In the southern-most part of Laos, right on the border of Cambodia, in the middle of the Mekong, lies Don Det–one of the major islands of Si Phan Don, also known as the 4,000 Islands.
We arrived in Don Det after a pain staking journey from the North, ready to do what everyone comes to Don Det to do–nothing!
Well, not entirely nothing, but mostly.
We arrived by boat in the early afternoon where we promptly found a bungalow, equipped with a private bathroom and two hammocks in front. We dropped off our bags and set off to walk the 7-8km path following the perimeter of the island to see what was going on.
We explored the island for a couple of hours, passing by playing children, feral dogs, and local houses built on stilts. We even passed a raging party of Laotians, in the middle of a dry rice field. They were dancing to strange pop music and downing shots of lao lao, the local rice whisky. At first we were anxious about interrupting their party, but then they started beckoning us to join them! We declined because it was like 1pm, but it was really hilarious to see!
Once we got to the other side of the island, we stopped at a place called One Last Bar, where we ordered two amazing homemade ginger ales and enjoyed the riverside view.
Don Det is similar to Vang Vieng in that there are drug-filled edibles available everywhere (happy shakes, happy bags), lots of people with dreadlocks, and…not a ton of Lao culture. That being said, it is wayyyyyyy less rowdy and much more laid back. One could argue that Don Det is also a ‘party town’ but people are not nearly as loud or obnoxious about it.
That evening, we had dinner at Jasmin Restaurant, (one of the best Indian restaurants ever) before retiring to our modest bungalow. The mosquito net was essential too, because it was sweltering hot until about 3am (so we had to open the windows, to even be able to sleep.)
The next morning we decided to move to a different bungalow. There was nothing wrong with the one we had been in the first night, but we decided it would be worth the extra $2.50 to get one right on the river.
We found one on the other side of the island that better suited our needs, and decided the day would be best spent in the hammocks out front. I do not exaggerate when I say that is all we did the entire day, with the exception of brief ventures out for food at mealtimes. After our lengthy journey down the entirety of the country, it was well deserved and well appreciated!
…and then we did the same exact thing the next day. Don’t judge, you would have too.
After two glorious days of doing nothing, we decided it was time to go out and explore again. This time, we rented bicycles and rode across the bridge to the neighboring island of Don Khon.
We rode along the bumpy dirt road of Don Det to the bridge that connects the two islands. It was scenic, but also painful.
Once we crossed the bridge, we headed straight for Tat Somphamit, also known as the Li Phi waterfalls. Apparently ‘Li Phi’ means spirit trap and it is believed that the spirits of dead people and animals are trapped there. Despite its morbid mythology, the raging waterfall was spectacular!
We walked all the way down to the bottom of the falls to Li Phi Beach. Although the water was much slower at the bottom, there were still signs warning people not to try to swim because of the currents. It was still nice to walk along the beach, though.
We went back to our bikes and decided to continue on to Tha Sanam Beach a little further along, which was also really pleasant, though the sand was a thousand degrees and really painful to walk on. We stopped for a coconut at one of the stands near the entrance before heading back.
We rode back to Don Det in the blazing afternoon heat, just in time to catch sunset at a local restaurant. The hazy clouds made it look like an orange ball just floating above the trees.
We had done just about all there was to ‘do’ in the 4,000 Islands, but we wanted just one more day of lounging around in the hammocks. After all, we still had a couple more days left on our Lao visas and we had no other destinations planned before heading to Cambodia.
So, we did! And it was just as satisfying as the other days. We also treated ourselves to a wood-fired pizza at a restaurant down the road which was excellent.
…then Jojo got sick. 😦
We were worried it was food poisoning, but it ended up passing pretty quickly (and luckily, because had a long bus ride booked for the next morning.)
We loved Don Det and wanted to stay forever. We were really glad that our change of plans ended up taking us there, when we had not originally planned to go.
We were also sad to say goodbye to Laos, but excited to venture into Cambodia. Laos was good to us, and we will surely visit again some day.