Getting away from Kong Lor is a lot more difficult heading south, no nice direct buses this way. On instructions from the very helpful hotel owner we took 3 separate pickups changing at 2 towns so tiny that I can’t find them on Google maps before stopping about 5 hours later in Thakek, the first place you’ll come across with a bus station. One of these pickups had a pig strapped to the back of it.
I had originally planned to visit Pakse, but was told I’d already missed the last bus there, so I bought a night ticket straight down to Si Phan Don (aka Four Thousand Islands) instead. I know I’ve already moaned about night buses several times, but I really had no idea what I was letting myself in for here. All the other night buses I’ve taken have really been night coaches. My jaw dropped when the bus to the islands pulled in. It really was a bus. A rickety, bone shaking, squeeze in as many people as possible local bus. The brief joy at finding there was no air conditioning swiftly disappeared when I discovered the windows didn’t shut properly and slid open a tiny bit more every time the bus jolted (and yes, it jolted a lot). Why is it that I never listen to myself when I say no more night buses? We actually stopped at one point to have the bus conductor tell everyone to move forward so the entire back of the bus could be filled with garlic.
Si Phan Don is the collection of islands in the Mekong Delta between Laos and Cambodia. The two main tourist islands are Don Det and Don Khon, generally described as Don Det being the backpacker island and Don Khon being quieter and more suited to families. I was going to spend a couple of nights on Don Det before moving to Don Khon in case I found Det too noisy, but it’s actually not a huge party place, most of the backpackers are content with a couple of beers and a book in a hammock, so it was just as relaxing as I planned it to be.
Although I spent most of my time here happily not doing much I figured I should engage in some activity on my second day, seeing as it was my birthday! Wooo! And what better birthday activity than torturing my arm muscles?
Me and Andrea, probably quite early on in the kayaking trip judging by how energetic we look. Andrea is Mexican and lives in Beijing and is generally awesome. She also happens to be the niece of Guillermo del Toro, which as well as being pretty fucking cool in its own right, means that I am now within four degrees of Kevin Bacon. (Seriously, there is a website where you can find this out. It is called the Oracle of Bacon. I’m so happy I found this)
One of the aims of the kayaking trip was to see the Mekong river dolphins, which are seriously shy, but are occasionally to be spotted close to Cambodia. You probably have more hope of doing this in a kayak than a noisy motor boat, but a large group of kayakers is still going to be fairly likely to scare them off, so I felt pretty lucky that after sitting in one place for about an hour we did eventually see three backs just breaking the surface (way too fast and distant for a camera though)
We didn’t kayak over this, don’t worry, this was just a photo stop. Aside from the number of hours, our kayaking was actually really easy, although the teeny tiny rapids combined with narrow passes through the foliage combined with several kayaks trying to get through at once (they did keep saying ‘one at a time!’ and we did all try, but these things don’t have brakes and at some point the river’s just going to move you whether you want to or not), meant that we did end up getting stuck in a bush. But at least we didn’t capsize as some people did.
Back after a very long day in time for showers and a birthday meal. I had mentioned to Andrea that it was my birthday and she took it upon herself to tell everyone else in the group and secretly arrange for them to sing to me at lunch. I knew it was coming (my Spanish may be extremely rusty, but I could pick out cumpleaños – birthday, and cantamos – we sing), but this didn’t stop me being embarrassed when they started.
Unknown to all of us, I wasn’t the only one celebrating! My birthday twin Mayuri hadn’t told anyone about her birthday so got very alarmed and confused when people started singing until she realised it was for me! We got to have a joint birthday meal and drinks afterwards though, although tragically we couldn’t find any cake that wasn’t ‘happy cake’. Which I suppose means I will have to bake an enormous 28 and a half cake for myself when I get home to make up for it. What a hardship.