So it’s the last night I’m in Don Det. Originally I had planned on being here for only two nights, but it turned out to be for four nights. It’s just so pretty here that it’s hard to leave. There are a few similarities between Don Det and the Gilli Islands south of Bali in Indonesia. When I was at the Gilli Islands it was one of the best places I’ve ever been for relaxing. It was so good that I didn’t want to leave when I did. So now I’m here in a place that is very similar, but with it’s own special feel. There are no cars allowed on the island, there are scooters though, and the town just has this really great vibe. About half the island is for the tourists, and the other half is mostly farms. The last couple of days I’ve walked around the island just to get a look at the whole thing. Yesterday morning I went by myself, and last night I went with Sophie. We had a great time walking along the narrow path in near complete darkness.

A young boy leading a cow.
A young boy leading a cow.
Loved this photo of the water buffalo. There was something so serene that almost makes me wish for a simpler life.
Loved this photo of the water buffalo. There was something so serene that almost makes me wish for a simpler life.

As I write this I’ve been in Cambodia for three nights. I left Don Det with no clue of a firm destination and decided to travel with the group that I’ve been with for about a week and a half. They’ve been great to be around and it just made sense to me to stick with them at least a little bit longer. Three of the group have moved on, and we gained one at the Cambodian border. Eventually I’ll probably be heading the  coast of Cambodia before I make it into Vietnam, but who knows for sure. My visa for Vietnam starts on December first, so I still have about ten days before it’s valid.

Sophie. So cute. :)
Sophie. So cute. :)
Boat going by the restaurant at sunset at Don Det.
Boat going by the restaurant at sunset at Don Det.

The trip to Siem Reap from Don Det was a little bit of a nightmare. I’ve had worse experiences, but with high heat of the midday sun, it wasn’t a lot of fun time. It seems that the border everyone wants money from the tourists. Leaving Laos you must pay $30, the next stop is a ‘quarantine checkpoint’ and they want $1. After that, at the Cambodia border they want $30, then to leave the border you need a bus which is another $15. In the end, with our group of four, we were forced to share our money. I made it though to the bus ticket before I ran out of money, two other people ran out earlier. I gave them what I had left, and the other guy helped them too. When we went to buy the bus tickets to Siem Reap, nobody had any money left at all. So we made a deal with the bus driver that he would stop at an ATM so we could get some money to pay him. The ATM we stopped at wouldn’t give me any money, and I got the message to contact the issuing bank… Damn. So David, one of the guys I’m traveling with paid for my ticket and then gave me $100 to make sure that I could survive until I straightened out the situation. The next day I called the bank and they told me that there wasn’t anything wrong with the card, and I was able to get money, so it worked out… but for a day I was worried and very embarrassed.

 

After a few hours of relaxing on the hammock I felt the need to go take some photos of the island. It was getting close to sunset and I wanted to see if I could get something good for the blog. I really wasn’t successful, but as I was walking around I met up with David, (and eventually Sophie) who was doing the same thing so we walked around for a while. After walking around a bit, we ended up at the same restaurant as we were at earlier to wait for the others to show up. All good, had a couple of beers.

Sophie
Sophie

Sophie is a Chinese girl that has been traveling alone and lately with us, or maybe I’m traveling with her now… Anyway, I haven’t really talked to her because she’s very quiet and kind of keeps to herself and for some reason we never really talked. So last night I decided to start a conversation, the rest of the night we hung out together mostly just looking at the sky and searching the sky for shooting stars. It was a great night and I hope that I get a chance to do it again sometime. There is a reason why I’m telling this story too.

On our way back towards the hotels we are walking around and looking up at the sky and I walk off the side of the path and fall down the bank of the river. If it hadn’t been so embarrassing it would have been the funniest thing ever… actually it was the funniest thing ever. Here I am walking with a cute girl that I have just started talking to, and wouldn’t you know it, I fall about fifteen feet down into the bushes of the riverbank. It was a funny fall to, because the first part I was basically falling, but maybe a better description was sliding on my back head first towards the river, but still under a little bit of control. I finally came to an almost stop, that is until gravity took over and my legs went over my head. It was almost beautiful the way I did a complete, nearly perfect, tucked backwards somersault another ten feet down. 🙂  I was so humiliated all I could do is laugh. Sophie was going crazy though, I don’t think I can blame her though, from her perspective I pretty much just disappeared over the side of the path.

 

 

sunset on the river.
sunset on the river.

Besides a bruised ego, I did get a bunch of scratches. I also woke this morning with a sore area below my neck, between my shoulders. It was funny though, and I swore Sophie to secrecy so I wouldn’t have to relive the event. I always consider my experiences when I travel to be the most important things, and although I never really considered and experience like this, I have to say it is a great story that I’ll remember forever.

 

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon having arrived at 4000 Islands. The six of us all got off the bus and onto the ferry to the island named Don Det a couple of hours ago. We got rooms and then met for lunch. Lunch was in a restaurant called Happy Day. It is a direct throwback to a hippy bar that you could possibly imagine maybe from Jamaica. The restaurant is filled with mostly young backpackers laying on pillows. Most are drinking beer and chatting. Some are rolling joints or smoking weed. It was so relaxed and I really liked what I consider to be the true backpacker vibe. There is a huge painting of Bob Marley on the ceiling and words of wisdom are scrawled all over the walls. Most of these little tidbits are about drugs and the experience of taking drugs. It was kind of funny. I feel like I need to state that this is a restaurant, not anything else. It’s not some den of delinquents or anything close to something like that, it’s a working restaurant that had great food. At one point the owner came over to our table and we started to chat, about ten minutes of talking with all of us, someone comes up to him and hands him a lit joint. He takes a couple of hits and passes it to some of us in our group. I don’t smoke, but it was just so laid back.

 

This is the main road of the island I'm on.
This is the main road of the island I’m on.
yet another photo of a small boat on a river. :)
yet another photo of a small boat on a river. :)

After lunch we went back to our hotels. The others rented a more traditional room in a guest house on the main road. I, always wanting to be different, rented a bungalow that is situated on bank of the Mekong River. It was the first place that we looked at as we got off the ferry, but the others didn’t like it. I don’t blame them, it’s kind of nasty… kind of if you let yourself think that way. I on the other hand saw this bungalow as paradise. It is as close to living in a village as a tourist can get. Everywhere you go along the Mekong you see bungalows like the one I’m staying at. It’s kind of ratty, but there is a charm to it. The bungalow has a small porch complete with a hammock. There are boats going down the river like cars going down the street and every once in a while there is a boat that pulls up to the bank to drop off passengers. It seems that every half hour a nearby rooster calls out, there are small kids playing on the hammocks of the bungalow right next to mine. And much of the time there is nothing but quiet.

 

Right now I’m laying on the hammock, the chugging of a boat engine in the near distance fading as it gets further away and thinking how great my life is. J

 

The hammock that I spend way too much time in.
The hammock that I spend way too much time in.

Don Det is an island in the tourist destination of 4000 Islands. I don’t know very much about it except that I think it’s fairly new on the backpacking circuit, at least I had never heard about it until a few weeks ago. Unlike Luang Prabang, Don Det is very rough around the edges. What I mean is that the main street is pretty much a sidewalk that is mostly just dirt. There are small shops that line the street that sell everything you can think of, from toothpaste to flip-flops. There are no cars on the island and just a few scooters. I think it would be nice if they got rid of the scooters too, they can be kind of dangerous on the narrow street.

 

 

 

I spent my second day in Pakse hanging out with the group that I was with in Vientiane. There are two guys from Belgium, one girl from China, one guy from Spain, and another guy from Belgium. The latter being the guy that I had sat next to on the last two bus trips that I’ve been on. I never really planned on traveling with the group but they are very good people and I’m having a great time, so at least for the next few days I’ll be around them. In two days they will be leaving for Cambodia and then going in different directions. I will be going to Cambodia as well, but I don’t think we’re going the same direction so we’ll most likely part then.

This is the group that I've been traveling with for the last couple of days. Well, everyone except for me... I was the one taking the photo.
This is the group that I’ve been traveling with for the last couple of days. Well, everyone except for me… I was the one taking the photo.

 

We spent the day on a small tour around the city. We left at about 10 and got back around 3. We hired a tuk-tuk to take us to see some waterfalls and a coffee plantation. The waterfalls were pretty impressive, but I don’t think we actually went to the coffee plantation. I’m trying to figure out if the driver thinks he took us there or he just decided that he didn’t want to and he ignored our request to go. 🙂 It seems pretty common for many of the Lao people to answer a question with, “Yes.” The thing is, I don’t think they even know what they are saying yes to. 🙂

 

Just another photo of me in my standard pose. This was at the first waterfall that we stopped at.
Just another photo of me in my standard pose. This was at the first waterfall that we stopped at.
People selling things along the road. Not really that interesting, but I still like seeing things like that.
People selling things along the road. Not really that interesting, but I still like seeing things like that.

Pakse is a small but very nice town and it felt good to get out of it for the afternoon. I’m not going to do step-by-step of what we did just because I’m not in the mood. Basically we went to two waterfalls.

DSC03758
The first waterfall that we stopped at. I actually had dozens of photos but didn’t feel like posting any more.
DSC03786
The second waterfall. There was a little girl just sitting there eating an ice cream looking at the falls.

 

We leave for 4000 Islands tomorrow morning.

I’m in Pakse, Laos right now. I got here this morning about 7 after a twelve hour bus ride from Vientiane. I know that what comes next will probably be kind of boring to anyone reading this, but I want to put it down for some future time when I need to remember what could be considered the worst bus ride I’ve had in a long time.

So I booked a ticket two days ago on a sleeper bus to Pakse. I have never been on a true sleeper bus that has beds. I have been on a sleeper bus that had seats that folded almost all the way back, but always up for a new experience I was looking forward to a bed on a bus.

Our transport to the bus station was in the back of a kind of pickup truck with a cover and seats in the back area. It was packed and not very comfortable, but the ride only lasted about thirty minutes. On another post I talked about a Belgium guy that was passed out next to me on my bus ride to Vientiane, and how he was staying at the same hostel as me. It turned out that he was also going on the bus to Pakse. We get to the bus station and everything seems to be going very smoothly, the station wasn’t crowded and I was on the bus in about thirty minutes. That’s when things started to really go bad. It turns out that the bed on the bus is small, about 5 feet long and about 4 feet wide, and…. And this is a big “and,”  two people share the bed. I couldn’t believe it, two strangers sharing a bed that is only 4 feet wide is bad enough, but then you can’t even stretch out your legs. I get to my bed hoping that some small girl would have to share with me, but no, it was the Belgium guy. It seemed so improbable that it would have been him. I guess it’s better to know who you’re going to be sleeping next to.

There is something so authentic about the fishermen on the river.
There is something so authentic about the fishermen on the river.

So here I am at about 8pm squished next to a Belgium guy (David) and I’m dying. There isn’t enough room to move around, my legs are bent and starting to cramp up, and I’m starting to get a little claustrophobic. The road is so bumpy that I’m hitting my head on a bar that goes across the window, most of the time my pillow  dampens the thud my head made, but sometimes when the pillow had shifted, my head hit hard. 🙂  The whole night I was waking up because either David had strayed over to my side of the bed or by the bang of my head against that damn bar. I did get David back though. A couple of times I woke up to my leg kicking him… well not really kicking, more like falling on him.

Just a motorcyclist that is taking a break in the shade.
Just a motorcyclist that is taking a break in the shade.
Some farmers cultivating their lush and bountiful garden.
Some farmers cultivating their lush and bountiful garden.

I can honestly say that this ‘sleeper bus’ is the worst conceived idea I’ve ever experienced. I know in time I’ll be laughing about it, in fact this morning I was hanging out with David (we’re staying at the same hotel here in Pakse) and his friend Jose and Sophie, and we were laughing about the experience. What makes it even funnier is that passengers pay more for the bus.

Pakse is a small town and I almost instantly got a good vibe from it. It feels more like a real village in Laos. I mean there are tourists all over but it still feels much more real than many of the other places that I’ve gone recently.

I didn’t do much today and only managed to walk around for about thirty minutes (other than the morning walk from the bus to the hotel). I walked down to the river and took a few photos. Tomorrow though I’ll get better ones of the city and area around the city center.

Today is my last day in Vientiane and although I have been having a good time, there really isn’t too much more that I want to see. For the record, I don’t think that the city has changed that much since I was last here. There may be more people, or maybe more expats is more accurate, but in general there hasn’t been any real surprises since I got here a few days ago.

I just liked this photo because of the difference between old world and new. In reality she probably owns a Lexus but just wants the exercise of pushing the cart.
I just liked this photo because of the difference between old world and new. In reality she probably owns a Lexus but just wants the exercise of pushing the cart.

Last night I decided to get some night photos of some of the attractions around here. Specifically, I wanted some photos of the Patuxai Arch and of the night market. So before sunset I started out and managed to barely get to the arch before the sun went down. The Patuxai is a monument to those who fought the French for independence. The funny thing is that the US was going to build an airport and donated the concrete to the Laos government, the Lao built the monument instead. I write, “instead” but in all honestly I don’t know if the US changed its mind and was okay with the monument.

Patuxai Arch is arguably the center tourist spot in Vientiane.
Patuxai Arch is arguably the center tourist spot in Vientiane.
Patuxai Arch just as the sun was setting.
Patuxai Arch just as the sun was setting.

 

Me...
Me…
Patuxai Arch from the reverse side.
Patuxai Arch from the reverse side.
An architectural element on the arch. I thought the angle worked.
An architectural element on the arch. I thought the angle worked.

After that I headed to the riverbank to get some photos of the night market. I actually did this two nights ago but after walking for about thirty-minutes I realized that I forgot to put my SD card in my camera. I headed back to the hostel to grab it, but lost the desire to go back out again. So last night I did manage to take a few okay photos of the market, but probably not enough to give a good sense of how large it is. Kind of funny, I was walking through the market just minding my business looking for something to take a photo of when I kind of hear someone speaking English. I kept walking thinking that it wasn’t aimed at me. When I actually started to hear what was being said I realized that they were saying, “hello.” and, “Excuse me.” I turned around and there was a little old lady looking up at me. She kind of gave me a hard time because it took me so long to actually acknowledge her. We ended up talking for about five minutes and although I kept waiting for there to be a ‘catch’ to the conversation, there never was.

Balloon popping game. I like the repetition and the color of the balloons.
Balloon popping game. I like the repetition and the color of the balloons.
The night market from a hill.
The night market from a hill.

Today I am leaving for Pakse, Laos. It’s about a 12-hour bus ride from Vientiane and I leave at about 6:30pm. So I checked out of the hostel and have to find a way to kill about six hours. Fortunately the hostel is cool about letting me hang here until the tuk-tuk comes to pick me up. Funny too, the Belgium guy that I mentioned in the other post is going to be on the same bus as me. The other thing that I’m kind of nervous about is that I used a visa service to get a visa for Vietnam. Nothing special about it except that I’m supposed to get my passport back at 5 tonight. That’s cutting it pretty close to the time that I’m leaving for the bus station. I think it will work out so I’m not too concerned, but there is a ‘bug’ in the back of my mind that is trying to prepare myself for the chance that things may fall apart.

 

Just a statue at a temple on the riverbank. I don't know anything about it, just that there were a bunch of people placing flowers and praying in front of it.
Just a statue at a temple on the riverbank. I don’t know anything about it, just that there were a bunch of people placing flowers and praying in front of it.
Cold beer and dinner is one of the best things and I look forward to it nearly every night.
Cold beer and dinner is one of the best things and I look forward to it nearly every night.