Laos is phenomenally relaxed and the further south you go it becomes practically horizontal!
The overnight bus was probably the most luxurious yet - it had "king of BUS" stencilled on the windscreen - and I even got some sleep! (my wonderful fiancee has a great talent to nod off wherever but I rarely sleep on these things). We stopped once in the early hours where there was a surreal incident involving a Buddhist monk from Idaho (who I spoke to briefly beforehand) and a mohawk haired English man who threw the most unimaginable, violent, hate filled tirade of abuse at the poor monk. Afterwards the mohawk man was talking to a 7ft tall black man in a pinstripe suit, running over his arguments again. Given where we are and what time it was I would almost put it down to a dream but Cheryl and I are adamant it happened!
On arrival at Pakse we boarded another bus bound for Si Phan Don (God we can be flippant about this cant we? 13hrs followed by another 3hrs - all taken in our stride and yes, I do watch out the window as much as I can!) and struggled to form any sort of foreigner cohesion to negotiate a reasonable "group" fare across the Mekong to Don Det - one of the many tiny islands. As it was everyone ended up on the same boat irrespective of which island they were going to and so ended up with a massively overloaded boat! As we got halfway it became clear that the boat wasn't up to the task and was letting in an alarming amount of water. A lot of bags got wet (and river water isn't the most perfumed of waters to soak your clothes in!) and it was with resignation that I realised that my bag was sitting in it too :-(
That said, once on terra firma (big thanks go to the Kiwi couple in the middle of the boat who baled out the water for the rest of the journey) and went through the bag everything was fine. Miraculously Cheryl remembered the people in the shop where I bought the bag telling us that the bag was semi waterproof so while I'm in a thanking mood I'll take the opportunity to extend thanks to the guys at Altimus in Reading. You saved me a massive laundry bill man!
Don Det doesn't have electricity or roads but it does have a LOT of peace and tranquility. We checked into a cheap guesthouse that had a wide balcony over the Mekong and a half dozen or so hammocks strung up to just laze in and take in the river and the islands opposite.
We hired bikes and explored the island and made friends with some really nice Laos people and on another day went to a magnificent waterfall where we saw a lovely Swiss lady we befriended one night at the night market food stalls in Luang Prabang called Cecile and a lovely young Canadian chap called Andy we had met in Vientiane and spent a happy day hanging around with Andy and some other guys he had met, including a couple of intresting Finnish guys.
One had come to Asia via the Trans Siberian express to Beijing and had motorbiked through Laos with his mate on tiny little 100cc Chinese copies of a Honda Wave (complete with the little shopping basket welded to the front!) and had tackled unbelievable mountains with nothing more than some gaffer tape for running repairs to the tyres (or as they called it - "Jesus tape... it works miracles"). We spent the afternoon swimming in the cool and crystal clear Mekong and drying out in the sun whilst talking about anything and everything.
Although Don Det was a great place to be we couldn't help but get this nagging feeling that we should be breaking out and down to the south of Thailand to the islands and beaches and had yet to really work out an easy way to get to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Despite our proximity to the Cambodian border the route south was hard travel with repeated stories of ripoffs and scams and thefts which seemed folly to expose ourselves to. In the end we caught a songthaw (big pick-up truck with a roof and passengers sit on the benches in the back) north to Pakse which, in addition to the 20-odd fascinatingly diverse human passengers, also carried a couple of dozen chickens on the roof bound by their feet and some random chicks running loose in the main compartment. A burly Kiwi guy had one by his feet and fed it drips of water in the broiling midday heat. We sat next to a lady from Amsterdam who after 5 hours had convinced us wholeheartedly to move to Amsterdam sometime soon. there was a wild-eyed American man who joined us midway and sat on the top of the songthaw (to guard his "stuff", whatever the hell that was!) and later joined us and told us a story of being arrested in the Special Zone near Vang Vieng when he had "innocently" stumbled upon the Laos Army clearing a Hmong ethnic village at gunpoint. All in all an interesting journey and we arrived hot and tired in Pakse having taken 5hrs to go no more than 60 miles...