What’s your favourite place on Earth? That was a question I was asked recently as part of a game for Gia’s hen’s night (I’m getting married in a week!). I’d never had to choose my “favourite” place before, but Don Det, a small Mekong River island in Laos, quickly came to mind. It’s the most laid-back place I’ve been. The scenery, sunsets, cheap prices and lazy vibe of this backpacker island will continue to call me back, long after I’ve become fat, bald and grumpy with old age. Thinking of visiting the 4000 Islands region of Laos? I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do on Don Det — enjoy!
Lazy days on Don Det
My favourite thing about Don Det is the almost slow motion pace of life. The sunset side of the island, where most of the bars and budget accommodation is located, is made for lazy days in hammocks. When you get hungry or thirsty, head over to one of the small bars / restaurants / cafes for a chicken sandwich, coconut shake, chocolate pancake or cold beer (or anything else you’re craving). If you’ve ever wanted a peaceful place to read, write or get to know a wide range of other travellers (and the locals who work in the businesses), Don Det is your answer.
It’s also worth noting that most of the businesses on Don Det are owned and operated by locals. From what I’ve seen, tourists and locals mix really well. There is no sense of it becoming one of those places where the locals get jaded by all the tourists and the touts and scammers move in. Hopefully it doesn’t change!
Some of the best sunsets I’ve seen have been from $5 a night bungalows on Don Det. You can also get awesome views of the setting sun from the restaurants and bars lining the river. There’s nothing like watching the sun slowly set while swinging on a hammock or getting to know new friends at cosy riverside bars.
“Nothing” is the best thing to do on Don Det, but that doesn’t mean it’s a boring place. It’s good to break up bouts of relaxation with some sightseeing, and the best way to do it is on a bike. They cost about a dollar a day and there is heaps to explore. You can cut across the rural interior to the sunrise side of the island or do a longer ride over to Don Khon, another small island connected to Don Det by a century old French bridge. From Don Khon you can take a tour on a small boat to spot Irrawaddy dolphins and visit Li Fi Falls.
Li Fi Falls, on Don Khon, is a really cool little spot, but for a truly impressive sight you should check out the Khone Pha Pheng Falls. These falls, which are the largest in Southeast Asia in terms of volume, aren’t actually on Don Det (or Don Khon). You’ll need to either go on a tour (which are quite cheap) or get there independently using a boat / bus combination or hire a scooter. It makes for a great day trip from Don Det.
Another fun day trip from Don Det is a trip to Champasak to see the Angkor era ruins of Wat Phu. It’s obviously not as impressive as Angkor Wat, but the hillside setting and relative lack of crowds make it well worth seeing.
Where is Don Det, and how do you get there?
Don Det is located in the 4000 Islands region of southern Laos, around a 2.5 hour bus ride / 20 minute boat ride from Pakse, the biggest city in this part of the country. It’s almost as cheap to purchase the transfer at a travel agent in Pakse as it is to do it independently, and it’s obviously way easier. Buses from Vientiane to Pakse take around 10 hours. You can also travel to Don Det from Siem Reap, Cambodia. I did that trip in 2011 and it went smoothly enough. It’ll take a full day though and I’ve heard it’s a rough experience for some.
So, that’s why Don Det is my favourite place on Earth (so far). It’s one of the most beautiful, affordable and relaxed places I’ve been — if you’re anything like me you’ll love it too.
Where is your favourite place on Earth? Let me know in the comments below!