The road out of Cambodia was marginally less bumpy than the one to Ban Lung. To get into Laos we had to take a mini bus to Stung Treng and then we thought we would have to change onto another bus that would take us across the border. I stupidly forgot I was in South East Asia. We got to Stung Treng no problem although slightly battered. However, our ride across the border was not a bus but a pick up truck. We were crammed into the two backseats behind the driver, which, if anyone knows pick up trucks, is not really made for passengers. With no AC we were lucky the ride was only a short one.
We then found out our truck was not going across the border. We were dumped at the Cambodia crossing and were told that we would be met on the other side. After hearing fellow traveller's stories, to say I was sceptical would be an understatement. After paying $1 to the Cambodian man to leave Cambodia (the $1 was quickly hidden in his pocket), we were allowed to cross over into Laos. We had already payed a hefty amount for the Laos visa (around $40) so were a little bit irked to have to pay another $1 to the Laos man to cross into his country. Paddy tried to argue against but no joy. With lighter wallets we looked around for our ride. To our surprise there actually was someone waiting. Another pick up truck. This time though instead of being given seats we had to sit in the back along with all the other packages! As it was humid it was nice to have a breeze and we did get to see the countryside.
Our destination in Laos was the 4000 islands and in particular Don Det. We had been given a $1 each to pay the ferry man to cross over onto the islands as part of our ride. Funnily enough it cost $2 each! These people have a way of making money!
The 4000 islands is an archipelago of sandbars and rocky islets admist the Mekony River. Westernisation has not really hit over here and the islands run electricity off generators, although they should be hooked up to the mains in the next few months. Life on these islands is pretty much as it has always been (with the exception of TV, which they are glued to!). The days we spent here were very lazy, including spending much time swinging in hammocks. At night the electricity ran between dusk and about 10pm, meaning early nights.
We did try and be slightly active however and hired bikes to cycle to the neighbouring island to see South East Asia's largest by volume waterfall. The islands are connected by a disused railway bridge, rememberant of French times. The waterfall was stunning in power. The roar of the water could be heard from a distance and was no less impressive close up. A bridge tried to span the rocks but was overcome by the power of the water. I unfortuantely lost my camera on the bike ride (how it jumped from the basket I will never know) which put a slight dampener on the day.
We headed down to the beach to try and see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins but given the cost had to abstain. After the bike ride though, our main aim was to get back to our hammocks!
The 4000 Islands is definitely worth a visit to see how life can be led untainted by modern necessities. Families interlinked, all looking out for one another. Children run around safe and in the knowledge that it is one big family. Life is slow and chilled. In fact if you wanted anything you had to go and hunt someone down, a far cry from India and the rest of Asia. As the Lonely Planet says, were Laos, Thailand and Vietnam tuk-tuk drivers, the Thai driver would take you to your destination via a silk shop, the Vietnamese would almost run you over for your custom, while you'd probably have to go find the Lao driver, wake him up and then persuade him to do some work. This is very true of my Laos experience so far!!