Tag Archives: Cambodia

Bolaven Plateau & Waterfalls, Pakse, Laos (April 6, 2007)

We took advantage of the free wireless at the Pakse hotel to register our domain and get this website up and running. Pakse is a sleepy town which has a certain charm as the Lonely Planet guide puts it “The centre of Pakse retains the sort of Mekong River-town lethargy”. It became apparent this was contagious as we kept extending our stay much to the delight of the French Hotel manager and his Laos wife. (Apparently, it is illegal to have a relationship with a foreigner here until married)

Eventually, we dragged ourselves away from the screen and went on a day trip to explore the nearby Bolaven Plateau. Once past the traffic, a scenic rural landscape unfolded and soon we approached the turnoff for the Phasoume Resort & waterfalls. There were a small entrance fee and no charge for parking. The entrance obliviously went to good use as the grounds were impressively well kept. Wooden signs pointed us in the right direction as well as the gushing sound of the waterfall itself.

A picturesque fragile bamboo bridge lies in front of the falls and we stopped to take in the impressive view. They have also built a wooden platform for the optimal photo opportunities which a large animated Japanese tour group were taking full advantage of. So we decided to explore another side of the parkland wandering through a ‘tribal village’ although sounding contrived it isn’t and it aims to integrate ethnic tribal groups with tourism in a positive, informative way. Although I did have a problem with the caged animals on display including a young gibbon and a chained young elephant.

There was another waterfall which looked so perfect it seemed man-made and later I learned that it had been ‘enhanced’. The lack of tourists in this section was refreshing. Slices of wooden trunks were laid out as stepping stones making it easier to explore the jungle terrain. After lunch my pale Irish skin had turned a deep red colour so I had to buy a t-shirt to cover up, however, it was the ultimate touristy one ‘ I was in Champasak Province yes very beautiful’ was printed in large letters much to my embarrassment.

Further down the road, we turned off for the Tad Fan falls. Again we heard the falls before we could see them. We peered out from a rickety wooden fence to look at the view. Wow. Parallel streams flow down 120 meters to the pool below. The strong current smacking the rocky shelf halfway before descending further into a misty cloud. I stood mesmerised following one splash all the way down. We went to the restaurant balcony and zoned out on the view over lunch.

2 km further there is another waterfall called Tad Yuang. On arrival, you first pass the top of the waterfall with pretty bridges leading to islands with grassy banks that invited further exploring. Once you walk down a few steps the view slaps you with its intense beauty. To the right is a canyon deeply forested with peaks either side. A deep green haze spread towards the horizon. Halfway down there are seats built on a shelf all made of bamboo attached to a tree so tall it touched the sky. There is a strong mystical feel here a place perhaps in which fairy stories are born. On the journey back the sun was burning orange as it set behind the purple-hued mountain.

To finish the day we stopped at the Delta Cafe for a beer. Alex more hungry than I was ventured out for food later, to the amazing Indian restaurant ‘Jasmin’. Unfortunately, he was approached by a suicidal Slovenian who he couldn’t escape from for some time as beers kept appearing. The restaurant seems to attract these types of odd characters and swarms of hippy’s gather from the nearby backpackers also.

After the long day it was nice to be able to escape to our $19 dollar luxury room (with breakfast, a/c, ensuite and did I mention free wifi!) Tasteful archive photos in black and white adorn the walls and handwoven material in brown and rusty orange colours hang adding a cosy feel to the place while local wood carvings and wicker baskets are scattered throughout the lobby.

Finally, it was time to leave Pakse and we booked an overnight VIP bus to Vientiane the capital of Laos which was a 10-hour bus journey away. However, this VIP bus came with a hostess to greet you and show you to your seat, supply you with free drinks and a tasty rice meal. While eating we watched a subtitled movie from our reclining seats with leg rests and wrapped ourselves in the blankets provided. The lights and screen went out for the night and I slept soundly for the remainder of the journey until the hostess woke us with fresh cold towels. This was the longest bus trip yet the easiest one of our travels so far.

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Mama, Mr Happy & Four Thousand Islands, Don Det, Laos (March 31, 2007)

On the banks of the Mekong, we waited for our skinny longtail boat to arrive under a makeshift shack to hide from the afternoon sun. The mesmerising Mekong scenery soon made up for the cramped longtail boat journey. We passed tiny green islands reflected in the tranquil waters and navigated through a maze of sandbanks and narrow streams some seemed only ankle-deep until we reached our final destination ‘Don Det’. Coming from Cambodia I was expecting hoards of touts to await us however no one seemed too bothered that some tourists had arrived as the boat pulled up to the small beach. On arrival, the pace of life seems to have gone back a few notches and you feel a wave of relaxation wash over you.

It was getting dark and the island only has electricity for a few hours in the evening so we decided to check into the unappealing guesthouse with an en-suite western toilet for the night. Only a few minutes into the bungalow I looked up and backed out of the room slowly. I showed the lady who had checked us in a brown spider that was the size of my hand and she laughed and walked away. A few minutes later she returned with a broom. It took several whacks of the broom to kill the creature. With no hesitation, she picked the creature up in her hand and dangled it in front of me much to Alex’s and her delight.

Meanwhile, the English couple noticed what looked like a chocolate biscuit in their room which was stuck to the shoddy curtain and poked at it. It opened and fell to the floor it was full of maggots that then began to crawl over the floor. When they returned from dinner the ants had started to eat the maggots. We all decided it was our mission to get the hell out of there first thing the next morning. However, my other plan was to get very drunk so armed with cans of Beer Lao ( the only beer brewed in Laos) we sat on the porch in the darkness with eccentric characters and discussed the meaning of life and how to live it until the wee hours of the morning and I hit my bed snoring.

The next morning the English couple had risen early to check out the accommodation and recommended a place called ‘Mama’s Rasta Cafe’ with recognisable by the inflatable fish hanging outside. So with bags packed we happily escaped to the refuge of our new abode. On arrival, I was greeted by the burly Mama with a hearty laugh and a smack on the arse her way of being friendly. Her character made our stay in Don Det. She was our adopted Mama for the duration of our stay and the bungalow our home rather than just a place to stay. Being a hammock junkie I immediately fell in love with the communal balcony that displayed several hammocks overlooking the Mekong and the other uninhabited islands close by. Underneath the balcony is where Mama kept her beloved pigs which she often untied and squealing threw into the water for fun and our amusement as we looked on.

Eventually, we stirred from the comfort of our hammocks and rented bicycles to explore the island. We headed towards the bridge which used to be an old railway line in the French Colonial days now it is used as a toll bridge to get to the other island of Don Khon. After lunch, we cycled to the waterfall. We weren’t expecting much as it was dry season however nicely surprised as it was spectacular. Several streams splash down rocky cliffs and over boulders to the river rapids. Meanwhile, truckloads of Thai tourists in authentic bamboo hats and big cameras snapped away at each other enthusiastically. So much so that Alex got swept into a photo with a whole Thai family with a backdrop of the waterfall. As the sun was low in the sky the scenery really came to life and the sound of the gushing water was captivating.

That evening we discovered the ‘Reggae Bar’. It is tucked back from the road down a short pathway where sleeping bodies were lying outside under a mosquito net. We sat at a table amid the drunkenness and ordered a Vodka & Tonic. Mr Wath otherwise known as Mr Happy showed us the ‘happy’ menu. (‘happy’ on a menu in Laos normally means that there is some weed or other intoxicating substance in whatever your eating or drinking) on the menu among the usual stuff happy shakes, happy cakes etc. was a happy wedding party for $150, hangover breakfast including 500mg of paracetamol and 5mg of valium and for and for a little extra they will make anything ‘happy’ for you. As all electricity is run for only a few hours from generators every time someone ordered a shake the music died and the lights dimmed. Soon the candles came out as the generator was shut down for the night and a French girl started strumming on her guitar and sang sweetly to a hushing crowd, within minutes everyone was silent, mesmerised by the music. We all had happy dreams that night.

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I’ve been Ankored, Siam Reap, Cambodia (March 23, 2007)

Yes miracles do happen I did actually get up at 5.45 am to catch the 7 am speedboat ferry up Tonle Sap Lake from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap. The boat was similar to the one I took in Sihanoukville minus the Monks and was smooth sailing.

En route, the river slowly widened further and further until we were in the centre of the lake and could see nothing on the horizon except filthy brown water and a few fishing boats. Then we started to see lots of birds flying overhead some I had never seen before and buffalo along the edge of the water some grazing contentedly from the water while their owners baked in the heat and worked the paddy fields and some locals rummaged in the mud along the riverbank for what scraps they might find.

Being the end of the dry season the water level is at its lowest so to navigate the rest of the passage we had to jump on board another boat midwater. Now that doesn’t seem so bad but then add stupid tourists juggling oversized baggage, swarms of locals in boats that came from the huge floating village nearby to sell us bananas and cans of coke ’’no’ was a word they refused to comprehend and persistently placed food and drink items in our face while navigating onto the other boat. They were like acrobats jumping from one boat to the next to get there sale.

We passed the colourful water police station built on bamboo stilts in the water with a giant colourful sculpture of a bird on top of the roof. I doubt if much official work was done here if any. Then came the school the classrooms again built over the water and a large colourful building including volleyball court on the rooftop and playful kids swam in the water underneath in the shade.

The helpful Tuk Tuk driver in Phnom Penh called his friend to collect us from the boat and had a sign already for us “MR Alex” and was driven in an aircon car the 5 km to Siam Reaps centre where we stayed at our lovely Guesthouse with swimming pool and hammocks. That evening we set out for the temples and visited the main site, Angkor Wat, for a cloudy sunset.

3 hours passed with us exploring the vast impressive site. Climbing narrow stairs, dark passageways and discovering ancient Buddha statues covered in orange cloth and burning incense sticks. Buddist nuns in white robes knelt in front of the statues and chanted to Buddah while Buddist Monks in Orange robes wandered around the site as if almost posing for tourist pictures. Swarms of tourists congregated around there guide translating and Japanese tourists were plenty ladened down with huge cameras.

The next day we did the small circuit visiting Angkor Thom, Ta Keo the temple mountain that was struck by lightning and Pol Pots explosives & Ta Prom the tree engulfed temple that is left to the Jungle before the exhaustion finally set in.

Then again the following day we were back on the Tuk Tuk temple trail and visited the grand tour circuit. Including Preah Khan, Neak Prom temple lake (but was dry), Ta Som, East Meborn Temple Mountain that is covered in animal statues, the impressive Pre Rup Temple Mountain where you can see vast plains and Jungle from the top and finally the ruins of Banteary Kdei. So with 10 temple sites in 2 ½ days under our belt, we decided to call it quits and retired to the swimming pool at the guesthouse for the rest of the day.

As it is too pricey to fly to Laos from Siam Reap we decided to do the overland route so we are now back in Phnom Penh where we are making our way up by the Asian Karaoke blaring bus to the unofficial Laos border crossing in North-East Cambodia via the town of Kratie where there are rare dolphins in Mekong River. We are going to stay in the 4,000 islands ‘Don Det’ in Laos where electricity runs for only a few hours a day so I doubt if I will be emailing for a while. Take care and let me know how your all doing.

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