Day 48 | Leaving Laos for Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital

Day 48 | Leaving Laos for Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital

Today was our first full day of traveling of our trip. We were on the road for almost 11 hours, from 9:30 AM to around 8 PM, traveling from the 4000 islands area to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

We started the day with a quick breakfast at 7 AM. After checking out, we walked on the main street with a small group of people to get to the longtail boat that would take us back to the mainland. This time we went straight to Nakasong without stopping by Don Det.

On our way, we saw some fishermen but also monks on other longtail boats.

Monks riding a longtail boat on the Mekong River

We disembarked and walked to the travel agency to get our bus tickets. One of the guys working there was trying a passport scam on customers. He pretended that if we gave him our passport together with $40 in cash, he would take care of all the immigration process for us at the border and that it would be much faster. He claimed he was not taking any commission even though we knew he was lying.

Travel agency for the bus to Cambodia

We boarded the bus around 9:30 AM. It did not look anything like the pictures we saw when we purchased our tickets at the agency. Yet another scam to add to our collection. The bus arrived to the Nongnokkheane international border check point at 10:45 AM.

Nongnokkheane international border check point

There all passengers were asked to leave the bus to go through the immigration. The first step was to exit Laos, easy once we each accepted to pay the $2 “mandatory” processing fee, a well known scam taking place in this and other land borders between Laos and some of its neighbors. While we knew the two dollars were directly going into the officials pockets, we also knew that it was a waste of time to try arguing against it. After that we walked for a few meters and were officially outside of Laos. However, we were not in Cambodia just yet!

The actual border was marked by a simple barrier on the road with a very rundown shack next to it.

Border between Laos and Cambodia

This is Mimi posing and excited to cross the international border. I really should have taken a picture of Mimi in Cambodia while I was still standing in Laos.

Border between Laos and Cambodia

Confusion was total when we arrived to the Cambodian passport control building. Most travelers were backpackers though there was also one couple of French retirees that I talked with. We were told we needed to get our visa first (at another nearby building) before getting our passports stamped for entry.

Complete confusion in front of the Cambodian passport control building

At the tiny visa service office, the line was pretty short and the process quite smooth. Nothing to do with the nightmare the guy from the bus agency depicted for us. He literally said that if we didn’t hand him our passports together with the money, it would take us four hours to get through the immigration and that the bus may even decide to leave without us. We got our Cambodian visas in minutes…

Cambodian visa office

We then walked back to the passport control building where our passports were stamped and our visa marked as used (since it was a single entry visa). As we walked back, we noticed this tent on the side of the road where fake Cambodian officials pretended to test travelers for malaria for a modest $1 fee. We knew about this other scam ahead of time so just walked past it. Seeing this did however make me wonder why the authorities tolerate these guys to stand right there in front of their eyes!

Malaria testing scam at the Cambodian border

We waited a little longer for everyone to be done with immigration. On the side of the road, some tourists were having a quick lunch at street restaurants serving cheap food prepared in dubious sanitary conditions. We passed. Less than an hour after getting off the bus to cross the border, we resumed our journey through Cambodia. Some people that were headed to other destinations than Phnom Penh were directed to minivans. We stayed on the same bus.

Our supposedly VIP bus to Phnom Penh

For the next four hours, we traveled south through Cambodia. We alternated between writing yolomimo posts and napping. Around 3:30 PM, the driver stopped at a local restaurant in the middle of nowhere for passengers to have lunch. I don’t think this place even had a name. It definitely did not have a menu. Customers would order by pointing finger at one of the many pots filled with cooked food. There was no precooked vegetarian option but one of the ladies there told us she could cook something without meat in just a few minutes. We ate and boarded the bus again for a few more hours of the same.

Working on the Yolomimo blog while traveling through Cambodia countryside

Finally we were dropped in the middle of the capital city around 8 PM after witnessing a pretty violent fight between two tuk tuk drivers from our windows. As we exited the bus, other tuk tuk drivers immediately offered their services. I successfully bargained with one of them to get a reasonable price. We arrived at our hotel, The 252, named after the street it was on. We chose a small boutique hotel that had a swimming pool so we would have the option to cool down at night after a long day of sightseeing. Our room was clean, spacious and with elegant design elements.

We dropped our bags and immediately went for dinner. It was late to have dinner by Cambodian standards so the hotel receptionist recommended we check out restaurants on Street 278, an area with more upscale restaurants popular with expats and tourists. We picked Anise Restaurant, one of the few restaurants that was still opened when we got there after 10 PM.

Anise Restaurant

We were hungry so in addition to our main entrée we ordered fresh summer rolls and fruit shakes.

Food and drinks at Anise Restaurant

We were literally the last two guests having dinner there and the staff was actively cleaning behind us, perhaps hinting that we should finish quickly so they could close. I was too obsessed with the latest video of Lulu to notice anything. But seriously now, isn’t she the cutest?

We walked back to our hotel and did some planning for our first full day in the city before going to sleep.

Day 47 | Chasing waterfalls and dolphins on Don Khon Island

Day 47 | Chasing waterfalls and dolphins on Don Khon Island

On our full day on Don Khon island, we rode bikes to see the Irrawaddy dolphins, swim in a sandy beach on the Mekong and see the famous Somphamit waterfalls.

We had breakfast at Pan’s Restaurant just across the street from where we were staying, Pan’s Guesthouse. It was pretty basic: eggs, baguettes and fresh fruit.

Breakfast at Pan's Guesthouse

We rented bikes from a shop next to our guesthouse. With a rudimentary map of the 4 km wide Don Khon island, we forged west out of the main street and then south towards the old French Port where motorboats take tourists out to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins who congregate in the Mekong between Laos and Cambodia.

Riding bikes on Don Khon

It was another 100+ degree Fahrenheit day and we biked through dried rice paddies and forests.

The old French Port is a very dominating structure in an otherwise low key, sparsely populated area. It was used to accommodate large steamer ships transporting goods up the Mekong River. Nowadays it only serves small motorboats.

Old french port

We paid a young boat driver to take us out to see the Irrawaddy dolphins.

We stayed in the middle of the particular section of the Mekong River for about 20 minutes. We saw at two separate times, a dolphin as it emerged out of the water to breathe. We heard the sounds of their blowholes expunging water. We were happy to see dolphins at all, however, each time was quite far away and we only saw their fins and half of their bodies for a couple seconds each.

We then headed back through the small islands back to Don Khon’s port.

Si Phan Don islands

We relaxed and had fruit shakes at a café above the port overlooking the river. The café had a sign noting this was the southernmost point in Laos.

Don Khon and Don Det islands used to have a railway connecting them to mainland Laos. French ships were unable to navigate up through the treacherous Somphamit waterfalls section of the river, therefore the French colonists had to build the railway to bypass the waterfalls and then reload the goods onto other ships waiting north of these islands. We took a picture in front of an old train engine left over from those colonial days.

Steam engine

Riding our bikes back north, we passed by a tiny village with a schoolhouse on stilts.

Village school on Don Khon

We then turned onto a westward road to reach a sandy beach. We walked a few steps through a rocky section and plunged into the water with our T-shirts on. Although the water was warm, it was heaven to our sweat-drenched sun-parched skin.

Sand beach on the Mekong

We relaxed in the natural fish spa as little fish started nibbling at our skin.

Mekong fish spa

We swam across the river and back again. The current was very strong and we would end up on the other side of the river several meters downriver from where we started.

Then we relaxed in a yet another restaurant with fresh coconuts. The restaurant is run by a family: the mother lured us in and prepared the coconut, her young daughter served us, the father was napping on a platform near us and their toddler son provided us with entertainment. The little boy was interested in my mosquito repellent wristband and my sunglasses case. I then showed him my cell phone and nothing else mattered of course. He took about 40 selfies in a row of just his forehead on my phone.

Selfies in Laos

Then the little boy eyed my coconut. I scooped up coconut meat and fed it to him. He chewed on the coconut happily. After a few scoops of this, he decided to pay it forward and feed coconut to the dog, who was less enthusiastic.

I had a hard time getting my phone back from this boy as I introduced him to the game Two Dots. Here he is with his sister on a hammock. Their dad is still sleeping behind them.

Kids at the restaurant

The next stop on our bike tour was Somphamit waterfalls. The falls are also located on the west side of the island, on the north. We paid for admission tickets and walked into the large park. We saw a pack of the largest turkeys I have ever seen. Some of them were quite beautiful (for turkeys).

Wild turkeys at the falls

The waterfalls were impressive. They came rushing off of rocks in all directions, converging into the wide flow at the base.

Waterfalls 1

Waterfalls 2

Waterfalls 3

Waterfalls 4

We walked along the rapids until we arrived at the Oasis Restaurant and “beach bar.” We finally got lunch and more fruit shakes! There were hardly anyone there so we occupied this entire bungalow overlooking the rapids. We vegetated here for more than an hour, too hot to move.

Oasis Restaurant at the falls

We had a long walk to the sandy beach since it is dry season and the waterline receded a lot. Here Maurice is standing at a shallow pool with the river behind.

Beach after the falls

We could not wait to jump into the water again since it was too hot for us to function on land. The current was much stronger here than at the previous beach since we were immediately downstream from the Somphamit waterfalls. Maurice demonstrates his Olympian swimming skills on the river. Michael Phelps who?

We showered off at the beach bar’s outdoor shower after swimming. Then we biked through the farms back to town.

Afternoon light on Don Khon

A herd of cows grazed on the dry grass.

Cows grazing on dry grass

On the way back to town, there was loud music emanating from the local Buddhist temple Wat Khon Tai. We walked in to explore.

Entry to Wat Khon Tai

There seemed to be a festival going on. Monks were blessing people on the left. People were eating barbecue on the right. Loud music blared from three separate areas. All were playing different songs, of course.

In front of Wat Khon Tai

We enjoyed another sunset on the Mekong.

Sunset on the Mekong

The main stretch of Don Khon does not have many restaurants. We liked Lao Long restaurant where we ate lunch and dinner yesterday and decided to go there for dinner again. Maurice got the noodle soup in a bowl so big you can wash your face in it.

Noodles in the kitchen sink

Day 46 | Getting to Don Khon, one of the 4000 islands on the Mekong River

Day 46 | Getting to Don Khon, one of the 4000 islands on the Mekong River

Today was another day with road and boat travel in the morning and chill time in the afternoon. We left Pakse for Si Phan Don, the 4000 islands area in the Mekong River, all the way at the southernmost tip of Laos at the border with Cambodia. We were excited to experience something completely different from our last three days trekking and ziplining in the jungle of the Bolaven Plateau and to get a chance to maybe see some of the last Irrawaddy dolphins.

We woke up early and quickly packed to be ready in the lobby for our shuttle to Si Phan Don. The minivan showed up around 8 AM, on time. It had about a dozen people total, all relatively young backpackers. We bumped into a German girl that we had previously seen at the Treetop Explorer tour. Another girl from the Netherlands sat at the front of the shuttle, next to the driver and talked with him for the full duration of the ride, or about two and a half hours. Sitting in the next row, we were entertained by their conversation. This guy spoke so many languages: Laotian of course, but also Thai, Khmer and Vietnamese. As to his English it was absolutely perfect, perhaps better than the Dutch girl he was talking to. They asked each other questions about cultural differences between Western/Dutch way of living and the Asian/Laotian one, mostly around dating & relationships as well as taking care of the elderly.

Thanks to their entertaining chat, we didn’t see the time pass and by 10:30 AM we arrived at Nakasong, the mainland village closest to the islands of Don Det and Don Khon. Our travel ticket included the boat ride to Don Khon. The driver walked our group to the Nakasong pier where a longtail boat was already waiting for us. We boarded and took a selfie a few minutes into the ride.

Selfie in the longtail boat to Don Khon

We quickly agreed that the region fully deserved its “4000 islands” name. While we did not count, we did find ourselves surrounded by many islands, most of which were really tiny and did not have any construction on them. These were covered with plants and trees. Some of the smaller “islands” are so low they are most likely covered in water during the wet season.

A few of the 4000 islands

Our boat made a first stop at Don Det where most tourists disembarked. From the two islands, Don Det is without a doubt the more popular one where young people go to party, it’s like the Ko Phangan of Si Phan Don. It has most of the infrastructure, hotels and other places for tourists to hang out so it’s obviously more built up.

We and another couple from France opted for the tranquility of Don Khon so we kept going further South. We got there about twenty minutes later and had to literally jump from the boat as there was not even a pier for it to dock at. We also had to walk to our hotel since there was no tuk tuk or other form of transportation available on the island. This was the main street and as you can tell it’s not as dense as Don Det.

Main street of Don Khon

It was not a long walk but it was incredibly hot and pushing our rolling luggage on the sand and mud with such weather was rather unpleasant. We checked into our hotel, Pan’s Bungalow but wanted to postpone recording a video tour of our guest room until we had something to drink and eat. It did not take too long before we found a place with lounge chairs and delicious watermelon shakes, our favorite. We ordered food as well.

Delicious watermelon juices at Lao Long

It was 1 PM by then, pretty much the peak of heat for the day, so we took our time sipping our shakes down to the very last drop. We also used the restaurant’s WiFi to research activities we could do for the next day, as we figured we should just take it easy for the rest of the afternoon. We left around 2:30 PM. The restaurant was located directly on the main street, just like our hotel and most businesses on the island.

Main street of Don Khon

As we got back to the room, we took a few minutes to shoot a video before unpacking our stuff.

We booked a river view room and really did not regret spending additional money on the view. The Mekong was right there, a few meters in front of us. It was calling us to play in the water which we could not resist for too long. After taking some pictures, we changed to our swimwear and jumped to the water. It was pleasantly warm, very different from the rivers we had been to in other parts of Laos.

Soon after we got in the water, a bunch of local kids joined us. One of them started the hostilities by splashing water in my face. I retaliated. This quickly escalated to a general water splashing battle with Mimi and I on one side and the kids on the other. After fighting for a while we decided to surrender unconditionally and got back to the shore to dry.

The sun started setting over Southern Laos around 5 PM, giving us several opportunities to take some of the most breathtaking sunset pictures of our trip so far. This is my personal favorite shot.

Sunset over the Mekong River in Don Khon

The kids we played with were still having fun in the water. Their parents were keeping an eye on them from the shore (the current is quite strong in this area which can be dangerous for kids that may not be strong swimmers).

Lao kids playing in the Mekong River

After that we took a walk through Don Khon to the only bridge that connects it to Don Det. On our way there, we saw this adorable little boy playing with a little puppy that reminded us of our Lulu very much. Yes it’s true, we tend to see Lulu everywhere but that one puppy does have some similarities with her, right?

Little boy playing with an adorable puppy

We arrived to the bridge and stopped for pictures of the Mekong River. We loved the pure reflection on the water. The Mekong is quite wide there and we took pictures of both islands from the bridge. Here is the Don Khon side.

View of the Mekong River from the bridge connecting Don Khon and Don Det

And this is a view of the Don Det side.

View of the Mekong River from the bridge connecting Don Khon and Don Det

We did not go far into Don Det as the area where the bridge is doesn’t have much to do. We decided to head back as it was getting dark and we did not have our headlamps. We went straight to dinner and decided to return to Lao Long, the same place we had lunch at since it was very well reviewed online, good and cheap.

Vegetarian food at Lao Long

That was the end of our day and we went back to our room to get a good night of sleep.