Laos-Down the Mekong and to the east

When I left Vientiane to the South, half of my time in Laos was over, as well as the first half of my whole trip. The following 800 km on national road 13 brought new challenges, but this time rather psychological than physical ones.

National road 13 follows the course of the Mekong river, leading through one of the few non-mountainous regions of Laos. During my preparations I’ve often heard that it isn’t a nice route, but my travel plan forced me to take it.
The days passed by in an indistinct manner of getting up, cycling, sleeping. My health was bad and the feeling of isolation, which used to come after a week before, now came after just two days sleeping in the tent. Although some good pictures originate from this time, I felt too jaded to take photos and often I just passed by good motives, always feeling the need to seal myself off from stimulations of the surrounding world.
I spent the temporal midpoint of my trip behind a school, and on the first morning of the second half of my whole trip I was just asking me all the time how I should endure these three more months. Strangely I never thought about going home. I think I simply lacked strength to do so. It was easier to just pedal on and shut my mind down. When I arrived in Pakse, I holed up in a hotel room for almost three days. At the second evening I coincidentally discovered a graveyard that became one of the most important serendipities of my trip. Maybe it somehow matched my distinct morbid mood in that moment. In between old trees there where hundreds of graves filled and surrounded by big jars full of bones and the ashes of the deceased. I spent hours there and it was this decay that brought me slowly out of my dull cocoon.
My most important motivation in that time was the prospect to spend Christmas week on one of the Mekong’s 4000 islands with other people and a, at least temporary fixed, home. They islands aren’t located very far from Pakse and so I arrived on the island Don Som a few days before Christmas eve.

The 4000 islands form a part of the Mekong immediately before the border to Cambodia. The river unfolds in countless arms with approximately 4000 pieces of land in between. Most of them are just a few square meters tall, but some sprawl for several kilometres. I stayed on the rather small island Don Som in the Don Som Riverside Guesthouse. I don’t want to advertise here, but it was the most beautiful and warm-hearted accommodation of my whole trip. It’s managed by a Laotian woman and her husband from the Netherlands. Just two cosy wooden huts, a kitchen, a small village, untouched by tourism and a free view on one of the arms of the Mekong. As planned, I stayed there for one week and spent time with the other guests, with walking and doing excursions.

At Don Som I had bought a kilo of sticky-rice and a bamboo-sieve for steam cooking it. For the next four weeks I had to carry it by bike until my parents came to visit me in Vietnam and take it back to Germany with them. I already started to buy household-articles as a souvenir on earlier trips. So back home you can hold the memories in your hands and the things get their own stories.

A few days before new year, I was on the road again. After Pakse I went to the east, passing two mountain ranges to Vietnam. The road led over the Bolavan-Plateau, a 1200-meter-high plateau on which coffee is grown. New year I spend in Attapeu, the last city before the Vietnamese border. The region is one of the most remote of Laos. There’s only one an asphalt road since a few years, and in most villages, there is just one water pump, built by UNICEF. Because of the thousands of UXOs the USA left here, I couldn’t leave the road.New year evening I wasn’t alone. Everywhere on the streets people sat outside, drinking and doing Karaoke. I was invited several times and was offered so much alcohol that I was already back in my hotel room at 0:00.

The last four days in Laos offered me a new physical challenge. On these last 200 Kilometres before the border, with only two villages, I had to overcome a thousand meters of height per day. That sometimes meant pushing ten meters, having a short break, pushing again and so on. The temperatures were still around 40 degrees Celsius, but nature was awesome. Because of the UXO’s the land has stayed untouched. Huge trees were standing side by side, and I listened to the sounds of wild Gibbons during breakfast. On the fifth of January, after a long last slope, I finally passed the border to Vietnam.

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