Xieng Knuan Park, Vientiane- Feeling rather ambitious the next morning, we hopped on a bus bound for Xieng Khuan, a little park full of strange and slightly disturbing Buddha images and cement sculptures located just outside of Vientiane’s city limits. Our new friend, Rob, joined us for the trip and had a delightful time chasing the kids around the park and drenching them in water. This was the start of the Laos New Year Celebration where throwing water is a common ritual. Beware!
We were a bit hesitant to return to our hotel and gather our bags as we faced a fourteen hour bus ride to the southern city of Pakse, Laos. Who gets excited about that? For comforts sake, we spent an extra $2 to ride an Air Conditioned “VIP” bus and we were content with the idea of a comfy, uncrowded night. Uh – Wrong!
Again, we were the only westerners on the bus packed to the brim with Lao locals. I spent the first half of the night with a guy sleeping in my lap, a little girl perched on my knee, and a drooling woman passed out on my shoulder. This lasted until the “sleeping” man began groping my leg, and I had to abruptly remove his hand from my thigh.
I could not sleep a wink. My earplugs were under the bus, and the bus driver was also very pleased with his selection of Asian pop music. Just to make sure that we all shared his joy, he turned the music up extra loud until the walls of the bus were actually vibrating. Apparently, he also only had one C.D. so we heard the same wonderful song over and over and over……
Liz and Jen actually enjoyed their ride and were happily sleeping in the front seats. I, on the other hand, kept warding off Mr. Friendly’s attempts to become my new best buddy for a majority of the night. He finally gave up, bought me some Red Bull as a peace offering, and hopped off the bus at 2 a.m.
Don Det and the 4000 Islands – After climbing off in Pakse with blurry eyes and a pounding headache, we had to catch another bus to Si Phan Don. This “bus” was basically an open pickup truck, complete with barn animals and bags of farm produce. The New Year celebration was well underway in many of the towns that we passed through. Throngs of children and grown-ups alike stood on the roadside throwing buckets of water on passing vehicles. We were completely drenched by the time we arrived at the dock. Traveling down a dirt road for four hours did little to help the situation and we were all wearing 3 inches of gray dirt. It was such fun to see how another culture celebrates their traditions.
Don Det was another ferry ride away. We could see the small island of Don Det across the river from where we stood on the dock. We heard rave reviews about the 4000 islands, a chain of small landmasses that hugged the Lao coastline and serve as a border for neighboring Cambodia. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived on the island but was a bit unprepared for the rugged barren landscape. Our bungalows had no electricity and no fans. Sleeping was nearly impossible, at least until the night air cooled down around 5 a.m. Our first evening was spent swatting bugs and wandering from our huts to the docks and back again. I don’t think a breeze was blowing anywhere. On the other hand, if you were in the need to escape from everything and find a very relaxing place to settle down, then the islands were the place to be. I’m looking forward to exploring Don Det and seeing some waterfalls in the next few days.