The night bus to Pakse was an experience. Unlike the night buses in Vietnam, which had individual seats that reclined to nearly horizontal, the Laotian bus had actual beds that you share with another person. Fortunately I was with Julia so we shared a bed, however had I been on my own I would have been sharing with a random person- a lot to leave up to fate. Even though we were friends sharing good sleep was still hard to come by and we arrived in Pakse at 7 am still tired. On the bus we met a trio of guys traveling together; Bobby Vegas from Virginia, Chris from London, and Eli from Israel, and together we found accomodation.
After a failed attempt at napping, Julia and I took a stroll around town looking for travel agencies to book a trek with. We didn't find any, however we did manage to get lost, and it was 4 before we found our way back to the hotel. We rested for a bit, then met up with the trio, who had since become a foursome because a German friend of theirs named Lance came in on a later bus, and all went out to dinner. We went home early because we all agreed that we should go straight down to 4000 Islands instead of booking an expensive trek outside of Pakse.
We got on the bus at 8, and were dropped off at a small port town on the mainland at 10 to catch a ferry to Don Det, one of the more populated and tourist-friendly of the islands. 4000 Islands is at the southernmost tip of Laos and is where the Mekong river spreads out into a much wider body of water with MANY islands, some a few feet long and the largest, Don Khong, a few miles long. A number of the islands are inhabited, however only the largest three, Don Det, Don Khong, and Don Kon, have guesthouses for tourists.
Pic: The port where we got our ferry to Don Det
The 6 of us found a row of bamboo bungalows on the sunset side of Don Det- the two roads are called sunset rd and sunrise rd, for obvious reasons... For the rest of the day we relaxed in hammocks, went swimming in the Mekong, and went to the beach for sunset.
Pic: From Left: Bobby V, Julia, and Lance on the porch of our bungalow
While we were on the beach a water buffalo wandered down and sat down next to us. At first we were apprehensive, but after a while we slowly moved closer, and eventually were petting it- one guy even sat on its back!
Pics: 1. the water buffalo in the sunset 2. The water buffalo and I 3. Julia and the water buffalo
We went to dinner at an Indian restaurant and played cards there for a while, then went to a bar until the electricity on the whole island was cut off at 11. We heard that people were making a bonfire on the beach and went to join, then went home fairly early and crashed.
Julia and I woke up early the next morning to the call of the roosters and went to the main street to make travel plans for our next destinations, mine being Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Other than a few raging waterfalls and some rare freshwater dolphins there isn't a whole to do on the islands, so we rented bicycles and met up with the other guys. We rode for about an hour and crossed a bridge to Don Kon and found a beach to relax on.
Pic: Julia and I on the beach
After a few hours we got bored and rode to one of the many waterfalls. Because of the way the rocks are formed, a lot of water is funneled into a very small opening to get to the lower stream, so unlike the picturesque waterfalls in Laos or Vietnam this waterfall was more of a raging rapid than anything.
We rode back to town after a while to watch the sunset from our balcony. And, I'll say it again, what a sunset it was.
There was a big tropical storm in the evening so we went to a restaurant that had a covered porch for dinner and drinks so we could watch the lightening, then went home early again because I was leaving for Cambodia at 8 the next morning.
I woke up with the sunrise and the rooster again, and after packing my stuff up and saying bye to Julia was on my way in a boat back to the mainland. It took an hour to get to the border crossing to Cambodia, and the visa checkpoint was tiny. Literally just a shack.
Pic: The Cambodian border crossing
After crossing the border everyone got onto a different bus that took us the rest of the 8 hours to Phnom Penh. Rachel, one of the girls I met in Vietnam that is doing Peace Corps in Cambodia, told me that her and her friends were staying at the Top Banana Guesthouse near to the Independence monument so I went there and checked into a room.
The past week happened to be Gay Pride week in Cambodia and Rachel is gay so she helped organize it. That night her and her friends took me to a bar on a docked boat called Pontoon for a big party, complete with an array of drag queens that performed songs and danced. It was a pretty wild night.
Sunday morning Rachel and I woke up early and went to meet a professor of hers, named Roman, from Temple University for breakfast. He is a professor of Geographical History and is writing a book about cities building over ecological features of the landscape and how the melting pot international style of new construction all over the world is diminishing the local and unique feeling of each city. In Phnom Penh there is a huge central lake that is being filled in with dirt taken from outside the city so that developers can build condo developments and high-rise buildings. He took us to the lake after breakfast to explain what was going on there.
Pic: The lake being filled in with sand
We got into the Tuk Tuk that the professor hires every time he visits Phnom Penh (the driver literally wait outside the hotel all night until he comes out and chauffeurs him around all day) and went to Wat Phnom (on the only hill in the city, the temple from which the city got its name) at the base of which lives a family that he kind of adopted and has been supporting for years. He left that evening for Tokyo to work more on his book, so he went to say goodbye and we tagged along.
Pic: Rachel talking with the family.
In the afternoon I relaxed and did some work on my itinerary for the rest of Cambodia, went to dinner, then home and watched a movie.
I will be in Phnom Penh until Wednesday, when I head to Siam Reap and Angkor Wat.