The best way I can sum up the journey is “The bus ride from Hell.” I was picked up from my guesthouse in Kratie, Cambodia at 7:30 AM. After three hours in an extremely crowded minivan, we were dropped off at a restaurant, awaiting our connecting bus. First red flag: we were told to wait three and a half hours for the bus. We lazed around for that amount of time, and…nothing. The bus finally came at 4:00 PM, but we were not allowed to board until 5:00. When the bus finally arrived to the border, we were charged $50 for the Laos visa. The price was supposed to be $35. Enraged at this scam, I confronted the bus driver, who threatened to leave us behind if we did not pay. Begrudgingly, (and much to my dismay) everyone else decided to pay the extra $15. Well, I did not want to be left alone in a strange land, so I had no choice but to give in to the highway robbery.
With tensions running high, we arrived at the boat dock for Don Det island. Although my bus ticket included boat fare, the driver required me to buy a ticket at the dock. He threatened to leave me stuck at the border crossing if I did not pay, so I conceded. With bared teeth, I paid the $5. At this point, the entire group was fed up with this scam artist; we just wanted to find guesthouses (it was already 10:30). Finally, we crossed over the river, and found accommodation for the night. It was the worst experience I have ever had with a travel bus, but I made it through alive.
So, how is Laos?
It’s awesome. In fact, Don Det is probably my favorite place I have been this entire trip! It’s just about the most relaxing, chilled out island I’ve visited. There are no tuk-tuks, motorbikes, or cars. It is extremely undeveloped, so there are cows, chickens, pigs, and bison walking all around. Yesterday, we walked through some rice fields. I found cheap accommodation ($1.87 per night) at the “Happy Bungalow.” The caretaker then took a group of us on a boat to a nearby island, where we drank Beer Laos and sat in the shade.
Today, we took an amazing kayaking tour down the Mekong River. It was breathtaking, and was a tremendously satisfying workout. During our lunch break, we sat on a dock and watched dolphins. I doubt my memories of this day will fade any time soon!
I don't think Don Det is indicative of Laos as a whole. However, I feel like this place was built for me. There are no scams like in Thailand, or even Cambodia. Since it is rainy season, the island is fairly empty; this allows for quiet exploration, and peaceful relaxation. The guesthouse I picked is perfect, both in price and in hospitality. Instead of spending a few days here, I plan on staying for at least a week. I cannot recommend the island of Don Det enough!
Overall, a really lousy journey lead to my favorite country (so far)! I hope to explore much more of Laos during my month or so here. For now, however, I feel relaxed as can be.
On a side note, I’d like to share a picture I found of myself – proof that passions really do start at childhood! I think it was my 9th birthday?