This was quite possibly my craziest journey so far and the promised 10 hours resulted in about 16 in five different busses and a boat.
The day didn’t get off to a good start with our alarm failing to sound. Awaking to the hostel receptionist knocking at our door at 5.30 letting us know our bus was there we quickly packed the room into our bags and sprinted down the stairs in a half asleep state. We were taken by car to the bus which was doing its rounds in picking people up, a bus we assumed must be the one that took us to the main bus station, as did everyone else. The bus was the worst I have yet seen in Asia and looked like an out of service local bus as the driver had a barrier for ticket buying, thus meaning the seats didn’t even recline.
My designated seat was on the back row with all the bags piled behind me, this coupled with the speeding of the driver on bumpy roads required some quick blocking reaction on my part to shield the occasional falling bag. After multiple short breaks and 6 hours on this bus we came to a stop and were told we were to change vehicles now to a minivan. The 18 of us crammed in the small minivan, our backpacks tied into the open boot. Darkness fell and we passed a sign for the Laos border followed by the driver turning in a different direction. Our bus stopped in Stung Treng where we were told that it was not possible for us to cross the border without Visas despite it being a Visa on arrival border, and that it was not possible to cross after 5pm (it was now 4:30 and over an hour away). For some reason our bus which was supposed to take 10 hours in total and had been speeding the whole time had still not arrived at the border after nearly 11 hours.
After a while, and the angry insistence of one of the other passengers the man from the bus company realised he had a friend that knew the people at the border, an instant after this a van arrived full of garlic and cement which we all piled in. we got to the border at about 6pm and with the handing over of an extra $8 for ‘stamping fees’ and working overtime the border was behind us. Luckily we were only getting the bus to Don Det which was about half an hour from the border, and also where the border guard friend was living. Others on the bus were heading to Pakse (3 hours further) and Vientiane (12 hours further), the latter were supposed to be getting a connecting flight. The options laid out for these people were to cross to the island with us or staying on the mainland for the night, both resulting in a morning bus (and paying for an extra nights accommodation). Both couples opted to join us and another couple on the island, going for the ‘safety in numbers’ approach.
Luckily for us the man who knew the border guards also knew someone who owned a boat to take us across to the island. Equally lucky was that it was so pitch dark we were unable to see how rickety the old boat was. We all clambered aboard and sat peacefully for the 20 minute journey in which we all shared the sight of the most astonishingly beautiful sky devoid of any light pollution. It was like you could see entire galaxies.
We arrived on the land and found some bungalows within minutes and were most definitely ready for our first taste of ice cold Beer Lao.
NB Since doing this journey we have met many people who have had to spend the night in Stung Treng so it may be advisable not to book a guesthouse ahead of time of split your journey with a night in Kratie if you are considering it yourself.