Laos at Last - 4000 Islands

Trip Start Jan 31, 2011
Trip End Dec 15, 2011

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Saturday, July 16, 2011

07:33 I was up at 6 again and this morning waiting for the bus to Laos. It arrived, full, 4 backpackers in the back row, 4 backpackers in the middle row and 2 local adults and a child in the front, the boot was chock full of backpackers bags and mine only just squished in with a lot of pushing. Now was the question if where to sit. The driver got the local woman and her child out to join the middle row of 4 Europeans making 6 people there! I got in the front seat sharing a 2 person seat with just one other guy. I was comfortable! I didnt expect it to last long however and sure enough within a few minutes we picked up a local lady. The footwell is full of bags, the dashboard is also littered with bags and the poor lady is half sitting on the driver seat, half on this 2 person seat with the automatic vehicles gearstick between her legs and sitting in a very awkward position trying to hold onto something! We may well be going all the way to Laos like this!
09:29 Just a my legs were starting to hurt from being wedged into one position and having my heavyish bag on them for the last 2.5 hours, we arrived at Stung Treng where we were to swap to the big bus which had a very cracked windscreen that was held together by some advertising stickers! We got on the bus after half an hour as the driver appeared to be having a long breakfast and in actual fact the 10 or so other foreigners on this bus had just been waiting 45 mins for us already, so we had a further delay, im not sure. So we, on this fairly empty bus headed for the border.
11:27 We arrived at the border quite soon and were told we were swapping buses, although noone really told us what to do so we bumbled around sorting ourselves out. Essentially this meant- get your stamp out of Cambodia at one shack, walk across a bit of a no mans land to another shack to get your stamp into Laos.
A word on corruption. When leaving a country-Cambodia, when they ask you to pay $2 to leave, you can refuse and they'll probably crack and let you through. Victory to the foreigners. Their excuse was it was saturday. Coming into Laos the 7 of us who had successfully dodged the exit "stamp fee" or "Saturday" fee stood our ground and got nowhere, after a standoff of at least 10 mins, the bus was going to go and so we paid after much swearing, telling them it was corrupt and illegal and there being no signs etc etc. It just didnt work. The stubborn bastard wanted his 'pocket money' off every person coming. Some people even had to pay $1 to have thir temperatures taken (another thing I'd have refused on principle!). 
So now were on the bus, $2 poorer and our attempt at principles wasted, leaving the disgraceful border police to 'welcome' yet more people into Laos by corruption. Welcome to Laos. At least I'm not sharing my seat with 20 other people.
11:46 Sidenote-The Laos flag is very much like the Cambodian flag, blue and red horizontal stripes but instead of Angkor wat in the middle there is simply a White circle and the red and blue stripes are swapped. Laos is actually a communist country or I believe Laos full title is Laos Peoples Democratic Republic.
13:43 Not long after the border we got to a place where we walked our bags past some buses that looked like they were rocket ships they were so upmarket and wrong in this country, so that we could board a long thin motorboat to cross some of the Mekong to the island of Don Det. We arrived and found getting off our long thin boat was tricky, it wasn't at a dock to speak of and most people, wearing flip flops, had to just stick their leg over the side into the water and climb up the bank. I had my shoes on as usual and did a fairly inelegant stretch with my foot to reach the step. This was all very awkward since I was unable to stand up straight due to the boats canopy. I did get out of the boat, with my 3 bags in tow and got to the road. It was evident we were at the main dock and yet there were no men jostling for our attention shouting about their guesthouse, offering a tuktuk, moto or anything. The only people who were there were a bunch of chinese tourists waiting to get back on the boat to go back to mainland! We set off with a few others down the main 'street' (read dirt track wide enough for 2 bicycles to pass each other) trying to really just work out where we were and where we were going. Having said out loud that I didn't know where I was an American lady appeared and started telling us the low down. She was very nice and helpful telling us in her twang that "this dirt track is the 'main road' and right now you're in 'the burbs', if you walk a kilometre up here you'll get to 'town' where there is Internet and money changing available" just then a local with downs syndrome wandered into the circle the 5 of us had formed. The american lady grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him away down the street a couple of metres and said "this is one of the local downs syndrome boys, he's not ours, he belongs down the street (step in another downs syndrome boy going to interact with the one that got steered away), thats our mongoloid, we can control him, but that other one is very difficult and can make a nuisance so we try and keep him away". Later on we all guffawed about how this, probably slightly stoned lady had steered him away and referred to the other boy as 'our mongoloid'.
She didn't have any rooms left but pointed us in the right directions and we went to have a look at what the local bungalow accommodation was like. They all had double beds and a fan, with a shared bathroom outside. We also didn't want to walk all the way up to town with our bags so took a bungalow each for 20,000kip each (about 1.50). After we'd put our bags away we had some lunch, I opted for scrambled eggs which were just fried eggs all chopped into little bit really, and Angela had lentil and pumpkin curry, which having not finished, I ended up finishing and it was delicious!

The bungalow room is basic but on river, on stilts in fact. It has a mossie net, balcony, fan, hammock and double bed. The shared toilet is a squat and the shower is basic and I think just rain water.
15:42 After lunch we walked up to town and met Paul and Jane from Brighton who we'd met/went room hunting with initially. They walked up to town and are staying in a very nice place, we think called malinah, where they have ensuite rooms with hot water and a sit down toilet and 2 singles for 50000! If anyone goes to Don Det I'd recommend stating there if you don't mind the kilometre walk up to town. We had a drink with them whilst they ate dinner in one place, then we went round to see their bungalow and then up the short path to a little place called sunset for more drinks and some dinner.

Aside: Paul and Jane are from Brighton and spent 18months living in New Zealand and are returning home, Paul is in IT Recruitment (yay for me as I'm going to send him my cv when I get back) and Jane is in Garment Technology so a buyer for shops essentially.
Did I mention about Angela? She's Italian, been living in Shenzhen, China (border if Hong Kong) as a Italian-Chinese translator and is also having a bit of a month and a half trip before going back to Italy for a few months then returning to China.
17:50 I spent all Afternoon and evening with 3 new friends, followed by another Aussie couple, who arrived in time for dinner, laughing and drinking and watching the sunset on the Mekong and a distant lightning storm in the clouds. Tomorrow we will spend day together as well renting a bike and going to find a waterfall and a Sunday roast dinner! It was a wonderful evening and a dark walk back to our bungalows at the end of the night, fortunately i have a petzl head torch my wee sis bought me for my birthday which I always have on me, so we got back without falling in he Mekong!

I came back to my room, put my mossy net down, lit a mossy coil (which I put out at about 2am because my room was getting so smoky!) and watched tomb raider, and my inside head kept saying "I went there!" when I saw the bits in the temples of Ta Prohm.

Best: new friends and an afternoon of drink and chat on this small chilled island

Worst: anger at corrupt border post men

Beautiful: sunset on the Mekong and distant lightning with stars above us.
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