don det (4000 islands)
After visiting the places we wanted to see and thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we moved on to our final destination in Laos; 4000 islands located right in the Mekong River, one of the most Southernness points of the country. Not having really heard much about it till we were in Kanchinaburi in Thailand, we were unsure where exactly in the area to visit, but after some research into the area we decided to stay on Don Det island, one of the three main islands for travellers.
On our 4 hour mini van ride to the island we were sat beside two scousers who owned a bar on Don Det along with a set of bungalows, King Kong and a burger hut, Burger Kong. They were two really friendly guys who gave us quite abit of information about the island aswell as telling us how incredibly relaxing and beautiful it is. As soon as we arrived we could tell how relaxed it was with many bars and restaurants having the option to lie down over looking the river with a range of “Happy” snacks and drinks, as well as it being legal to smoke your Doobies. Wanting to be in and around the busier end of the island with the restaurants, we stayed up at the north end of the island, close to the main drop off area. We found a nice bungalow on the west of the island which was ready enjoyable as we were right on the river bank and faced the afternoon sunsets.
For our first two days on the island we did virtually nothing apart from relax and walk around the island, just enjoying the relaxing vibe. With the island not very big, we had a strole along the 8km walking path around the majority of this very unspoiled, underdeveloped island which still was very much inhabited by friendly locals living their ordinary, traditional lives (traditional fishing and farming) despite the influx of tourists.
Adding to the local feel was the large number of animals such as chickens, ducks, pigs and water buffaloes just wondering around the community.
Although the island, in recent years has become a sort of tourist destination, it is a really nice place to visit as the only accommodation are small bungalows or small two storey buildings with rooms to rent. All accommodation is found in a single row literally along the perimeter of the island found on the outside of the narrow dirt track that runs around the island. Within this track is where all the locals live, in similar but larger wooden structures and on the edge of their farms and rice paddies.
It was such a nice place to visit just being able to relax and live in an unspoiled travellers paradise surrounded by water with no roads, vehicles, hostels or hotels but rather live in amongst the locals and their traditional ways with the only form of transport being a bicycle.
After a couple of days of relaxation we went on a kayak tour down the Mekong River in amongst many of the small surrounding islands. Along our tour, as well as paddling along the calm waters, at points we also came across some small quick rapids which pushed us through some tight streams through the mangroves. After our paddle through the narrower parts of the river in amongst some of the 4000 islands in the area, we entered the much wider sections of the Mekong where we were fortunate enough to see a couple of the local Irrawaddy Dolphins. Just in this same area we also stopped for lunch on another of the islands at a small local fishing village where we were given some of their local food and fresh fruit.
Along the way we also stopped at a small local waterfalls which was one of the main areas used by locals for fishing, using some of their local techniques. Using a lot of bamboo, they have made very impressive ramps in the water just after the cascades which are strategically positioned in order to funnel fish into their nets in the fast flowing water during the rainy season. With many of these ramps in the area, the fishermen have most of the main natural water ways covered giving fish moving downstream little room for escape. It is an incredibly fascinating way of fishing as it is all done using the natural forces of nature, local materials and skills.
A second, much larger waterfall that we visited was also used using the same techniques but due to the ferocity of the water, only the slower, narrower falls along the edges were used as the main section of the waterfall is too powerful when considering the amount of water that was flowing over the edge every second. Rather than it being your common tall, thin waterfall, it was more of a large wide cascade (a much smaller version of Niagra or Victoria Falls) with an immense flow of water despite it not even being rainy season.
Although it was one of the more expensive tours (340000 kip/ £30 fpr two persons) it was most definitely worth it; kayaking down the Mekong River in amongst some beautiful scenery, seeing some of the local fishing techniques and visiting some very impressive waterfall/ cascades.
During our time on the island, we watched every sunset (with a Lao beer) from our bungalow balcony which overlooked many local fishermen using their local traditional nets.
Each sunset was really nice as we were able to watch the sun disappear behind the mountains of Cambodia with absolutely no noise, and all from the comfort of our hammocks.
Once the sun had gone we would walk to the “main area” where there were a few restaurants where we would have dinner. Jasmine Restaurant, an Indian restaurant run by an Indian couple was definitely the best meal we had on the island with delicious, authentic food being served.
During our stay we also met a French Couple (Reece & Lidia) who we spoke to for quite a while as they had quite a lot to tell us about their travels. They gave us quite a bit of useful information about Cambodia and we in turn gave them some insight into Laos as we were traveling in opposite directions. Reece had also traveled quite a bit of South America which was very interesting seeing as it is a place we would like to visit in the future. (He told us that when in Buenos Aires, when changing money you should go to the Black market as the rate is a lot better than the legitimate places which tend to rip you off).
What better way to end our very enjoyable stay on the island and finish our trip in LAOS than with a free nights accommodation thanks to a mistake from the owner. When traveling, the occasional saving is always helpful :) !!!