Been there, Don Det

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February 4th 2019
Published: February 5th 2019
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A lay in for us this morning. We just have to get up, take a leisurely breakfast, zip up our bag and wander down to the ferry. Our bus is due to leave the mainland at 11.30am and the boat is due to leave Don Det island at 11am.

We were instructed to arrive for the boat 10 minutes before departure so, like true British Citizens, we stupidly turn up at 10.30am. We are not the only ones I might add. We observe the local courier service arriving by ferry - three motorbikes packed with goods which are driven off a wooden punt and up the beach over a boardwalk.

We had a bit of a mishap with our ticket when we came to check out loading procedures yesterday...’someone’ let go of it when it was being passed back and it blew off into the Mekong. This was a potential disaster as they do not believe in keeping carbon copies here - lose your ticket, pay again! Fortunately the ticket floated and the ink did not run! I managed to carefully lift it out and Ian pressed it between towels to dry it out. Job done, good as new, phew.

We stand in the relative shade of a guest house and at 11.55am they call us down to the jetty. All good so far. Wonderful yellow tickets, shouts the boatman. Clutching our yellow ticket we attempt to board the boat. No, not you, wonderful yellow only! It appears that, although our ticket is yellow, it is not wonderful.

It looks like there is some kind of a problem because we bought our tickets on the mainland and not on the island. They are calling for white tickets now. Two boats have been filled and both have departed. I am starting to get a bit nervous’s 11.10am.

Now our boatman is asking me the name of the person who sold me the ticket because there is only a squiggle in the signature box and he wants to call the agency. How on earth should we know? We were only buying tickets, not making new friends! The agency name and phone number is clearly printed on the ticket. The boatman makes a phone call. It’s still looking dubious but we are allowed to board the next boat. We are first on, so right at the back.

All set to go and for the umpteenth time they want to see our tickets again. Finally they tell us that the boat will leave if we pay the ferry price. It’s not worth arguing as we wish to leave, but can we have a receipt to show them at the bus office? Yes, they take our ticket and write a message in Lao on the back. Obviously we have no idea what it says but something along the lines of...’give them the ferry money back, you double crossing agents’, perhaps?

We arrive at the ferry dock where we are required to clamber across other boats to reach dry land. A very kind French guy hauls our big bag over - merci beaucoup monsieur.

It’s 11.25am. Possibly cutting it fine but probably not as everything runs in its own sweet time here. We reach the bus station. There is no sign of the VIP bus - it’s either late coming in or we have missed it.

The guy that sold me the ticket is busy selling more and recognises me instantly. I can only guess that he was the one that spoke to the boatman yet tried to deny all knowledge by asking the name. He is clearly expecting me so I come straight to the point - you need to give me 30,000 kip for the ferry, I state. Yes, yes, in a minute, he says. It’s only £3 but I don’t like being diddled so I persist. A 50,000 kip note is produced and I give him 20,000 in change. To be honest I wasn’t expecting a result but I think he realised I wasn’t going to go away quietly. :-)

Our next challenge will be to see if we have a seat on a bus! We decide that we will take any bus going back to Pakse if the VIP one has gone. Our hotel and onward travel tomorrow is pre booked so we need to get back.

We are in luck as the big VIP bus has just rolled in. We are first on the bus so get to choose our seats - second row on the cooler side. Bonus, the ticket collector is the friendly chap who sold us the outbound tickets from Pakse. He greets us like old friends and there is no problem with our yellow ticket here - he also confirms drop off will be near our hotel.

It’s gone noon, the bus is hot and everyone wants to go. An impatient traveller - no, not me this time, demands to know when we will leave. Soon, replies our conductor, amicably. Typical.

We tuck into our take away lunch of vegetable samosas and banana fritters. Quite tasty, though obviously a little greasy...but it will fill a hole till dinner time.

Three and a half hours of hot house hell have passed. Yes, I managed to get my compass points muddled, so instead of sitting on the shaded side of the bus, we have been travelling with the full heat of the sun on us for the entire distance.

And now we have half an hour of passenger drop offs in Pakse before we are finally released just around the corner from our guesthouse. It turns out that the ‘impatient’ traveller is late for his plane. The conductor helpfully phones for a tuk tuk which meets us on the way and whisks them off to the airport.

We are now on our way to the guesthouse. Having collected our laundry on the way, we arrive in reception and are relieved to see our second bag still sitting in the same position under the stairs where Ian left it.

Up in our room, we switch the air con on to it’s coldest setting and make a mad dash to the shower.

With our belongings re-divided and our bags repacked, we go out for dinner. It is Chinese New Year and the spirit house in our hotel lobby is packed with goodies. Outside, there is a banging of drums and cymbals - a large red dragon is prancing around - dancing in and out of the Friendship Store opposite and then out in the street. There are a bunch of kids all dressed up. They head off down the road, whilst we head to the Indian restaurant. Whilst we are sitting at our pavement restaurant they whizz back past us on the back of a pick up truck but that’s the last we see of them so we assume they must be touring the district.

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