Last known location: London, England

The Long Road North

After Siem Reap our plan was to head to the border with Laos, and then travel north through the narrow strip of southern Laos, following the Mekong river to the capital Vientiane, taking a week or so to travel the 900 miles with a few stops along the way.

The first leg of the journey was the 8 hour trip to Kratie, a small Cambodian town near the border. We set off from our hotel at 5am to catch the coach from the travel agent’s round the corner. When we arrived all we could see was a tiny minibus, and after waiting around for a while it turned out that that was our transport, not quite what we were sold. An hour later, we were still sat there, and the 15-seater minibus by then had 21 people on board! Because there was so much luggage all the bags were tied into the tiny boot, and the backdoor was then tied down half-closed. A small Cambodian man was then lying on top of all the luggage and slightly unbelievably another one was standing with his feet inside the back holding on to the roof – he stayed in this position for a total of 4 hours as we sped along!

Eventually we met up with a proper bus coming from Phnom Penh – this was also full though so we had to sit in aisle for half an hour or so. A little while later the bus itself started to have a few issues. After stopping 3 or 4 times to let the engine cool down it finally gave up the ghost with water pouring out the back. After an hour stood in the middle of nowhere we eventually got on the move again thanks to some magic involving superglue and talcum powder! We finally arrived in Kratie 4 hours late, and not in the best of moods!

Kratie was a tiny place, and the next morning we were back on the bus heading for Laos. We left Cambodia and crossed the deserted border, but not before having to pay the border guards on either side a few dollars each to have our passports stamped. The money went straight into their pockets, and Gem was keen to kick up a fuss as we had to pay more than some of the other westerners on the bus, but i didn’t think aggravating border guards was a good idea!

Our next stop was the area known as the 4000 Islands, a wide stretch of the Mekong with waterfalls, and obviously plenty of islands! We spent a night on Don Det, reaching the island by boat as the sun was setting, and checking into a tiny bungalow on stilts on the rivers edge. The islands have only had electricity in the last few years, and there isn’t much to do other than sit in a hammock watching the scenery. That night we met a few other travellers who’d been doing exactly that for a week or more and had no intention of moving on!

The next morning we hired bikes and explored the island, before heading over the bridge to island of Don Khon, where we arranged another bungalow for the next 2 nights in a little village. We didn’t do much for the next couple of days, other than riding our bikes to find the waterfalls, reading, and having a Beer Lao watching the spectacular Mekong sunsets. Hard life!

We eventually moved on, catching the bus again, four hours to the town of Champasak, for another two night stopover. Calling it a town is a bit generous, as it was even quieter than on the islands with a couple of restaurants and pretty basic guesthouses (our room was £2), and a lot of locals lounging around or speeding about on mopeds. While we were there we saw the Angkor-era temples at Wat Phu, which provided spectacular views over the Mekong valley.

Next it was on to Pakse to catch a bus further north. It was half an hour or so on a Songthaew (literally Two Rows), basically a pick up truck with two benches in the back. The road to town was still being built, so the whole thing was full of a dust storm for the entire journey! That was followed by yet another coach journey and a stopover in Savannakhet – yet another tiny place (apparently though it’s the 2nd largest city in country!) with dingy hotels and not much happening – there seemed to be more dogs than people, and they loved having howling matches in the middle of the night!

We finally arrived in the Laos capital Vientiane after yet another journey, this time with the bus so full that people were sitting all the way down the aisle and hanging out the door! We were happy to finally arrive in a decent sized place and be staying there for more than a couple of nights!

1 Comment:
  1. Rose 28 Jan, 2011

    Oh my God, your bus journeys sound horrendous!! I hope you won’t be putting me through anything like that!!

    Hope the next part of your journey is not so traumatic!!


    Mum x x x

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