We have decided to give Lao the second chance. We expect, that food will be a little bit worse and a price higher than in Vietnam. And also that Lao people are not so friendly as Vietnamese people. But on the other hand, we hope for quiet roads and look forward to visit Bolaven plateau – a paradise for coffee and waterfalls lovers.
We cross the border from Vietnam to Lao without any problems on 28th January. And we immediately feel there is no traffic. No tooting! There are only hills and jungle around. After looong 60km from the border, we finally reach the first bigger settlement – bamboo huts and simple houses along the road. But there is supposed to be a guesthouse! But where? We slowly bike to the end of the village, greeting locals who look more suprised than us and then we finally see a sign for the guesthouse. Nice, we are not going to sleep in the bush. After a dinner we find out there are more Vietnamese people than Lao in this village, which means tomorrow we will have vietnamese coffee for one more time, yey!
Before we can reach Bolaven plateau, we will spend two days biking around and then sleep by the first waterfall Tad Hua Khon. Staff from a restaurant nearby the waterfall let us to pitch our tent under a wooden shelter which is more than welcomed. After more than 2 months we can camp again! We take a rest day the following day to relax, swim under the waterfall and to taste local coffee for the first time. As I mentioned, Bolaven plateau has a specific clima which is great especially for coffee plants. Thanks that and also thanks many waterfalls around, this area is very popular for backpackers who do „the loop“ – they ride a motorbike and visit waterfalls. So we spend the evening with another travelers sharing our stories. The next day we can camp again and the place is even better. This time already on the plateau with a view on Tad Tayicseua waterfall. We are not very happy with the service of the guesthouse and restaurant but the scenery is amazing.
The next stop is Champasak. A small town by Mekong river. How many times have we bike along this river…? We fall in love with this town. A single line road and some guesthouses and restaurants, that is that’s all. Local people are very friendly and there are not many tourist. And we have to mention a local spa. We book ourselves for 2hours long treatments and our stiff bodies cannot be more happier. We taste some lao spacialities in vege versions and talk to locals and I have to change my opinion about Lao. People (and food) are as good as everywhere else. The point is to find the right ones.
From Champasak we go straight to Si Phan Don, a place which means 4000 islands. Nobody knows if there are exactly 4000island but between Champasak and Cambodia, there are many island on Mekong river. The most popular and the biggest are Don Khong, Don Det and Don Khon. First we go to the Don Khong. We bike over 100km but then the way on a small boat, only us, our bikes and a boatman with sun setting down is one of the most beautiful moments of our journey. When we sit down and have a dinner in our guesthouse where we sleep tonight, a owner asks if we want to take a boat to Don Det tomorrow. I don’t have to think too long. By the way I touch my sore butt and say yes!
We arrive in Don Det around midday but we don’t stay here and we go straight to Don Khon which is connected by a bridge. Beside Don Det, which is more for young people partying all night long, Don Khon is more quiet place. And here we can meet again with Wendy and Wilchard, yay! A lovely dutch couple who we have met around Vang Vieng in northern Laos. What a joy! We spend all afternoon and the next day together and just have a good time.
On 8th of February, we leave the friends, the island and also Lao. It is time for a new adventure in Cambodia. Probably the poorest country in SE Asia. We have read about their sad history and we know what to expect. Roughly. Villages look very simple, bamboo or wooden huts or houses along a road, sometimes without electricity. But actually we don’t see many differences between Lao and Cambodia. But one thing is just simply passing through or to stop to really see it. There is a moment when we stop for a lunch at a basic restaurant and start to talk with an owner who speaks good English. And he says that when he sells something, he can buy some food. But next days he can be hungry again. We leave this guy after a couple of hours, a little bit sad but also thankful for the chance to talk to local and mainly for the life we have.
The scenery in Cambodia isn’t very special. Mostly flat without any trees. Which is not bad. The bad thing is amount of small fires everywhere. Not only rice fields are burnt but grass and bush too. A smoke sometimes is soo thick that we can’t see a sun and we can’t breathe well…
On the way to Preah Vihear, the second big city after Stung Treng on our way to Siem Reap, I get some stomach bugs and get first bigger health problems. But it is nothing serious. I just need to relax a little bit more and drink some coke. But we have to change our plans and rather stay on main roads instead of going offroad. So we visit some temples. First Koh Ker and then Beng Mealea. Both are parts of the famous Angkor Wat but smaller with less tourist. We wander around temples and ruins, enjoy the special atmosphere there and we feel like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft:-)
For the last 60km to Siem Reap we leave the main road and go finally offroad. There is a route 66, an old highway from Angkor Wat going East. What was a big road in the past it is a small narrow path now and usually only locals going through. We bike through forests, mango trees and around small villages. Sometimes we are deep in sand, sometimes deep in puddles. But with big smiles all the time. This is what we have been dreaming for! After 4 hours of pure joy, we end up on a main highway again. We look back one more time, sadly, and then we join a line of cars, minivans, tuktuks and motorbikes going to Siem Reap for last few kilometres.
Most of the tourist visiting Siem Reap go to Angkor Wat. We don’t. We don’t like hords of tourist and also the price for a ticket – 40USD per person – is simply too high for our budget. Our plan is to catch up with our friend Gary and Mariya instead. We met them in Konglor village in Lao a couple of weeks ago and we are so happy we can meet them again. I would say, that thanks our friends (Gary and Mariya and Wendy and Will) we have managed to get over those hard days we had last month and we feel much better now. And the second thing on our to do list is food: we try everything from Khmer food, pizza, pasta, vegan food, raw desserts and Jakub finishes with crickets:-)
After 3 days with full bellies we leave Siem Reap and its madness and after only 10km we are back in real Cambodia. No cafes, no restaurants, only dirt roads, simple houses and smiling people. We haven’t seen such a difference in lifestyles within a few kilometres. Maybe all Siem Reap was only a dream…
The last three days to a border are fast. Maybe someone up there knows that we look forward to go back to Thailand, a road is flat and we have a tailwind all the time….