Don Khong (not Don Khon), Laos
The bus ticket across the Cambodian-Lao border was US$15 from Kratie, Cambodia to Don Khong, Laos (part of the 4,000 Islands). It was an easy ride on a VIP Phnom Penh Sorya bus that stopped at the border for a mere 30 minutes while the bus company took care of our visas on arrival for Laos and our exit stamps for Cambodia – a service they offer for $1. So to dispel any rumours (and regardless of what Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring 2010
says) the visa on arrival to Laos at the Laos-Cambodia land border is available and costs US$40 for a UK passport and US$47 for a Canadian passport.
We were dropped off at the side of the highway in the dark and had to walk the 300m to the boat dock. Unfortunately, we only had 5 and 10 US dollar bills and the boat driver would not accept $5 for the ride so we had to pay him $10. He asked for 50,000 kip; I’m sure if we had had kip, we would have been able to negotiate a slightly cheaper price. I would highly suggest acquiring some kip when you arrive in Laos to avoid this kind of problem.
In Cambodia, we had decided it would be better to withdraw a lot of US currency from Cambodia’s Canadia Bank, as it doesn’t have fees for withdrawals from international bank accounts, and then exchange the dollars for kip in Laos. After we got to Don Khong we went to the Agricultural Promotion Bank (listed in the Lonely Planet as giving poor exchange rates) and they exchanged our dollars for the rate listed on XE.com and didn’t take any commission or apply any extra charges.
I know it sounds cliché, especially when talking about Laos, but Don Khong really is sleepy. It’s amazing how quiet and relaxed it is. There was barely any traffic so it was a great opportunity to putter around on a motorbike for the day (80,000k/$10). We made a loop of the island stopping at some villages and temples along the way. Of course, we ended up getting a flat and we had to replace the inner tube for 30,000k/$3.75 (including labour!).
There are plenty of guesthouses along the river in Muang Khong (the main town on Don Khong). We chose Done Khong Guest House which was clean and friendly with a beautiful wraparound balcony upstairs and a nice restaurant on the waterfront. For a double with AC we paid 100,000k/$12.60 per night. We ended up staying three nights instead of two: possibly because we were worn out from the pace we had kept in Cambodia, or perhaps we had begun to adjust to the relaxed Lao lifestyle.
One of the bonuses of staying on Don Khong, as opposed to the massively popular Don Det (aside from avoiding the tourist throng) is the bus running directly from Don Khong to Pakse. This bus will pick you up at 7:30am outside your guesthouse and includes a thrill ride on the potentially dangerous car ferry for 60,000k/$7.60.
Here we come, Pakse!