Due to the seductive sunsets of the MeKong and the Corona Virus, I have extended my stay in Laos. I am in a remote area known as Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don). It’s one of those places you go when you run out of places to go. Actually, it’s on the border of Loas and Cambodia when the MeKong River has the backward feel of a small lake in Michigan where you’d vacation as a kid. The putting of small motorboats, the splashing of waves against warped docks, the songs of night birds.
The Island I stayed at was Don Det. And yes, there are T-shirts.
But there is one difference between the Four Thousand Islands and Crooked Lake or Hemmingway’s Nick Adams stories. Instead of being stocked with small perch and wide mouth bass, there’s a peculiar fresh water dolphin lurking, known as the Irrawaddy.
Rubbish! I thought. A dolphin in a fresh water river?
“True! True!” The local tour guide insisted. “You take tour and you see!”
So in true fashion, I signed up with no clue to what I was getting into. I wanted to see the MeKong Nessy. But instead of getting on a tuk tuk, the tour group had to paddle their ourselves, taking kayaks down the MeKong River.
I knew we were in trouble when the tour guide instructed us how to turn over a capsized kayak. “Many of you flip over. Many! Wear life jacket!”
It was right out of the movie Deliverance minus the “Squeal like a Pig” scene. The waters were roaring, cascading over huge rocks, the waves the same glassy blue as my Dad’s Aqua Velva. I steered into the waves head on, and luckily, was not paddling alone. My kayak partner was the tour guide. The perks of being a solo female traveler.
At least two kayaks flipped, including the one paddled by the French girls in skimpy bikinis. The other, needless to say, was a kayak full of googling eyes.
But after the rapids and strong current, the MeKong mellowed out. Cambodia’s shaggy green mountains could be seen on one side of the river, Laos laziness on the other. And between, low and behold, the Irawaddies. I saw their arched backs break the glassy water!
In all honesty, these fresh-water dolphins looked more like swimming Bratwurst sausages than the Loch Ness Monster. Long grey tubes with big eyes, a slit mouth, not much else. Still, they were a sight worth seeing and so were the falls.
And did I get a picture?
No. But I did get a blurry picture of some monks.
So the MeKong Monster will stay a legend like Bigfoot and Loch Ness’s Nessie.
You can book a sleeper bus from Vientiane to Paske (Laos for mouth of the river) at 12goasia.com, then board a three-hour bus then a quick ferry to Don Det. Note: there several sleeper buses to Paske but not all are created equal. The one that the guy at the hostel is trying to hustle you for a better price? Well, remember, you get what you pay for. Don Dhet Island takes Loa Kip, USD and does offer cash exchange. I did not see a cash machine.
Other than seeing the MeKong Monster and having a slight coronary while navigating the rapids, you can enjoy copious amounts of Lao Beer on the island, amazing Indian food and sunsets worthy of an inspiration quote.
On a serious note, for the best updates in Asia on the Corona Virus, follow John Le Fevre, a photo journalist from Bangkok. @photo_journ