Monday, September 27, 2010

Laid-back Laos: A hut, a hammock, a sunset

Laid-back Laos: A hut, a hammock, a sunset was my first published travel story. Published in the Arizona Republic over three years ago on February 18, 2007. I had recently come back from a trip in southeast Asia where I spent a month in Laos. I had been living in Dalian, China and traveled south to Laos on a little adventure through Southeast Asia before heading back to America. Laos was a refreshing change from the fast paced frantic life of big city China. The people were so gosh darn nice and helpful, everyone was chill and relaxed, I never felt unwelcome, felt completely safe as a solo female traveler, and a dollar could buy you a hotel room (and a pretty nice one). Over the course of a month I traveled south from the northern boarder with China to Si Phan Don in the southern Champasak region. Si Phan Don a.k.a. "the 4000 islands" is a cluster of tiny islands, inlets, sandbars along a 50-kilometer stretch of the Mekong River. I spent the most relaxing week of my life on Don Det, one of the larger islands. I met a group of 5 single travelers on the boat ride to Don Det and we all got huts together along the coast of the Mekong. We literally did nothing for a week  but eat, drink, relax in our hammocks, wade in the Mekong, ride bikes and gaze at the stars.

I wanted to share my amazing experience with others so I wrote up a story and sent it to the editors of the Arizona Republic and within a month it was published. I have a feeling the 4000 islands aren't as secluded as they were in 2005, most likely there is electricity and Internet now, but I bet you can still find a hammock to relax in and a room for $10 instead of a buck. A few days ago my mom found an original print of the article and scanned it. Its difficult to read so I've typed it up.

Laid-back Laos: A hut, a hammock, a sunset

Si Phan Don, along a 50-kilometer stretch of the Mekong River in Champasak province in southern Laos, is the ultimate relaxation destination.
Si Phan Don means “4000 islands.” In the dry season, the Mekong recedes to reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny inlets, islands and sandbars. Don Dhet and Don Khon, the larger of the islands and linked by a bridge, offer tourists a year-round glimpse at island life and a chance to enjoy the traditional Laotian lifestyle.
The small, wooded islands lack modern necessities, such as electricity and telephones. Accommodations are thatched-roof huts balanced on stilts along the coast. The toughest decision is whether to choose a hut on Don Dhet’s Sunset Strip or on the Sunrise Boulevard, aptly\named by the locals. The basic huts provide only a bed, but what can you expect for a dollar a night? Each hut comes with a hammock strung outside your door, above the flowing Mekong waters.
The most charming aspect of Don Dhet is the locals’ trust of their guests. During your stay, you write your meals and drinks in a notebook, and the total is added up at departure. My total was $24 for a week.
The island offers a wide range of activities; two of the most popular are napping and reading in your hammock. All the local sights are best reached on foot or by bicycle.
Tat Somphamit, a set of raging rapids on Don Khon, is a beautiful place to see local fisherman wading for their next big catch. The islands have many hiking trails. Kayaking and tubing are great ways to explore neighboring islands. A short boat ride off the coast of Don Khon provides a chance to see the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins.
Peaceful sunsets are enjoyed on communal balconies along the Sunset Strip coast. Nights are spent traveling with flashlights to neighboring guesthouses in search of food, drink and company. Or you can lie in your hammock and enjoy the bright stars in the clear skies.
It’s a common saying in Laos that the farther south you go, the more relaxed it gets. You can’t get any more southern than the 4,000 islands.

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