|After just a day and night in Champasak, we caught a Tuk Tuk to a ferry then a minibus to Si Phan Don (4000 Islands). The trip was only ~3 hours (hurray!!!)
4000 Islands are a group of islands, big and small - we think sandbars and bushes are included in the count towards "4000 islands" - located on the Mekong river near the Cambodian border. We caught a long boat straight to our chosen island of Don Khone. This island, and it's neighbor Don Det, still don't have electricity and are absolutely, idyllically beautiful. Obviously set on the river, with narrow dirt pathways, swaying palm trees, rice fields and happy locals. The fact that no electricity is available hasn't slowed development (including plenty of satellite dishes) as generators abound. Still, there aren't too many vehicles so it was a great place to stop for a few days. We stayed in a floating hut on the river.
The best way to get around is by bike, so we rented bikes and spent a few days exploring both islands. Some of the sights we saw included a monk in his saffron robe DJ-ing at a village party with Smashing Pumpkins blaring over HUGE speakers (don't know how this helps on his path to enlightenment...perhaps had he played Nirvana?), water buffalo swimming in the river or constantly blocking our path, a pair of cheeky village girls falling off their bike (which they were riding together) in a fit of laughter when we caught up to them on our bikes, other kids running away in delighted terror from John (who later admitted to making monster faces at them - nice one for international relations!) and getting pointed at and/or photographed by visiting Thai tourists.
A highlight of our time here was getting to see the Irrawaddy dolphins, albeit from quite a distance. There are fewer than 10 left in Laos and just a few more than that in Cambodia. We hired a boat with a very clever driver whose tour consisted of taking us out to a rock in the Mekong ~5 minutes trip from where we'd been picked up. He then pointed in the general direction we should look and proceeded to take a nap for an hour. Still, we did get to see the dolphins and the upside was we weren't encroaching on their behavior at all like I've seen done in other places like Bali where boat drivers get way too close to them and herd them like sheep (changed from cattle for you Kiwis) so tourists can get good photos. So, all-in-all, we approved of the boatman's approach and great to see this very endangered animal.
We were slightly nervous about crossing into Cambodia as a few days before we intended to cross, all of the Laos tourist operators stopped selling bus tickets for destinations in Cambodia. Apparently, the Cambodians felt they weren't getting enough money for the trips so had begun demanding more money or refusing to take tourists to the Cambodian towns they'd bought passage to (i.e. dropping them off in different towns and abandoning them). In any case, negotiations between Laos and Cambodian agencies ensued, prices to Cambodia doubled, and services resumed in-time for our planned departure. We loved our time in Laos and will miss the rich culture of warm, friendly people!