Being on a balcony, overlooking the vast Mekong dotted with islands, after having spent three days paddling and cycling around a tiny island, eating good food and drinking great cocktails, I'm concerned that I won't be able to properly describe the nightmare of a border crossing that got us here.
It started in Kratie, Cambodia, when we booked our through, repeat through, ticket to Don Det island in Laos. We and six other people are assured that we're paying for a through ticket, with one minibus change at the border. Eight people in total, buying their tickets from four different locations in Kratie, make it to the border safe and sound. There's a manual boom gate and a little booth on the side of the road, and not much else. No drivers or buses waiting to pick up any tourists making their own way. Barely a drinks stand selling warm Pepsi. So we wait for Cambodian immigration to finish their lunch, pay our dollar exit fee, get about six new stamps in our passport and we duck under the boom gate and we're out of Cambodia.
About two or three hundred metres down the road we see another manual boom gate and a booth so we figure Laos must be over there. We all don our backpacks and start walking. Half way between countries we hear a gunshot. From the Lao immigration booth. “That's encouraging,” the tall American guy carrying the suspicious box wrapped up in brown tape says. We all laugh and keep walking.
So immigration into Loas is easy enough – pay our dollar and get more cool stamps. It's the connecting minibus that is the problem. There isn't one. There's about ten immigration guys playing bocci and lazing about in hammocks, one cat, one dog and some chickens. But that's it. No one panics, we all sit down in the shade and wait. Immigration doesn't look surprised so we don't either. Two hours later we learn a little bit more about our companions. Two super tanned Finnish guys, and English couple, the tall American with the box (it's his birthday), and a nice lady from the Netherlands.
An hour later, after a few futile phone calls to our so called bus company, we're still sitting on the border, hoping a bus will roll up. The immigration guys offer to drive us to the ferry in the back of their ute for $10 a head, and we figure waiting is cheaper so we stay put. Finally another minibus arrives full of tourists from Cambodia, and the nice driver tells us we've been scammed. He offers to organise a minibus to come and collect us for $6 a head. Cheaper than the immigration ride and the ferry is closing in an hour or so so we say do it.
The only miracle of the day was that the driver promised us that our $6 would also cover the ferry (tiny boat) ride to the island and it actually did.Woot.
We also made good friends with our fellow scamees and have been hanging around with them on the island. I'd say it was worth the effort :)
So Don Det is awesome and I recommend staying here for as long as possible. There are little chicks and piglets and kittens and water buffalo babies roaming all over the place, and I have to stop and say 'awwwww' for every one of them. Here is a picture of 11 piglets and their massive mum.
The only electricity on the island comes from generators, which only run from about 6-10 at night. It's candles and torches after that. We're staying in one of the many bungalows that overlook the river on the sunset side for $2.50 a night. There is internet here thank god but it is about $3 an hour (crazy). Speaking of which you probably won't hear from us again until Champasak (I think that's where we're going next).
Here is a long exposure shot of us and and Englishman named James who has two heads. This was taken at a pig BBQ put on by some locals. Lots of fun.