MAN!! Did Gray and I struggle to wrestle and sleep from the clutches of the sweltering heat last night. It was bad enough, but electricity here on the islands cuts off around 10.00pm after which not even the rickety old fan was their to assist us. Sweat exuded constantly from my body until wriggling and drenched from top to toe, my silk sleeping bag liner stuck to my body all over I began to feel like what it would probably be like to try to extricate oneself from a used condom. Disgusting!
Today’s one and only main activity ahead of a heavy does of chilling to max in hammocks back at the guesthouse is a visit to the Khone Phapheng or ‘Big’ Waterfalls as the locals less imaginatively (although accurately) refer to them. The sight of this marvel has been tantalising me from postcard stands all the way south on my journey through Laos so I’m excited to finally be heading there.
All of the little tin-pot travel agencies on Don Dhet will be able to organise this trip (and any others you care to think of) for you. Prices on most trips, big or small do not vary from one place to another so don’t bust a gut trying to save that precious half to one Dollar. It’s probably not worth the insult to the economic status of the people here abouts. 50,000 Kip ($6.60) seemed to be the going rate at the moment (80,000/ £10.50 if you want to add a boat trip to try to glimpse the Irrawaddy Dolphins) but you might get less if you get a big group together.
Everyone first piles into the little Longtail boats to be ferried across to the far east bank of the Mekong and then it’s all aboards sweltering mini-vans for the 25 min drive south, close to the Cambodian border, where the falls reside.
Believe me, if you find yourself in this stretch of the world you HAVE to come and see the Khone Phapheng falls. They are absolutely incredible. “Okay okay!” if you’ve been lucky enough to stand in the presence of the Victoria, Angel or Niagara Falls then you may stand and yawn a little here, but this is by far the most violent and captivating cascade of river-force that I’ve yet seen in my life. The Khone Phapheng falls apparently stand at a 1km breadth of the Mekong at this point of its concourse so only a smallish portion of the total falls are visible to the pedestrian visitor, but that is magnificence enough. Millions upon millions of gallons of water drop down every minute here at the ‘Big’ falls. Khone Phapheng represents the largest volume of water passing from one level to another in the whole of Southeast Asia and Southeast Asia contains a LOT of waterfalls! The almost violently white waves, ribbons and showers of water that break over the Mekong rock basin here have quite an earth-juddering force of nature contained within them.
Stevie & the Falls
It’s hard to remember the gentle sub-aquatic tree-speckled stretch of seeming calm that the waters have just arrived through. To associate the one state of calm with this raging, psychopathic other face. Likewise, turning to face south where the electrifying white buzz of the tumble-churned waters quickly begin to smooth back down to a milky calm, one can’t believe where all that monstrous energy has so suddenly dissipated to. They grow calmer still as the waters progress south and cross the Cambodian border where we shall tomorrow. The falls are mesmerically photographic and you shall have to forgive a certain repetitiousness of image on this occasion. One for the waterfall fans out there!
Ferried back to Don Det.
There’s little more to do than have lunch (Gray, Sven, Mario and I) and try to keep our cool now that the midday sweat is on. Our meal is accompanied by the ear-damaging and depressing razz of a large chainsaw that is being used to fell a large, old old tree here on the walkway through the ‘village’. Progress once more my friends. Why have this tree when we can squeeze one more internet café in huh? During the hour of our lunch, teams of locals straining on ropes to make sure the branches and trunk fall in a safe direction, the poor tree and its soul are efficiently hacked to pieces and left to bleed upon the dusty ground. Come night fall it will be being cremated.
Later I decide to finally introduce myself bodily to the ‘Mother River’, the waters appearing cleaner in appearance here than at any other stage of my journey so far.
I patter down and enter the cool refreshing waters, and half swim, half drift a kilometre or so down the river, bumping into Mario on an inflated tube halfway along my drift. I scrabble out onto the banks in line - as planned - with ‘The Bakery’. ‘The Bakery’ unsurprisingly is a bakery that resides about 10-15 minutes walk south of the main tourist thoroughfare of Don Dhet. Run by an ex-pat (Brit? Aussie? I was never quite sure) this place has the best fresh baked breads and cakes that I had in the whole of Laos. Absolutely delicious!! You must, must go there if you find yourself on Don Dhet. Or ‘The Bakery’ will find you as come evening the lad that runs it walk around town heaving giant silver trays filled with his cake-baked treats for you to buy at your leisure.
“Yum! Yum! Yum!”.
Time to swing back, relax and think of Cambodia!