So where was I. We just got down to Si Phan Don last time around, didn’t we? All rumpled and bleary eyed from the overnight bus trip? Yes, we did, we did indeed. Early morning found us stumbling down the only street of Ban Nakasang on trembling rubber feet, getting on that narrow wooden ferry boat to Don Khone. We stated our destination as Pan’s Guesthouse. We didn’t have a reservation with them, of course, but it’s always good to have a specific destination to tell the driver. The boat started off full of backpackers, but all the daft buggers got off at Don Det, and we had the boat all to ourselves during the beautifully scenic 20 minute drive to Don Khone. Lonely Planet somewhat misguidedly paints Don Khone as an upscale, pricey alternative to Don Det, the happy hippy island, although it does grudgingly admit that Don Khone is “greener”, more natural, and certainly more “authentic”. As things are today, though, it is easy to see that Don Khone is the clear winner when it comes to choosing between the two. Reasons for that will follow.
We got ourselves a 100k bungalow with hot water and river view, and finally had a well earned shower and a little nap. Hah, what, a little nap? No, girly poked me out of the bungalow on an enforced march to survey the perimeter. There turned out to be precious little to do on the island, at first glance. The island has an old, defunct, narrow gauge rail track with a couple of locomotives that are getting hard to recognize as such due to all the world wars, rust and trophy hunters. The train track was built by the french, as was everything else there, including a delightful bridge and some embankments. The Japs then used them during WW2, and the Khmers then looted most of the tracks to smelt into useless shit.
The bridge connects Don Khone to Don Det, but you can’t cross it just like that, oh no, you have to pay 25,000 KIP for a day pass. That day pass also allows you to see the larger waterfall on the west coast, Pha Pheng Falls. You can just skip the annoying paying by circling the island clockwise. It’s a long trek but it’s fun, and much easier if you rent a bike for 10k a day. The south end of the island has an old french harbor, where you can charter a boat complete with a guide for 60k and go dolphin watching. We thought that the Irrawaddy dolphin would be hard to catch a glimpse of, requiring getting up at 5am and all that naturalist crap, but apparently they hunt about at all hours of the day, with the peak hours falling conveniently at about 1 - 2 pm. We caught a few of the sausage shaped behemoths on camera, which was nice.
After that we kind of did shit all, as far as I remember. No, I mean, it’s not like we stayed inside and watched geckos fuck on the walls of our bungalow (they make the funniest sounds). We went out and looked at all the waterfalls, saw a huge greenish snake (I wanted to go after it with a bamboo stick in hope of catching some pictures but girly didn’t let me), rode the bikes, watched glorious sunsets and ate decent food, and even played a strange game with the local children, called “Slap the Ginger on the Butt”. I was too scary, dark and hairy, for the butt game. We checked out Don Det, too, and were very glad we didn’t get off the boat there with all the other backpackers. The place was claustrophobic and dark, the “Sunrise Avenue” very narrow, the restaurants overpriced and food shitty. Accommodations were priced pretty much on par with “expensive” Don Khone, except all cramped together. We also saw a drunk/stoned British cunt, who tried bumming a “backie ride” on my bike cos he was “so wasted, mate”. So yeah, skip Don Det.
We stayed in the Si Phan Don region for four nights, all of them on blissful Don Khone. When it was finally time to leave we got a 280k ticket to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see the Angkor Wat. It was a bit of a farce, getting out of Laos. We took the boat back to Ban Nakasang, where we wasted about two hours waiting for our bus at the bus stop, exchanging the dubious looking “tickets” we got from our hotel keeper for even more dubious paper stubs. And we had to hand over our passports to a shifty looking bent-legged fellow. He had to practically pry it from girly’s clammy grip. The bus eventually came along, and we were whisked off to the border, only half an hour’s drive away, where the shifty crew took care of ALL the formalities for 30$ (instead of the official 35$), we just had to cross the no-man’s land and wait for our passports at a pleasantly shaded roadside food stall. But then of course the bus “broke”. That meant basically that the Laotians did their part and now handed us over to the Cambodians, who would either cram us into cheap minibuses or, if luck held, transfer us to an older, shittier local bus. Our luck held, and after another two hours of waiting we got on an old clunker that eventually took us all the way to Siem Reap, only 5 hours behind schedule.