This is my first experience with the “sleeper bus.” These are double-decker buses with beds intended for sleeping on long rides, like the one I’m taking from Vientiane to Pakse, Laos. The dimensions seem to be designed for your average-sized Asian person, while most of the actual passengers are Westerners. I’m traveling alone and am hoping not to have to share this tiny space with a stranger. The ticket agent must be having a good day, because I am in fact alone in this tiny space curled into a ball so my legs will fit, bumping around and thanking every higher power there is that I’m not spooning with a stranger.
I don’t spend much time in the capital, Vientiane. I have a good coffee and pastry, visit the night market along the river, buy a new book, and leave. It’s a manageable capital city: slow, calm, pretty clean. The market by the bus station is full of fresh baguettes, plus your standard fare: severed fish heads, spices, windings alleys of textiles.
My destination in the south of Laos is the 4,000 Islands in the Mekong River. If Laos is perhaps the most laid-back country in the world, the 4,000 Islands is the pinnacle of this stature. I take the ferry to Don Det Island, the main destination for backpackers to this region. I venture left from the ‘port’ to the east – sunrise – side of the island for cheap digs. I don’t have to go to far when I find a bungalow, equipped with bed and mosquito net, private bathroom, and a hammock on the deck overlooking the river. All this is mine for about $6/night.
I spend five days hanging out on my deck, writing at the table, reading or napping in the hammock. A walk around the island takes about an hour and a half. The southern part is less developed and very tranquil. Bikes are available for rent from several places on the northern tip of the island, but I just walk around. The west side doesn’t seem nicer overall, except for a few fancier looking places. Half of it is under construction. I find two really good meals at Bamboo Island (yeah) and Mama Leuah Guesthoue and Restaurant, both in the southern part of the east side. Noodle vegetable soup and spicy papaya salad could sustain me for life, I decide.
I wonder if I should stay longer. I’m spending hardly any money. I have a hammock.
I wake up maybe an hour later and drowsily buy a bus ticket to Cambodia.
In the morning, waiting for everyone to fill out all the immigration paperwork at the bus station, I buy two sweet onion pastries and a coffee with my last 7,000 Kip (just under $1).