From Hanoi Finn and I wanted to go to Laos, so we had to take a 24 hour bus ride to the capital, Vientiane, the only place in Laos where buses from Hanoi go. We got to the border in the middle of the night, but slept on the bus until the crossing opened at 7am. Once we were stamped out of Vietnam, we had to pass about half a kilometre of nothingness to get to the Laos border. For some reason the five of us westerners were instructed to walk over to Laos, but the locals waited for a shuttle. It was nice to get a bit of exercise after spending so long on a bus anyway. Everyone got back on the bus on the Laos side of the border we continued the journey. I was excited to be in a new country. It was already a lot warmer than it was in northern Vietnam.
I probably should have changed a bit of money into Laos kip at the border because there was still a long way to go before Vientiane and there were no ATMs along the way. In the afternoon the bus stopped at a little restaurant where passengers got off to eat, but neither Finn, our two new British friends or I had a single kip to our names. We were so hungry. After listening to our tummies grumbling and feeling sorry for ourselves and dreading the remaining eight hours on the bus to Vientiane, Finn and I went in the restaurant and looked around for abandoned food. There turned out to be an abundance; a deep fried egg, some spring rolls, cabbage salad and rice was left behind. We brought the food over to share it with the Brits who were grateful for the food, but too proud to scavenge for themselves.
We arrived in Vientiane that night, and the town lived up to its reputation of being nothing special. Finn and I managed to find a hotel for around 10 bucks, where we gratefully slept after 24 hours on a bus, but we were eager to leave quickly. Vientiane was tiny, despite being the capital of Laos. The roads were too wide, considering the lack of traffic, which gave the impression of urban sprawl. There wasn’t much to do and the food was expensive and bland, at least in the tourist area.
We left Vientiane the next day headed to the Si Phan Don, or 4000 Islands, on the southern tip of Laos. It’s the world’s largest river archipelago, a bunch of tiny islands in the Mekong Delta. After being in Northern Vietnam we couldn’t wait to go somewhere tropical on the water. After another 15 hours on a sleeper bus, 4 hours on a minibus and 20 minutes on a boat, we made it to a tropical island.
The boat took us to Don Det, the most popular tourist island in 4000 islands. It’s small, you can walk the perimeter in about an hour. There is a mini downtown which divides the ‘sunset side’ and the ‘sunrise side’. Finn and I were dropped off on the sunrise side, where we ate at a little restaurant called ‘Mama and Papa’. The food was okay, the music was great, ‘mama’ was really friendly and there was free wifi. After we ate, we started walking around the island to find accommodation. It turned out that most of the restaurants and guesthouses were owned by couples who call themselves ‘mama’ and ‘papa.’ The bungalows, guesthouses, restaurants and bars which lined most of the perimeter of the island were so similar it was hard to tell them apart.
We walked over to the sunset side and found a cute guesthouse called Mr. Man, owned by a ‘Mama and Papa,’ of course. It seemed weird to call people who are not my mom or dad by family names, but most people did. The guesthouse had gardens, a restaurant, a view of the river, hammocks, private bathrooms, wifi and it cost less than $5 per night. It was weird but awesome that there was free wifi everywhere, even in these tiny remote places. It was easy to spend a lot of time there.
Days on Don Det consisted of lounging and reading, chatting, eating, and wandering around. Long walks past the shops, restaurants, local homes and farms were pleasant. I went swimming in the river every day. It was warm and refreshing, especially during the hottest part of the day.
Every restaurant on Don Det had pillows to lay on while eating and it was important to order food well before I was hungry because it could take 45 minutes or longer before it was ready. Once I ordered a fruit shake and I was wondering why it was taking so long to make, then the ‘mama’ came back on her motorbike, with a fresh pineapple in her hand.
We ended up staying on Don Det longer than expected because Finn came down with a terrible fever. I thought it was Dengue Fever based on his symptoms. I went into town to find some medication for him and found at the grocery store little grab bags of pills that a local doctor had out together for sick tourists. I don’t know what the pills were, but Finn took all 6 of them and then seemed to get better. Once he healed we left Don Det and started going north again.