Battambang – Crocodiles, Killing Caves, and a Bamboo Train

After wrenching ourselves away from the beautiful island of Koh Rong, we spent another night in Sihanoukville and booked a bus to Battambang for the next day.  We just couldn’t do the night bus.  (We’re still scarred from our journey from Nong Khiaw to Don Det in Laos.)

“How long is the bus?” we asked the woman at our guesthouse.

“…maybe you get there at 3 or 4pm.”

Well, the bus was to leave at 7am and we had to backtrack all the way to Phnom Penh before heading west to Battambang.  Who knows how she came up with that answer, but in reality, we arrived in Battambang at about 9pm.

Luckily we had looked up accommodation in advance and found a hostel called Here Be Dragons a little outside of town.  We instructed our tuk tuk driver where to take us from the bus station and we were greeted with a smile and shown our room as soon as we got there.

The hostel did not disappoint.  After we dropped our bags off, we headed back downstairs to the bar to collect our free beers that we were given on arrival.  Even better, they had Kaiserdom in stock (for only $2!) and we nearly died of happiness, as it had been months since we’d had anything but local watery lagers.  The bar was also full of locals and expats happy to chat which was nice.

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We had a late breakfast the next morning, and it was brutally hot that day, so it took us a couple hours to get ourselves motivated to go out and see the sights.  That ended up working out just fine, because wanted to be at our last destination at sunset, anyway.  We got a tuk tuk to take us around all day for $15 and set off.

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Driving across the bridge in Battambang

The first stop was a local crocodile farm.  As soon as we got there, a woman greeted us and asked us for $2 each.  Unfortunately we only had 100 dollar bills on us, because those are what come out of the ATM machines in Cambodia.  We scrambled to find any small bills we had on us and found a total of only $2.50.  To our surprise, she just smiled, took our $2.50 and assured us that it was just fine.

She ushered us to the pits where the adult crocodiles are kept, she said there were about 400 and some of them were huge!  And sadly, they looked pretty cramped in there.  Excited by the prospect of seeing giant reptiles, we had failed to consider the ethics of a visit like this beforehand.

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Driving to the Crocodile Farm
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One of the crocodile pits
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The water is shaded for the crocodiles or they can get out and sunbathe

The woman that greeted us was very friendly and her English was better than anyone else we had encountered in Cambodia.  When we asked what the crocodiles were used for, she told us that the leather is exported for handbags and other things, the meat is sent to Vietnam for eating, and some are sent to the China to be used for medicine…Eek.

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An especially formidable looking croc peeking out

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Feeling depressed about our contribution to this less than ideal situation, we were glad to find out that the woman working there was not the owner, she was just working there to improve her English and save up money to buy a tuk tuk.  She told us she aspired to be the first female tuk tuk driver in Battambang, which is actually pretty cool.  And we were glad to be able to help her out.

As we were walking away from the crocodile pits and back toward the exit, she surprised us with two baby crocodiles that we got to hold!  She told us they were twins, one male and one female.  They were making the cutest noises and she said it was because it was almost their feeding time.

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Babies!

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Our next stop was the Bamboo Train, so we hopped back on the tuk tuk to take us there.  Note:  We had no idea what the bamboo train was, we had just read that it was one of the ‘top things to do’ in Battambang and figured that meant we should probably do it.

So, we drove on to the “entrance” which was basically a couple of stalls selling drinks and snacks.  On the other side we could see tracks with what looked like big pallets on wheels.

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The bamboo train

As we approached, we were asked to pay the entrance fee, then pointed toward one of the pallets.  It turned out that the pallets were made of bamboo and that is what we would be riding up the tracks!

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Don’t worry, it’s five stars!

We sat down on the first one and one of the guys hopped on the back and started the engine.  It started out slow, but soon enough we were racing along through the fields.  Not to mention, the rails were not lined up very well, so there was a huge jolt every few feet and huge bang to go along with it.  It was loud, a little terrifying, but mostly really fun!

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Ready to go
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Racing through the jungle
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A small bridge

Off in the distance, we could see something on the tracks.  As we came closer, we realized it was another bamboo train going in the opposite direction.  Just as we were wondering how this would be handled, our driver slowed the train and motioned for us to get off.  We were in the middle of nowhere, so we had to just kind of stand in the brush once we jumped off.

Then, the driver of the other bamboo train came over and helped our driver disassemble our train.  They took it completely off the tracks and set it aside, let the other train pass, then reassembled it on the tracks!  Then the drivers hopped back on their respective trains and continued on the journey.

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Letting another train pass by
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Reassembling the train

After about a 30 minute ride, we slowed to a stop in what seemed like a random spot with about 6 booths selling drinks and tshirts, in the middle of no where.  We stopped and had a beer (and enjoyed the shade) before getting back on the train and heading back the way we came.  Apparently the bamboo train is used (or at least originally intended) to transport goods.  A bizarre little tourist attraction, but definitely a unique experience!

On our way to the next stop, our tuk tuk driver pulled over to a small cart on the side of the road.  He told us they had a tasty treat there…

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Mmmm…rats.

We almost tried a rat, but it had clearly been baking in the sun all day, so we passed.  Our driver also pointed out the jar of fruit soaking in rice whisky which Joe did try and said it was very tasty!

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Trying some local whisky

We got back on the tuk tuk and drove to Phnom Sampeau, a large hill about 7 miles out of Battambang.  There are large caves in the hill that were used by the Khmer Rouge to deposit bodies of the people they murdered.  The people were bludgeoned to death, then tossed down a hole that lead to the caves.

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Climbing Phnom Sampeau
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Allll the steps!
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A painting depicting the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge

There was a small memorial inside the cave with skulls and bones inside, but it didn’t seem well looked after.  We could also look up and see the hole where the bodies were thrown.  In some ways, the lack of upkeep made it even more depressing than the killing fields we visited in Phnom Penh.

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A small memorial containing human skulls of the victims
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The hole where victims were thrown into the cave.

By this time it was late afternoon, and we walked around Phnom Sampeau to our last stop, the bat cave!

As we got closer, we started hearing a strange sound.  As we rounded the hill, we got a glimpse of the cave and it was clear that that was where the sound was coming from.  At first the cave looked like it had dark rocks inside, but then we realized that they were actually just covered in bats!

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Those aren’t dark rocks!

Just before sunset, the bats started to stir, and then they started flying out of the cave!  It was a slow stream at first, but they kept coming and coming!

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The beginning of the flight
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Bats!

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After watching them for a few minutes, our driver met up with us and told us to get back in the tuk tuk and go to the other side of the hill to see more bats.  Once we got to the other side, we climbed up the hill and got to stand right next to the mouth of the cave.

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There was traditional Khmer music coming from somewhere down in the village and it almost looked like the bats were dancing to the music as they flew into the sunset.  It was pretty amazing!  Though the bats were kind of smelly.

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The smokey looking trail on the left is actually the trail of bats!
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It seemed like they would never stop coming out of the cave!
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A gorgeous sunset over the jungle

We ended the day with dinner and one more round of Kaiserdom back at the hostel.  We had almost skipped Battambang because it was slightly out of the way, but we were really glad that didn’t!

Kampot and Sihanoukville – Adventures in the South

After enjoying several days in Phnom Penh and successfully acquiring our Thai visas, we decided it was time to move down south.

We were picked up by a tuk tuk at our guesthouse and transferred to a local bus that stopped over in Kep before taking us to our destination of Kampot.

Kampot was honestly pretty disappointing, so much so that we aren’t even dedicating a full post to it.  Though we did visit a restaurant called Rusty Keyhole which boasts the best ribs in Cambodia.  Joe insisted that we go back the second night.

It was mercilessly hot with no breeze whatsoever, and we could barely even stand to exist, let alone conjure up the motivation to go exploring.  The town itself was kind of a hole, but we spent most of our time relaxing in the hammocks in the lovely garden at our guesthouse before moving on to Sihanoukville.

The bus was to pick us up at 7am and we woke up early, ecstatic to finally get to the beach.  Unfortunately, the bus ride was one of the most unpleasant we had experienced thus far.  In reality, the driver and the bus itself were exactly what you’d expect for a Cambodian mini bus…the problem this time was the other passengers.

As soon as the bus pulled up, we could see that it was already full of people.  The bus driver came around to load our packs in the back, but there wasn’t enough room.  At this point, we noticed a middle-aged woman (we will henceforth call her Angry Lady) seated on the bus glaring at us angrily, as if it was our fault that she was being subjected to this experience.  Hello, if you want luxury, maybe don’t take the $6 bus.  Or maybe don’t go to Cambodia.  Just a thought.

The driver starts doing what they always do when there isn’t enough room for the packs: shove them under the seats to make more room.  One of the bags he begins to forcefully shove under a seat belongs to Angry Lady.  Angry Lady does not like this one bit.  She begins shouting at him in French about how the bus is not safe, there are too many people, and the driver is damaging her belongings.  To my amusement, those five years of French I took in high school somehow started coming back to me and I understood most of what she was yelling about.  The bus driver does not appreciate her yelling (especially because he doesn’t even know what she is saying?) and proceeds to counter it with a mighty ROAR!  He doesn’t even say words, he just screams.  I wanted to give him a hug.  The other passengers make defensive gestures as if to protect Angry Lady from his threatening howl (as if she hadn’t provoked him), and he subsides when he realizes he is outnumbered.

Angry Lady is still throwing us loathsome looks as we help the bus driver secure all the packs in the back of the bus.  In her fit of rage, she grabbed her pack away from him and is now sitting with her pack on her lap…while complaining about how she has to sit with her pack on her lap.  Eventually the bus driver offers to put her pack up front and she eventually consents after some more bickering, watching his every move to see if he dares try to squeeze it under a seat again.  We are squeezed into the back of the bus with Angry Lady and her husband, but are quickly shuffled around once they realize they are trying to make us share seats.  Angry Lady must have her own seat!  So they move up to the row ahead of us and two more submissive souls like us end up squeezed next to us in the back, with overflowing backpacks sitting practically on top of our heads.  We spend the rest of the bus ride trying to push them into a secure position without pushing too hard (because the back door is not fully closed and could fly open at any moment) while Angry Lady sits smugly in the row ahead of us.  Once we are finally tucked in and ready to go, Angry Lady’s husband has the audacity to request that the driver tries to drive more slowly.  All we could think was that these people must be new to SE Asia…this was one of the better bus rides we had been on!

Thankfully the driver didn’t heed the Frenchman’s advice and we landed in Sihanoukville about 4 or 5 hours later, right on Serendipity Beach.  We checked into a guesthouse, changed into our swimsuits and headed straight for the beach!  Serendipity Beach is lined with restaurants so it was easy to find a place to have a beer and lay in the sun for a few hours.

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Serendipity Beach
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Looking out to sea from the Sihanoukville pier
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Sun setting over the trees

We had dinner in town, then went back out to the beach at night for a dessert of mango and sticky rice.  There were people (mostly children) selling fireworks to tourists who would set them off right on the beach.  This was sort of cool until some drunk people near us started doing it.  They were going off literally no more than 15 feet away from where we were sitting.  And these were full sized, no joke fireworks.  Then they bought some sparkler type things and started literally shooting them at each other.  It was terrifying.

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The next day we woke up early and had breakfast at our guesthouse before returning to the beach.  Serendipity Beach is really filthy, to be honest.  There’s a lot of litter everywhere and the city’s sewage flows in a river, down the main road by the pier, and straight into the water that everyone is swimming in.  It’s grime is matched by the trashy behavior of many backpackers and the scummy old men courting their prostitutes.  Ignoring all of this, we decided to spend our morning building this awesome sand temple.

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Digging the moat
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The beginnings of a temple
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A strange creature washed up to join us
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Some decorations from the sea
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The finished product
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Success!

We had a lot of fun doing this, but after a couple of hours, we realized we should get out of the sun before Joe got burnt.  We were too late.

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At least Ajax was wearing sunscreen….

Realizing that being in the sun any longer was probably not the best idea, we decided to explore the city instead.  People come to Sihanoukville for the beach, so there really isn’t a whole lot going on in town.  It was still a pleasant time just meandering around and waving to all the local children.

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Local children riding a carousel sort of structure
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Sihanoukville Night Market
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A strange, enormous statue of two golden lions in the middle of a roundabout

Once the sun had gone down, we ventured back to the beach to watch some local guys spinning fire staffs.  A couple of them were really good!

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A roadside bar
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Fire spinning on the beach

Our Grand Expedition from the North to South of Laos

To start this post, let us first explain how we ended up on the nonsensical route that we did.

Our original “plan” while traveling Southeast Asia was to start out in Vietnam, then go to Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.  We started out in Vientiane Laos then headed north, with the intention of taking the two-day slow boat from Luang Prabang over to Thailand.  We would travel south through Thailand and then on to Cambodia before going back to Thailand where we have a potential gig lined up.

When doing some research on visas and the logistics of all this, we considered that perhaps it would be wiser to go to Cambodia before going to Thailand so that we wouldn’t have to worry about multiple Thai visas (since we would be leaving and then coming back.)  The unfortunate part of this plan was that we hadn’t considered it until we were already in Northern Laos.  This new plan would require backtracking down to Vientiane, and then traveling even further down to Pakse and the 4,000 Islands before crossing into Cambodia.

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15.5 hours. Right.

Here is what actually happened:

We started out with an uneventful, four hour bus ride from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang.  Once we arrived at the Luang Prabang bus stop, we intended to book a sleeper bus for that night down to Vientiane–only it was full, so we couldn’t.

At that point our choices were to stay the night in Luang Prabang and take a bus in the morning that would take all day and put us in Vientiane the following night, or to take a sleeper bus the following night.  12 hours sitting on a bus all day sounded horrid so we opted to hang out in Luang Prabang and take the sleeper bus the following night.

While we enjoyed relaxing in Luang Prabang one last time, we probably should have just taken the day bus, because then we could have gotten an actual night’s rest at a guesthouse in Vientiane.  Instead, we spent 12 agonizing hours in a Laos sleeper bus (why didn’t we learn the first time?) crunched up on the ground while the bus violently bounced and swayed all the way to Vientiane.

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We arrived in Vientiane at about 7am with another set of choices.  Do we take another 12 hour day bus straight away and head down to Pakse or wait and do another night bus?  With the horrors of the sleeper bus we had just exited fresh in our minds, we couldn’t bear the idea of doing it again two nights in a row.  Instead, we hopped on a bus two hours later, and headed down to Pakse.

We were assured that the bus to Pakse would be 12 hours, putting us in the city around 10pm which should have been a decent enough time to find a room for the night.  Only, the bus stopped half a hundred times on the way to Pakse for god knows what reasons, extending the journey to about 15 hours.

Do you know how many guesthouses are open at 1am in Pakse?  None.  There are none.

There was only one other backpacker on the bus with us who was also stuck in this situation and the three of us set out to find some kind of accommodation for the night.  Exhausted from no sleep and almost 30 hours on buses, we wandered the deserted streets of Pakse knocking on guesthouse windows, in hopes of waking up the employees and inquiring about rooms.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the people we were able to startle awake all told us that they were full.

An hour later, we found ourselves sitting on a bench by the road, all but given up.  “There is one more on my map, I’m going to go check it,” said our new Spanish friend.  Sure that his efforts would fail, as they had for the last hour, we sat on the bench consumed with exhaustion, frustration, and helplessness.  

Just as we were adjusting ourselves in preparation to sleep on this bench, the Spanish guy reappeared, waving.

“Come on, guys!”

We sprang up and he waved for us to follow him to this one last guesthouse he had found!  It was a little pricier than we would have liked, but being 2am and after what we had been through, we were grateful for anything.

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We woke up the next morning and decided we simply did not have the energy to get to Don Det that day.

Instead, we spent the day exploring Pakse, which is perhaps the most boring city on the planet earth.  Despite being the third largest Laotian city in population, there was hardly anyone around.  Anywhere.  The whole day.

There also isn’t really much to see or do in Pakse and it was Valentine’s Day, so we decided to celebrate by eating lots of delicious food that we normally wouldn’t splurge on.  For lunch it was Dok Mai Lao Caffe, an Italian restaurant run by two older Italian men which was excellent.  For dinner, it was Le Panorama on top of the Pakse Hotel where we could look out over the entire city and watch the sun set.

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The next morning, it was finally time for us venture on to the last leg of the journey to the 4,000 Islands.

A mini-bus picked us up from our hotel at 8am and took us to the bus that would take us about 3 hours south of Pakse to Ban Nakasang, where we boarded a ferry that took us to the island of Don Det, our home base during our stay in the 4,000 Islands.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most logical route, but we finally made it to Don Det, and the hammocks awaiting us on the porch made our arrival that much sweeter!

Journey Breakdown:

Wednesday 2/11: Bus from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang (4-5 hrs)

Thursday 2/12: Sleeper Bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane (12 hrs)

Friday 2/13: Day bus from Vientiane to Pakse (15 hrs)

Saturday 2/14: Valentine’s Day in Pakse

Sunday 2/15: Bus/Ferry from Pakse to Don Det (3-4 hours)

Success!

Getting to Laos – An epic journey from Hanoi to Vientiane

We had our hotel book a bus ticket for us in Hanoi.  Depending on who you asked or what you read, the journey to Vientiane, Laos would be somewhere between 24 and 31 hours.

“Is this a sleeper bus?”

“Yes, yes, sleep!”

At 5pm, a man on a motorbike showed up at our hotel and beckoned us to follow him.  “Laos?  You come.”  We picked up our bags and followed this man through the streets of Hanoi, where he was literally corralling a group of backpackers on the side of the road.  He pointed at us, pointed at the group, then took off to go wrangle up some more.

Once all of the passengers had been collected, we boarded a small van.  Naturally, there were more people than there were seats on this van, so some of the passengers had to stand/hunch as the van departed.  At this point, we all started joking that this would be the bus to Vientiane.

Luckily for us, and especially for the people standing, the van dropped us at the bus station after a short drive out of the city where we were herded to the desk to collect our tickets.

Our bus was meant to depart at 7pm but it was more like 7:30 or 8.  Once we located the sleeper bus, we found that the storage areas under the bus (where they normally put your bags) was full of goods being sent to Laos.  It is not uncommon for transportation buses to be transporting more than just people, but we had never seen it as packed as this.  In fact, it seemed like transporting people was far from a main priority for the people running this bus.

They started barking at the tourists in Vietnamese and eventually started shouting and pointing, “Bag! Bag!”  We fell in line and handed them our bags and watched them stack our bags up in the aisles of the bus.  Once all of our packs were on board, the bus driver snapped at us again and motioned for us to get out of the way, as they let all of the locals board the bus first.

Once the locals were comfortably seated (all in the front of the bus, by the way) we were nastily ordered to the back of the bus, where we had to climb over and on top of each other’s bags to get to our seats.  At first we were anxious to find that we had been stuck in the very back of the bus, where the seats are all smashed up against each other with about 2 feet of space between the bottom and top rows.  It was very similar to sharing a twin bed with 2 other people,  uncomfortably intimate and squished.  The silver lining was that the seats in the very back of the bus recline all the way so that you can actually lay flat, which ended up making up for the lack of space.

We actually ended up sleeping better on this bus than any of the previous sleeper buses we had taken.  At around 5 or 6am we arrived at the Vietnam-Laos border where we had to wait for the office to open at 7am.

We exited the bus and lined up at the window to get stamped out of Vietnam before we could get our Laotian visas.  After paying a “stamping fee” of $1, we then had to walk 2km to the Laotian side to get our visas processed.  After filling out our applications and waiting around for several hours, we finally got our visas and officially begun our journey through Laos!

We hopped back on the bus once everyone had gotten through the border crossing and made our way to the capital city of Vientiane.  We were thrilled when we arrived by 3pm–a much shorter journey than expected!  When we got off the bus, instead of the usual cluster of people offering taxis and hotels, we were approached by just one man offering all of us a tuk tuk ride (an auto rickshaw used like taxis, instead of cars) into town for 20,000 kip each.  We had done our research before arriving in Laos and had read that the ride should really only be 10-15k each, so we and an Israeli couple we had met decided to pass and try to find something else.  20 meters away from the bus stop, another tuk tuk driver offered us a ride for 15k each so we decided to take that instead.

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We walked around the center city area looking for a cheap room and found one near the river for about $9/night.  It was literally a box with a really crappy bed in it and communal bathrooms down the hall, but it was the cheapest we could find, so we went for it.

We spent the rest of the evening wandering around Vientiane, checking out the modest night market and walking along the river.  Despite being the largest city in the country, it didn’t take long to realize that Laos was going to be much different than Vietnam.  The streets were really open and quiet despite being a Friday night, and our favorite part was that no one was hustling us to buy anything on the street.

We decided to call it a night pretty early since we had been traveling so long, and we were excited to get an early start to our exploration of Vientiane!

Falling in Love with Dalat – Our New Favorite City

We got up at the crack of dawn in Mui Ne in order to catch the 7:30 bus to Dalat.  Originally, we figured we would just catch a taxi back to the bus stop (Sinh Tourist) , only to find that there were no taxis in sight as we walked down the road.  As we walked in the general direction of the bus stop in hopes that one would show, a random local bus pulled up, asked where we were going, and told us to jump in.  It cost us 9,000vnd ($0.42 USD) each to get to the bus stop, and we were very grateful for it, considering we didn’t see any taxis on our way there.

Once there, we had a couple banh mi for breakfast and waited for the bus.  The bus that came was mid-sized; smaller than the large sleeper buses, but bigger (and less hellish) than the janky one we were on from Can Tho.  The drive was 5.5 hours of bumps and hairpin turns as we ascended into the gorgeous Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

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We stopped to enjoy the scenery about halfway between Mui Ne and Dalat

We were dropped off in the middle of town, at the doorstep of the Dalat Central Hostel.  We still do not know if this is just where the bus stops in Dalat or if the hostel has some kind of arrangement with the bus company, but we were offered a private room for $10 as soon as we set foot off the bus.  The room was nicer and cheaper than any other room we had stayed in thus far in the trip, and it couldn’t have been more convenient, so we decided to go for it.  Note: We had an excellent time staying here and highly recommend it.  The staff is great, speak very good English, and are extremely helpful!

The receptionist recommended a bakery down the street, so we decided to try it out for lunch.  The bakery is on the ground floor, and there is a restaurant attached on the second floor.  The food at the restaurant was nothing special, but the bakery is huge, cheap, and offers a plethora of unusual baked goods.  We picked out several that looked interesting and took them with us to enjoy next to the large and beautiful Xuan Huong Lake in the center of town.

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After going for a long walk around the lake and stopping back in the room for a little relaxation time, we headed back out into the city to visit the Dalat Night Market.  Here, you can find all sorts of street food, clothing, and crafts and on Saturdays and Sundays, they block off the street to turn it into a Walking Town.

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After we had gotten some street food and sat down on the steps to eat, we heard a commotion down in the market.  We looked down and saw people running and frantically stacking up the chairs and tables they had set out for patrons, as if to hide the fact that they were selling food there.  Presumably this was because of the police car driving by, but we were unable to figure out what exactly the issue was.  Once the police car drove off, everything returned to normal, though we were admittedly a little bit rattled by the event!

Dalat had already become our favorite city in Vietnam, that we had visited thus far in our journey.  The mountain air, friendly atmosphere and promise of adventure had us reeling to spend several days here, not to mention our lovely hostel staff and all the delicious, cheap food.  The city of Dalat had officially put itself on our list of potential future homes.

Minibus to Can Tho bus station: 18,000vnd ($0.84 USD)

Breakfast: 60,000vnd ($2.80 USD)

Bus to Dalat: 238,000vnd ($11.10 USD)

Lunch: 108,000vnd ($5.04 USD)

Pastries: 75,000vnd ($3.50 USD)

Dinner: 40,000vnd ($1.87 USD)

Beer: 14,000vnd ($0.65 USD)

Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)

Accommodation: 214,362vnd ($10.00 USD)

Total Spent: 777,362vnd ($36.26 USD)

Getting from Can Tho to Mui Ne – Broken seats, missing buses, and sleep deprivation

We were throwing around a few different options regarding transportation to our next destination, the coastal town of Mui Ne, known for its sand dunes and kite/windsurfing.

Option A) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Spend another night in Saigon.  Take a 6h bus the next morning to Mui Ne.

Option B) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Catch the next 6h bus to Mui Ne.

Option C) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Spend a few hours in Saigon.  Take the 11pm 6h sleeper bus to Mui Ne.

We decided Option C was preferable because it allowed us to enjoy a few more hours in Saigon, while also saving us a night’s accommodation since we’d be sleeping on the bus.

After breakfast, including some grilled bananas and coconut cakes, we  took a taxi back to the bus station outside Can Tho.  Our first mistake was allowing ourselves to be swept into one of the bus company offices without looking for the one used to get to Can Tho first.  We used Phuong Trang to get to Can Tho and had a perfectly pleasant experience, in contrast with what we were about to encounter.  We didn’t even catch the name of the bus company we had stumbled into, but the woman at the desk insisted that there were no big buses to Saigon and that the only option was a minibus.  Translate: This company in particular does not offer big buses to Saigon.  We naively took her word and allowed ourselves to be directed to a minibus (aka large van) with about 12 seats.

This is okay, it’s only a 3.5 hour ride!  Wrong.

Firstly, we ended up in the back row of the bus where the seats do not recline.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for the fact that all of the other rows reclined a lot so the people sitting in front of us were essentially laying in our laps.  Like, small domestic airplanes are luxury compared to this.  We had good attitudes about it and comforted ourselves in the fact that it only cost us 90,000vnd ($4.20 USD) each.

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After about 30 minutes of sitting around (I think we were waiting for all the seats to be filled) we finally took off at about 10:30am.  As we departed and hit the first bump in the road, the row in front of us bounced into our knees.  Hard.  Now we understood why they were sitting at a 140 degree angle, the row of seats were actually broken.  Thus, every slight disturbance in the road caused the row to bounce almost violently.  In fact it looked quite unpleasant for the people sitting there as well as for us.  To avoid further trauma to our knee caps, we experimented with all sorts of unconventional positions for sitting.

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Luckily our spirits were relentlessly high today, because we would soon realize that this bus would also be stopping at least 20-30 times on the way to Saigon.  Apparently we had landed ourselves on the local bus, so it actually took about 4.5 hours due to the frequent stops.  At some points there were so many people packed onto this bus that they were not even in seats, including several small children.

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If nothing else, it made for a good story.  Every backpacking adventure has at least one hellish bus ride, and it surely won’t be our last.  We finally made it to Saigon and had to take another taxi back to Pham Ngu Lao st. where we were to catch the sleeper bus to Mui Ne.  We went ahead and purchased our ticket and headed to a nearby smoothie shop.  We enjoyed a coffee and a banana smoothie (and free wifi), and after a few hours there, we roamed around the backpacker district some more which is a lot of a fun at night time.

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Banana shake…yum

At this point it was around 6 or 7pm and we decided to go to Highlands Coffee, where we enjoyed a couple of mojitos and some more free wifi (yay blogging time!)  Around 10:30pm we walked back to the bus stop where we were informed that our bus would come at 11 and we should stand outside and wait for it.  Now, it’s worth noting that we chose Phuong Trang again since we had a good experience getting to Can Tho, but this didn’t go quite as smoothly.  The buses all say their destination on the front and we kept seeing buses headed to Dalat.  Mui Ne is on the way to Dalat, so we asked if these were the buses we were supposed to be getting on, but we were told our bus was still coming.  This happened several times, so we decided we would stop asking and wait for a bus that said Mui Ne on it.  Finally at 12am, a bus that said Mui Ne rolled up.  When we approached the door, the driver told us this was the 12:00 bus, our tickets were for the 11:00 bus, and that we should have been here at 10:45 to catch it.

We have been here since 10:30!  The bus did not come!

It was apparent that the driver did not fully understand what were saying and kept insisting that we missed the bus because we did not arrive early enough.  Normally we are not very pushy people, but we had already had a day full of transportation difficulties.  We were getting to Mui Ne, and we were getting there on this sleeper bus.  After all of the other passengers got on (it was not full), and a few more desperate pleas, the driver finally let us on the bus.

Sleeper buses can be great because they save you a night’s accommodation and you get to fully recline, making the ride pretty comfortable.  Our driver was pretty keen to lay on the horn and there was a distressed infant on board, so sleeping didn’t come quite as easy as we had expected.  Additionally, because we ended up taking a later bus, the drive was shorter because there was less traffic.  So we landed in Mui Ne just after 5am, a little early for finding a place to stay in a small town.

We were dropped off in front of some bungalows that didn’t appear to be open, so we just parked it out front and decided to wait until they were.  After about half an hour sitting in the dark, a man who appeared to be a security guard walked out and asked us what we were doing.  Do you have a room available?  He didn’t answer us, but got on his phone, made a call, and opened the gate.  A woman in a night gown appeared and lead us to one of the bungalows, which we promptly accepted and proceeded to fall asleep.

We knew getting to Mui Ne from Can Tho would be some kind of adventure, and despite the complications, we were glad to have finally made it to the beach!  In hindsight, it’s important to pay attention to what company you are booking (anything) with.  Sometimes companies will push you around in hopes of getting you to purchase before you’ve realized what you’re actually doing and what your other options are.  Additionally, if in doubt, ask every single bus if it’s the one you’re supposed to be on!  People will almost always help you if you ask.

Breakfast: 20,000vnd ($0.93)

Bananas/Coconut Cakes: 8,000vnd ($0.37)

1 Coca Cola: 15,000vnd ($0.70)

Taxi to Can Tho Bus Station: 30,000vnd ($1.40)

Hellish Minibus: 180,000vnd ($8.39)

Taxi to Pham Ngu Lao: 200,000vnd ($9.32)

Dinner: 162,000vnd ($7.55)

Coffee/Smoothie: 31,000vnd ($1.44)

Mojitos: 98,000vnd ($4.57)

Sleeper Bus: 270,000vnd ($12.58)

Total Spent: 1,014,000vnd ($47.25 USD)