Deep in Southern Laos lies a cluster of islands known as Si Phan Don, or 4,000 Islands. Ranging from tiny sandbanks to the 18 km wide island of Don Khong, Laos’ 4,000 Islands are scattered across the Mekong River, and offer a little slices of tranquility, with lush green and calm blue waters all around.
We travelled to the most popular of the 4,000 Islands in 2011. Don Det had only received electricity a few years before, but electricity wasn’t available 24 hours a day. We had just come from the insanity that was Vang Vieng, and Don Det offered the ideal remedy to our longer than planned stay in the party town.
Now that Vang Vieng is no longer the crazy party spot it once was, more backpackers are turning to Don Det for partying. This is such a shame, as the Don Det of my memory is a chilled out land where time stands still. You can still have a completely chilled time in Don Det, there are just more people around these days.
The laidback nature that makes Don Det so special also means you may wait two hours for your dinner to arrive, but with the buzz of nature and the darkness surrounding you, it makes sitting back on a brightly coloured cushion sipping on a beer or fruit shake a peaceful wait.
Don Det is rustic, bursting with nature and wildlife, and is a haven of delicious food, beautiful sunsets and a peaceful vibe.
Although there is variety to be found in the levels of comfort when it comes to accommodation, our budget brought us to perhaps the most basic of huts on the island of Don Det. Mounted on steep, and frankly spindly looking stilts, our rough wood home lent us the perfect view, and was close enough to the pier to avoid keeling over beneath the weight of our backpacks.
Okay, so on the first night there may have been an incident involving embarassingly girlie shrieks at the swarms of winged creatures visiting our balcony, and the farm animals who ran beneath our hut may have ignited our imagination a little too much, but the sheer joy found in swinging from a hammock with the day stretching out as long as the Mekong, and nothing to do but watch people tubing and locals playing and bathing in the water, was entirely worth it.
There are a range of activities to enjoy in Don Det, from cycling to languid tubing through the water. When we weren’t encased in hammocks or waiting for delicious food, we went for strolls around the island, and rented bicycles. You can ride to the sister island of Don Khon by crossing a bridge. There, you will find an even quieter version of Don Det, as well as Tat Somphamit, or Li Phi Falls. These impressive falls are located less than 2 km from the bridge, and signs will point you in the right direction.
The 4,000 Islands offer the chance to see Irrawaddy dolphins. These freshwater dolphins are are rare breed and can only be found in small areas like the 4,000 Islands, as well as areas in India, the Philippines, Burma and Thailand.
Sunsets spent submerged in the calm, pink-tinged water, and afternoons spent lying on the warm sand, the sounds of travellers’ conversations providing a peaceful background hum pepper my Don Det memories, but perhaps the best thing about our time in Don Det was the peace, the quiet and the syrupy slow pace of time. It served as a very welcome convalescence after the hard work that was our previous stop in Vang Vieng.
As the day-glo paint faded from our skin and hoarse throats and skinned knees healed, we swung gently in our hammocks, enveloped in the peace and the beauty of Don Det, one of 4,000 beautiful Islands.