Been There, Don Det!

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
Trip End Nov 24, 2014

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Sunday, May 25, 2014

Don Det offered us the perfect place to relax and time for both of us to feel better, since the last 10 days or so we've been feeling a bit "off". Don Det is an island full of guest houses and restaurants, each providing large and varied menus. Many of the menus also include "happy" items, which is the secretive way of saying marijuana and other drugs. Many tourists come to Don Det to relax, drink, and get high. We basically came to relax and recover! 

We spent our days here doing not much of anything. We ate, drank banana shakes, watched movies, and watched incredible sunsets while swinging in hammocks and listening to country music. On our last day when we were both finally feeling well enough, we rented bikes and rode through Don Det Village to the bridge connecting Don Det to Don Khon, another island. Don Khon is less touristy than Don Det, but many tourists still visit because it is the island with more attractions. Once on Don Khon, Jason's bicycle got a flat tire, which a friendly local pointed out while passing us on his motorbike. Before making it to our destination on the island, we had to head back a little to the bicycle repair shop. The cost of the repair was almost the same as the full day bike rental cost, about $1CDN! 

Once we were both back on good wheels, we rode to the two waterfalls. They were pretty to look at, but since we were above them where there are many slippery rocks, it was difficult to get close for pictures. From the waterfalls we headed down to a beach where Jason took a quick dip. We were thinking about heading a few kilometres further on the island to see the freshwater river dolphins, but by this point the heat and sun were getting the best of us, even after drinking multiple litres of water. We headed back to Don Det to indulge in more relaxation. 

Don Det, not unlike other parts of Laos, has quite a few expats from all parts of the globe. One day we had a snack at a restaurant owned by an Australian. While speaking with him, Jason asked why he chose to move here more than a decade ago and become the first expat on the island. His response could not have been a more perfect Laos response. He explained that when he had first traveled to Laos there was a lot of waiting around and doing nothing and he liked that! He chose Don Det because he likes to get high and do nothing all day! We found this fitting, but humorous at the same time. We also booked our travel from Laos to Siem Reap, Cambodia with another expat company. However, similar to other travel experiences we've had in Laos, this one also did not turn out how we expected or how we were told it would. We spoke to two different expats from this company on different occasions; one to get information and the second time to book. Both times we were told the travel would take about 10 hours door to door, including time to stamp exit and entry visas. We were also told that we would basically take one minibus for an hour or so and then get on the brand new beautiful Korean bus with air conditioning and wifi! We were paying $5/person more for this VIP bus. 

Our journey started at 8am this morning, or shortly after, when we got on a small boat to take us back to the mainland. From there, we were luckily able to follow other tourists to the bus station about a 5-10 minute walk from where the boat left us. At the bus station we were given the travel documents we needed and made to pay $30USD/person for all the paper work and medical checks. We had read about this beforehand and learned that the visa into Cambodia actually only costs $20, but at the border they make people pay many little fees that adds up to about $9/$10 more. Paying the extra money here instead of at the border was supposed to save us time. Us and all the other tourists gave our passports and visa documents to one of the men from the bus company and after about an hour or so at this bus station, we got into minibuses and headed to the border.

The ride to the Cambodian border was only about 20 minutes, with a two minute walk (which included a temperature check for each of us) to another stop at a restaurant. We can only assume that in the hour and a half to two hours we sat in this restaurant, our passports were being stamped with Cambodian visas. Finally, the man who had our passports returned and gave us each our passports with the appropriate documents. But before we could leave, he decided he needed to eat, so we waited another while for him to have lunch before getting onto a big bus.  In typical Lao fashion, he told us we'd leave 10 minutes only to find ourselves waiting for another hour before the bus was finally ready to go. 

This bus drove into a Cambodian town about an hour from the border where we stopped for tourists to find an ATM to pay their $30USD. At this point, we were informed that those of us who paid for the VIP bus to take us on the new, shorter road, would have to take a ferry to get to the other bus. This was the first time we were told about this, but we've become used to surprises like this in Southeast Asia. It was a short walk to the ferry, but the sun was baking us and the paved "dock" was flooded in many parts. This made walking in a bit of water to the ferry while holding our suitcases a bit uncomfortable. The ferry was a makeshift kind of cement raft with no seats and a crowded space to gather for shelter.

Once we arrived on the other side, all of us tourists were unsure of where to go next. Thankfully someone we recognized from the bus company who had helped direct us to this point, also got off the ferry and directed us to another minibus. At this point I was literally laughing out loud! This mini bus was poorly designed as a way to pack in as many seats as possible. The only way to get to the two back rows of the bus (Jason and I sat in the back row) was to literally crawl on the seats in front or behind our seat from the trunk. I knew I was definitely feeling better because I found this humorous instead if being upset by it. We thought this bus was going to take us to a 6th form of transportation, being the VIP bus, but after over an hour on this cramped bus, we realized THIS WAS THE VIP BUS! Thankfully it had decent enough air conditioning, but there was definitely no wifi! 

While on this bus we only made one stop for toilets and food, where Jason and I bought some gross corn on the cob. This food stop was not nearly as long as stops in Laos had been and our time on this bus was about the 6 hours we thought it would be. This shorter drive made us forget that the bus was not anything we expected it to be because we were just so happy to finally be in Siem Reap. But after about 11 hours of travel, we still had one unexpected hurdle to deal with. The expats we bought the VIP tickets from told us the bus would drop us off at our accommodation. Instead, we were dropped off at a bus stop 8km from the city centre and we had to pay $3US more per person for a tuk tuk to bring us to our hotel. We're not sure if it was the guys we bought the tickets from that misled us or the transport company, but in the end, we got to where we wanted to go shortly after we thought we would.  Travel is always an adventure when dealing with Laos!
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Sondi and Murray on

Have a wonderful time in Siemens Reap. Enjoy all the Angkor wat experiences, it was incredible. We'll compare notes and pictures when you get home.

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