Wednesday 20th December
Miles: 49 Climbing: 932ft
Today I decided to go to Laos. I’d wanted to go to Laos while I was here but I didn’t manage to so far and it’s now in the wrong direction but I’m only about 50 miles from the border and I’m way ahead of schedule. I’d like to spend Christmas is Kratie, where I might be able to see the dolphins, and that’s only one day south of where I am now so I’ve got plenty of time to spend a few days in Laos.
So I check out of my hotel and head north. The road between here and the border quickly becomes a dirt track, and not the good kind of dirt track. I’m forced to either cycle in the gravel and risk skidding or the harder dirt which is ridiculously bumpy. It’s really hard work.
Just before the border I pass a Dutch cyclist, who’s name I have forgotten (sorry), and we stop to chat for a while. When I tell him about my general route he looks rather worried before informing me that I’m going the wrong way. I explain about my little detour into Laos but I think he’s still puzzled as to why I’m choosing to cycle so far in the wrong direction. Before I headed off he gives me a few words of warning about scams and bribes at the border including a warning that if I pay one bribe I’ll just get asked for more.
When I arrived at the border I’m quickly stamped out of Cambodia and luckily I don’t have to unpack my bike to have my bags scanned this time. I reach the Laos border and I’m expecting to pay 35$ for my visa. There is an official looking sign that, whilst being badly translated, I interpreted, to mean that there was an extra 1$ charge so when I approach the visa desk and am charged 36$ I’m not surprised and just pay it. I quickly get my visa and then head to the immigration desk to get my passport stamped. I’m asked to wait a moment them am quickly called back to the desk and told I need to pay 10$ to get my passport stamped. I asked why only to be told this is how much it costs and I’m referred back to the badly translated sign. I refuse to pay and finally say I will just wait for my passport and sit back down.
I soon realise that the official looking sign is anything but and that the extra 1$ I have already paid is simply the first of many bribes I’m expected to pay. I’m called back up to the desk several times and asked to pay 10$ and every time I refuse. Finally the border official looses his temper with me, throws my passport at me, and says I cannot go to Laos and must go back to Cambodia. I head back towards by bike but the man who sold me my visa, the one I had already bribed 1$, asked to see my passport. He took a look at it and informed me that the border official had already stamped it and that there was nothing to stop me from cycling across the border and into Laos. I’m suddenly quite happy to have paid the extra 1$ and somewhat nervously I get back onto my bike and head towards Laos. I have visions of being chased across the border but and I duck under the slightly raised barriers (they only fully raise them for trucks) and keep peddling, nobody stops me.
I feel like a bit of a rebel but I’m glad to be across the border and I know it’s not far until I reach my destination.
I’m heading for an island called Don Det which is one of the 4000 islands in this part of the Mekong. First I need to find an ATM because I’ve got no local currency and, unlike Cambodia, they don’t take dollars.
I find an ATM in the village where I get the ferry to Don Det but I’ve got no idea of the exchange rate. I used the suggested amounts for withdrawals as a guide and take out 5,000,000 kip hoping that this would be about right for 2 days in Laos. When I get to the ferry they charged me 30,000 for a private ferry for me and my bike. Considering that it’s normally 15,000 for each person that quite reasonable.
It was a fairly short journey (quite a bit longer that the Easdale ferry though) and I was dropped of on the northern tip of Don Det. I went into the nearest restaurant because I’m hungry, thirsty and need WiFi to find somewhere to stay.
As soon as I’m connected I check out the exchange rate and realise that I’ve withdrawn far too much money so decide I can afford to splash out on slightly better accommodation and good food and drink while I’m here.
Strangely I started to feel quite cold even in this heat so I head off to look for some bungalows I had spotted online. By the time I get there they have sold out so I ended up cycling onto the next island and find some more expensive bungalows. They don’t look like they are worth the extra money but it’s about to get dark and I’m feeling really tired so I pay for 2 night and head to my room.
I’m feeling really tired and also cold and aching all over. I tell myself that’s it’s just because I’ve had a long day in the heat and the bumpy road surface was a lot more tiring that I thought. I take a hot shower, some paracetamol and get into bed, just for an hour. I end up spending the next 24 hours in bed with one of the worst fevers I’ve ever had. I was so cold that I had to put my warmest clothes on, as well as 2 duvets, and I was still shivering. I had no drinking water so was forced to stick my head outside when I heard my neighbours and ask them to buy my some water. Unfortunately they didn’t speak very much English but luckily they were German and I somehow managed to remember the German word for sick and explain what I needed. They were very helpful.
I’m quite glad that I made so much progress before so that I have a few days to spare but I really hope that this bug doesn’t hold me back for too long.