Today is the only day we have on the island of Don Kohn, which is part of the frequently visited 4000 islands of Laos. We arrived here as the sun came down yesterday aboard a small, suspect looking, wooden boat across the Mekong river. The island is small so the plan today is to hire push bikes and explore this island as well as the adjoining Don Det island.
My push bike rode about as well as you could expect any 85p per day bike to ride. Constant squeaks, buckled wheels and dodgy breaks, it adds to the experience though right? 🙂 First stop was the most southern tip of the island where apparently you could see dolphins. I’m so surprised our bikes made it through the 5km of rough terrain and jungle, it was hard work and extremely bumpy. We got off each time we came to a bridge as these ‘bridges’ were basically planks of wood on top of an old train track. One bad placement of your foot and you’d probably end up in the river!
We finally made it to the end where we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Mekong river. We were expecting it to be touristy with booths selling boat trips out to see the dolphins but instead it was just a dilapidated sign with some pricing on it and it took a while to find someone who knew anything about the trip. Fortunately we met Tasha, a lone traveller from the UK, who was also looking to do the trip so the 3 of us split the cost and boarded a long wooden boat. After speaking to Tasha for a while and hearing of all her recent bad luck and scary travel stories (hats off to any girl who travels the world alone, I don’t think I could!!) Nick and I were half expecting the boat to sink with her on board 🙂
Tasha’s luck must have turned though as the boat survived and we even saw some dolphins! They didn’t come very close but we did see them jumping from the water about 10 times, which was more than we were expecting to be honest. They weren’t your typical dolphins either, they were rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. We felt so sorry for our boat driver that we broke our no tipping rule, after all she was about 4ft tall, 11 years old and should really have been at school or out playing and not ferrying us around for her Dad!
For the rest of the day we explored the island of Don Det. There is a bike trail that hugs the river and loops the island. Again, the ‘roads’ are a little challenging but the views more than make up for it. It’s probably the most rural, densely jungle place we have been so far. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you ride along the river watching battered up wooden boats transporting boxes of food from the mainland. There’s very little in sight that’s modern, which is nice, and makes for a very charming atmosphere.
Our little trip was even educational. At one point we found an old train with some history about the island around it. It turns out that back in the late 1800’s the French were trying to explore ways of opening trade between Vietnam and China. Their plans to send trade along the Mekong river were scuppered when they realised every route through Don Det’s 4000 island area in Laos was blocked by a waterfall. So to get around this they built a train track across Don Det solely so they could transport boats from one side to the other to avoid the waterfalls. These boats were purpose built so they could be dismantled into 5 pieces, put on the train and then rebuilt at the other end!
On the way back we bumped into an old chap who was on our bus yesterday. Turns out he’s nearly 70 and still travels to far flung corners of the world alone for months at a time. It’s fascinating listening to stories from fellow travellers as you go along, there seems to always be one thing in common though, after travelling once they all get hooked on it!