Leaving Laos

Sunrise over the Mekong from Don Khong Island in Si Phan Don ("Four Thosand Islands")

A golden sun rises over the Mekong, I am on the eastern edge of Don Khoung Island in southern Laos.  Fishermen in slender pirogues line the river and toss their glistening silver nets, each day their labor starts well before daylight.  I hear the scratchy screeches of distant roosters heralding the dawn.  A small herd of goats pass noisily below, water buffalo graze in a field just at the end of the street.  The electric chorus of insects is gradually replaced by birdsong which mixes with the drone of distant scooters and outboard motors on the river. The air is cool and moves with a gentle breeze from the river.  The sun strengthens and warms face.  Lifeless white clouds hover above me, still asleep.   The sun brightens the hilltop stupas on the far shore of the mainland.

Walking to the balcony I surprise a huge frog in the hallway which jumps quickly out of my way.  Everything in Laos is open to the elements thanks to its doors ajar, broken windows, and holes in the roof.  Critters commingle with human creatures without the forced separation of my world at home.  Sparrows play on the balcony bannister, cartoon-like geckos with fat fingers fill their bellies with flies and moths, ants run over my feet as they attend to their all-consuming business.

I glance towards the temple and notice its unusual Buddha, serenely meditating as daylight warms his oddly decorated head.  A lone bell sounds from the temple; it is the morning call to alms.  In a few minutes monks in saffron robes file through the street carrying silver urns under their arms, silently and in single file.  A few villagers sit and pray by the roadside, fruit and sticky rice before them, an offering to the passing monks.  This daily ritual feeds the monks who must eat before noon; anything left over is given to the needy.  This is good karma for the village donors and enhances their chances of a better reborn life.

In this southernmost corner of Laos, I near the end of my travels here.  After nearly a month, I reach Si Phan Don, or the “Four Thousand Islands” on the Cambodian border.  I am worn by three days of rough road travel: from the capital Vientiane on Highway 13 to the Kong Lo cave, through Tha Khek, Savannahket, and Paske on a series of bumpy local buses, tuk-tuks, sorngtaaou (a pickup truck with two rows of seats in back), and boats.  My backside is sore from the hard seats and endless hours on old school buses, my shoulders ache from being jammed in a row of six people designed for four, my hair dusty and skin dry from the beating sun in this hottest month of the year.

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