It started with my voice reaching a rather hushed and languid tone. This was on our second evening in Champasak while sitting in a restaurant next to an old French bridge that spans the Mekong River.
The food we ordered took longer than usual, which would have sent me and Heidi to a major bitchfest. Instead we busied ourselves scratching the bites of mosquitoes whose idea to welcome us was feast on our oh so delicate legs.
No, we did not have Beer Lao yet to cause my shift to sluggish territory, neither was I particularly exhausted. The taming down of my mood seems to be explained completely by Laos itself.
Our first stop in Laos was the town of Champasak to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wat Phu. Hiring a narrow boat, we crossed the Mekong and went directly to Wat Phu just as the sun was quickly setting behind the mountain.
Sitting on the slopes of the Phu Kao Mountain, Wat Phu is a Khmer Hindu temple complex composed of around three terraces. The main sanctuary is reached through a series of steep sandstone staircases flanked with frangipani trees. Its moss-covered walls give the whole complex a rather greenish tint.
Upon reaching the top we had a view of the vast plain spreading as far as our eyes can see.
At present the local community regularly visits the temple to worship, bringing small offerings made of flowers and leaves as well as to light incense.
(More pictures of Wat Phu, Champasak in this link from Facebook.)
In the evening we had a few drinks with the adorable guest house owner and his brother, who happened to also drive our tuktuk earlier in the day. The night ended at around eight in the evening. We thus went to bed at nine and woke up at six the following day, which was the longest sleep I’ve had in some months.
We left Champasak and headed further south to Si Pan Don, literally Four Thousand Islands. The collection of large islands and sandbars had been in the tourism map of Lao for quite some time now. Sitting close to the Cambodian border, Si Pan Don is supposedly the best place to be simply lazy and no one would take it against you.
So lazed around we did, explaining why my speaking was eventually infected by the lolling environment.
This part of the trip should be called "The Art of Doing Nothing". Well not really nothing as in nothing but close to that.
We did quite a few stuff to be fair, i.e. biked our asses off on unpaved roads squeezed between fertile rice fields and thick forests, bumped into languid cows and buffaloes, peered into wooden houses built on stilts, marvelled at waterfalls, and of course said "sabai dee" (akin to "hello" in Lao) to every friendly local we met, which was pretty much EVERYONE we met.
Did I mention we quaffed scandalous amounts of Beer Lao and gorged on uber spicy lab (some meat salad prepared with vinegar and herbs)?
For the two and a half days we spent in both Don Dhet and Don Khon (two of the most popular islands in Si Pan Don), Heidi and I would hop on bikes and after seeing the waterfalls or doing a circumferential tour of the islands, we’d stop in a river-side restaurant and order a bottle or two or four Beer Lao.
And then we’d hop on the bikes again, navigate the narrow and sometimes muddy tracks and well, eventually end up in yet another restaurant for more... what else but Beer Lao.
We also passed by a number of restaurants with one or two tables occupied by backpackers guzzling Beer Lao and oftentimes holding a roll of marijuana, the smoke of which wafting pungently in the air. Groovy!
And of course we watched the breath-taking Mekong sunsets while wishing they last forever.
The river-side scene can be nonetheless hectic for the residents when the sun starts to slide down the horizon.
Ladies bathe in the riverbank wrapped in sarongs that cling tightly to their bodies. Kids dive into the river while piercing the stillness of the afternoon with their squeals. Men bring herds of cows to graze close to the banks. Some youngsters also carry small baskets of fish they caught earlier in the day.
Many of the old people seem to be just content lounging on hammocks under their houses where the chickens and other fowls roost.
And when night-time comes it’s almost total stillness except perhaps for the lulling sound of the Mekong as it continuously flows.
(More Si Pan Don photos from Facebook here.)