Not more bicycles!

Trip Start Jan 12, 2013
1
20
42
Trip End Feb 27, 2013


Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
shadow
Where I stayed
Don Det Bungalows

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ahhh, a bright and early start to the day with renewed spirits that we'll make it to the island for sure today, no later than 3pm (promised arrival is somewhere between 11 and 12--we'll be happy with before nightfall).  Tetris game of people stacking results in our bags being put on the roof.  I really wish I had purchased that rain cover for my bag.  I didn't realize I'd need it to protect the bag from the heaps of dirt and dust.  It's getting destroyed.  Oh well, it was bought to be used!

We rode in our sardine can to the Cambodia-Laos border, got dumped out (you always have to walk across these borders), and proceeded to pay our bribes and visa dues.  I'm sure some of you, like me, are indignant and irritated with the 'overcharging' or more bluntly, 'corruption and bribery'.  However, when the border official tells you to pay $2.00 and you don't, he simply doesn't return your passport.  Simple as that.  When you want the visa and they tell you $4 over the published price (found online and in Lonely Planet book), you can be indignant all you want, but if you want in the country, well then, pay up.  It just gets annoying because they charge you at multiple places.  Stamp out of Cambodia, $2.  Visa into Laos, $4 overpriced.  Stamp into Laos, $2.  They call it 'overtime' or 'stamp fee'.  Those things don't exist.  One French gal put it nicely when she said, "They don't understand we have budgets and may not be rich.  They see toursist and they see a walking dollar."  True. True. 

Okay, I've ranted long enough about that.  On to the journey.  We sit in the sweltering heat on the concrete for about 30-45 min waiting for more people before we board our new bus.  Finally, we leave and arrive at the 'harbor' for Don Det Island.  Don Det is part of the Si Phan Don islands, which literally means '4000 islands', in the Mekong River.   Described as part of the land of lotus eaters where the pendulum of time swings more slowly, this seemed like a great place to relax after an epic journey.  We took the water taxi which was a long boat powered by a lawnmower engine over to the island...where, incidentally the writings about the island hit home quite nicely as we 'docked' on the beach itself next to a lounging water buffalo.  Unlike the islands off the coast of Cambodia, this one is quite a bit more developed with electricity (likely because it's only a 5 min boat ride away from the mainland versus a 2 hr one) and many restaurants/bungalows

So there, we made it.  Hot and tired, we learn that all the guesthouses are full.  A nice English dude that owns a guesthouse offered up his hammocks and restaurant platform for us to sleep on.  Swell.  His landlord offered to let us borrow a bicycle to cycle around the island to try and find accomodation.  This is the part of traveling that is tiring...a two day saga to arrive wanting only to have a place to relax and put your bag down (and for me, a place to use the toilet--I really like bathrooms), but finding out in the midday heat after not having eaten for 6 hours, that you have no where to stay...so you just stop, relax, have a meal and water and then go from there.  If I have to sleep outside, well, I'll be glad to have a hammock.  Could be worse. 

After eating, I hop on the bicycle and set off.  I have no idea where I'm going other than I know this is an island and there are more guesthouses on the other side...  I wind my way on this single-track dirt path through rice paddy fields and monks' house.  I keep heading toward buildings in the distance.  It is baking hot.  The dust is settling on my feet and I can feel it caking between my toes.  The dry season is so dirty and dusty, it's almost like sand.  Finally, I come across some beautiful bungalows and it's my (and the guys') lucky day.  They have two bungalows, one with one bed and one with two beds!  Sweet!  I book them immediately.  They have a private, ensuite bathroom with hot water AND a flushing toilet!!  I couldn't be happier. 
After settling in, Ali and I take off on rented bicycles to find the waterfall on the adjacent island (connected by a bridge).  Now, I know I complained about the bike riding in Siem Reap.  Let me take that back.  THIS was some terrible bike riding.  Our bikes are one speed only and my seat was curved up at about a 45 degree angle making sitting very uncomfortable.  It had almost no brakes...I couldn't even skid the tires when I full-on pressed the brakes.  Then, the road was a mash-up of packed dust and rocks.  I thought for sure I was gonna blow a tire. 

We managed to get lost and turn a one hour trip into a 4 hour trip.  We finally found that stupid waterfall though...and then we pedalled furiously back in an effort to beat darkness.  We failed.  No lights on our bikes and no headlamps.  No boy scouts here---aren't they always prepared? Anyhow, we made it back and Gav our Aussie friend was 'spun out' as his slang would say.  Means he was worried sick.  He even hired a motorcycle and went around the islands looking for us.  He was sure we were lost or hurt somewhere.  See, people would notice if I went missing.  :)
We ate with the French couple that endured the two day trek to Don Det with us.  At our table, we had a French, Spanish, Canadian, American, Australian, and South African delegate.  Being around the different groups is always informative.  For example, as a result of the apartheid sanctions by other countries on South Africa, traveling is very difficult.  When the apartheid was ongoing, South Africans were  not allowed entry into many countries and now, even 20 years later, it is still difficult.  Ali must gain prior approval via the embassies within South Africa.  He can't come to Laos and go to the Thai embassy to get a visa.  Nope, all has to be done prior to leaving.  For some countries, in order to get a visa, he has to provide bank statements proving he is eligible to travel.  Not only do United States citizens enjoy relatively free and easy travel, we also are lucky enough that no matter where we go, if we have U.S. dollars, we'll be fine.  You can always change U.S. dollars to any currency.  It is the most desired currency despite the fact that it's not worth as much as the Euro or Austrailian dollar or even the Bristish pound.  Using Ali as an example again, he had to take his currency, the rand, and convert it to other currency such as Euro, U.S. dollar, or pound before traveling because no country in Southeast Asia is going to change over rands.  Then, once in his destination country, he has to change money again.  In his head, it all becomes so complicated because everything is equated to the dollar: 8000 kip to 1 U.S. dollar, 4000 riel to 1 U.S. dollar, etc. etc.  So, he has to figure out how much the 130,000 kip room is in U.S. dollars and then convert U.S. dollars to his home currency of rand to have an idea of what he's really spending.  Crazy! 

I believe I've rambled long enough and I have a big day tomorrow of kayaking down the Mekong.  Never thought I'd be doing that!!!  Goodnight!
Slideshow Report as Spam

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: