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After flying out of India and enjoying a couple of rejuvenating days in the cosmopolitan city of Bangkok, Thailand, we boarded a plane to the largest city in Southern Laos – the bustling metropolis of Pakse (population 66,000).  Laos (pronounced like “cow”, but replacing the “c” with an “l”) is a country that has been off the tourist track for…well…ever.  It is quickly starting to attract tourists, but mainly to the Northern part of this small country.  We decided to start in the more remote South, with plans to visit the North a few weeks from now.

As a landlocked country (bordered by China, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia), it’s difficult to imagine that Laos’ island life is one of its main attractions.  However, the mighty Mekong River flows through the length of the country, widening at parts to allow islands to form and sustain life.
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After renting a motorbike for $7 a day, we started down a newly paved road to the island of Don Daeng.  As we were approaching the island, signs for a new lodge in the area began to appear.  Curious, we found a phone, rang the lodge and were on a small boat to the place just a few minutes later.  Riding down the dirt path to the lodge (no cars are allowed on the island, and there are only a smattering of motorbikes), we passed villages that surely haven’t changed much in a hundred years (the island just got connected to the electric grid 2 months ago, so it will be interesting to see how quickly it changes).  A few minutes later, we arrived at La Folie Lodge and discovered a piece of heaven.

The Lodge consisted of 12 bungalows decorated as well as any 5-star resort, a restaurant serving amazing Laotian and French food and a pool that will no doubt make the pages of Conde Nast Traveler magazine in an upcoming issue.  With initial plans to stay just one night, we quickly checked the availability at the lodge and decided to stay three.  Our days were spent lounging by the pool, watching the gorgeous sunset over the Mekong River and riding bikes around the island.  With tourists still a novelty, we were bombarded by village children running out of their huts yelling “Sabadee” (the Laotian word for “hello”) as we pedaled by, their faces lit up by welcoming smiles.
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In need of some lunch, we stopped at a hut filled with a group of screaming men huddled around a small ring.  Intrigued, we stood on chairs and looked down in the ring to witness a cockfight in progress.  I quickly scanned the crowd for to see if Michael Vick was there; unfortunately, he was absent.  After briefly watching the bloody battle between the angered, but perplexed, roosters and the even more spirited battle between the onlookers who had gambled on one of the two birds, we somehow still had an appetite.  We ordered a bowl of noodle soup and finished the bowl while conversing in broken English and Lao with a local who seemed more intent on finishing his bottle of rice whiskey than participating in the cockfight spectacle a few feet away.
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After leaving Don Daeng, we continued South via motorbike.  About an hour into our ride, we heard an explosion.  We slowly stopped the bike and realized that our back tire had split in two!  As we were starting to wonder how we were going to fix it, our angel appeared…in the form of…a Laotion man riding on a motorcycle…carrying an AK-47.  Angels take all forms, I guess.  As he pulled up next to us, he smiled, pointed down the road and signaled for us to follow him.  Sometimes you just have to follow your instincts, so we set off down the road towards a small hut just a few hundred yards away.  A local mechanic immediately appeared from within the hut, began removing the back wheel from the bike and instructed the militia man to head to town to buy us a new tire.  Twenty minutes and $9 later, the bike was fixed and were on our way.

A couple of hours later, we arrived in Si Phan Don, an area near the Cambodian border that translates as “Four Thousand Islands.”  The islands of Si Phan Don have become a haven for young backpackers attracted to the beauty and ridiculously cheap prices (bungalows right on the river can be found for $1 per night).  Only a few of the islands are inhabited and only one has electricity.  We loaded our motorbike on a ferry and were off to Don Khon, one of the smaller islands that is still off the electric grid.
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Similar to Don Daeng, Don Khon consists of a few small villages seemingly lost in time. Besides the laid-back attitude of the island and the picturesque views, the main draw is the local marine life – the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins are native to this area.  With only approximately 100 remaining, a sighting of this rare breed can be difficult.

After exploring the island by bike the next day, we hired a boat in the late afternoon and set off in search of the dolphins.  We soon arrived at a large rock in the middle of the river.  Approximately 8 seconds after debarking the boat, we spotted our first of many dolphins.  On my visit to Sea World a few years ago, I witnessed some amazing dolphin tricks.  Unfortunately, these dolphins don’t exhibit the Flipper-like skilz of the Orlando-based dolphins.  Instead, they glided lazily through the water, in no hurry to be anywhere or disturb anyone – much like the Laotian people who inhabit this tranquil part of the world.