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In search of paradise: Don Det to Ban Lung

by Jodie Twose, Caracas, Venezuela
email: jodietwose@hotmail.com

So Paradise didn’t exactly turn out to be Paradise, the name Four Thousand Islands, Laos, conjured up such wonderful images, white sand, clear water, blue sky, gentle breeze. The reality was something entirely different.

The journey to Four Thousand Islands involved a VIP overnight bus from the capital of Laos, Vientiane to Paske, then from Paske to an unknown village, and onwards to Four Thousand Islands. To be honest, I have no complaints with the first part of the journey; in fact, I would go as far as to say that this was the most luxury that I had experienced for many months. There was a toilet on board; I was in awe of this joyous feature, for months I had adapted to relieving myself on the side of the road, the less said, the better.

I arrived 6.30am to a village named Paske, at our arrival, the confusion commenced.

There were a handful of foreigners making this journey. But typical of the backpacker, no one really knew how we were to get to Don Det; Lonely Planet cannot predict all eventualities. Of course, each local guy had something different to say to us. Most of the foreigners were occupying a Tuk Tuk, just next to the bus. I didn’t mean to be abrupt, but I did pose the question to all the guys, where are each of you going? Every answer was different, at this; it seemed pretty obvious that the local Tuk Tuk driver hadn’t really thought this one through.  Everyone took both themselves and their bags off the overloaded Tuk Tuk.

Finally, someone had some sensible advice, not the most welcome, but it at least sounded as though it was correct. A local lady who spoke good English explained that we needed to take what I refer to as a “Chicken bus”, a local bus to.....ok, to this day, I have never been sure of the name; I was never a 100% confident of where I was going. But the advice was, take the 5 hour journey to this place, and then a small boat ride across to Don Det.  It seemed the longest 5 hours, but eventually I reached the place. The bus driver shouted at all the backpackers to exit the bus, we did so promptly. We had entered a bustling fishing village, name – unknown.

As though our arrival was expected, we were directed to a couple of different “boats”, to take us to our destination of Don Det. Here I expected to find peace and harmony, the journey was over, or so I thought.

Don Det, Laos

Don Det, Laos

Biking

Biking

Don Det, Laos

Dirt road

From a distance the place did look beautiful, the water, well, not exactly clear, more a deep brown. The sand, not exactly white, these were mud islands. Still, the place was not all bad, it was relaxing, and at times peaceful, there were bungalows overlooking the brown waters, and there were hammocks where you could lie back and allow yourself to be quickly eaten by the sparse population of insects, for them, these islands were paradise!

Jodie in hammock

Jodie in hammock

Determined to try all that was on offer, I and a new companion decided to try out the “Tubing”. This was a sport I had discovered in Vang Vieng, Laos, and so much fun. However, the Don Det version was something quite different. In order for the concept of “Tubing” to work, there is something essential, a current. The waters around Four Thousand Islands lacked such a commodity.  So when Mr Mo, our helpful friend, took us about a mile up river, then dropped us in the aromatic brown, cold river, lacking any sort of current, I attempted to remain enthusiastic. After five minutes, the sun was replaced by dark grey clouds, and rain, but, we were wet anyway, so this was no problem.

Half an hour later when we were still in the same spot where Mr Mo had dropped us, and I was shivering from the cold, my enthusiasm started to fade. I think a kind of panic set in, and I started to paddle like a madwoman, in fear of spending the night on this cold, smelly river.

Over and hour later, with a sprained wrist, we almost made it back to dry land, but as if by some miracle, the current appeared out of nowhere. Then it dragged us past Mr Mo’s and all the way down the river until it was possible to grab hold of some river weed. I held on for dear life, and managed to drag myself out of that river. I was pleased the afternoon adventure was over, as was my friend.

Rapids in Don Det

Rapids in Don Det

Rapids in Don Det

Ok, paradise clearly wasn’t working out. It was time to consider moving on. The next destination, Ban Lung – Cambodia.

So, such a crossing did not turn out to be a simple affair. In order to reach my destination, I was required to take 5 forms of transport: boat, sangthort, minibus, boat, “shared taxi”.

Mr Mo, was of great assistance on the Laos side of the border, but on reaching Cambodia, he passed me and a couple of others into the hands of Munny, a very suspicious and devious character, who seemed to revel in our discomfort. But, we were left with little choice but to depend on Munny.

At the Immigration point, we expected, simply to show our documents, and to carry on with the journey. We spent about 3 hours at this post, talking, waiting, and arguing. Seemed everyone was after our dollar. It was impossible to know who we could trust, and how to handle the situation. But what was strikingly obvious was that we were at a fairly quiet border crossing, with few people around. The guards had guns, and dodgy Munny was our only means to communicate with them. After what seemed like hours of negotiating, and an agreed price to let us through, we were finally in Cambodian territory.

We had another 3 hour journey in a “shared taxi”, 7 of us in a car, apparently, this was the minimum number of passengers, we paid more, in order to get on our way, the driver would have been happy to get a few more people in that car. My eyes remained tightly fixed on the world outside the car, observing all the places we passed, if I looked towards the passengers I was sharing this car with, I could only laugh, as all seemed in such discomfort.

Finally, we reached the destination, Ban Lung. It is in this place that I finally found my paradise. There was no white sand, no clear water, just long, orange, dirt roads, but the people, the place, the smell, the tastes, everything about my first stop in Cambodia, was where my journey with a country that will forever remain in my heart began. This was the real paradise.

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