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  • Writer's pictureDonna Kitchen

Abandoned on the Mekong - Day 2, Four Thousand Islands

The weather was already crazy hot as we woke to our second day on Don Det, part of the 4,000 islands in southern Laos.

Before heading off for the day’s adventures Kevin went looking to buy a new hat as his previous one was lost on the Bolaven Plateau Loop.  There really was that many to choose from but he ended up choosing this reversible bucket hat and joking that the bright yellow side would double as a life saving beacon.

Kevin's new 'emergency beacon' bucket hat

Hiring a motorbike we headed to Li Phi Somphamit Waterfalls and ‘the beach’ was exactly what we needed.  Hopefully this would offer us the relief we desperately needed.

Arriving at the entrance and paying 30,000kip, we crossed an old rickety bridge which was in the process of being reconstructed.   I imagine this area would be lovelier once the vegetation has an opportunity to bounce back when it rains but at the moment it was fairly dry and dusty.

I went and had a chat to the water buffalo with their young, cooling off in the shallows of a muddy pool of water.

Water buffalo family

A few little restaurants were in this reserve, eagerly waiting for customers.  Following the dirt path we found the rapids. In fact we heard them before we saw them.  Oh my, these rapids were crazy even in the dry season.  

It was difficult to fathom the sheer amount of water that was flowing over and in between the many granite rocks and boulders. An amazing sight to see.  Our photos can not convey the true magnitude of these waterfalls.

Rocks showing different water level heights

A fisherman on the rock shows the massive scale of rapids

Continuing further down the path, not completely melted away, we found ‘the beach’.  It was a large white sandy cove on the river that you were able to swim in.   As we walked across the burning sand we felt we were in a Solo thirst commercial.   Sliding carefully into the water from the slippery rocks, we welcomed the wet water.   Yeah, the water was wet but it was not cold, maybe only slightly refreshing.  Having to be careful not to venture too far out in the water as the current was very strong and you could easily become a part of the brown Mekong.

After a while, we dragged ourselves out, returning along the stinking hot sand, down the dusty path we found a new oasis.

Cool chill out spot

Sitting on the banks of the river was a cute little cafe/bar.  This man definitely knew his target market as even though the structure was the same as any others we’d seen, this guy added cute cushions, decor pieces and soft chill music in the background.  He added little finishing touches making it a serene spot to sit with a cold beer or juice and watch life on the little river below.  If coffee is more your style, he was able to prepare one for you from his shiny coffee machine.

A chilled bar on the banks of the river.

Watching the local kids flying from their zip line and swinging on their flying fox, enticed us to have another swim to cool off.  They were intrigued with being filmed on the GoPro and loved watching the replays of themselves.   

Local kids

We hung out here for a while but had to head back as we had a date with two English people, an inner tube and a sunset.

Tubing down the Mekong at sunset was not an activity we’d heard of before.  Yes, tubing in Vang Vieng was well known but not here in Don Det.

Looking back to Don Det

Meeting with Chris and Zillah at 4:30pm, ready for our sunset adventure.  We were introduced to the skipper as we boarded a long boat.  With four inner tubes hanging off the front of the boat, we puttered up the river.

Our Captain and boat

Arriving at the designated spot, we ‘not so gracefully’ lowered ourselves from the boat into the inner tube in the water.  I think Zillah did this the best.  Wow, this was amazing, where else in the world can you do this.   We were all thrilled to be here together, at this point in time and taking part in such a unique activity.

Pure bliss

Not long after we were settled in our tubes, the captain was wanting to give us our few belongings back.  No, we didn’t want them as they’ll get wet.  They can stay on the boat!  Nope, he wouldn’t hear of it and insisted that we take them.  Mmm, well this will be a challenge trying to keep these dry.  Oh well!

We were all laughing at ourselves and each other as we tried to maneuver ourselves around.   As we were paddling along we noticed these algae like clumps floating in the water with us.  What made this algae like substance a bit off putting was that it resembled clumps of poo!  As much as we tried to convince ourselves that it was a natural bi-product of the Mekong, you just couldn’t think of it as anything else but poo.

Notice the poo like algae in the water

We did our best to not see it, or touch it, we noticed our boat captain drive off.  Mmm, interesting!  We thought he was supposed to stay with you, following slowly behind, keeping an eye on you to ensure you stayed on the right path of the downward current.   There was another group who started at the same time as us so maybe he was watching over both of our groups while our Captain returned to shore.

Our boat captain disappearing

Not thinking of it anymore, we all slowly drifted down the river as the sun slowly sank behind us.  This truly was a magical experience as the colours of the sky and the river changed

constantly creating different hues of light.

Where else in the world would you rather be right now!

The water was warm, the sun was still hot as we continued to drift with the current. Mind you, we were drifting across the other side of the river now, separating from the other group and it’s boat.

Every so often one of us would remark on how our boat captain had not returned, as yet.

Chris having the best time.

Nevertheless, we continued comparing travel stories as the sun began to come closer to the horizon and we had the most beautiful sunset ever on the opposite side to the other group.

Another 15 minutes later the sun was about to disappear into the horizon.  No sign of our captain and the other group were now being slowly dragged on a rope by their boat, altogether.

Zillah floating away

Not panicking but quite concerned as the current was sending us in the direction of another tributary belonging to the Mekong. As us girls were separated from the men who were ahead of us.  We thought it a good idea to catch up to them and form a group and make ourselves to the left bank, where we were supposed to have been the entire time.

It was definitely dusk, the other boat and it’s group had disappeared entirely. We were on our own, lost on the Mekong.

Still keeping our spirits up to stop from panicking, we made a plan to steer ourselves directly to a group of huts with their lights on. Yes, it was now near on dark and lights were being turned on for the night.

Beautiful sunset but on the wrong side of the Mekong

There was also the occasional long boat running up and down the river.  I don’t know who started first but we all started calling for help.  Of course they couldn’t hear us over the sound of their noisy outboard motor.

(Please note lack of photos at this point due to panic setting in)

At one stage Kevin started waving his new yellow bucket hat  in the air, shouting SOS!  We were in Laos and I’m not sure if the locals would understand SOS.  But kudos to Kevin for trying.

It was now dark.  There is no way anyone would see us. We were slowly getting closer to the river bank as we paddled faster and faster.  All of us except Chris had short arms so our paddling wasn’t very effective as his.

All of a sudden I remembered Zillah had her iPhone with her which had a torch light.   She turned it on and started waving it around being careful not to drop it in to the river.

This worked!   Zillah announced that someone had seen us as they were flashing their light back to us.  To make sure, she repeated the move by putting her hand on and off the torch to make a blinking light. They responded with the same.

Yes we were saved. I say saved because at this point it time our anxiety levels had definitely risen, quite worried for our safety.

The boat slowed as it got closer to us. Thinking it was our boat captain, even though we were relieved we were really pissed off.    The captain of this boat was not ours but someone else from the shore of Don Det who noticed that our clothes were on the shore but we hadn’t returned. Thank goodness for that.

He came alongside us and gave us all some type of rope to hold onto. We were rescued and very relieved that we were having a bit of a laugh now.

This boat captain went to start his engine with a few pulls of the rope starter, but it wouldn’t start.  The laughing stopped.  Great, maybe now our rescuer needs to be rescued. Not a problem, he had a spare!

Locking the outboard into place, he pulled on the rope starter. No go. This one didn’t start either.  Now what!  Don’t worry he said, I’ve got a Honda.  Again, locking the outboard into position, he pulled on the rope starter and thankfully, away it went.  Thank you Honda.

As we were still holding onto our individual pieces of rope, he puttered back to Don Det shore very slowly.   Landing on the beach area we, not so graciously, fell out of our inner tubes.  When I stood up, I fell straight back down as my legs no longer worked after being so long in the same position.  We all dragged ourselves up the beach to the concrete path with curious onlookers from the nearby restaurant watching us.

Landing back onshore in complete darkness

Collecting our clothes we parted ways with Chris and Zillah promising to catch up tomorrow for a debrief.

We walked back to our guesthouse passing the little coffee shop where we had booked our sunset tubing adventure.  He was not aware of what had happened to us. We had a diplomatic chat with him expressing how upset we were.  There was no use getting angry and abusive as this is not a way to deal with issues, especially in Asia.  He was very apologetic and would follow up with our boat captain.

Returning to our guesthouse and washing the Mekong of us along with any of the algae poo like substance, we went out for a quiet dinner.   A debrief between ourselves and a few more than normal beers, we slept very soundly that night.

This would be a story that would be passed down the generations, probably embellished along the way of how we got ‘Abandoned on the Mekong’


Donna & Kevin.

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