OK, I take it all back! Lao buses are awesome! Or at least the one we got for our 14 hours ride was. And I'm not being sarcastic here, it honestly was the best bus I have ever seen! Instead of seats it had rows of beds, big enough to stretch legs and high enough to seat in. I have never had such a comfortable ride in my entire bus riding career. There were pillows and blankets, the road was pretty much flat and we ended up sleeping like babies, leaving the bus more relaxed than ever. And that was only the beginning.
We spent quite some time discussing our route. We realized pretty quickly, that 10 weeks may not be enough to really explore 5 countries and that we had to lower our expectations a bit if we wanted to keep it a pleasant and relaxing trip. Especially after we lost a week in Ayutthaya. Laos was the place where we had to make our minds up. We could leave the country after only a few days to still get to see Vietnam and then go back to Bangkok through Cambodia. Or we could stay and take the 14 hours bus (which back then we considered as something close to a torture) and travel all the way south to see the famous 4.000 Islands of the Mekong River and cross the Cambodian border there. Both options sounded tempting, both had their disadvantages, at the end one simple issue determined our choice: we needed a visa for Vietnam. We could not get one on arrival, so it meant going to the embassy and dealing with all the regular paperwork. If there was one thing we really didn't like about traveling, it was the whole visa business, so we decided we'd rather face the 14 hours bus ride. Vietnam will simply have to wait. Maybe in the meantime they will adopt their visa regulations to regional standards (no visa or visa on arrival), making travels in their country a bit simpler.
I didn't really know what to expect before we got there. Obviously, I was sure we would get to see quite a few islands, but apart from that I was not sure what's awaiting us. People who've been there were describing it as one of the most beautiful and relaxing spots in Southeast Asia, making it sound like a place we would like to see ourselves, so we booked a river-view sunrise-facing bungalow with 2 hammocks at Mama Leuah Guesthouse and were looking forward to exploring the region.
We needed to take a boat to get to our island and that first ride already took our breath away. It was magnificent! Unlike in the northern parts of the Mekong river, the water here was nice and blue, decorated with endless islands in all different shapes and sizes. The view was amazing. Some parts of the few biggest islands got a bit touristic in the last couple of years, but fortunately our guesthouse was situated away from the center of attention, in a nice and quiet surrounding, were people were still doing their laundry in the river and children were swimming right next to the water buffaloes, which were taking their bath in the same spot every day. It was simply wonderful! We had big plans, we wanted to rent bikes and see as much as we could, but the moment we got there and felt the peaceful, relaxing atmosphere of the place we couldn't help jumping into our hammocks and focusing on enjoying the view and the delicious food our guesthouse was offering. The memory of Mama Leuah Menu still makes my mouth water whenever I think of it. The pepper stake, the curries, the shakes... It was as close to paradise as you can get!
No worries, we did manage to get out of the hammocks eventually, though it took some strong will and a lot of convincing. But the region had a lot to offer and we didn't want to miss it. Unfortunately all the bikes we have found turned out to be way to short for us, so we decided to take a walk instead. It was really hot and the islands were much bigger than I expected them to be, but it was still a pleasant trip. And the view of a huge waterfall and the possibility to bath at the nearby beach rewarded all our efforts. But the only way to really see and appreciate at least a part of the archipelago is a boat trip, which we signed for without thinking. It was an awesome one. We were fighting our ways between many smaller islands, through waves and rocks up to the biggest waterfall in Southeast Asia. It was magnificent. And so was the marvelous sunset we had a chance to admire on our way back. It all made us wanna stay in this amazing place forever, if it wasn't for the fact, that David's visa was expiring (as Swiss he got a free 15 days stay), forcing us to say good bye to our hammocks and book the tickets to Cambodia.