The Lost Night in Shinanoukville and the Lovely Pictoresque Si Phan Don
Return of Andy!
Thank you for all those letters of support who have missed reading my witty and insightful blogs. I can confirm that I am back with a vengeance to give you an up to date repertoire of Laos and that lost night from Sihanousksville in Cambodia for New Years Eve. Lost night you say?, well I feel that a small part of my brain has been lost there, as I'm sure most of you also lost a few brain cells on NYE too! I've had a little bit of the 'writers block', but the thoughts and wisdom are now flowing again since having a hot shower (which are few and far between)!
Sihanoukville 30th December 2011 – 4 January 2012
What better place than the beach for a new years eve party I said to Annie, which she quickly agreed as long as we could find a place to stay. The bus journey from Battombong was quite scary, not on account of the safety aspect, but from all of the stories that people were telling us how full Sihanoukville is over NY’s. Having arrived very late, the tuc tuc man brought us to a fine establishment called GMP (or something to that effect) and a room cost $10 for a double room –result! In fact the room wasn’t great on account of several rat sightings, but it was fine over NY’s. We met some new friends whilst in SHNKV called Lucy and Will, who were interesting people from London and we went on to spend the next few weeks travelling with them.
We were aware of a big party called the water festival , which included the presence of the Cambodian Prime Minister, but felt that wasn’t really our scene. Our scene involved mass quantities of Angkor Beer, hand held fireworks, buckets of spirit induced refreshments, and a beach party with lots of people! Well, it wouldn’t be quite right if we didn’t have a proper party. With all of these seemingly complementary elements in place, the night turned out to be a bit of a blur, including swimming in the sea at quarter past midnight 1st January 2012. To make matters even more blurry, a friend who we met in Siam Reap was working behind the bar, so that meant extra large servings! Ps, always drink responsibly (http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/) .... ahem...
Me and Annie didn't see the morning after, but we did see the outside world from about 4pm, just in time for sunset! We set our sights on the 2nd January as a more positive day and decided that it was better just to write off the 1st day of 2012 as a necessary consequence. It does seem that we’ve had a few written off days, but as they say if you are to make a cake, you’ve gotta crack a few eggs.
On the 2nd, we decided to go on an island hopping boat trip to partake in some snorkelling, beach fun and general relaxing. There are actually lots of little islands located a few kilometres of the coast of Cambodia. You can also see the massive island of Phu Quoc in the distance which Vietnamese. I love snorkelling and we were taken to a few diving sites with coral reefs. Unfortunately it looked like the coral had died, and was in the process of regenerating, therefore not much activity apart from lots of pesky sea urchins and a small variety of coloured fish and Annie was upset she didn’t find Nemo. It was so hot over these few days in Shinaouksville and you don't realise how hot it is when in the water, and yes I burnt all of my back, which really stung for a few days. So for the next few weeks, I have been a factor 50 suncream nazi, and also wearing a t shirt in the pool/sea; how attractive I look..
Welcome to Laos!!
Si Phan Don and the Four Thousand Islands. Date: 17th January 2012 - 22nd January 2012
Our first port of call in Laos was the Four thousand islands which are located in the south of Laos and in the middle of the Mekong River. The Mekong River is an absolute natural wonder of the world. In the rainy season, the Mekong can be up to 14km wide here in Si Phan Don on account of the many islands and some are a few kilometres wide and perhaps 10-15km long, and some are just bushes in the river (they have to make up that 4000 number some how!). The islands are pretty self sufficient, with an economy centred around tourism, farming and fishing. and roads, and some have hills and mountains.
We opted to stay on an island called Don Det, which is a little more touristy than the rest, however we managed to find a nice little bungalow which hung over the river front. Happy with our humble abode, we set off on our bicycles for an afternoon ride to the waterfalls and the southern tip of Don Khon.
What I like about the thousand islands was the ability to do absolutely nothing and not feel guilty for achieving anything apart from utter rest and relaxation. A few beers or ice coffees by the Mekong, a few game of cards, or perhaps a little sketch of the riverside was the epitome of relief and indulgence. What a way to live your life, or perhaps it is only short lived. However, back to the real world and we can only have a few days here due to our over stay in Cambodia by a week, so we have to reduce the amount of time in Laos and Vietnam by a week or two.
On our last day in Si Phan Don, we hired some bicycles and rode around the islands of Don Det and Don Khon. We visited an amazing array of waterfalls called Khong Phopheng which were amazing. It appears that all of the Mekong River water that surrounds the islands all ends up coming through the waterfalls into a massive basin. There all huge waterfalls everywhere, so very fierce and powerful. The locals deem that the waterfalls are sacred as they believe it is the location where trapped spirits live, in between worlds and to swim in the waterfalls is forbidden. My first thoughts of swimming in these waterfalls wouldn't be of a culturally insensitive nature, but more of thought that my body would be snapped in two! Regardless of this quandary, the waterfalls are beautiful to see. The locals use fishing techniques on the smaller waterfalls, by erecting large wicker baskets across the width of the channel to catch fish. Apparently within half a day, it can catch a ton of fish! No wonder why the Mekong is so over fished! After the waterfalls, we rode down to the southern tip of Don Khon to witness the most amazing scenery in Laos (a claim of the Lao tourist office). I have to say it really was breathtaking, the photos don't really do it justice because it must be viewed by your own panoramic eyes. You can see into Cambodia from this spot and also the deep pools where more Irrawady Dolphin live, also all of the many little islands, and the massive width of the Mekong. Cycling back truly and thoroughly satisfied with our days events we settled down back at our bungalow with a nice bottle of Beer Lao with our smug grins! Truly stunning. Incidentally, I've tried nearly all of the beers in southern asia and Beer Lao is far superior (http://www.beerlao.la)!
Back on the boat to the main land, we set off northwards to Thakek by bus. The journey started on minibus to Pakxe where we transferred to a larger bus with mainly local passengers. The bus wasn’t comfy at all, and we were concerned when our luggage was loaded on the bus with us and on the back seat, instead of the undercarriage compartments, or even the roof. After about 7 hours on the bus, we stopped about 50km from Savannahket where some very strange activities took place. We realised why our bags were inside the passenger area of the bus when lots of farm vehicles rocked upto the bus with live stocks of large pigs, piglets, goats, ducks and chickens. It was really shocking to see the many hundred birds thrown into netted bags and tied up, with no space to move, all on top of each other, then tied to the roof of the bus. Then the large pigs, loaded into the the undercarriage, and the small piglets squeeling and crying into more bags on top of the bus. We was more deeply horrified to see the poor goats tied together standing upright to the top of the bus. God knows, that most of these animals probably die from stress, or undesirable squalid conditions on a speeding over loaded bus. We couldn't carry on with this journey to Thakek for another 4 hours on a bus where you can hear the sound of struggling and dying animals, so we got off in Savannahket which was only about half and hour away. I know Lao is a poor country, and I believe human life should be first priority, but I cant condone what we saw.