This likely would have been a couple of posts, but got combined due to lacking internet. Our trip from Vang Vieng was fairly curious. We donned our packs just in time for the midday sun and set out for the 2k walk to the bus terminal. While it is in theory possible to catch the bus by the old airstrip in town, I didn’t know where and we decided we could use a good sauna-hike. When we got to the bus station we were just in time to catch a local bus heading to Vientiane, departing in two minutes. Timing was great, bonus was it was actually an air-conditioned bus and we were the only people on it. Liz and I played a fairly competitive game of who could kill more mosquitos on the bus. Maybe we should have had an arm-length handicap? All was going well on the bus until about halfway through when the bus pulled over to the side of the road and the driver turned around and told us ‘you off here, van, no ticket’. We did have tickets for the bus, but not the van that pulled over at the same time, TWIST! We hopped on the van, it was much less spacious and the AC was weak with all the vents pointed at two seats that we were not in. But, the van did in-fact take us to Vientiane with only 20 stops to pick-up/drop-off people from the side of the road. To be fair, that was more of the local-bus experience I thought we paid for. We hopped off the minivan outside the new Northern Bus Terminal in Vientiane and got immediately onto a local bus that ran to the central bus terminal. Once there, straight onto another local bus heading to the Southern Bus terminal where we only had a 3-hour wait for our overnight VIP bus to Pakse. All of that navigation without a phone or other navigation tool was pretty cool feeling, I use multiple online tools to figure out buses across Seattle. Laos is very closely related to Thai and thanks largely to a glut of Thai media available in Laos, I am still able to communicate fairly efficiently here in Thai.
Our VIP sleeper bus was not quite what I was hoping. The bus is arranged with sleeping bunks that are about 5.5ft long by maybe 3.5ft wide. Most were flat mattresses, but we were lucky and got one that had a wooden platform pushing up at awkward angles to make it more like a recliner. I got some decent bruises from the seat, Liz had a little easier time getting situated in a sleeping position, but still wasn’t the most restful night we had.
We planned on spending a day or two in Pakse planning and recuperating from travel. Our first guesthouse was so hot that didn’t really happen. We decided it was time for a splurge day and booked a hotel, a proper 7-storie affair with a restaurant, bar and pool; the whole shebang. We got there in the middle of the day and quickly realized that we were the only people staying there. We decided to make the most of our own personal pool. The pool looked to have been last cleaned a few months prior, so we went to work cleaning it for the first couple hours, which was really most of our pool time.
After successfully playing pool-boy for a while, we headed out to find the local bowling alley and visit some of the riverside restaurants. The bowling alley is gone, the restaurants were fun despite the terrifyingly gross bathrooms. Not to go into too much detail, but the men’s rooms had urinals that had a faucet above that when turned on at the right level splashed water into the normal plumbing fixture holes… then everything splashed onto the floor below. All the gents seemed to practice a distance game.
After the fun of classing it up at a real hotel we took off for Laos’ beautiful 4000 islands. The 4000 islands, SiPhanDon, are at the very Southern point of Laos along the Mekong river. Historically/Geographically this is a fairly important area as the Mekong gets funneled into many small channels that tumble over quite substantial rapids, by volume these rapids actually represent the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia. The significance is, that this is the one place in the Mekong river that prevents shipping from the Pacific to reach up the length of the river into China. When Laos was a French colony they built a
railway on Don Khone (the island we are staying on) and later connected it to Don Det that allowed special ships to dock at the South side of Don Khone below the rapids/falls and be disassembled and taken by train up above the rapids to be re-assembled and continue the process of shipping up the river. The idea of a series of locks was considered, but scrapped due to the substantial cost. The railway ran from the 1890s until 1940 (although there are reports that during WWII Japan managed to get it running again for a short period of time). The old fort/dock at the Southern point of Don Khone still stands and the railway grade is now the best road on the islands. Most of the track has gone missing, likely to the scrap metal industry, but there are still a couple of old train cars that can be seen rusting at each end up the line, the theory is that they were too big/heavy to get to the mainland to scrap.
Si Phan Don is mostly known now for relaxation and dolphin viewing . Liz and I enjoyed both of those immensely, as well as getting Liz some additional practice on a bicycle touring Don Khone and Don Det. I think we collectively got in about 35 miles worth of biking over two days, nothing major for road riding, but considering much of that was rutted trails between rice paddies in 35C heat, it was more than plenty for us.
As always, hope everyone reading this is doing well. Apologies about the slow sharing from Laos, hopefully we’ll be a little keep things a little more current most of this trip.