We did go on our scheduled boat trip to see the dolphins and more surprisingly we actually saw some dolphins. We saw quite a few dolphins, however, never for more than a couple of seconds at a time. We would have probably got closer to some had the annoying Cambodian business men on the boat with us not had been talking loudly and making phone calls after the driver had shut the engine off so we could drift close to them, without then knowing we were there. But we did see some at least and went to swim in some rapids afterwards, which was fun, especially as it was our first bit of swimming so far. We went in the free weaker shallower rapids, rather than the ones you had to pay to go in, but also had to be tied to the decking at the side as the current was too strong otherwise. We were escorted by our hostel manager, Diamon, who was a funny guy. He found everything hilarious, and maybe it was but he spoke so quickly it was impossible to follow what he was saying most the time. He was very nice though and even bought us a rice melon on our way home 'because they smell nice'. We went on a bike ride in the afternoon, to the nearby 'mountain', which is classed as a mountain as Cambodia is so flat but it was really a hill, and quite a small hill at that. All the kids were waving and shouting their stand line off 'Hello, what is your name' as we passed, and on the way back the were shouting bye. At one point we stopped and a small crowd came running over and gathered around us. But as soon as they got to us they had no idea what to do, so just all stood giggling for the next 5 mins, before we set off again.
After our short stay in Kratie, we headed to Pakse in Laos. The morning didn't start well with our bus turning up half an hour late and packed. Only for it to turn round the corner into a market and wait for another half hour or so while the driver wandered around chatting to people and loading the roof of the minibus up. One we got going though the first part of our trip, to Stung Treng was quite quick and easy. We then had to wait at Stung Treng, as there were only 5 of us and they wanted more people to get the bus to the border so it was cheaper for them. So we waited for about an hour chatting to a couple of English lads, and a Swiss girl, before finally getting the boat across the river with the extra people who had turned up. Once across however the same 5 of us got but on a separate bus (well pick up truck with benches in he back), and were off towards the border, so the hour wait for more people was pretty pointless. En route to the border a big back of noodles fell off he roof of the pick up and smashed, shattering them over the floor. We were glad it wasn't one of our rucksacks, which were also 'safely secured on the roof' but though one of the many deliveries we were making on our way would have to be canceled. Obviously were weren't thinking Cambodian enough. All you have to do is reverse and pick up all the bigger chunks from the ground and you've rescued half your load! So after we all got out and help to pick up the noodles we were back on our way.
The border crossing itself, was empty and very easy. Just an extra dollar to the Cambodian officials for the right to leave, and an extra dollar to the Laos ones for the right to enter, then after a quick break while we had to wait for another van, as ours was taking half the group to Don Det, we arrived in Paske and it wasn't even dark yet! We struggled to fina accomodation as most places were already full so had to pay a little extra for a room in a nicer place (100,00 kip or $11). Pakse was pretty quiet, and appears that everyone uses it, like we were, as an overnight stop before heading off.
The next day we were off bright and early to Tad Lo, a village 90K from Pakse, and checked in to Tim's guest house, as Tim is the man in the know about treks round there (according to our guide book). Our room was nice enough but was just a small bamboo hut, and was priced accordingly at just over $3 a night. We booked ourselves in for an elephant trek that afternoon on Bouma, a 50 year old. She was surprisingly agile, and graceful, and had no problem getting up or down steep banks. It was a lot of fun, even though we were kind of clinging on to the back of our seat at points to stop us falling off. Bouma and the guide got in a few arguments about which way to go (she understood a lot of Cambodian words), but he always won by just shouting at her over and over. The were still friends at the end as well with Bouma lifting her leg so he could climb down on to it from her neck, using her ear to hold on to,and on to the ground. Instead of using the tree platform we had to use. The Next day we went on a morning trek, through 3 tribal villages. Our group was small, just the two of us and two older American men (plus our guide), but they were nice enough, and new a lot about Cambodia and what all the plants they were growing were, which was good. Especially as our guide didn't really speak English. Seeing the tribes was cool. They were all just overrun by children and animals, with the men either in the woods cutting things down our building houses. The woman seemed to mainly smoke pipes, and look after the babies. The kids were very excited to see us, and shouting hello. It's strange to think that elephants walk past and the don't give it a second glance, but 4 white people walk past and they go mental. After the trek we back to the guest house for some lunch, and a small Cambodian kid sat near us, and then kept changing between sitting on the edge of our bench and going back to his, which was a little strange. So James tried to say hello to him, but he was just silent. We then went back to our hut and realised he was following us, and actually came in our hut with us. We tried again to speak to him but he was still just silent, but wasn't leaving either. He just sat on the edge of James bed as we read our books. After about 20 mins however he clearly got bored and left. Only to go and sit on the steps outside and then decide it was more fun sitting in silence with us so came back. After another 20 mins or so he finally did get bored and left. It was a rather strange experience. We later went for a swim under a water fall which was nice, except for the fact it was hard to swim as the force from the waterfall just pushed you back into the shallow area where here were too many rocks to be able to swim.
The next day we headed back to Pakse, and had the day there before our our overnight bus to Vientiane. We were restricted to what we could do as we had our big bags so just chilled out in a cafe and had a massage (Zoe had an oil one, which she said was nice and relaxing, James had a traditional Laos one which involved the man trying to make as many joints crack as he could, he did very well at it too), before getting dinner and then our bus. It was a nice VIP bus, but they had the usual Karaoke TV on which was annoying while trying to sleep, but the did eventually turn it off, and we managed to sleep most the way.
We're now in Vientiane, and the plan of getting another night bus this evening (for 20 hours) to Luang Namtha, appears to have been scrapped, and we're spending a night here now and figuring out what we're going to do next. It's all a bit up in the air at the moment but that's half the fun of traveling really.