A Travellerspoint blog

To Pakse and beyond

sunny 26 °C

Once we got to the mainland, we were all bundled (surprisingly efficiently) onto minibuses headed for various locations around Laos and Cambodia! Our 2 hour journey to Pakse only lasted about 3 hours (not bad compared to the last two journeys!), and we arrived at about 2pm. We checked into a hotel (60,000kip ($8), which buys you a proper toilet and hot shower, but unfortunately not a softer bed!). We then headed out to get some munch, and lo and behold, there were two Indians right down the street. Hurrah! We had one spinach and potato, and one kidney bean and tomato, with rice and cheesy naan bread. Tasty tasty! However, apparently Susie ate too much again (always happens with Indians somehow), and she spent the rest of the afternoon with a sore stomach and feeling quite dozy!

After our late lunch, we went to the Tourist Information Office, to find out about our options. We wanted to do a trek, but at $150+ per person, there’s unfortunately going to be no trekking for us, boo. However, we found out about homestays on Don Kho, a small island 15km away, which is going to be our next port of call. We then had a wander around the (very limited) sights of Pakse, (although note to any travellers – there are LOADS of ATMs here, so don’t panic about money – we had issues finding out about this before we came!), went to an internet cafe for a while, and then went back and got an early night (there doesn’t seem to be anything to do anywhere at night, so it’s lots of 8pm bedtimes for us!).

We started the next day with a very tasty (and local) breakfast of noodle soup, which comes with various accompaniments that you can add yourself, such as green beans, lime, chilli, fish sauce, a herb that’s similar to mint but we’re not sure it is, etc. We both accidentally added too much chilli, but it was very yummy none the less.

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After our brekkie, we went and spent a while on the internet downloading a few things, went back to our room and made the most of a long, warm shower (it’s been a while since we had a consistently hot shower. Mmmmm), and then after a little wander, returned to the curry place for lunch (slightly smaller this time so Susie’s stomach didn’t explode!).

Then it was time to sort out getting to Ban Saphai, the village on the mainland next to Don Kho. We tried to get a local sawngthaew (translates as ‘two rows’ and are just covered trucks with a bench down either side), but this proved to be beyond us, so we got a jumbo (Lao tuk-tuk) for a far too high a price, despite our best bargaining. Grr! However, we arrived at the beautifully peaceful Don Kho, via a initially pleasant, but ultimately annoying boat jouney, when at the end the driver demanded three times more than his mate had said on the shore. We reluctantly paid up, feeling it was unwise to annoy the locals when we were hoping to stay in one of their houses, and hoping that this island proved itself worthy of the money we were spending getting there!

When we first arrived on the island, the first person we saw was a European guy wandering around the pagoda. So much for getting off the tourist trail! He pointed us towards the main path, and at the first house we asked about homestay. The woman made a phone call, and then proceeded, along with her neighbour, to try to sell us the silk sarongs that she'd made; Don Kho is famous for silk making, and all the women here have a loom underneath their houses. Apparently you can learn, and Susie did want to, but once she'd seen how complicated the looms were, she gave up on that idea! Anyway, 5 minutes later, after we'd admired their sarongs, but insisted that we didn't want to buy one, a cheery, fat monk showed up, who sent us off with another lady. She was in charge of our homestay, and took us back past the pagoda to our home for the night...
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Our room was nicer than we expected, with a proper (if very uncomfortable) bed, but unfortunately was seperated from the families area by a door that they kept carefully shut all the time. In fact, the whole time we were there, the family didn't seem too bothered about really spending any time with us, despite our best efforts. The language barrier was naturally a problem, but other than the main woman, none of them tried to communicate anything more that hello in any way and didn't stick around for long enough for us to try to talk to them, and even the main woman only spoke to us to the level needed to tell us what we needed to know, or to answer our direct questions.

So, seeing as we felt a bit in the way, we went out for a walk. It started nicely enough, past lots of friendly locals, who all had a cheery 'sa bai dee' (hello) for us as we went by. We followed the edge of the island, that led us to a cow field...
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...a short detour later, we got to the village on the far side of the island, where we had a nice wander, and finally paddled in the Mekong river (after spending so much time on/near it!)
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Well, do you???

Then we headed up into THE WORST FOREST EVER at the south end of the island. A very stressful, ant infested, scratching branch filled, mosquito biting 100 mile (well 2km or so) trek later, we finally emerged the other side, mentally and physically scarred!
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It looks innocent, but IT WASN'T!
We went back to our house, where we were joined by another British girl who was going to be staying in the same house as us. We went and watched some of the family we were staying with and their neighbours harvest their rice outside.
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We also wandered around, saw a boy fishing....
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...looked at the local pagoda...
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....and watched island life go (slowly and infrequently) by. When we returned to the house, we watched our hostess cook dinner....
...and tried to offer to help, but weren’t really able to. It was fun to see how she cooked the food though.
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We went up to the house, and a little while later she brought our dinner up to us. We had sticky rice (Lao fave), with a tasty beef and vegetable stir fry, and a yummy, if very spicy, dipping sauce, followed by papaya.. We ate on the floor, and felt very local, but unfortunately the family took their meal into the room next door, so we couldn’t eat with them.
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After dinner, we all played cards for a while, John was a man and killed a horrible huge bug with a shovel head, and then had fun cleaning our teeth in the little bathroom....
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...and then went to bed.

I think we can both honestly say that we’ve had better night’s sleep! The very uncomfortable bed combined nicely with the cockerels outside, the monks banging at massive drum at 4am, and the insects outside! We pulled ourselves out of bed at about 6:30am, since the family had been up since 5:30 when it got light, we felt it was about time we started our day too! We had a little wander round, and watched the sun rise over the river. It was very beautiful and peaceful, and lovely knowing that you were on an island with no tourists, outside us 3, and all the locals just going about their mornings business.
We went back to our house, and had breakfast; more rice, this time with chicken soup, another dip, and bananas. After breakfast, it was time to pack up and head back off on the boat.
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Overall, we did enjoy our homestay, and we wouldn’t rule out doing another one, but it didn’t allow us to feel as integrated as we hoped it would. It just felt like being in a guesthouse really, and the family didn’t really seem that interested in us, or in showing us about their lives. It did give you a really good feeling of how they lived though, and perhaps we were just expecting too much from it. Plus it was really quite expensive - 80,000 kip each including food, which is double what we've been paying for a hotel and two meals each in the rest of Laos. The guidebook, and I assume most people, justify it by saying that it's giving money to some of the poorer families in Laos, but this family was really well off compared to some of the people we met at Grace House; they had electricity, a fridge, a tv, their own toilet, etc. Whilst it was nice to see how they lived, it would have been nice to have been invited into their lives a little more - both helping out and socialising - since we paid them for one night, between the 3 of us, $30, which is the monthly salary of a teacher in Cambodia. There just seemed to be an element of the tourist cash cow about it, which is what we really wanted to get away from.

Oh well, we're learning lessons all the time, and finding out more about what we do and don't want to do, and where we do and don't want to go! Onwards to Savannaket!

Posted by John_713 00:52 Archived in Laos Tagged homestay don_kho pakse homestay_don_kho pakse_atm

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