Sal’s Travelogue #4 – All Road Leads North

June 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Exotic South East

Following a quick stop in Cambodia, our writer Sal heads North towards Don Det to meet up with his two traveler friends, Antoine and Valeria. There, he was greeted by the sight of a very comfortable hammock hanging in the balcony of a room that the Canadians had reserved on his behalf.

Waking up whenever you want without any obligations – fundamental principles for the perfect holiday; and Don Det provided the perfect setting for such. It wasn’t quite the beach paradise I imagined it to be, yet the calm waters surrounding the island and the laid back vibe coming from its inhabitants was enticing enough for me to want to stay for a full week.

Don Det. Photo credit - Sal Sim.

Don Det. Photo credit - Sal Sim.

Sunset over Don Det. Photo credit - Sal Sim.

Sunset over Don Det. Photo credit - Sal Sim.

I found Antoine and Valerie at the Sunset Guesthouse and Happy Bar – no prizes for guessing why the places were named as such. They helped me reserve a cabana that faced an endless horizon that entertained the setting sun in full glory. When the day drew to a close, I was awestruck by how the sky would gradually turn from a calm blue to a rosy pink. With gentle clouds misting the horizon, the sight of a red sun drawing into the distance was nothing short of magical. For US$ 3 a night, I wasn’t expecting the best sleeping conditions – yet a bed, pillows and a mosquito net were all that I needed for a night’s rest in the cabana.

Although they had spent six full days in Don Det, the Canadian pair had not seen much of Laos, and dinner was a perfect time for the three of us to discuss where we would travel to next.

Happy that I was finally reunited with my friends, it didn’t matter that I was only spending a day and night in Don Det – because clearly, the real journey would be up North; deeper into the Southern Laos province of Champassek. Breakfast the next morning was hardly a concerning issue. A decent fill of bacon and eggs, and we were off on a boat to the mainland, which would become the starting point of our journey towards the Phou Asa village; famed for its elephant trails and nature reserve.

As you might recall, Antoine and Valerie were traveling on bicycles they brought from Canada – so how was I about to make it through 120 km? I walked. Though I still wonder what convinced me to attempt walking to the village, perhaps it was a good thing that my shoes gave way after 40 km along Highway 13. Every passing vehicle seemed curious as to what I was doing out on the highway alone. With pick up trucks passing every ten minutes or so, hitching a ride became no problem at all.

Our guesthouse at Phou Asa. Photo credit - Sal Sim.

Our guesthouse at Phou Asa. Photo credit - Sal Sim.

Soon enough, I was halfway along Highway 13, in the back of a heading North, towards the provincial capital of Pakse. All I had to do was get off at the junction that would lead me East towards Phou Asa. I had my eyes peeled to look out for the Canadians all throughout the bumpy ride, but they must have stopped for rest, since I couldn’t spot their shiny red bicycles.

After two rides and plenty of small talk with locals about the area, seeing elephant dung littered along the dirt roads helped me confirm that I had arrived at Phou Asa; famed for its elephant trails. The Canadians had not arrived, so I took the time to find lodging. The only guesthouse in the village was full, so the remaining option was a home stay with one of the village families. By the time Antoine and Valerie arrived, it was almost night. Thankfully, Mrs Seng and Mr Bai – our home stay hosts – had already prepared our rooms and dinner as well.

With a good night’s rest at the home stay, our second day there found us eager to venture into the conservation areas. To realize that an elephant ride would cost us about US$10 per elephant was a bit of a disappointment – but that was nothing to stop us from venturing through the woods on foot.

ban-tang-beng-4

Jungle Trekking. Photo credit - Sal Sim.

Jungle Trekking. Photo credit - Sal Sim.

The landscape in the reserve proved to be quite a mystery, as we trekked through forested areas, a hill made of volcanic rock and ruins left from an old fort. In all, it took us a good four to five hours before we completed our exploration. With an hour spent on lunch, it was about time we thought of a way to carry on North, towards Pakse.

While Valerie and I opted for a ride on the back of a truck, intrepid Antoine set off on his bicycle for a 60 kilometre ride to Pakse. Needless to say, Valerie and I arrived before he did – but it was already six in the evening, and guest houses were either full or too pricey. With rain clouds gathering above us, our frantic search for a room was the stuff of reality TV.

Somehow, I’ve always felt that these things have ways of working themselves out. That evening, I was right. Whether it was a matter of time or just our luck – we chanced upon the Nalin Tachaleun Guest House, with a vacant room for the three of us at 100,000kip (approximately US$ 10). As the rain began to pour, it was just Valerie and I, looking out from the balcony. While street lights flickered, with people clearing the streets – there in the distance we saw, a familiar red bicycle racing down the road with a foreigner peddling calmly. Antoine had arrived.

Sal’s Travelogue – #1: Solo#2: Saigon Green#3: Detours

About the Author. Sal S-S. A writer by profession, a free spirit by nature – Sal believes that his life’s one purpose is to see it all, learn it all and do it all. Currently based as a freelance copywriter in Singapore, it is for life’s many unknowns and uncertainties that he sets his sights beyond borders and into new discoveries. Living and working for the journey itself and nothing less, it is with pen in hand and passion at heart that he contributes to Unearthing Asia.