Monday, February 4, 2008

At a Laos

Are you tired of my Laos puns yet? Thankfully for you, we left Laos a few days ago and are now in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I'm so excited to see Angkor Wat tomorrow. Tomb Raider, here I come!

Anyway. Our last few days in Laos were spent on the lovely, quiet island of Don Khon in the southern Mekong River area known as Si Phan Don. It's also known as the 4000 Islands, because there are a lot of islands in the area, some big enough to be inhabited, some small enough to be completely submerged during the rainy season. We rented a bamboo-walled bungalow from a happy and perpetually-smiling man who called himself "Poppa"; he toasted our arrival with a shot of Lao-lao, a stomach-warming rice whiskey, and then poured some for us as well... and then he did it again. And again. On Don Khon, we rode bicycles around the island, ate delicious food (banana chocolate sticky rice for dinner dessert), and relaxed in the hammock.

On our last day in Laos, Poppa invited us to go see the nearby Khong Phapheng waterfalls, a 13-km long stretch of gushing water that would flatten a person in seconds. The ride to the waterfalls in Poppa's motorized long tail boat was breezy and fun; once there, Poppa pulled out his always-nearby bottle of Lao-lao and poured some out as a blessing, and then toasted us -- naturally, we then toasted him. Then he skipped nimbly down to the river's edge; threw in his fishing net; pulled it out, triumphant -- one fish. We thought he'd take the fish home with us for supper, but rather, he cleaned it right there at the river's edge and grilled it over a makeshift fire. It was a delicious snack and a fantastic experience. The sun was setting as we returned to our bungalow, and we watched as the sun's reflection on the water changed from yellow to orange to pink before it faded to silver.

The next morning we had an early start as we headed for the Cambodian border. The border formalities were easy, greased by the unofficial "processing fees" that paved the way. Our bus landed us in an unfortunately named town named Stung Treng, where we languished until the morning, when we got on yet another bus to get to Siem Reap. Siem Reap lies directly west of Stung Treng, but there are no buses (and no roads to speak of) between the two towns, so we had to drive five hours south-west and then five hours north again to get to Siem Reap. At the switching point, a town named Skune, we watched women balance baskets of gigantic deep-fried spiders and equally huge roasted crickets -- both local delicacies -- on their heads. Eeeeeeugh.

In more animal news, I saw my first tropical snake in Laos while we were riding our bikes through the forest. My reptile taxonomists can classify it for me; it looked like this:

It was moving really fast, but it looked exactly like that. I swear.


Wendy said...

I've been reading your blog since you began your trip but it's my first time commenting. I really enjoy your stories, but especially your photos. I can't wait to see the ones from Si Phan Don and that waterfall you wrote about. It sounded like an amazing experience!

Anonymous said...

Are you sure it had a human head???
Love your drawing :)

Val said...

How is that a human head? That is obviously a snakey head.