Not more bicycles!
Trip Start Jan 12, 2013
42Trip End Feb 27, 2013
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We rode in our sardine can to the Cambodia-Laos border, got dumped out (you always have to walk across these borders), and proceeded to pay our bribes and visa dues. I'm sure some of you, like me, are indignant and irritated with the 'overcharging' or more bluntly, 'corruption and bribery'. However, when the border official tells you to pay $2.00 and you don't, he simply doesn't return your passport. Simple as that
Okay, I've ranted long enough about that. On to the journey. We sit in the sweltering heat on the concrete for about 30-45 min waiting for more people before we board our new bus. Finally, we leave and arrive at the 'harbor' for Don Det Island. Don Det is part of the Si Phan Don islands, which literally means '4000 islands', in the Mekong River. Described as part of the land of lotus eaters where the pendulum of time swings more slowly, this seemed like a great place to relax after an epic journey. We took the water taxi which was a long boat powered by a lawnmower engine over to the island...where, incidentally the writings about the island hit home quite nicely as we 'docked' on the beach itself next to a lounging water buffalo. Unlike the islands off the coast of Cambodia, this one is quite a bit more developed with electricity (likely because it's only a 5 min boat ride away from the mainland versus a 2 hr one) and many restaurants/bungalows
So there, we made it. Hot and tired, we learn that all the guesthouses are full. A nice English dude that owns a guesthouse offered up his hammocks and restaurant platform for us to sleep on. Swell. His landlord offered to let us borrow a bicycle to cycle around the island to try and find accomodation. This is the part of traveling that is tiring...a two day saga to arrive wanting only to have a place to relax and put your bag down (and for me, a place to use the toilet--I really like bathrooms), but finding out in the midday heat after not having eaten for 6 hours, that you have no where to stay...so you just stop, relax, have a meal and water and then go from there. If I have to sleep outside, well, I'll be glad to have a hammock. Could be worse.
After eating, I hop on the bicycle and set off. I have no idea where I'm going other than I know this is an island and there are more guesthouses on the other side... I wind my way on this single-track dirt path through rice paddy fields and monks' house. I keep heading toward buildings in the distance. It is baking hot. The dust is settling on my feet and I can feel it caking between my toes. The dry season is so dirty and dusty, it's almost like sand. Finally, I come across some beautiful bungalows and it's my (and the guys') lucky day. They have two bungalows, one with one bed and one with two beds! Sweet! I book them immediately. They have a private, ensuite bathroom with hot water AND a flushing toilet!! I couldn't be happier.
After settling in, Ali and I take off on rented bicycles to find the waterfall on the adjacent island (connected by a bridge). Now, I know I complained about the bike riding in Siem Reap
We managed to get lost and turn a one hour trip into a 4 hour trip. We finally found that stupid waterfall though...and then we pedalled furiously back in an effort to beat darkness. We failed. No lights on our bikes and no headlamps. No boy scouts here---aren't they always prepared? Anyhow, we made it back and Gav our Aussie friend was 'spun out' as his slang would say. Means he was worried sick. He even hired a motorcycle and went around the islands looking for us. He was sure we were lost or hurt somewhere. See, people would notice if I went missing. :)
We ate with the French couple that endured the two day trek to Don Det with us. At our table, we had a French, Spanish, Canadian, American, Australian, and South African delegate. Being around the different groups is always informative. For example, as a result of the apartheid sanctions by other countries on South Africa, traveling is very difficult. When the apartheid was ongoing, South Africans were not allowed entry into many countries and now, even 20 years later, it is still difficult. Ali must gain prior approval via the embassies within South Africa. He can't come to Laos and go to the Thai embassy to get a visa. Nope, all has to be done prior to leaving. For some countries, in order to get a visa, he has to provide bank statements proving he is eligible to travel. Not only do United States citizens enjoy relatively free and easy travel, we also are lucky enough that no matter where we go, if we have U.S
I believe I've rambled long enough and I have a big day tomorrow of kayaking down the Mekong. Never thought I'd be doing that!!! Goodnight!