the damn Thai mafia tuk-tuks. I did not want to do this. The guy kept telling me he would take me there for 100 Baht with no stops. I finally agreed. Stupid, stupid me! He stops and I look around. I told him no, this is not the Myanmar Embassy. I knew that because I learned my lesson yesterday and looked up a photos of the Embassy. He had taken me to another travel agency. I was angry. I refused to pay him 100 Baht because this was not the address I had given to him and showed him on the map. The manager from the travel agency walked over and asked what was the problem. I explained I was suppose to be at the Myanmar embassy and was not paying him 100 Baht until I was taken there. After some lengthy discussions in Thai, it was agreed I did not need to pay anything, the manager gave him 2 fuel tickets and I could get the visa at the travel agency for the same price as the embassy. I was ok with this. I thanked him and went in. Yes, I know this is another scam. I am just glad I did not have to pay the lying, cheating tuk-tuk driver! The manager was very nice and accommodating. He apologized several times for the issue. I got everything worked out and bought a bus ticket to Koh Chang island for the following day. The next problem was getting back to my hotel. Ugh! The manager arranged a ride for me for 20 Baht and 2 fuel tickets. I thanked him and off we went. When he pulled over I was immediately irritated. This was not my hotel. I just wanted a drink at this point. He had stopped at a tailor shop. No! I finally went in just to get the pain over. The stupid thing I did was I actually looked at the skirts and found a linen skirt I really liked. It would be cool for Myanmar. The guy wanted to make a hard sale. I told him "no, I am leaving in the morning." He insisted he would have it done by the 7 PM. I just had to come back and pick it up. He was going to do it for $30 USD. I told them no, I was not coming back down to the shop. I went for the door. He followed me and promised to have it to the hotel at 8PM and would make any alterations I needed. I finally agreed. What was I going to be out? I waited in the lobby of the hotel from 7:30 to 9:00 PM. No skirt. Damn! I was irritated and finally called the shop. After several calls, I was told that I was not at the hotel and nobody was at the desk so they left it with the woman selling banana pancakes on the corner. Seriously!?!?! I was so stupid! I went out to find this woman. I knew the shop was lying to me. They never came into the hotel lobby. I found her and she had my skirt. After all of this, I decided I needed a banana pancake. Could this woman be in on the scam with the tuk-tuk drivers and the tailor? I don't know but the banana pancake was delicious! One good thing came of this day! Nom, nom, nom!
I returned to the hotel and tried on the skirt. No way! It was too big! Now I was tired and had a couple of options.
1) Throw/donate the skirt and be done with it.
2) Return to the shop to have it altered for free.
3) Return to the shop and demand my money back.
4) Find a new tailor to alter it and pay more money.
5) Throw it in my backpack and decide later.
I chose option 5.  I was tired and would deal with this later. I was going to bed and leaving for Koh Chang in the morning. I am ready for some beach life!  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rexaling Lao Spa Style

It is 97F (36C) in Champassak and I am hot and sweaty. I just biked for 2 hours along the Mekong River and I need to be pampered. I was riding down the road and noticed an organic spa. Hello! That has my name written all over it!

I was hoping for a traditional Lao sauna and a massage. But, the Champassak Spa did not offer the sauna. I studied the menu carefully. I decided to go with a tourist special. It included an hour facial, body scrub, hair treatment and scalp massage and an 1.5 hour oil massage. I asked if they had availability.  The woman smiled and said "Yes ma'am. We can begin immediately, if you wish." Yippeee! 

I was shown to a bathroom where I was instructed to take a warm shower and put on the phasin (Lao sarong) and sandals. I placed my clothes and backpack in a locker. Then, the woman took me to a small room where she scrubbed my feet. In Lao, the feet are considered very dirty. They should never be used to point, touch or placed on a seat. As you enter a home, business or temple you are asked to leave your shoes outside. At the spa, they wanted to make sure my feet were very clean before the services began. I was then given pair of clean sandals and a lemongrass herbal tea. It was delicious. I sipped on my tea as a soft breeze blew into the hut. I could smell the plumeria flowers from outside. Ahhhh! I was relaxing and could feel my body releasing any tension.

Next, I was taken to a small bungalow with a table and ceiling fan. I laid down and the therapist began with my facial and continued with the hair treatment, scalp massage and then the body scrub. She was very professional and spoke very good English. The scalp massage and facial were fantastic. I love having someone massage my face and scalp. It feels so good and very indulgent. After these services, I was escorted to a wooden veranda overlooking the river. I was given a tray with teas and fresh fruit while I relaxed and waited for my massage.
Finally, I was escorted to the hut beside the river for my oil massage. The massage bed overlooked the Mekong River. I was so close to the river, I felt like I could reach out and touch it. The massage was very professional, therapeutic and utterly relaxing.  It got my blood pumping into every muscle though, leaving me relaxed, yet more invigorated, like every good massage should. The Champassak Spa is really something different, as the sounds of the river and the garden are as central to the experience as the massage itself. Once you have been rubbed and massaged from your feet right up to your head, hot tea is served on the open veranda looking out over the river. I sat and enjoyed the calm. When I changed back into my clothes, I realized I had spent 5 hours being pampered for the bargain price of $45 (USD).

Life in Champassak is laidback. This is the kind of leisure activity that is slowly being replaced by cheap tourist spas with none of the charm. Champassak Spa is a French sustainable development project. It creates jobs for the local people to allow them to stay in Champassak rather than migrating into the cities. The staff are given lessons in massage, wellness, English and a few will be trained in management to provide sustainable business for the locals. The Lao hospitality is wonderful and provided a relaxing experience.  I highly recommend the Champassak Spa and would enjoy returning for another afternoon of pampering.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Don Daeng Bike Adventure

I was off to explore the small island of Don Daeng on my last day in Champassak. The hotel arranged a boat to take me and pick me back up 5 hours later. I was assured "easy to get bicycle on island." I should have asked more questions. But, I didn't. A short boat ride and I arrived on the beach of Don Daeng. My boat captain left me at the shore and said I had to bring him a Beerlao when he picked me up. Ok!

I walked up the beach to the hotel. As I approached the resort, I was greeted by waterbuffalo happily grazing the grounds. I went to the office to enquire about a bicycle rental.  The manager explained he could only give bicycles out to guests, since he had a limited number of bikes. He was very apologetic and told me good luck finding a bike in the village. Oh well. I would walk the island if I couldn't find a bicycle. I thanked him for his help and headed towards the village. It was a beautiful little island and the people were friendly. As I passed their homes they yelled out greetings "sabaaidee!"
I was humbled at how excited the people were to see a foreigner. This must be what movie stars feel like! They were friendly and excited to greet me. I walked a kilometer and found a place to rent a bike. Finally! I think it was the only place on the island. I was off to explore the island. It was so quiet and beautiful. I only saw one guesthouse/resort and family restaurants along the side of the road. The island is primarily a farming island with cattle and rice fields. As I biked down the main road, the children would run out to look and wave. This island was more laid back and quieter than Don Khone. I didn't think that was possible.

I biked to the end of the island when I decided it was time to head back towards the boat dock. I was hot and I knew I could relax and have lunch before going back to Champassak. As I biked back, I suddenly got a flat tire. Uh-oh! I was 8 km from the village! It was hot and I had drank my bottle of water. I got off my bike and started walking back to town. The locals would stop me, look at my tire and shake their heads. One young boy walked me to a man's home where I could get my tire fixed. I was so thankful! The man took me into his house and pulled out a chair for me. Then his wife and daughter came and brought me a bottle of water. I thanked them and took a big swig. Immediately, I knew I had made a mistake. The water was salty and gritty tasting. I couldn't spit it out. That would be rude.  I realized it was not bottle water. When they brought out a bucket and poured it into another bottle, my suspicions were verified. They brought me a plate of fruit and filled my glass with more water. They smiled and the woman pointed to my eyes and her blue socks. Then she pointed at my hair. I smiled and she ran her fingers through it. They were so sweet. What could I do? I smiled and thanked them. The daughter left and came back with a bag of ice and a 7-up. I thanked her but tried to explain I don't drink soda. They would not take no as an answer and so, I had some 7-up. The woman then grabbed my hand and took me to her garden. It was beautiful. She had flowers and fruit trees. She cut flowers and made me a bouquet. Then she took me to where she was drying mangos and gave me a whole bag of dried fruit. I thanked her again. When we returned to the front porch there were 4 people waiting to meet me. The smiled and giggled at/with me. I laughed as people walked by their home and stared. I was definitely the attraction! When he finished repairing my tire, we talked a while and then I tried to pay him for his work. He kept refusing. I could not let them do this for free. I felt bad. I finally got him to take some money when I gave it to his daughter for her education. I smiled as I left this generous family. They were so kind and hospitable to a stranger. I truly love the Lao people for this trait.
I jumped back on my bike and looked at my watch. I had 40 minutes to meet the boat. I pedaled quickly towards the village. I was a kilometer from returning my bike when I got a flat on the front tire! Oh no! I walked quickly and returned my bike. I apologized to the family for the flat tire and they said no problem. I thanked them when they offered me a ride to the boat. I was back in time and had a cold Beerlao for myself and the captain. Whew! It was a fun adventure even though things went wrong. I felt safe and was never worried. My only worry is will I get sick from the Mekong River water? Only time will tell! I am keeping my fingers crossed that I have a strong system and no GI trouble.

Chilling in Champassak, Laos

I left Don Khone in the morning. I had arranged a bus north to Champassak. I had met several tourists that talked of the quiet charms and I decided I would venture to the village. I realized quickly, I was the only passenger going to Champassak. Wow! It is off the beaten path! The bus ride was interesting...they always are! I noticed the bus driver kept pulling into gas stations but was not able to purchase anything. Finally, he stopped at a roadside stand where he got a large plastic container, a hose and a fence post. What was happening?
I sat on the bus watching to see what was going to happen next. The men walked under my window. The positioned the fence pole next to the bus and placed the plastic container with gasoline on top of the pole. Then, while smoking a cigarette, one placed the hose in the container while his buddy sucked on the other end of the hose. They were filling the bus with gasoline. I looked at the guy next to me. He was as white as a sheet and started gathering his stuff to get off the bus. He kept saying "boom!" I had to get a photo. Really?!?! Yeah, I probably would go up in flames!
Luckily, there were no problems and we were headed north again. The remainder of the journey was uneventful. I was left at a corner in the village of Ban Muang and the man pointed to a woman selling water. I told her I wanted to go to Champassak and she asked for 25,000 kip. Then she pointed to the boat landing at the end of the road. A boat had just left the dock and she yelled for him to come back. He did! He pulled up and I got into the boat with 2 guys from Poland. They had just arrived in Laos and were not use to traveling. I gave them tips as we crossed the Mekong River towards Champassak. I listened to their concerns and explained that in Asia, some things don't make sense to westerners. They never will and you are better off accepting it and going with the flow than complaining about it. One of the guys laughed and told his buddy to breathe and enjoy the experience. When we arrived at the boat landing, we walked up the hill and met a tuk-tuk driver. He offered to give me a ride to my hotel. The Polish guys asked if I wanted to share a tuk-tuk to Wat Phu. Sure, just let me leave my bag in my hotel. We negotiated our price and the driver told the guys they could leave their bags at his guesthouse.
After a short stop, we were off to explore Wat Phu. This is an ancient Khmer religious complex that dates back to pre-Angkor Wat (5th century). It was small compared to the Angkor ruins in Cambodia but the similarities in the architecture were striking to me. The site had similar carvings as I had seen in Angkor; dancing women, warriors and carved doorways. The three of us explored the sight.

Afterwards, we headed back to Champassak. My Polish travel mates decided they were going to hitchhike to Pakse. I laughed and told them good luck. I offered them my floor if they were not able to find a ride. They laughed and said they may be back. They must have used their charms to get a ride. I did not see them again. I spent some time walking the small village before dinner. The village is small but 30 years ago was a seat of royalty. That grandeur has long since departed. The village has a main road with colonial-era homes mixed with Lao wooden homes. This town reminded me of a rundown version of Luang Prabang but with the potential to be charming. I liked the quiet streets and locals that were excited to see the few tourists in the village. I ran into the French couple I had met in Don Khone at my hotel. They had liked the village and returned to spend 2 more days exploring. They gave me several tips and insisted that I need to rent a bike and explore the area and also take a boat to Don Daeng Island to explore. Since we had similar travel styles, I took their advice and decided I would stay a couple of days. As I walked back to my room, I laughed as a herd of cows were passing down the narrow main road. There were no street lights or lanterns. It was dark and quiet. The only sound I heard were the cowbells as the cattle wandered through town. I smiled and knew was going to enjoy this village. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Gone to the Beach - Don Khone

After a few days of "city living,"  I decided it was time to get off the beaten path and head to southern Lao. I talked to several tourists trying to decide if I would make the journey to central Laos to experience a 7km cave. I know I should not take other travelers opinions but I did. I had seen my share of caves in Laos and was ready for some island life. So, I bought my ticket to Pakse. I left Vientiane on the 8:00 PM sleeping bus. I was excited to see this bus never know what experience was ahead! It was an 11 hour journey to Paske. I had not made any hotel arrangements. I wanted to see if I was going to be able to handle another 3-4 few hours down to the islands or if I wanted to rest for a day before continuing south. I boarded the bus and found my bed. Yay! It was a flat bed with a pillow and blanket! Granted, I was going to be sharing this space with a stranger. Who was a flat bed! I look for the positive with overnight travel! I got comfortable and waited to meet my bunk mate. As long as they don't smell, I am fine! I got lucky and had a Russian guy that was really nice. The couple in the bed next to us were a Lao (woman)/Swiss (guy) couple with a lot of advise for Lao travel to the islands.  They were headed to 4000 Islands to buy riverfront property for $2000 USD (100 m x 50 m). He had been traveling for 18 months by bicycle and actually spent 6 months as a kayak guide in the islands. It was interesting listening to his suggestions and stories about Laos and China business that is ongoing in the country. My bunkmate was actually traveling on business and was looking for Lao exports to Russia. We all sat and shared travel stories, experiences and talked politics as the Russian shared his food. He came prepared with croissants, cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies and milk! A great picnic. The conversation and company was fun. Another example of what I love about traveling! The conversations and experiences don't happen at home. I smiled as I got comfortable and told my bunkmate he could hit, kick or push me over if I try to snuggle or steal his blanket or pillow. He assured me that he had no problem putting me in my place. I put on my headphones and fell asleep. I awoke at 5:30 AM to the sound of honking. I sat up and noticed it was a herd of water buffalo crossing the road. This continued for the next hour as all the farm animals seemed to be wandering across the highway. Definitely more laid back than water buffalo crossing the streets!

Since I had slept well, I decided to continue on to Si Phan Done (4000 Islands).  As I said my goodbyes to my sleeping buddies, I found a bus that was headed towards the islands in an hour. I bought a ticket, loaded my bag and waited. My Lonely Planet guide book described 4000 Islands as the land where the "pendulum swings more slowly and life is more laid back, a world disconnected with the mainland." I was excited to see how life in Laos could get any more laid back and I was ready to explore some islands. These islands are on a 50 km stretch of the Mekong River in southern  Laos. You can see Cambodia from one island. During the rainy season, this stretch of the Mekong River reaches 14 km wide, the widest stretch before arriving in the South China Sea. However, during the dry months, the river recedes and leaves behind hundreds of islands and sandbars. I decided to head here since it is suppose to offer a glimpse of traditional river life in Laos villages. I chose to go to Don Khone.
The bus arrived in Ban Nakasang after 3.5 hours and I signed up for a boat across the Mekong River.  I was thankful for my backpack as I walked about 500 m to the boat ramp, across the beach, over a large cement drain and to a small boat. I laugh every time I see people with the rolling suitcases...doesn't work on this type of travel! We boarded and were off on the quick trip to the islands. When I arrived in Don Khone, I walked to a couple guesthouses to check on availability and prices. I decided to splurge for the Sala Phae floating houses since I got a great discount. It is a great little bungalow floating on the Mekong. I had decided to stay for 3 days and was going to enjoy the views!
It had been a long trip and I was ready for some food. I got a quick bite and took a walk around the small village. It is quiet and relaxing. Small dirt roads run along the island. It is described a genuine Lao river town with family ran guesthouses, bike rentals and small restaurants. As I walked along the path, I was charmed by the small village life. The locals know what happened in Vang Vieng and do not want the same to happen to their island life. 
It started to rain and I took that as a reason to go back, shower and read about the island. I grabbed a drink from the fridge and went out on the porch to enjoy my view. The rain stopped and the sun came out just in time for an amazing sunset. Ahhhh...I was going to enjoy island life.
The next morning, I decided to go to Li Phi waterfall. I know about the Lao afternoon sun and decided to leave early. It was an easy 4 km walk to the falls. I headed down the main street. I stopped to watch a gibbon next to my hotel. He was a pet and spent his days outside in the cage and lived in the house at night. His name was Lao for Escargot and he screamed like an ambulance siren. It cracked me up! (I posted a video of him on my Facebook page for Continental Hopscotch)

There are no street lights but many animals crossing the road. I stopped as piglets ran across the road in front of me an a small herd of cows walked towards me. Just out for their morning exercise and breakfast! The road to the waterfall passed rice fields and Lao homes. I laughed as there was no fee to the waterfall but a fee for all bridges in the area. Ok. I walk through the park and I am surrounded by trees and herds of cows. I was a little concerned I had gotten lost but I could hear the waterfalls. I eventually found them....WOW! There were several (7-9) all coming together in one gorge. It was beautiful and this was the dry season. There were fisherman out on the rocks making there way to put out nets by the falls. CRAZY! I talked to one and he told me "Safe. Fishing since I was 5." Safety is different in the USA than in Laos! Afterwards, I walked to the natural Lao swimming pool at the bottom of the falls. It was hot and I really wanted a swim. I was the only person except for the Lao workmen building a bar. I decided against swimming when I looked up and 10 men had stopped what they were doing to watch me. I got a little uncomfortable and decided to wade in with my clothes on. I went knee deep.  It was warm and had a pretty good current. I was done and headed back to the village.
I returned to my bungalow for an afternoon swim and reading on the porch. As the sun started to set, I noticed the locals headed to the river for their evening swim/bath. The children played in the water. they were delighted to have a Styrofoam cooler that they used as a boat. Meanwhile, the woman washed their hair. It was a fun scene to sit back and quietly watch as the sun set over the river. Another beautiful sunset at the end of a relaxing day.

The next day, I awoke at 5:30 AM and decided to get a little exercise before breakfast. I went walking east to another waterfall, across the suspension bridge and back up the old railway path. I got back to the guesthouse in time for a shower and breakfast. Then, I rented a bike to explore Don Det island. It is connected to Don Khone by a French bridge built to connect the railway.

Don Det was a nice bike ride and the southern road was the most beautiful. The remainder of the island is a backpacker haven, nice but not as beautiful. It has a lot of inexpensive accommodations and restaurants and caters to the backpacker crowds. I was happy at my age that I stayed on Don Khone! I enjoyed a great lunch on the island and then road back to my bungalow. It was the middle of the afternoon and time to relax by the river and enjoy my last day on Don Khone. I went for a swim in the Mekong and enjoyed a beer as the sunset on Don Khone. Another beautiful day in paradise.