Published: March 27th 2012March 23rd 2012
13th December 2011
So, it was time to say Goodbye to Cambodia and Hello to Laos. We had heard so many good things about Laos and were really looking forward to seeing it and getting to meet the reportedly very friendly locals!
Unfortunately, it was not to be the most glorious of exits or entrances. We left early from Kratie in a minibus packed to the gills. Usual story, 12 seater with 20 people, plus bags etc. We travelled with our knees tucked under our chins for 2 hours before being told we needed to get off, along with a couple of girls. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, a big bus did show up about 15 minutes later. Then we were ripped off by a "guide" on the bus for the visa. Everyone else on the bus decided not to pay after one girl said it was too much to pay and that they would do their own visa at the border crossing. Unfortunately, we had already paid and there are no refunds in Cambodia. He then sold us very expensive tickets for a boat we would need to take shortly after we arrived in
Laos to get to Don Khong (one of the 4000 islands in Southern Laos). We were a bit stuck and so again had to pay for this. At the border everyone else got off and went through immigration to get their visas. We were told to wait at the side of the road next to a woman BBQ'ing some frogs...yum.
We never did get to find out how much we were ripped off by as our "guide" "forgot" to tell us to go through to get the bus on the other side, despite me asking numerous times. At this point he also tried to get us to change some of our Cambodian Riel and US Dollars for Laotian Kip with some guy. He told us that this guy was a customer who needed dollars so that he could pay him for his visa. This guy was clearly Cambodian and clearly another black market dealer with notebook and lots of different currencies in his book. He was, in fact, offering us a rubbish deal. OK so we had fallen for 2 scams we weren't about to get ourselves caught up in a 3rd one...not quite that stupid!! After a few
heated words we finally got to get on a bus that we thought would take us to the boat to get to Don Khong. No such luck! We were taken a few kilometres and then dumped at the side of the road again! We were picked up by a big bus and we climbed aboard, fighting our way past people, animals, bags, food etc. After about 10 minutes the bus driver shouted "Don Khong" We guessed that was us, but looking outside we saw nothing but dried rice fields for what looked like miles. The driver insisted though and pointed down a narrow track. "Don Khong" he said again with a smile. Hmmm...didn't look much like an island to us. We got off anyway and as we were about to set off down the lane the driver gave us some Laotian money "for boat, Don Khong" he said.
We started walking down the track, and stopped to ask a group of old guys playing cards if we were going the right way. They did not look happy. They grunted and pointed down the track. So we carried on down the track, passing pigs, ducks, dogs, children etc. Finally after
about 1km we reached the end of the track and a river bank and some rather disgruntled looking white people sitting around. There was one Laotian guy hanging around who looked very shifty indeed. There were lots of long boats tied up to the bank but no one in the boats. Just as we were beginning to wonder if we were going to have to steal a boat shifty came up to us and said "you want boat, Don Khong? 15,000kip, 15,000 kip" pointing at us individually for each amount, presumably meaning 30,000kip total. That was the amount we had been given by the bus driver. Just as we were about to agree a tall German girl walked over and introduced herself. Tanja had been waiting for 2 hours for some more people to arrive and share a boat across. She had been told that she could split the cost of the boat if others arrived. So we agreed to split the price and said to Shifty "10,000, 10,000, 10,000" He was not happy with this and shook his head in disgust, "15,000, 15,000, 15,000" Tanja tried to reason with him and repeated to him what he had told her
earlier. He shook his head and walked off. Next followed the longest stand-off we've ever seen. Shifty knew we needed him, and it looked like he could wait all day. However, he had underestimated Tanja's ability to wait- she had already waited 2 hours, she could wait some more... After half an hour which included a few more attempts at negotiation from Tanja and shakes of head from Shifty we decided to step in and offer a compromise. 15,000 for us each and 10,000 for Tanja. After a long, X-factor style, pause from Shifty he nodded! Hooray, we could go to the island!! On the boat we got and we made it to Don Khong in about 5 minutes. All that for 5 minutes on a boat!
This island was the quietest place either of us had ever been to. It was silent. We clambered up the bank to see a few guesthouses along one road/lane overlooking the river. There was no-one to be seen anywhere. We finally managed to find someone inside one of the guesthouses and she offered us a room. Sold! Only because we didn't think anyone else on the island was alive, let alone able
to offer us a room! It was actually quite a nice room and had a hot shower…Luxury after all those cold showers in Cambodia!
Next we headed to the Information Office on the island. This was a shack with a man asleep outside. Inside was a map of Laos on the wall and two leaflets on the side about elephant trekking in Northern Laos!!! Maybe we should just explore for ourselves!!
We went to grab some food from one of the guesthouses/restaurants. Not easy! WE finally found someone asleep inside one of the guesthouses and so coughed loudly and shouted “SABAIDEE!” (Hello). He woke up and very grudgingly agreed to take our order. Our food arrived quite a while later after we’d had a Beer Laos with Tanja watching the sunset over the river.
Today the three of us decided to hire bikes and cycle around the island. We found an old lady with some bikes by the river front. The bikes looked a bit worse for wear and when we sat on them the seats all fell down. No worries, the old lady had a bag of tools
and a surprisingly strong arm to fix the bikes up!! After a few minutes of tinkering we set off on the road (dirt track). So followed a day cycling around this very quiet, lazy island, here was the famous “Laos time” in full flow. We saw lots of houses on stilts and rice fields and a few people, including some children happily playing with sticks in the dirt and a group of men watching a cock fight (cocks with blades on their legs). We stopped at a Wat and saw some monks in a hut. They had a bed under the tree, not sure if they slept here?! We rode along a road in the middle of the island and when we stopped for a rest it was silence, complete silence, rather eerie. We passed a family wrestling a pig onto a wooden trailer. Not sure where they were taking it though as the only thing we had seen that might pass for a market were three stalls with gone off fruit on in the “centre” of town!
A similar night to the one before, waking up someone for some food and a Beer Lao by the river before
saying goodbye to Tanja as we were leaving for the mainland in the morning!
This morning we took a boat ride from the island and a short bus journey to Pakse. Ah, Pakse….a town of nothing, literally nothing! What a long afternoon and evening. We wandered around and saw lots more people asleep and some coffee shops. That evening we played an epic 2 hour long game of eye spy. I spy with my little eye something beginning with B……. BORED!
After a breakfast at a Chinese man’s café, muesli which consisted of a few grains of corn some very overripe fruit and watery yoghurt, we headed to Savannakhet. This should have been a short bus ride. However, this is Laos and we were to get where we were going on Laos time! Every 20 minutes (this is not an exaggeration) we stopped at the side of the road. Every time we stopped a gaggle of children and women would run on selling drinks, chickens on sticks, eggs (with foetuses in) and lots of other strange looking food. We found out that you do not want to sit
in the aisle unless you enjoy having this food shoved into your face! When we finally arrived we got a Tuk-Tuk to our very nice hostel. We were warmly welcomed by a Retriever and a tiny yappy dog which was wearing a Christmas hoody, with hood up!! The Retriever was looking at yappy dog rather disdainfully! After being shown to our room (not by the dogs) we hired a couple of bikes and went for a cycle around this sleepy town and to the riverside. It was a little bit like a ghost town – we were starting to realise this was the Laos way of life and starting to get a bit more used to it and learning to relax and go with it! At the riverside we looked across to see lots of high rise buildings. Michael said “That’s Thailand then” I refused to believe him – argument ensued – I finally had to concede and realise I was wrong – of course I was very gracious in defeat after we passed the border check point! It was interesting to see the obvious disparity in wealth between Thailand and Laos – with buildings on the Laos side looking
as if they were about to fall down. After our debate we went and bought some very very yummy BBQ chicken on a stick and some beer Lao and ate and drank by the riverside whilst watching some local boys dancing and trying out some breakdancing moves!
This morning we enjoyed watching yappy dog trying to bite the Retriever and Retriever was just rolling his eyes and batting off yappy dog. After this we spent some more time cycling around and getting more used to the slow pace of life. We had found out that there was a dinosaur museum in town so naturally Michael was very excited. After cycling around a bit we found a sign for the museum. Unfortunately the museum was shut and it looked like it had been for a while. It may well have been than someone was asleep inside but we couldn’t see anyone and there was a padlock on the gate. So we decided to get a pizza to cheer us up! Yep you can even get pizza in this sleepy town! It was good, but not as good as the BBQ chicken!
There are more photos below