While researching southern Laos I stumbled across two interesting facts:
1.) Laos, the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, has islands.
2.) It doesn’t just have one or two; apparently there are 4000 of them!
That was more than enough information to convince me to check them out, so off I went on an all day bus (with a small boat trip at the end) from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Don Det, one of the more popular islands in Si Phan Don (4000 Islands), a huge area where the Mekong river stretches up to 14km across. It’s a really unique landscape, and while you won’t find white-sand beaches and clear blue water, it’s a great place to unwind and take in some nice views.
There is actually a beach on Don Det. It’s not exactly the Maldives, but a beach is a beach! You also get to hear plenty of Bob Marley, the cornerstone of any Southeast Asian island experience. It’s the most popular island for backpackers and it didn’t take me long to realise why; my room cost about $3. Most of the accommodation is situated right on the river, and while basic, is comfortable enough. You can go for a more expensive option which might get you aircon and your own bathroom, but a bed, a fan and amazing views over the Mekong River for $3 is a deal too good to pass up. The place I stayed, and many like it, is owned by locals and there is real local village feel to the area (despite the large number of tourists). The locals stay on one side of the dirt road and the tourists on the other, close to the river. The balance between them both is almost perfect.
It was probably the cheapest week I had anywhere in Southeast Asia and it seems like the kind of place you could just stay indefinitely and spend very little money.
Don Det sunsets
I can’t go on any more without mentioning the sunsets. The sunset side of Don Det is famous for them, and for good reason. I’m not really one to go into wordy, adjective/superlative filled descriptions about things, so you can just check out the pictures, taken from the deck outside my $3 room.
Things to do
There is plenty to do on Don Det, but it’s nice to just lie out on the deck in a hammock and get through a few books, stroll down to one of the riverfront restaurants for some food and maybe have a bit of a sleep. The only thing you need to make sure to do is catch the sunsets. I saw my time in Don Det as a holiday from travelling and it really is the perfect place for it. It attracts an eclectic crowd, from extreme hippies, to young people looking to party and pretty much everyone in between. I met some people at my guesthouse who had the same idea as me: relax as much as possible and meet up at sunset for a few beers.
I did do a couple of day trips, both by bicycle. The first time I just rode around aimlessly, which is something I always enjoy, and the second was to Don Khon, accessed via a bridge from Don Det. This is a slightly more upmarket island and attracts a more seasoned (is that a nice way of saying older?) tourist. There is a waterfall on Don Khon and you can also organise boat trips to see Irrawaddy dolphins.
The whole area is pretty clean by Southeast Asian standards, thanks in part to the effort of some of the restaurants and bars to limit plastic bottle usage. People are encouraged to fill up their bottles instead of buying new ones. I haven’t seen this kind of idea anywhere else but I hope it catches on.
I spent over a week on Don Det and I’ll definitely be going back one day. If you are looking for a different kind of island experience and want to relax, see some great sunsets and save money, check out it out!
Further reading: Travelling around Southern Laos? Read this guide
Have you been to Don Det, or any of the other 4000 islands? Let me know!
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Tuesday 15th of April 2014
What a unique landscape. And you are right about the sunsets there - beautiful shots! Hopefully I can get to southeast Asia before too long.
Monday 19th of May 2014
Cheers Dave, you'll love it!
Friday 10th of January 2014
Finally one on Laos! The place looks amazing and I love the sunset photos!
Friday 10th of January 2014
Better start planning a trip there!