Early start to catch the bus...
We successfully crossed into Laos but not without a small standoff with the border guards. Being a remote land border crossing, the immigration officials on both sides believed it was acceptable to request a US$1 from each person for their immigration stamp. Leaving Cambodia we followed the lead of a Canadian couple who refused to pay the ‘stamp charge’. After only a small period of persistence they eventually stamped our passport and we passed. However after a short walk to the Laos immigration, we were met with much more determined staff. They bluntly refused to stamp our passports for entry until we provided a US$1 stamp fee, even though we already had visas. We decided to stick to our principles by refusing to bow to their corruption, along with a number of others. Unfortunately they had the upper hand in the form of an air-conditioned hut with TV, so after 15 minutes in the heat we relented and handed over our dollar... welcome to Laos!
A short bus ride later we arrived in Si Phan Don, also known as 4,000 Islands, which is a collection of scattered rock/sand/vegetation islands on the Mekong River. We opted to stay on the largest
of the islands, Don Khong, which is known for its relaxed atmosphere. True to the guidebook we found the place to be very laid-back with nice guest houses overlooking the river. We spent the afternoon catching up on sleep, reading and generally chilling out.
The next day we opted for a full day excursion to the other two main islands, Don Det and Don Khon, to see some waterfalls and also the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins (hopefully). A longtail boat took us the 1.5 hours to Don Khon where we walked to a huge waterfall. After the standard photos we found a small ‘beach’ further downstream where we could cool ourselves from the heat. Refreshed we headed back for lunch and a minibus connection to see the dolphins.
Back near the border of Cambodia and Laos we boarded another longtail on the Mekong and cruised to a site where the dolphins are known to live. As soon as we arrived we sighted the first of many dolphins breaching the surface. For the next ten minutes we witnessed many dolphins surfacing but none quite as close as we would have liked, nor did they swim backwards with their tails like
The final stop was the largest waterfall in South East Asia, Khone Phapheng. It is formed by the Mekong being directed into a small rocky area creating a mass of cascades. Impressive but no swimming holes so we took out snaps and heading back to our accommodation for a much needed Beer Lao!
The next day we booked tickets to continue our journey north towards Savannakhet where we hope to cross the border into Vietnam. Whilst not looking forward to more buses (there is no other option) we are refreshed from our couple of days in Si Phan Don.
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