THE ASIA DIARIES #7: 4000 ISLANDS AND VIENTIANE
001. Last time I left you we were about to embark on the border crossing from Siem Reap, Cambodia to 4000 Islands, Laos. It was quite a long journey including three mini vans and many hours but we did finally make it. We were very lucky to be travelling with a friendly American man who actually lived on the island in Laos we were heading too, so he gave our whole van a language lesson, showed us magic tricks and led the way when crossing the borders. Cambodia and Laos are two developing countries with pretty corrupt governments. My tip for when you are at the border is to make sure you definitely have enough cash in US dollars. The initial visa fee is about $20 from memory but because you are crossing in between these corrupt countries there is a few extra dollars here and there for "stamp" or "processing" fees. In the scheme of things it really isn't that bad- paying the extra corrupted $2 is just how Asia works. Another vital tip is CARRY YOUR BAGS OVER THE BORDER. Once you are there there is no going back and you will be stepping onto a new mini van to continue on your journey. While filling out our paper work we met a girl who made that exact mistake and was definitely in a pickle.
002. 4000 Islands is a misleading name for this part of Laos. The islands are situated in the Mekong River and it's not a tropical beach paradise but is definitely worth visiting. We chose to stay on the biggest of the islands called Don Det. The islands have no cars, everyone gets around by bicycles (or motorbikes if you're a local), there are only small dirt roads and chickens, cows, buffaloes, pigs, cats and dogs run free. We were walking along the street trying to find somewhere to stay when a smiley Laotian lady called out from her restaurant "HELLO SABAIDEE, I HAVE ROOM!" This was Mama Piang and we ended up staying at her lovely little guesthouse for the duration of our stay at only $8 a night ($4 each!!!). Lazy Laos is what the country is sometimes called and Don Det embodies this 100%. Our days consisted of hammock flopping, eating delicious Laoation food, playing with Mama Piang's kittens, bike riding and occasionally adventuring out a bit further to find some waterfalls. It was such a chilled out relaxing place to try and roughly plan our next destination.
003. After almost a week in Don Det we jumped on a little boat back to the mainland, boarded a bus for Pakse, then waited in Pakse for a few hours before boarding our overnight bus to the capital, Vientiane. I was honestly pretty surprised with how good the overnight bus was. I read a few horror experiences online before we booked it, but honestly we had a pretty good trip and even managed a few hours sleep! Lucky I was travelling with Ben, so cuddling up close on the "double" size bed wasn't a problem. However, I can't speak for the 6 foot tall backpacker and little Laotian man sleeping opposite us! We arrived in Vientiane in the early hours of the morning, jumped in a tuk tuk and found a room in the first placed we looked at. It wasn't nice at all but we were too exhausted to keep looking. After having a nice long nap we explored Vientiane; this city just wasn't for us, not enough nature or things that excited us to do. So naturally we walked into the closest travel shop and booked a bus to Vang Vieng that left the next morning!