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Location 41, 42, 43, & 44: Don Det/Khone, Pakse, Bolaven Loop & Vang Vieng, Laos

LAOS | Tuesday, 26 July 2016 | Views [376]

Don Det/Khone, Pakse, Bolaven Loop, & Vang Vieng - Laos

After one night in Kratie to see the dolphins it was time to cross the border and head to Laos.  I had read multiple forums and online websites addressing some issues that arise when going north on the border from Cambodia to Laos.  The first issue is that the border closes at random times throughout the day and if you are arrive during one of those times, the Laos border patrol will charge an "overtime" fee, which makes the visa more expensive.  The second issue is the driver of the bus from Cambodia to Laos takes all the travelers' passports and brings them to the border agent as a "favor", to those on board.  The second issue plagued my entire bus, and some more than others, because as he was collecting our passports and distributing the visa application; he started making up costs for each foreign passport, meaning if you were from Europe you had one fee, and if you are from the states you had a different fee.  It was clear that the numbers he was making up were not the legitimate costs because if you view the government website, the costs are clearly stated. The ride from Kratie to Don Det (where I was headed) was supposed to take a total of 6 hours, but when we arrived at the border it had already been 9 hours, so people weren't really up for arguing with the guy.  I on the other hand, was up for at least saving some money.  I politely told the driver that I didn't have the $40 dollars he needed to get my visa, so if he couldn't do it then I would walk across the border myself.  In reality it was only $5 more he was asking for, but between the 20+ people on the bus and all the "additional fees" he was creating I knew that he was going to make a real killing.  He claimed he would still do it, but when we crossed over he would take me to an ATM to get him the remaining money.  I had a strong inkling that he would not be able to follow through on this plan, so I nodded my head in agreement.  Once he returned back (he left us at a roadside stand to twiddle our thumbs) after 45 minutes of waiting he gave back our passports and told us to cross over the border.  As I suspected he was not able to cross over to Laos with us, so the part where I was supposed to pay him back didn't happen. Overall- each one of us was ripped off to some degree, so my recommendation to you if you ever make this journey yourself, just cross through the border control on your own.  Once we had finally reached Laos, it was one more packed bus ride to Nakasang and from there a 15 minute boat ride to Don Det (part of the 4000 Islands).  We finally reached the island around 7pm and then from there the group I was traveling with (who I met that day, but after hours of suffering together, you get quite close) wandered till we found suitable accommodation. We all took showers and then grabbed dinner and a beer before we turned in for the night.

On day 2 we all woke up around 9am, grabbed breakfast and then orchestrated out bicycles to ride around the island for the day. We had eight of us in the group, so we each rented a bike and took them across the bridge to the neighboring island of Don Khone (9 kilometers).  Don Khone hosts the largest waterfall in SE Asia, so it was a really enjoyable ride (though hot) to end up there.  Once we parked the bikes, we paid the entry fee to the national park and then walked the kilometer or so down to where you can swim.  The "beach" was really just a riverbank on the Mekong that was safe enough to swim without being taken by the current.  The Mekong is monstrous and with it being rainy season it is very full and very fast moving, the swimming area was essentially an enclosed inlet with weaker currents.  We spent about an hour or so enjoying the water and then we posted up in one of the riverside bungalows to just hangout.  Once we reached late afternoon we made the walk back to our bikes and then back to hostel.  The ride itself is only about 40 minutes, but after a full day of sun and walking it felt longer.  We all showered and walked to a restaurant/guesthouse that was highly recommended by several people.  The group had expanded to about 12 people and when we finally put our order in to the woman running the guesthouse it became very clear that we weren't going to be eating anytime soon.  She had about 4 tables (including ours) with 5 people or more and it was a single woman in the back cooking.  I waited for 2 hours and then decided I couldn't wait any longer, so I broke away from the group and walked to the nearest place serving food.  It took the new place an additional 35 minutes to bring me my food, but it was well worth it.  I then walked back to the room and about 40 minutes later the rest of the group arrived, so my decision to leave early was a sound one.

On day 3 the group divided because some of us wanted to just relax and others wanted to take the kayak trip to see the freshwater dolphins, on the Cambodian border.  I had just seen these same species of dolphins two days prior, so I opted to hang by a local pool.  I did hear that the group never actually saw the dolphins, but the kayak adventure was apparently successful nonetheless.  In the evening we all booked tickets to our next locations and then headed to sleep early.

In the morning we all took buses to Pakse, where I split off and decided to rent a motorbike to do the Bolaven Plateau Loop, which is essentially a monstrous motorbike ride through central Laos.  The route can either be done on the large outer loop or the smaller inner loop, I chose to do the smaller loop since I was on my own.  I think if I had been with a larger group or at least a few others I would have chose to do the larger of the two, but in the instance something bad happened I wanted to be somewhat near Pakse (I left my large backpack in the closet of the bike rental shop).  The next day I woke up at 7am, packed my small bag and then set out on the 120 kilometer ride to the guesthouse I would stay that night.  On the ride I had the opportunity to stop at several different waterfalls, some which were only to be viewed, but others where you could actually get in and swim.  I was on my own, so I usually just jumped into cool off and then got back on the bike.  I stopped at a coffee plantation to sample local coffee and get a brief tour of the farm.  The last 40 kilometers were extremely miserable because it torrentially down poured the entire ride.  I am still a novice motorbike rider, but did have the foresight to slow down and wrap myself/backpack in my rain coat.  I pulled off the road two times when there was absolutely no visibility, but besides those short stops I rode through the rain. After what felt like years on this bike I finally arrived at Tad Lo where I found a homestay, which was essentially a shed with queen mattresses and mosquito nets, but for less than $5 a night I was sold.  Exhausted from the day, I grabbed some dinner and then went to bed.

The second day I woke up, got back on the bike to take the other half of the loop back to Pakse.  The second half is like the first in that it is beautiful views of the Laotian countryside and opportunities to stop at various waterfalls.  The first half was great, but like the day before the rains started to come, so I opted to strap the rain coat on again and just keep my head down till I made it to Pakse.  I had to catch a night bus to Vang Vieng that evening, so I didn't really want to get stuck in the boonies with no time to collect my pack, before heading to the bus station.  Overall- despite the weather the ride was really spectacular and definitely pushed my mental limits, glad to have checked it off the list.  

From Pakse I took the overnight + minivan ride (17 hours) to Vang Vieng.  If you have heard of Vang Vieng before than you most likely have heard of the tubing down the Mekong. Since we arrived around 1pm and the weather wasn't great, I opted out of tubing the first day.  I met up with a friend from Don Det and then we just grabbed dinner and chilled at a nearby bar.  The next morning when I woke up the same friend and I decided to get over to the tube rental place to see what all the hype was about.  She and I were able to meet a few other people before we jumped in, so our group had expanded a bit, which was good because the bigger the group, the more people you have watching each other's tubes (deposit was required).  Since 2011 they have restructured the tubing situation because so many deaths and injuries occurred from drunk tubers makinf poor decisions.  Presently- there are two bars open along the tubing route and you make a stop at each one to meet others and grab a drink.  The group we started with ended up expanding a bit and the entire day was a lot of fun.  We did have a minor incident with a friend's "dry bag" getting flooded with water, but the majority of the belongings made it out okay.  It was a long day overall, so once I made it back to my hostel with all my belongings I was ready to call it a night.

The next day I opted to save some money and just hangout at a restaurant that plays "Friends" episodes all day, everyday. In the evening a few of us walked to an English owned restaurant called Earth for the sunset and a final meal in Vang Vieng, the view was beautiful and the potato wedges were even better.  That evening all of the backpackers in my shared room had left, so I had a quad to myself for the night.  I decided to take advantage of the low noise and fan to get a great night's sleep.  The next morning I woke up and booked a ticket to Luang Prabang.  It was intended to be a 4 hour ride on the new road, but ended up being close to 6, so I am glad to say we have arrived, finally.


See photos here.


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