After a wonderful time in Cambodia , it was hard pulling ourselves away- but adventure called.
And adventure is definitely what we got!
We had book a bus from Siem Reap to a place called 4000 islands, at the bottom of Laos. We were assured that a bus would pick us up from our hotel and take us over the boarder to the river where we would cross to the islands. Oh how naive we were!
In fact we got one TukTuk to the minivan (a interesting minivan, complete with holes in the floor covered by corrugated iron), and minivan to the middle of nowhere, where we were dumped and told to wait for an hour. Lucky a bigger bus turned up and took us to the boarder village. It dropped us on an old dirt track road next to a wooden shack. A man ( who claimed to be from the bus company) came out and told us that we needed to fill in boarder forms, whichhe would then give to the visa staff to help us get through. We diligently handed over our passport photos, which were stapled to a form and shoved back in our face. “Fill out” he muttered.
So we started to fill them out, whilst the rest of our fellow passengers were picking up their bags and asking how to get to the boarder. It turns out they had been warned about boarder scams of people taking passports for visas and then charging the owner extortionate amounts to get it back. The bus man started shouting at them for telling us this and then told them to walk to the boarder and do it themselves if they wanted to. So they did.
Cautiously , we asked if we would be charged for such a thing, at which point he started shouting at us took our forms that we had carefully filled out , ripped the pictures off and told us to walk on our own. There was little else we could do apart from grab our bags and check that the bus would then follow us to the boarder. He assure us in a rude tone “it meet you on other side”. So off we went.
As we walked towards the boarder crossing, it felt strangely like we had fallen into an apocalyptic film. The impressively decorated visa building towered over us, surrounded by complete emptiness and silence- very eerie!
After having to give the people $2 each to be stamped out of Laos( a process which merely requires the security to put a stamp in your passport) we walked on to the next building to get our visa. It turned out that because we had wasted time arguing with the bus man, we arrive at 4.10pm. Apparently if you arrive after 4pm, you get charged a late fee- of course!
So we payed the late fee and the $35 for the visa and moved to the next booth whilst they processed it. Luckily we had our own photos, otherwise there would have another extra charge for them to photocopy you passport for a picture , even though they don’t use it on the visa!!
Our name was called and we went up to collect our passport- thankful that this whole process was over. I was met with “stamp fee now” . Oh of course, another charge just to move a stamp from one area on the desk to another. 🙈 .
By this point Alex and I had been at this place for 2 hours and were keen to get going, plus they still had our passports, so the fee was paid again and we moved on to join the rest of the group.
It soon became apparent that there was no bus waiting for us in the other side. The sun was now starting to set and we had no idea when , if ever, the bus would arrive. After all we had severely pissed of the bus man on the otherwise, by not complying with his scam.
Luckily, one of our friends had a phone number to call and after a lot of hassle and gritted teeth was able to talk to the bus company. They told us the bus was there – it was not. They told us to wait 20 min ties and it would come- it did not!
So AGAIN we rang them and waited another 20 minutes and a bus pulled up. A beautifully new mini van with tinted windows and air conditioning. This unfortunately turned out to not be ours. Instead it was the minivan after it that turned out to be ours- the worst van I had ever seen! With its smashed windows, rust ridden body, jammed doors that stayed open for the whole journey , and the fact it broke down three times on the way to the river, it is safe to say ‘worst van ever’ was a accurate label 👍 .
The driver stopped in a car park in a small town, got out, and walked away. After waiting again for 5 mins we realised that this was probably where we had to catch a bus from. Thankfully we have a wonderful app called Maps.me and were able to find where the river port was. Half a mile down the road. So off we all go, exclaiming how we had to all laugh about the journey otherwise we’d cry.
When we got to the end of the road it opened out onto a beautiful river with hundreds of tiny little island floating in the current. It was framed perfectly by the sun setting behind it, resulting in dramatic silhouette. It was worth getting there late, just to witness this.
A man came over to our group and ushered us to a tiny little fishing boat, and with great difficulty ( what with it now being dark) we managed to clamber over the other boats to it. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with Alex , the boat jumped into left and we puttered off into the night.
It turned out that the guesthouse we had booked wasn’t on the island we had been dropped of at, but rather the next island on, which was connected by a bridge. With the dark night surrounding us we tripped off again; with positive attitudes armed with Maps.me to guide us. It took us a rather secluded way, through fields and the back end of nowhere. We came across a clearing in the trees , and upon looking up we saw an outstanding display of stars. This breathtaking display spurred us on and we eventually arrived, after a 4km walk, at out guesthouse.
Thankful to finally arrive, we followed a little boy who was showing us to our room, ready to crash out. However with cockroaches crawling up the walls , sticky, hole ridden Lino flooring and a stinking mosquito net, it was safe to say we would not sleep well that night.