There was no way around it, to get out of Phnom Penh we just had to throw ourselves into the traffic. It was as chaotic as ever and the motorcycles were crazily weaving all over the place. The best policy was just to edge forward slowly but even then you had to make sure a bike hadn’t pulled into the space in front of you. As we cleared Phnom Penh though the traffic improved. The road was good and the area was less populated so there was also less traffic on the road.
Our route North was following the mighty Mekong river which comes all the way from the Tibetan plateau. At this time of the year at the end of the rains the river is full, brown and fast moving. As we drove North we would get fleeting glances of it through the rice paddies. We were in farming country and the farmers had a hard life tilling their small plots of land. Water buffalo were still been used to plough the fields and the rice was been picked by hand.
At the end of the day we turned down a small lane off the main road and came across a spot of uncultivated land right on the edge of the Mekong. It was an idyillic spot and had clearly been used for picnics before as there was evidence of a fire ring and unfortunately as is always the case some litter. We settled in to enjoy a lovely sunset over the Mekong.
The next morning we were awakened by the tinkling of cow bells. The local farmers were bringing their cows out to graze. They seemed fascinated by us as we were by them.
Heading North of Kratjie we were hoping to see the rare Irawaddy Dolphin. This dolphin is found in the Mekong and a couple of other rivers but is endangered. In the Mekong there are thought to be less than 100 remaining but as they tend to stay in the same area we were hopeful of seeing some. We hired a boat to take us out and of course he knew exactly where they were. We spent an hour or so observing them in the deep swirling pools. There must have been a pod of about a dozen that we saw. The dolphin has a slightly unusual shape in that it does not have a beak but instead has a bulbous head rather like a Beluga Whale. Whilst they did not come that close we felt really privileged to be seeing such a rare creature.
Late that afternoon we reached the border with Laos. Not wanting to cross so late in the day we looked for somewhere to camp. I had noticed a small road a few hundred metres away from the border post heading down towards the river so we headed down there. It led to a tiny village with water buffalos, chickens, cows etc. There was a nice flat grassy area so we asked at one of the houses if we could park for the night. They said yes and seemed very relaxed by it waving to us as they passed on their scooters. The children were more curious coming up to us to say hello. In the end they were desperate to have their photo taken.
Looking at the map I realised we were really close to the border. I walked further down the road and had not got 200metres before there was a pole across. I guess we had got as far as we could.
The next morning we were up early to cross the border into Laos. As it was a Sunday and in any event things don’t seem to move very quickly in either Cambodia or Laos not all the border staff were about. Whilst the border was open it is normally very quiet anyway so we had to search all over for the relevant staff. Leaving Cambodia there was no one at customs. As I needed to have my Carnet stamped we needed to find someone. The immigration office used his phone but with no result. Eventually he found a key to the customs office. After rummaging in the drawer he found he necessary stamp and with my guidance we completed the exit form on the Carnet.
Arriving in Laos was no different, the first point of call was to get a visa on arrival but the man who did this wasn’t there. Immigration gave him a call and after 10 minutes along he came. Once we were stamped in it was the turn of the truck at customs but the customs man had gone off somewhere. After a few calls and a wait the truck was cleared. The last thing was insurance. There was an office at the border but it was closed. We were worried as it was Sunday it may not be open but immigration assured us it would open eventually. Since we thought it better to get the insurance there and everything was very relaxed we decided to wait. In any event the girls had their schooling to do. Eventually the insurance man came and we were all sorted to enter Laos.
We were not going very far just 20kms to the first town where we were going to park the truck while we took a boat out to one of the islands in the Mekong. At this stretch of the river it widens out and creates a network of supposedly 4,000 islands. We were going to head out to one of these to spend a few days. This is also the part of the Mekong where there are some impressive rapids, so impressive it meant the river was not navigable so the French built a railway line across one of the Islands to transport boats. I will let Alisha describe our time there below.
Cruising up the Mekong on a rather noisy old boat we went to the island of Don khon ( which I have no idea how to spell) where we searched for a guest house. After what seemed like hours searching we finally found a good place with both a fan and air con. Lucy instantly fell in love with the mosquito nets hanging above the beds and instantly began to take them down and tuck them in luckily she was stopped as we prepared for a walk. After walking through the small village we walked among the rice fields to a part of the Mekong where there was a dramatic fall complete with Rapids and large pointy rocks here Lucy befriended a kitten.
The meal that night was atrocious the noodles where disgusting, the pork burnt and the Spring rolls yucky. Luckily we didn’t get tummy aches the next day. The only bright side was that the restaurant housed a cute puppy and a kitten so Lucy spent most of the meal in raptures watching the kitten and puppy play.
The next morning I was woken by a very, very, very noisy boat. After a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes with chocolate sauce we went for a walk across the fields to the other side of the island where we had a lovely encounter with another lovely playful puppy. On returning we found out that we had to do school ( boo hiss ) after an hour we went out for lunch. Just as we were leaving we found out that Lucy had impetigo a skin disease that gives you nasty scabs, we had the cream to cure it back in the truck though.
Lunch was gorgeous, a tasty pizza with a massive sandwich for daddy and mummy to share. Me and Lucy kept watching the playful cat try to catch and eat a cricket. After school and a rest we walked to an old steam locomotive that the French used to transport gunboats around large waterfalls. We also went to see a Wat ( What Wat ?) Mummy told us a funny story and Daddy drove us all crazy by saying “What Wat ?”
We went back to that lovely restaurant for dinner where we had had lunch Lucy played with the little girl although Lucy could not touch her due to her infection. We stayed till past nine after that we all felt rather glad to get to bed. The next morning after breakfast we went back to the mainland on another little old rickety boat. We got back and cleaned and treated Lucy’s impetigo with clean water, soap ,cotton wool and antiseptic cream.
Then school ( double boo hiss) and then we a drove to a waterfall up on top of a plateau where the temperature was going to be 18 to 19 degrees 😱. We dressed up for Halloween after dinner. Me as a witch of the night and Lucy as my little spirit assistant we got lots of sweets 👍🏻. On the third time we went round daddy put on a funny voice and kept offering us vegetables. It was a great Halloween. All except for the fact we where woken by very very noisy barking dogs AT FIVE IN THE MORNING. But apart from that and a few other little things, it was a great few days.
As Alisha has said, from the Mekong we headed up to the Bolevan Plateau. The Plateau is famous for its waterfalls but what we were looking forward to, was that as it was at over a thousand metres high, it being a lot cooler. We were able to camp at the first waterfall and enjoyed a lovely quiet, cool night, that was until the dog started barking.