In the very south of Laos, just by the Cambodian border, the Mekong river becomes very broad and creates a number of islands in the middle of the river, known as the 4000 island (in Lao….). Don Det is one of these, known as a very relaxing and slow paced place with little to do but sit in a hammock and watch the world go by.
Having been on the go for over a month now that sounded good to us as we fancied a bit of R&R so from Pakse we jumped on a bus (uneventful besides being dropped off at the bus station and not being told that we had to walk down to the ferry terminal to complete the journey…) and arrived on a very hot island.
We walked down to our bungalow on the riverbank (4th in the terrace of 5), where we had 2 hammocks, a decent bed & decent shower (which didn’t bother with any attempt at heating as anything other than cold was totally unnecessary!). Happy with where we’d found ourselves, we headed off to find some lunch – ending up in an Indian restaurant which was actually pretty good.
We headed back to our spot to sit in the hammocks & have a nice relaxed afternoon. Sadly, when we arrived, we found a problem. She clearly had no concept of the fact that the hammocks directly outside each room were clearly intended for those in that room, not those next door – especially the one that was within 3 feet of both the door & window of the room!
Despite our fantastically British passive aggressive manoeuvres, she did not take the hint. So instead (and instead of actually saying something, obviously) we settled in to her rooms’ hammock alongside the other one of ours and actually had a nice afternoon. It would have been nicer had she not been there, and nicer still if she had not left her towel on the hammock whenever she walked away for a bit. It reminded me that I was thinking of doing a blog on the things we’ve come across people doing when in shared accommodation while we’ve been here. One for another time perhaps but that will definitely feature!
We had booked 3 nights on Don Det, but ended up staying 6 as the accommodation was great with nice rooms, a nice owner who was also the entire staff and of course England were still in the World Cup so we needed to be able to watch the game! Activities were limited while on the island. There was a lot of sleeping, a lot of reading (I’m not sure why “The Great Gatsby” is considered a classic, but maybe I’m missing something? Feel free to correct/educate me in the comments below!) and a lot of swinging slowly in hammocks watching the world go by.
We did occasionally get up – admittedly mainly for food – but also to engage in the few things there were to do. This included cycling around on single gear bikes with no brakes and a chain that fell off at the slightest hint of a bump in the road (which was a problem as the roads were exclusively bumpy, being less formed than some of the paths up Snowdon). The bikes were actually good fun though & we used them a few times to visit a waterfall, a swimming pool (it was hot & the river this far south is in absolutely no way appealing) and another island connected by a French railway bridge called Don Khon which at the southernmost tip had a small village from which you could go & see the Irrawaddy Dolphins.
Seeing the dolphins was one of our highlights. After a long cycle through the jungle on a “road” we ended up at the village and had a quick drink then learnt that in fact the “road” was a disused railway which had been built by the French (hence the bridge) and had been used to transport boats travelling up the Mekong over the waterfalls that were a little upriver (which also explained the strange structure next to our bedroom). We then watched the ice cream man arrive leading to children desperately running off to their parents asking for money before returning with big grins on their faces and then grinning even more when they had their ice cream. Apparently even at the age of about 2 it is possible for a child to buy an ice cream from the ice cream man!
After this entertaining interlude we went over to the boats to see if we could get one to take us to see the dolphins, but came across a couple who we recognised from our accommodation who were also slightly interested. The man said it was 70,000 kip for an hours ride. We thought that was per person, but he said no, no, per boat & each boat can have 4 people. We did the maths & at around £1.50 per person it seemed pretty silly not to do it!
We immediately bonded with the others over our dislike of our neighbours (the boyfriend of the girl I mentioned earlier who also stole a hammock on their side) and we had a lovely trip seeing what we later learned was the entire population of these dolphins in Laos – all 3 of them. After a while, we noticed it was getting dark and our 1 hour trip had taken 90 minutes (the driver who was at most 14 years old was having a great time playing some kind of samurai game on his phone) & we needed to get back quickly in order to avoid cycling back in the dark with no lights. We did not manage that, but were most of the way by the time we could no longer see so it wasn’t too much of a problem in the end. The trip ended with some kittens who had been born that day & were still blind walking into us a lot as we filled up our water at a local shop. Even Claire, who dislikes cats immensely, enjoyed those little guys.
Pretty much the only other thing we did on Don Det was watch sunsets. They were beautiful, had a great setting in a bar run by a lovely family with a hilarious kid whose highlights included 1 leg falling through the deck when he jumped in the wrong place (sounds mean, but he was fine & it was really funny) and pulling dance moves that literally every tourist in the place was jealous of.
We also had a nightly light-hearted argument about which star kept showing up so brightly as the sun was going down. Claire suggested it was the North star. I suggested that the North star probably wasn’t next to the setting sun, what with that being to the West. Claire invited my opinion. I had nothing to add, other than that we both need to learn some astrology. This happened 3 nights in a row… We later learned from an acquaintance that it was likely Jupiter, which had been making an appearance recently. She also told us about an astrology app, which I have now downloaded!
Other highlights included the food which was excellent pretty much everywhere; the England v Columbia game that despite finishing at 4am was a great night (the 24 BeerLao shared by us & the couple mentioned earlier may have helped this..); the astonishingly dumb cat – which while quite annoying at breakfast when it jumped onto your table or tried to scratch your shorts to shreds was quite entertaining; and the guy who ran our accommodation having a few too many beers one morning with his friend (lunchtime if you’re generous, but you have to be really generous) before being sent to bed by his wife for a few hours!
Speaking of that cat, the animals in Laos aren’t treated that well & it had a little incident one morning when it was hassling someone & the owner decided to throw it into the river! The Americans who were there were horrified & we heard the screams from our room so came out to investigate what had happened. A few minutes later, this appeared:
All in all we had a great time on Don Det and were thoroughly relaxed by the time we left, headed for our next country – Cambodia. The fact we were relaxed was a good thing as the following day was somewhat challenging…