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Don Det, a 4000 island adventure...

sunny 30 °C

4000 Islands, Don Det and Don Khon
Having braved the border, the bus, the other bus and the boat, it was now time for our reward, the idyllic river islands of Don Det and Don Khon! Of course we had arrived in the dark and having spent not too long choosing a hostel – squat toilet, hammock outside, 30,000kip ($4), called Nouphit, we’d grabbed something unmemorable to eat and slumped into bed.

In the morning Susie woke up at sunrise and soon dragged John out of bed to see our impressive room with a view’s view....

After taking it in for a while we decided to go for an explore and set out to walk around the island. In the early morning light the rice fields and bungalows looked incredible, as did the waterside. All of the Lao were of course already busy at work.....

herding buffalo

(including 3 boys who thought leading a buffalo down a slope and back up again was the best game ever)...

going to school or ferrying supplies on their little boats,

as well as loads of pigs!.

We walked for the best part of an hour down the longer west side of the island where the buildings, though always few, faded to just a trickle. Perfect! At the end of the island we were presented with a rather surreal object to fill this rural land. A French arched railway bridge, complete with ruined tracks! The bridge had been a failed attempt by the French to make the Mekong and the islands into a trading route to China. This railway was, until recently, the only bit of railway ever built in Laos!

After this sight we continued on up the shorter side of the island and saw similar views of beautiful fields and farms and returned to ‘civilization’. We had a slightly overpriced but very necessary baguette (Laos bread is amazing, one thing to thank the French for!) with eggs and tomatoes for breakfast, had a chill and soon it was lunch time. This was another disappointing meal of cucumber....and not alot else.
Time for another walk! The bridge we had seen earlier is the link from Don Det to Don Khon, the more refined of the two islands. We set off down what would have been the railway route down the centre of the island from Don Det village pier..... to Don Khon. Unfortunately crossing the bridge is 20,000Kip each (about $3) and although according to most people we spoke to its easily dodged, we paid it in the hope it goes to someone who needs it. After crossing we headed for the “small” waterfall about 1km away.

When we arrived Susie thought this was it.....

But it actually looked more like this.....


Also we’d heard there was still a rusting locomotive from the old railway next to the tracks, a little way from where we crossed, which John was expectedly excited about. Needless to say he made sure we found it.....

As we walked back the sun was starting to set so we cruised up to Mr Happy’s bar to watch it come down. We were worried the clouds would preclude any postcard images but actually they added to the effect....

Once it was down they turned the lights off so we assumed it was our cue to leave. We headed back to the hostel area for dinner, yet another disappointing meal of Laap chicken, a spicy lime dish with rice. Dubious. Then it was off to bed, Susie had white water rafting on her mind for the morning......

Day two....we didn’t go rafting, you might be pleased to read, but we did go on a quest for lunch at “the veggie patch” a western farm which had just that day started to do food, and veggie lasagne was on the menu. Slightly expensive at 50,000k a portion, we shared one between us and wow was it tasty! Also we found out that the owners hadn’t been living there long and intended to grow all their own food in their rather inviting garden. Good luck to them *Susie hopes John doesn’t get any ideas of running away to Laos islands to be a farmer......*.
Between chilling in our hammocks and learning Japanese, we had samosas from a street seller for afternoon tea, which were also amazing and they became the plan for bus snacks the next day, and managed to get some dinner. Where we finally found some great food cooked by Lao, pumpkin burgers from Mama Tanon’s Rasta Cafe, which went especially well with the ketchup they had on the island. Roza, the best either of us had ever tasted! A bit of star gazing and then bed.. Ha what a lazy day compared to the first, but at least we’d found some food worth eating!

In the morning we’d booked ourselves on a boat to go to our next destination, Pakse and headed to the samosa lady for supplies but.....she wasn’t there! Bad bad times! Oh well. At the pier ready to go we joined the best part of 40 other tourists also heading away from paradise, we were bundled into the boats and headed for the mainland.......

Posted by John_713 04:29 Archived in Laos Tagged don_det 4000_islands si_phon_don nouphit Comments (1)

Cambodia to Laos...to Cambodia...to Laos....ARGH!

Never trust border guards.

overcast 27 °C

When we arrived in Kratie we booked seats on a bus from there to Nakasang in Laos. The bus was meant to leave at 12 the next day, great we thought, its 4 hours and we’ll be on Don Det for sunset. The next day came and the bus didn’t. In fact it didn’t come for two hours! When a bus did arrive, it wasn’t the one we’d been booked on, but another which was headed all the way to Vientiane. Fortunately this did mean it went past where we wanted to go so we got on board and headed to our.....beds! A sleeper bus in Cambodia, well there’s a first time for everything, though it would be a long way to fall from the top bunk!

The main worry over the bus being late was whether we would be able to get a visa at the Laos border. We’d read a few blogs which had hinted the visa on arrival service only ran normal office hours (and god knows what they’d be in sleepy Laos!) so at the very latest we’d want to arrive at the border was 5pm. We’d opted to get a visa on the border rather than in advance because it was $55 from Siem Reap or anywhere from $20 to $35 on the day. A gamble, but a worthy one, we hoped.

So we set off in that hope but weren’t too impressed when the bus we’d literally just got on, stopped so that some people could use and ATM, and we were even less impressed when it stopped 5 minutes outside Kratie so the drivers could eat their lunch! Anyway, we were now 2 ½ hours late and 5pm didn’’t seem so far away. After a few hours of napping we woke up to find the bus had dropped even further behind schedule for some reason making our hopes seem desperate. At 5:30pm the bus slowed, and slowed and stopped in the middle of nowhere next to a field. People got off for the usual fag break but the truth seemed to come out when a random moto drew up with a big barrel of something golden. We’d run out of petrol! Once that was filled lo and behold the bus wouldn’t start which meant the people outside had to push the double decker down the road to jump start it! With a big cheer it appeared to have worked but it was now nearly 6 and was getting darker by the minute.

10kms and half an hour later we arrived at the Cambodian border to find.....noone there! We all stood around clueless until from the distance a few motos and a suitcase carrying man in uniform arrived. We handed them our passports and the customary $1 for the Laos immigration retirement fund and headed down the dark road to the Laos side of the border. By this point we were pretty convinced it was going to cost an arm and a leg to get across, with some people banding about figures of $70 or more! Amazingly when we got there a very friendly border guard greeted us and quoted “just” $36! PHEW! All our fears of having to spend the night on the road were gone. We handed him our visa papers and passports and went to wait at the next window......

“John?!” came the call from the window.
“No stamp.”
“No Cambodia stamp”
“You what?”
“No Cambodia exit stamp, go back and get one and we give you Laos entry stamp.”
So John ran back down the road, where he couldn’t see his feet for the darkness, to the Cambodian border, where of course they’d all gone home. He then ran back panicked and spoke to the bus drivers who didn’t speak the best of English. They told him they didn’t have their number to call. Panic x 10. The drivers then spoke to Laos immigration who suggested he leave his passport there, go to nagasang for the night and come and get it in the morning. Well Nagasang was only 40 minutes away but that didn’t seem like the best idea. The discussions continued.....
Then a moto appeared and John was told to get on board. He did and headed off into the night back towards Cambodia......
The driver of the moto was one of the staff from the bus, but even in the dark he drove like he was in the motogp. Not the most reassuring position to be in for only my fourth moto ride! We stopped at the first house on the nearly deserted road and the driver explained the situation. Of course the locals didn’t have a clue but motioned us towards a bungalow a way down the road. Reluctantly the driver got me back onboard and we headed off into the night. Next stop was a military barracks where a rather rotuned and cantankerous officer was summoned from his bed (without a shirt on I might add.) (Moobs I might further add.) He seemed fairly miffed but sent us even further down the road. As we walked back to the moto I realised the driver had been keeping my passport in the basket on the front of the moto, marginally less safe than my pocket, so I rescused it. As I got onto the moto the other officer turned off the generator for their house and we were plunged into almost complete darkeness and then the moto wouldn’t start.....
Here we go I thought! Middle of nowhere, soldiers, half a Laos visa, half left Cambodia, eugh, stressful. Fortunately it turned out the driver had just forgotten to turn the key on the moto, maybe I wasn’t the only stressed one. Next stop was a house. With dogs. Who barked. Alot. This was a mistake and actually we wanted the building across the street. Thankfully the dogs didn’t bite! This building was the immigration office and more semi uniformed men emerged to fix my exit stamp. In the end it was so simple to fix. A simple stamp and date. And this time it didn’t even cost me a dollar! How nice of them.....
Back onto the moto to head back to the bus which was hopefully still waiting for us. The driver seemed to go even quicker this time and I really thought we were going to fall off. As you’re reading this now you can see that I didn’t and the bus was indeed waiting. Hurrah! All it took was another $2 to pay for the moto (which incidently belonged to a random Laos 12 yr old who had happened to be passing) and I was able to reboard the bus, visa in hand, legally exited Cambodia, relieved and ready to be on an island somewhere peaceful.

So the bus set off again (hopefully for the last time!) and it wasn’t long before we were told to get off because we’d finally arrived at Nakasang, where a boat would take us to Don Det. Noone really explained how this would all work though so we were pretty much dumped by the side of the road, all 20 of us, in the dark. Nice. Before too long a man appeared from somewhere and told us to get into his truck for a ride to the water. It would cost $3 rather than $2, due to the late hour (7:30pm), but would include our boat to the island. Now the truck did have seats but after perhaps 5 of us had got on with our bags we soon realised all 20 of us were not going to fit....comfortably. With 5 on the roof and a big squash we did all fit and in 15 minutes we were at the jetty. A similar situation transpired with the boat (though no one on the roof this time) and I have no idea how we all managed to fit in the end! Once again we set off into the night, on water this time, and headed for the dim lights in the distance which we hoped were Don Det. We landed on the shore happy to have arrived. We weren’t picky about where we stayed for the night and found the first place we could which didn’t have a queue. 30,000Kip a night did us just fine, even if it did mean cold showers, no sink and a squat toilet, but we were here! 4 hours later than we should have been but legal and a little wiser!

Posted by Susiep539 19:15 Archived in Cambodia Tagged laos cambodia_laos_border laos_visa don_det Comments (0)

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