Located in Southern Laos bordering Cambodia, Si Phan Don or more commonly known among travelers as 4000 Islands, is where the Mekong river is forcibly split into smaller waterways by the presence of numerous islands (or islets) creating a stunning archipelago. After nearly one month of rudimentary traveling through the country, we chose to end our adventures on the island of Don Det.
DAY 1: RELAXING WITH A DASH OF EXPLORING
After checking into our excellent bungalow complete with gingerbread trim and white picket fence, I was ready to explore Don Det. It didn’t take me long to realize that the main hub of Don Det, a cluster of mismatched establishments lining the main ‘road’, was just a few hundred meters long.
These establishments were an agglomeration of tour agencies, shabby restaurants/bars catered to tourists and less than a handful of convenience stores. Some of the restaurants were decorated with funky floor cushions, exuding quintessential hippie style. Enticing, rhythmic reggae music echoed off the river. The vibe on Don Det was undeniably free-spirited, a far stretch from the more conservative culture of Laos.
I don’t usually like places that are completely stripped of local culture, existing primarily to attract young
party-inclined backpackers all wearing the same harem pants travelers but I came here to indulge in the best Don Det had to offer – sweet nothingness. After enduring days of cold, wet temperatures, I was ecstatic to finally wear my flip flops again, toes sprinkled with warm sand. And the sun, oh the glorious sun – how happy I was to bask in its rays!
*cue your favorite Summertime music*
After spending the afternoon on the small beach, I continued my exploration towards the other end of the island. Much to my enjoyment, this stretch of Don Det was much more appealing; I was kindly reminded that I was in Laos. While strolling alongside the slow-flowing Mekong river, I saw wooden houses precariously balancing on stilts and I was greeted by friendly islanders including grubby, giggling children.
Yup, my first day in Don Det was a perfect reflection of its relaxed vibe.
DAY 2: CYCLING AROUND DON KHONE
On our second day, we decided to rent bicycles (for $1/day). We crossed the French-built bridge over to the twin island of Don Khone. Arriving on Don Khone, it was immediately apparent how different it was from Don Det. The ambiance was still quite relaxed but it was more ‘sophisticated’ (as far as dusty, fairly undeveloped islands go).
As we cycled through dried-out rice fields and quaint villages, we came across a sign indicating nearby waterfalls. Without a second thought, we took the small path and within a few minutes we arrived at Khonepasoi and Khane Pa Sy Waterfalls – each a series of waterfalls connected by flimsy wooden bridges. And bonus – both were free!
(Somphamit or Liphi Waterfalls are the most popular waterfalls on Don Khone but with a 35,000 kips admission fee we decided to skip it).
Though life on Don Khone was very relaxed, there was always something interesting to see like this ambulant vendor who gave a whole new meaning to “at-home shopping” and this creamy-colored beach with rustic fishing boats dotting its shore. It was so pleasant to pedal at one’s leisure through the open fields while simply taking in the scenery!
DAY 3: INDULGING IN SWEET NOTHINGNESS
End of day 3.
Don’t judge me.
Unbeknownst to me, my day of complete farniente lead up to a night of partying…..Lao-style. That night a huge party was organized in the dried-out rice field smack in the middle of Don Det. Hundreds of residents from every other island came to take in the festivities and to let loose (which meant drinking way too many Lao beers).
Singers bellowing out lyrics through a screechy microphone were on one stage while a traditional dance show took place on another. Numerous stalls selling a panoply of toys and trinkets were haphazardly set up among vendors selling cigarettes or offering a choice of grilled skewers.
I certainly never expected to attend a party on Don Det Island but mingling with the locals in a non-fabricated way was a lot of fun!
DAY 4: HOT ON DON DET
With the incessant heat not letting up, I decided to do like the four-legged locals – I hung out on the porch in the shade all day (shamelessly indulging in sweet nothingness yet again – tsk, tsk).
Speaking of my fellow shade-seekers, I noticed that cats, dogs and chickens wandered around without the slightest worry about being shooed away. These furry island dwellers were definitely living la dolce vita!
DAY 5: CAPTURING THE REAL DON DET
After two days of doing only the bare necessities (you know like eating), the fifth and final day came along. It was time to get up off of my lazy ass to capture a few more memories of this charmingly unpretentious island.
And so off I went.
I encountered an inebriated-looking buffalo sporting a funky hair piece.
I got stuck in a traffic jam (no cars on Don Det meant this was as bad as it got).
I spotted some funky art.
I came across men playing a game of pétanque (similar to bocce) – a clear remnant of Laos’ French colonization.
I did some window-shopping.
I watched kids playing soccer/football on a dusty field.
And I took a few other random pictures depicting the real Don Det.
As our time on Don Det Island came to a close, I reminisced about carefree evenings spent watching the sun set over the Mekong river.
And the day my top matched the savory and incredibly sweet sugar cane I was eating.
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Has anyone else indulged in the sweet nothingness of Don Det?