Four thousand islands was a much needed chill out from our challenging three days on the move. We arrived tired and hungry from a long night on the minibus to Ban Nam, where we caught a longboat through the islands to Don Det. The Mekong opened right out until it seemed as wide as it was long, little settlements on the banks. In dry season (dec- feb) the water level is lower and small banks of vegetation appear throughout the river, some consisting of only one tree to a cluster a few metres long making up Si Phan Don or the “four thousand islands.”
As we pulled on to the beach at Don Det a water buffalo was sitting casually on the sand. A few metres along the first street we realised this island was a lot more basic than we were expecting. There were no ATM’s on the island, limited wifi and most accommodation was without hot water or a flushing toilet, things we had never thought of as luxuries before! Nevertheless this place is an emerging tourist hotspot. Often we have gone to places and wished we could see them five or ten years earlier for comparison. For these islands I believe we have. There is plenty of bars and restaurants but all reserved to a small street on the tip of the island which quickly peters out into fields, grazing livestocks and back to basics local living. Once we had found a very primitive bungalow for accommodation, we fell asleep on the hammocks, that is until the one Ricky and I were in snapped and woke us up with a bump!
Later in the day we had a short walk around the island, one side making up the sunrise strip and the otherwise looks out on sunset. We met our friends at a bar on the sunset strip for food and cards in the sun until the sunset over the Mekong and the temperature cooled.
Feeling half way to revived we moved to a nicer bungalow, one with hot water and a flushing toilet, and then hired bikes with the intention of seeing more of the island. Cycling along the sunset side of Don Det island it doesn’t take long for the mark of tourism to turn into fields, local schools and farming. The water buffalo and cows roam the paths freely and the locals live in their wooden houses with the children playing outside. We crossed over the bridge to Don Khong Island and cycled the 2km across it to where it looks out to the Cambodia border. There are a few of the Irawaddy dolphins more commonly found in Cambodia here in this vast body of water.
We cycled then down the left hand side of the island through local villages. David struck a coconut from a tree and the boys set about cracking it open. When the eventually got into it it wasn’t quite ready to eat but I don’t think that hampered their spirits. We sat at the waters edge watching the water buffalo bathe in the water before cycling on to an area of large rapids. There are several waterfalls in this stretch of the river, however they are not large in height so look more like a long stretch of white water rapids.
In the evening we joined our friends at the Reggae bar, Don Dets finest in nighttime entertainment where travellers bring their own drink and join to socialise on the floor of the bar however by 11:30 the doors shut for the night, a mark of its reserved Laos culture.
Day 136 and 137
These two days were our holiday from a holiday. Little of cultural understanding was achieved and the days pretty much revolved around recuperation and planning the next stage of our journey which would take us back into Thailand. We did however encounter quite a few expats of the island by eating at various western food shacks. One night was at a rib shack owned by a Tennessee man who had been on the island 4 years, visiting three years before that. It was interesting to learn that when he first visited 7 years ago there was only 2 motorbikes on the whole island and there has only been electricity for 4 years, before that it ran solely on generators. This just confirmed the feel of the island and it’s quick development. We also got talking to the Liverpudlian owners of the Tex Mex restaurant who had been settled on the island 8 months. They were able to confirm the sense of community living there is on the island as they buy herbs and veg from their neighbours. There is a police force on the island but no firemen but the community is building fast.
On our final night we returned to the Reggae bar to be reunited one last time with our fellow Thakek loopers and Martina from Vang Vieng. It was a very funny night, a lovely end to our few days. Don Det has been a beautiful final stop in picturesque Laos. Now we head back to Thailand.