4000 islands, laos.

Don Det feels like ages ago, and just yesterday. From Vang Vieng we began the long journey to 4000 Islands, on the Mekong River at the border of Laos and Cambodia. We took a minibus to Vientiane, which was a harrowing ride with a dangerous driver who laughed when everyone in the bus asked him to slow down. We had a few hours to recover in a Mexican restaurant nachos and beer, and then we got on a big sleeper bus to make our way south.

This sleeper bus was unlike any I'd encountered so far, with the "seats" being single person beds that two people had to share. Luckily I was with three friends so we all buddied up, but I wouldn't have wanted to have to share with a stranger, that's for sure. After many hours we finally arrived, and caught a quick boat to the island of Don Det.

As it was low season, there weren't too many people around. We trudged down the dirt roads for what seemed like forever before we found a suitable place to stay, and I'm so glad we found what we did. Crazy Gecko was a sweet little guest house overlooking the river, with a front deck with hammocks, good food, and decent wifi (which is pretty much a Southeast Asia jackpot). We got an amazing three person room with a private bathroom, and although the room was hot and stuffy and one night our beds were covered in bugs, it felt luxurious!

Despite there not being a lot to do on Don Det, we made the most of it and were able to slow down and enjoy it. We rented bicycles and rode to Don Khong, the island just south of it, where we saw beautiful waterfalls and biked around leisurely. We went on a Sunday boat tour with a local bar, heading to a private island where we drank whiskey and sat in the river and sang along to music. I met a kitten I wanted to take home and a sweet dog fell asleep on me in a restaurant (of course). We got mosquito bites and watched the sun set and by the time we were leaving we were sad to go.

Don Det was our last stop in Laos and we decided it was our favorite country yet (and still is, I think!). But onward, to Cambodia!

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vang vieng, laos.

I'm beginning to forget where I've been. Over two months in and someone will say to me, "Remember when we were in Vang Vieng and....." or "Remember that place we stayed in Don Det?" and it will take me a full minute to recall. Where I was, where I stayed, what it looked like. All these cities and countries blend together and become one big Asia, and I strain to recall each one.

It's really not the worst problem to have.

Vang Vieng, just south of Luang Prabang in Laos, is an.....interesting place. It's really famous for its tubing, which in recent years has been the site of multiple deaths. (Drunken tourists floating down a big river in a tube. Ahem.) There are bars to stop at along the way, they throw out a rope and pull you in, and it's truly just a big circus. There used to be many bars open along the river, but now only two are allowed to be open at a time. Which is plenty. It seemed apparent right from the start that the goal is just to get as day-drunk as possible, which wasn't really my thing. We did drink a bit and moved on, but the tubing itself was really disappointing. 

I think the hardest part was watching the seven-ish year old Lao girls running around the bar, playing jokes on tourists and dumping water on their heads, setting up their own beer pong games with water and knowing exactly how to play. Drunk guys cheered them on and I just couldn't watch. They weren't in school, they weren't at home, their parents were nowhere to be seen -- it seemed very much like this was a typical day for them.

And that always makes me question -- who are we to come into these impoverished countries and trash their landscapes with filthy bars and drunken tourists and bad reputations? It made me a bit sad. That's really the highlight of Vang Vieng, and I was left wanting more.

Of course, there were still caves and lagoons and mountains to be explored. And a bustling nightlife (we avoided the one really crazy, awful bar) that includes "Friends bars" -- literally, bars that play episodes of Friends on repeat. In essence -- my dream bar. It was hilarious and familiar and so cool.

But beyond all that, Laos really is a beautiful country. And doing the loop south from the slow boat was so fun -- all the backpackers end up heading in the same direction on the same timeline, and so it's almost like traveling with a big group of friends all the time. Strangers became familiar faces and it's something I miss now.

One more stop in Laos, and then I headed to Cambodia! Coming soon!

taking the slow boat to luang prabang, laos.

After staying in Pai for four nights, I ran into two girls I'd met in Chiang Mai and we all agreed to head to Laos together on the slow boat. I was so happy to have someone to travel with, as I was a bit apprehensive about taking the slow boat on my own.

The slow boat is.....an interesting experience. It's a great, inexpensive way to get from Thailand to Laos down the Mekong River, but it takes two solid days, is cramped and hot, and the drivers have been known to steal from the luggage. The first day was all right, but by the second day we'd had enough. At one point we even got caught in a rapid and almost capsized, for real -- the locals were putting on life jackets. We all brought some beers and snacks on board though, listened to music, made new friends, and really made the most of it. It ended up being pretty fun, but definitely an experience I only want once in my life!

Once in Luang Prabang, a bunch of us stuck together and it was really fun. Luang Prabang is such a fun place, but is really expensive. And also maybe one of the hottest places I've ever been! Each day you just dripped with sweat from the moment you woke up -- it was really intense. But we survived it!

There's also a government curfew in Laos, so everything shuts down at 11pm. Everyone seems to go to a really fun bar by the river called Utopia, and then once it closes at 11, everyone jumps into tuk tuks and heads to the bowling alley. Yes, a bowling alley in Laos. It was so bizarre, and who knows who they paid off to be the only place that stayed open past 11, but it was so fun. Some of the most fun nights we had! 

We also saw more beautiful waterfalls, visited a bear refuge, and I made good friends with the sweetest minibus driver who taught me words in Laos as we drove through the countryside. Not to mention Laos is just pure beauty....

I fell in love fast!