The sleeper bus cost around $15/ticket. I think there were 20 beds. 10 on each side of the bus, bunk style. 2 people were assigned to each bed. Not bad for us, since we were together but not so pretty for those traveling solo who were assigned to a bed with a stranger. And these were small beds requiring some physical contact. A few arguments broke out before we left and for good reason. A woman was assigned to sleep with a rather large dude, who took up the whole bed. Oh no. She refused to share with him and eventually managed to get her own bunk, after a bit of shifting (the man also got the entire bed to himself). We didn’t sleep that well but it was more comfortable to lay down than to sit up all night. The bus only broke down once, a blown tire I think, and then we were off again within the hour.
Surprisingly, Laos turned out to be the most expensive country we’ve traveled to so far. We racked up our expenses mostly in transportation costs, where there seems to be a system in place to charge foreigners more for tickets. Our original plan was to stop at a couple of cities south of Vientiane before Pakse – Tha Khaek and Savannakhet – but bus tickets were nearly as expensive to them as to Pakse. So we decided to skip them and take the sleeper bus to Pakse, thereby eliminating the cost of one night in a guesthouse.
When we arrived in Pakse, we spent an hour or so looking for a room. We grabbed some coffee at a new place on the main strip and met a lovely woman named “Su.” She is from Vietnam and works in Laos with her sister, managing some men’s clothing shops. We hit it off and hung out all day. She took us to her store and we met all her friends. It was really the highlight of Pakse, as the city itself was pretty boring. We had hoped to find a cheap tour to the Bolavan Plateau, where there are waterfalls and coffee plantations, but it cost too much. We are in serious budget balancing mode now so we skipped.
The next morning we took the “bus” (kind of like a pickup but with a roof) to the “ferry” (a longtail boat – us and the captain) to Don Det. Don Det is an island in the 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don) region of Laos, in the Mekong. There are three major islands and we stayed at the one that seemed to be the most fun. There were about 10 tourists on the island and it was completely dead. After eating amazing food for months we were completely disappointed in the food on the island. We heard later that Don Khon was a better option. What I did like was the wildlife on the island. Lots of chickens and chicks, pigs, dogs, cats, cows, and my new favorite, water buffaloes.
We rented a super cheap bungalow on our 2nd night that only cost $2. I woke up in the middle of the night scratching a fresh mosquito bit and went on a killing rampage (we were in a mosquito net but the buggers somehow got in). We strapped on our headlamps and went to work and when we were done, I laid down while Brandon was making sure we didn’t miss any. Then he said “Sit up.” I did and he shined the light above my pillow near the headboard, illuminating a large cockroach. It scurried across the top of the bed and then down into the crack between the mattress and the frame. Not cool. We laid down and then Brandon noticed a second one “the size of GM” on the outside of our mosquito. I said, “We’re moving [tomorrow].” I was exhausted and resigned, knowing I couldn’t really do anything, so I tried to get some sleep. Then I heard something under my pillow. “Brandon, I hear something under my pillow. Should I look?” He chuckled and I sat up again, lifted the pillow and sure enough a cockroach rushed out. Resignation and the cockroaches won – we fell asleep somehow – and then moved to a much nicer $3 bungalow the next day. We spent 4 nights on Don Det and didn’t do much.
We walked, laid in our hammocks, talked, read books, and played lots of gin rummy. We met lots of lovely island cats, all who were super loveable and most had gnarly tails. It makes you wonder… We said happily said “bye” to Don Det, “la gon” to Laos, and continued our journey to Cambodia.