Four days ago Aimee and I finished the Cambodia leg of our trip with a bus trip into Laos. Or, should I say, about six bus trips. We were told that the roughly 300km trip from Siem Reap to Don Det, part of Four Thousand Islands/Si Phan Don would take twelve hours. It ended up taking two days! In retrospect though, a pretty hilarious journey.
We didn’t get off to a good start – what was meant to be a quiet drink turned into several buckets at Angkor What? to farewell our new friends James and Cass. Hey, we had to each get a t-shirt, given out with the purchase of two buckets! So I was in bed at 1am and Aimee at 3am (the party animal) ahead of our 4.45am alarm. Definitely still drunk when that went off, and we forgot to pack our amazing Cambodian straw hats. A sad moment for us, a happy moment for fashion.
A minibus was meant to collect us at 5.15am to take us to the bus station. It was about half an hour late so In true Asia-time style our 5.30am bus didn’t leave until 6.30am.
The Cambodians seem to be using tourists as a way to fund their local bus/postal service so we stopped every ten minutes for the next two hours for people to get off, have a smoke, pick up more people… Until we stopped at about 9.30am, everyone piled off and one of the wheels was pulled off the bus.
By this point we were still naively imagining how happy we were going to be when we finally reached our hammock on Don Det, thinking that we’d still be there by 9 or 10 that night even though we’d initially expected to be there by dinner time.
Long story short we got on a new bus an hour later, air con not working and people sitting in the aisle. Stopped again an hour after that and those of us going further north got onto a minibus, only for me to realise that I’d left my backpack and jacket on the second bus! Some charades-communication and phone calls later I got the backpack back but not the jacket.
Onto the minibus, with nineteen people squeezed into the twelve yes twelve seats, including some kids, one of whom starting vomiting into a plastic bag while sitting on the floor at my feet. The frequent stops continued, usually we’d lose a few Khmer (Cambodians) and gain a few Khmer at each, or just drop off a random bag/package. At some point we lost the kids.
By 2pm we were starving – hangover not helping – and at a petrol station we asked what time we could eat lunch. We were told to wait until Kratie, which was still 3 hours away! We insisted that we needed nourishment NOW and managed to find a restaurant – quite the bonding experience for us eight or so falang (foreigners). It was also at this point that we realised we weren’t going to make it to the border crossing by the time it closed at 5pm, but we hadn’t been told anything about how we were going to manage this.
Continuing on our journey, we reached Kratie only to collide with another minibus on a roundabout. Luckily not a hard hit, and not surprising that it happened considering that our driver had a silver sun shade over his window and had also spent half the trip on his phone. We all piled out of the bus again and waited around for about half an hour while the drivers assessed the damage (some scrapes and broken lights).
By the time we reached Stung Treng, the town closest to the border, there were just four of us, Aimee and I and two French boys. We were finally given some information, being told that we were to pay for accommodation that night and in the morning we’d be taken over the border. Luckily we found a nice double room with a TV for $7 and had dinner with the Frenchies.
The next morning we set off for the final 60km to the Laos border, endured all the usual scams (being charged $2 for an exit stamp and $2 for an entry stamp in addition to the visa), and were picked up on the other side by another mini bus, our bags tied to the roof.
We got to Nagasena, a tiny town on the mainland at Si Phan Don, were charged for a ferry ticket even though we’d been told our ticket was all the way to Don Det, then arrived on Don Det at lunchtime. And then, finally, we found ourselves a very basic bungalow complete with hammock and settled in for two relaxing days on Don Det. Not a nice way to depart Cambodia, but it was a learning experience and we have lots of other, lovely memories of the country to help block out those two days!