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Tuesday 9 Jul 2013
Don Det, Laos

A very wet farewell to Laos

Our bathroom was still flooded and the aircon remote controller had never come back, so Natalie and I refused to pay the full amount for the room. We met the others by their hotel and I got a delicious beef noodle soup for breakfast. It usually comes as a broth with noodles, accompanied by a bowl of beansprouts and herbs which you add as you eat. I improvised a takeaway pot by pouring it all into a fruit smoothie cup so that I could take it on the bus. Not very practical but it tasted delicious.
Our first stop was a visit to Wat Phou, an ancient temple complex which predates Angkor Wat. It was started in the 5th century but the current building date back to the 10th or 11th century. We were driven around to the temple plateau in an electric golf buggy while I tested my French by translating the only guide they had back into English. Behind the plateau, the hillside rose steeply and the temple complex was built up on many levels to reach a sacred spring in one of the caves high up. Tah gave us an introduction and led us through part of the temple complex before it began to rain... and rain... and rain! We huddled as best we could under a group of trees while everyone tried to cover cameras and phones from the deluge, but this was the kind of rain that left nothing untouched. Laura's bag suddenly gained a few extra cameras, mine included. We had no chance of going anywhere without getting soaked to the skin so decided to keep going. From the plateau, we climbed up some very steep uneven stone steps to several terraces. Climbing the steps was a hands and feet affair to avoid slipping in the torrents of water gushing past. A good job I just had flip flops on so wet feet didn't matter.
We reached a small temple with a big gold Buddha statue inside. Traditionally people came here to pray for good luck, but I'm fairly sure most of us just asked for it to stop raining. Further up the hillside we came to a number of carvings in the boulders and caves. Legend has it that one cave, little more than an undercut beneath a large boulder, contains a dragon spirit so there were lots of bamboo sticks wedged into the gap to prevent the cave from closing. The front of another boulder had been carved into the shape of an elephant, giving the illusion that the elephant was standing right in front and looking intently at you. The sacred spring runs out of a crack in the top of a large undercut. It is fed by water running through the rock above and has reportedly never stopped since its discovery around 15 centuries ago.
The rain eased off a bit on our walk back down, but it made little difference as we were all drenched by then. The museum back at the entrance was interesting but the shiny floors were a bit of a death trap with all the water we were dripping on them. It was still too wet to try and get the bags off the roof of the bus, so we all had to sit in our wet clothes for the next few hours down to Don Det, our final stop in Laos. We weren't in a great mood as we were wet and cold, but this mood was soured further when we unloaded the bus to discover the tarp covering our bags had been next to useless and everyone's bags were soaked too.
We said our farewells to Mr Lu Tong and Tah, our driver and guide for the last week, then boarded a long boat for the short trip over to the island of Don Det. The southern part of Laos is known as the 4000 Islands as the mighty Mekong river splits and meanders across a wide area creating hundreds of small river islands. Don Det is small, but has become a regular backpacker stop off with hostels, cafes and bars to serve the captive market. After checking in, everyone set about emptying their bags and hanging wet clothes on every available hook, curtain pole, hammock and bench in the vicinity. I put half of mine straight into the laundry and hoped the rest would dry out in time to be repacked the next day.
One of the bars had a digital download service so I stocked up on movies, TV and some new kindle books loaded straight onto my hard drive. I even - finally - found a copy of a Triple J album I've been looking for since going to Australia in 2010. It was the soundtrack for my Red Centre trip and I've been trying to track down some of the songs ever since. We had our last group dinner in a very laid back place, sitting on cushions around a low table on a terrace over the river.

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