In recognition of Southern Laos’ efforts to position itself as a destination that is “charming by nature“, we present this story by Mark Bibby Jackson who appreciates “the beauty of less”.
The more I travel, the more I come to appreciate the beauty of less. It is many years now since the Lonely Planet books helped to achieve precisely the opposite, with majestic temples becoming virtual ‘no go’ zones as tour groups drown out the silence that used to deafen visitors and previously deserted beaches are overrun with tourists seeking a solitude that has long since elapsed. This is why we should value the tranquility we do encounter all the more.
A boat trip along the Mekong river in southern Laos is one such experience. Nothing much has changed here in centuries and it’s unlikely to do so in the near future. Lie on a deck lounger, pick up a paperback and watch the banks drift past, interrupted by occasional settlements and water buffaloes dousing themselves to escape the midday heat.
Our trip started with a two-hour trip drive from Pakse through some pretty uninspiring countryside. Here farmers grow only one rice crop a year and by the end of dry season, everything is scorched. This is not a word to apply to our first port of call.
The Pha Pheng waterfalls are the biggest in Southeast Asia. A kilometre wide in the wet season and 15 metres high, it is not without reason that they are dubbed the ‘Niagara of the East’ in travel literature. Even at the tail-end of dry season they make an impressive sight.
From here it is a short boat ride to the 4,000 or so islands that nestle in the Mekong’s waters, just north of the Cambodian border. Recently the islands have drawn backpackers following the river through Cambodia and up to Luang Prabang. The islands are full of bare-shirted travellers cycling along paths through the tiny villages scattered throughout the area.
In colonial times, boats would dock at the small island of Don Det and transfer their loads to the railway that linked it with the main island of Don Khone. Abandoned once the French left the country, the only sign of the line is a locomotive left stranded on the island and now enshrined as one of the archipelago’s main tourist attractions … Full story.