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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