The first thing we were gonna do after waking up in Don Det is shop around for a better hotel for cheaper. It's funny bc even though you're not really in your room much while traveling, having good, comfortable accommodation can be the make or break it of a destination because it's so nice to come back to a place that's awesome after a long and sweaty day out and about! My favourite rooms are enclosed places where I can leave my bag open (i.e. no open bungalows with bugs) and crap strewn all over the floor because my bag is way too full and if i have to open and close it all the time, I'm an angry human. Anyways, Bridger had a black tank top hung on a hook on the wall of our room and as he was packing up went to grab it. I couldn't see too clearly but in my limited glimpse it looked like there was something on the wall when he picked up his shirt but he was still standing in front. Not thinking too much of it, I casually said "Bridger, turn around" and as he did we both saw it--what can only be described as a giant hand sized cave mammal of a spider spread eagle on the wall...in the room...that we just slept in the night before...with no bugnet!!! Oh.my.god. It was so huge and ugly I couldn't even look at it without screeching.
I've had spiders in my room before but this was way bigger than any bug I've ever seen inside! Since we were going out to see if we could find accommodation we couldn't just leave because then who knows where it would be when we came back-in our stuff, under our stuff, hiding in the bathroom, uuuuuugh. The only thing worse than seeing a spider in your room is having a spider in your room that you don't know where it is. Bridger's spider hunt 2015 began (haha I videotaped!). At first he went after it with the flat side of a book that he wrapped in a plastic bag (so you don't ruin it you know) because it was sprawled out on the wall but MISSED! So it ran (and by the way spiders are actually SO fast) down and lodged itself in the crack between the baseboard and the wall right by all our packs. Now what...it could stay there for hours??! And when it comes out, where is the most logical dark and covered place it will go--right under our stuff! I think after that Bridger (he's so smart) threw some sort of a plastic thing and by the grace of God and defying ALL probability it landed directly inside the crack right beside the spider...which scared the spider across the wall to the other side of the room...but then it stopped in the corner on the wall pretty well on the floor so still couldn't get a good and fast slam in there. Haha by this point I was long standing on the bed giving unsolicited advice with no intention of actually doing any of it myself. At this point we're also looking for any other tools we could use to destroy this thing. Bridger crumples a paper ball and throws it into the corner (again, perfect shot wtf?!) thinking it will scare the spider up the wall. No no no, the thing darts directly towards us zipping across the floor and where does it go...under our freaking bags...somewhere. At this point Bridger is on the bed too and requesting some sort of a "rod". WTF Bridger, we're in a bare bones hotel room, what kind of a rod do you think I'm going to find?! "The curtain! Give me the curtain rod" he says. So I reef on it a bit and of course it's like molded together and doesn't come off the hooks holding it in place. Of course more, Bridger comes over and it's just not an option that it's stuck together because he just pretty well barbarically rips the rod off the hooks and dumps the fabric on the bed. Good, now we have a weapon...but no spider. It's somewhere lost in our bags, maybe even crawled right in some crevice just to pop out later as I'm carrying my bag down the street. Oh god, this is the stuff of nightmares. So Bridger, from the bed, starts lifting and flipping bags with the curtain rod except he flipped everything over or moved it and there was NO spider there so now I'm freaking out that we have no idea where it is but it's obviously lost somewhere in our bags! Luckily Bridger saw it again climb behind the bag on the floor close to the baseboard crack. This time he poked at it with the curtain rod and sent the beast scurrying across the floor into another corner where he literally spear jabbed the end of the curtain rod into it like a total madman at this point and crushed it into a bunch of pieces. Haha spider bits were all over the corner of the room and the curtain rod. But we just put the curtain rod back spider guts and all haha. This room has giant cave dwellers and unlockable windows and a giant hole under the door...whats a few more spider guts. And then we celebrated the greatest defeat in our traveling history so far in a mix of laughing/screeching hysteria! And then after that we checked out and checked in to another hotel in Don Det town.
The area that we were in was called "Four thousand islands" and it was basically at the very southern tip of Laos, pretty remote from the rest of the tourist trail though quickly gaining in popularity. Here the river frays out into a million little flows and there are a ton of little bushy tree/mangrove islands throughout the clear (and not brown like usual SE Asian rivers) river and the pace of life is just really really slow and there's not much to do except hang out in a hammock and maybe splash around in a tube in the river for a bit. Knowing this beforehand I worried that we'd get there and it would be a pot and hippie zone but happily it wasn't at all and most of the people there were just regular travellers like us. The island of Don Det where we stayed the first few nights is kind of like a little gringo-ville with more foreigners than locals and supposedly a bit of a party life...as much as Laos will allow with its 11 pm curfew shutdown, though we didn't see too much party as most things were pretty empty when we were there in a perfect kind of way. Haha that is the type of travellers we've become-we hope for no people and total quiet with nothing going on!
Our first day we rented bicycles for like a dollar a day or something and rode around Don Det and neighbouring Don Khon island...exploring by bicycle is the best! Cheap, fast and exercise!
At one pint we came to a waterfall but they wanted about $6 just to get in so we turned around and rode away haha...cheapos! This time of traveling has actually been really different than my last relatively short trips where I filled every day with tours and activities for x number of dollars every day. Finding it a bit different here because we're travelling so long and on a budget, so we don't do all those daily adventure tours for $80 some bucks and when we do they are for something really unique and considered a "splurge". And we don't pay anything for things were not totally sold on doing. Or we try to opt for the "do it yourself" variety as much as possible instead of paying for the all-in single price tour package. But it's actually been quite amazing because it's working really well, we're saving quite a bit of money (never enough of course!) and really don't often feel like we're missing out.
We loved Don Khon island and decided to move there for the next 1 or 2 days in 4000 Islands. More on that later. When I returned my bicycle there was a local guy wearing what looked like a hearing aid who smiled at me. I smile back and return my bike and start walking away. Then he called me over and started writing on a piece of paper. "Welcome...to..." so obviously I thought he was going to say welcome to Laos and I was already a little charmed by how friendly locals were. Instead he wrote "Welcome to...massage" and pointed to a building! Wait, like is this a legitimate massage parlour or are you saying you personally want to give me a massage or what?!?! Either way I scurried away much like the spider in our room. When I got back to our room we learned that Don Det is like the buggiest place ever because we forgot to turn off our lights and little flies and other variety of creatures were everywhere--on our bed, on the floor, on the light, everywhere!! Haha the bugs are so populous in Don Det that we literally have squished bug all over our bare feet at every minute of every day because you just cant avoid stepping on them when they are dead all over your floor. So you just embrace bug feet and move on.
So "piers" in Cambodia and Laos mostly aren't piers but more like dirty dusty ground that the boats literally just cruise directly towards and run up on.
So when we needed to get a boat to our new island Don Khon, we just didn't know how! We walked down to the drop off/pu point but no ticket counter and no boats around. Nope, ok. So then we asked at a travel agency if we could buy boat tickets. Nope, nope can't do that either, ok. We ask some people, nope they don't know how to get to Don Khon. So then we sit at a restaurant close to the pier watch people and hope to get some clues as to what we are supposed to do and at the restaurant we saw something that nightmares are made of--a cat sauntered through the restaurant with something we couldn't quite make out over its head. We thought maybe it was a plastic bag but nope, as it got closer we realized that it was actually thick thick cobwebs draped entirely over it's face. Mother of god what a horrible thing to see!! Anyways still didn't get any clues So still not sure how we are supposed to get out of here?!? Eventually a boat came to load up other people who somehow had gotten a ticket and Bridger asked and the guy pointed to some random local guys just hanging out under a deck in hammocks. Haha so I guess how you get a boat in Laos is you just go talk to the sleeping hammock boys and ask them directly and negotiate a price. Ok done, finally on our way! It was crazy because all along the river was literally just rows and rows of modest little bungalows, some painted the most amazing turquoise color that I've ever seen. Actually Laos is pretty cool like that because they almost have a bit of a latin american feel because they love color and lots of their buildings are painted in bright turquoise, purples, oranges. Such a beautiful contrast compared to Cambodia's plain wood and bamboo. What was also amazingly beautiful is that Laos is full of water buffalo (I think they use for farming crops) and we passed several bathing shoulder deep in the river, a really awesome sight.
We got to Don Khon and set up in the MOST AMAZING accommodation ever! We had booked for 2 nights but immediately extended two nights again. Pan's Guesthouse was a very special bungalow because it had all the benefits of a bungalow (own private space, riverfront, hammock, deck chairs/table) but it was like, a beautiful bungalow for ninnies. Still our own separated unit with our own bathroom but totally sealed instead of open (not so buggy...only one cockroach which Bridger swiftly killed-he's very good at killing bugs) with beautiful french style wood interior with a tiered ceiling, beautiful green paint inside and the most princess like bugnets I ever saw. AND it even had AC!
And these people thought of absolutely everything for tourists because the extras blew our mind-things we never ever dreamed we would see in our kind of places while traveling. We had our own kettle (hello cheap cup of noodles for lunch!!) and cups, a power bar (i.e. you don't have to unplug something possibly essential like a fan to charge something else), a fridge WITH ice cube trays, wooooooow!!!
And all for like $14/night ea which is a bit of a splurge but justified considering we were spending the days doing nothing but relaxing, writing and reading on our balcony...well me anyways. Truly, here we were in this idyllic quiet paradise on the turquoise riverfront and there were days when Bridger just didn't even leave the room all day staying inside in the AC, happy as a lark. I'm not even sure what he could be doing in there all day but just having AC was enough to keep him cool and happy. Haha actually now that I think about it, I think he spent a full day tending to and mothering the creation of ice cubes! This must have been a very strenuous task because also somehow he managed to throw out his back so he couldn't really stand up properly for a few days there! Got me thinking a bit about what we would have done if either of us actually needed medical care as even basic care (all medical care in Laos leaves much to be desired and if I had a penny for every time I heard between Cambodia and Laos "if you have any problems, get yourself to Thailand" I'd be rich) was quite a ways away. Then it got me thinking how I would love to continue traveling until I die but I think I would feel so anxious being so remote and far away from medical facilities, especially because as you age you're obviously more prone to experiencing some sort of medical emergency. And then I fell back on my traveling motto "just don't think about it"!! Welcome to my stream of consciousness.
Anyways we pretty well continued on at this pace for every day we were in Don Det and even Bridger started reading... an actual book (usually he says "I read magazines"). And we played alot of crib, sometimes while drinking a bottle of $3 vodka which Bridger was very impressed finding. And since Don Khon is right on the river, one day Bridger and I rented inner tubes to float, except it was too expensive to take a boat to take us way upriver so we just walked through the village with our tubes to the end, got in and floated the half hour down. Then when we got there, we walked right back to the start and did it again...low maintenance way to float! It was so relaxing and so fun and since we were the only ones on tubes on the river, as always, foreigners and locals alike chatted with us or waved and said "Sabaidee!" (Lao for hello) as we walked by. Though we've experienced lots of waves and hello's so far, Laos is charming because it's actually the only place so far that locals actually greet you in their own language to which we respond with an equally enthusiastic "Sabaidee!!!".
Oh and I've become absolutely obsessed with sunsets and make a point to watch them wherever I can whenever I can...and Laos didn't disappoint! What was amazing was that the sunset were less about clouds and colors like home but about this amazingly beautiful, giant, perfectly round with clearly defined edges , so bright ball of sun...it sound so stupid and stonerish but I'm constantly in awe of how perfectly round the sun is and never even realized before that it's rare home that I see sunsets like this. It's always incredible and I only wish that the camera could do justice to what the eyes see. But I suppose that's the story of everything while traveling!
Don Khon is still quite rustic, pretty well consisting of one dirt road. 24 hour electricity was a relatively new development. So one time we were out for dinner and the power went out. This happens often in a bunch of different places we've traveled and usually it flickers back on in minutes. No so this time...it stayed off for about an hour ish while we sat there in the restaurant thinking it was probably better to stay there in open light (they had flashlights and candles) than try to go back to our bungalow and hang out in it in the pitch black. Bridger was a little antsy for power to come back on but I kind of thought the whole experience was kind of cool actually. Just a bunch of people trapped in a restaurant not knowing how long it will be before the power goes on, if ever! Haha while we were sitting there, animals roamed freely but especially awesome was that one of the free roaming chickens (this is the case everywhere in Asia...I don't know how people know whose animals are whose?!?!) jumped right up on to a table which I found to be a hilarious piece of irony considering it's inevitable fate!
It seems crazy to say but it has continually been so amazing to us how, even in light of spending your days leisurely eating, reading, hanging out or the otherwise daily activity, we ALWAYS run out of time every day! There is never enough time to get all of our emailing, researching, booking, laundry, writing etc. done on top of your daily regulars.
We actually LOVE this island and if we had the time, would stay way longer. It is the epitome of peace and quiet, it felt super safe and genuine and was actually quite cheap for an island, especially one frequented by tourists. The local people are insanely friendly and it's really cool too because it's kind of just local life as usual on Don Khon so there is still a lovely sense of Laos culture vs. a soulless tourist town. I remember one day walking down the little one street dusty dirt road and seeing all the kids in both elementary and middle school gather around a flag pole and sing something together after the end of school bell rang. I was also shocked all the time how little tourists there were around here especially considering its perfection-most restaurants were empty save maybe a handful of people each night and you saw way more locals than tourists walking down the street. Of all places we've been it was just so right and a perfect example of where tourism works!! When tourists come and bring in money and jobs but at the same time, are quiet, respectful, unassuming and don't come in massive drunken packs the locals stay friendly and happy and everyone just happily coexists. Oh man, it was awesome.
Where things aren't working so well is for the animals...if Laos had some animal rescue groups I would send them the way of Don Khon as there was the same group of local street dogs that lingered around. A few of the adult dogs had horrible mange (I think that's what it's called) but what was so sad was that there was a litter of 3 little puppies that had it so bad they literally rubbed aggressively against the bottom of chairs constantly. Then there was the dog that had one ball swollen to like 4 times the size of the other ball. And then the dogs would fight constantly and the poor puppies would get the brunt of it and you could hear them yipping half the day. Generally Laos people seemed to treat animals really nicely and take good care of their pets but obviously the stray animals fall through the cracks. Made me sad because there was literally no hope for any of these dogs that they would ever be treated so that was their life.
In unrelated news to anything else:
I am starting to get a bit nervous that I'm going to run out space in my passport because I'm an idiot (I know, first world problems). I made sure it was valid for much longer than the time I would need it and left it at that but didn't even think to see how much page space was left. While here I realized that this passport has Belize, Dominican, US and Guatemala stamps in it already so already starting with alot of page space taken. Wouldn't be a huge deal except that, now we keep getting all these visas which are not just stamps like most places but full page stickers! Haha I never thought I would get so mad when one country uses up one WHOLE precious page for the visa AND another smaller part of another page for the entrance/exit stamp. So one day, especially if I continue traveling beyond Bridger, I might need to make a stop somewhere and hit up the Canadian Embassy Note to self, if you're going on a long trip, always just get a new fresh, empty passport...
Bridger is really growing quite the beard though it took two months. I think the original plan was to shave it off after awhile but I think the goal has now changed to never cut his hair or trim his beard for the entire 6 months stay so we'll, quite literally, see the lengths this goes to...