By: Jas Mitch
Been there, Don Det
The past few weeks have been pretty crazy. We’ve been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things. We were ready for a break…. and that break came in the form of an island in the middle of the Mekong river, Don Det, in southern Laos.
I, myself, have never been on a river island before and had no idea what to expect. It is a strange mix of the laidback-ness we experienced on Gili Trawangan, but without the beaches and a heap more hammocks.
In the dry season numerous islands appear from below the water. In the wet season the river expands up to 14km in width and swallows up the smaller islands.
There’s not a lot to do on Don Det… but thats the point. Tourists come here for the chance to chill out from their holidays and experience a more relaxed way of life for the Lao people. Although tourism in this area has been on the increase in the past few years it is yet to get to the crazy party vibe that places like Vang Vieng are notorious for.
Since we jumped off the boat from the mainland a few days ago, Mitch and I really haven’t done a lot. We’ve been hanging out in cafes drinking coffees filled with condensed milk, hanging out in hammocks and lazing around reading books.
Yesterday was the exception to this… feeling like we hadn’t made the effort to see the island, we hired push bikes for 10000 kip ($1.75 AUD) and set off on an adventure that lasted until it was dark that night and spanned over two islands.
Off we went, exploring the small dirt tracks that run around this lush green, rice paddy filled island.
We came across a more traditional way of life for the people who live here, with houses conforming to the old school raised platform, thatched roof huts and the children running around in large groups, jumping into the river when it suits.
Also the animals… there are water buffalos all over the place, chickens wandering around (some coming a little bit close to being run over by our bikes!) and pigs lazing in mud puddles.
We even stumbled across a small bridge connecting Don Det to some other tiny island (not sure what the name of it was). It literally consisted of just a few thatched-roof houses and that was it!
Having sufficiently explored Don Det we settled in for some cold drinks, food and hammock time at a cool restaurant called Crazy Gecko, on the Sunrise side of the island. The food was pretty good and the drinks were refreshing!
From here we had the intention of heading back to a cafe to chill out and use the internet (which is horrible on the island except for a few select cafes on the island) but upon talking to an expat about booking a sunset cruise in the hope to see some of the endangered irrawady dolphins that inhabit the island just south of here, Don Khon, he pointed out that we have bikes and could just ride to the look out ourselves! Fabulous! Off we went!
Don Khon is connected to Don Det at the southern point by a pretty modern looking bridge (read: not wooden slats with large gaping holes…)
The island charges a tourist fee to get across the bridge, now 35ooo kip per person per day ($6.20 AUD) which is pretty steep for anything around here. The only good thing about this is it includes the entrance fee for the Li Phi waterfalls, a set of incredible and very dangerous looking rapids (they carry the nick name of Devils Corridor… ). I had originally thought ‘oh not another waterfall’ (we’ve seen quite a few lately) but I will admit, they were completely different to all the other waterfalls I’ve seen of late… definately more rapids than anything!
We managed to time our visit of Li Phi VERY well and just as we had wandered past, looked up to discover a massive storm making its way towards us very quickly! We’ve been caught out riding in a few crazy storms of late so I was very happy that we found a bar with bungalows and a pool table to wait out the storm!
It was intense! At times I thought we were about to get hit by lightening, it was hitting so close by! The rain pelted down… and pelted down… and pelted down… we played pool and hung out in the safely of the bugalow with awesome views of this storm raging over the rapids.
Like all storms in south east asia in the wet season, it raged for a bit and then had cleared up before you knew it. We continued southward on our bikes to the southern tip of the island, on the lookout for the dolphin spotting boats.
We stumbled across an offical looking sign saying the dolphin lookout and boats were 3.7km to the left… the arrow had been scratched off and below the ‘official’ sign was a very unofficial sign stating that the boats were now 700m straight ahead… what to do….
We hedged our bets and went straight ahead…down a horrible muddy path where I almost lost my bike into puddles of an unknown depth! They were deep! I have since develop what I consider to be a healthy fear of muddy puddles!
Anyways so we arrive at the end to come across about the beachiest looking beach I’ve seen in a long time, and some cranky locals who are saying its 140000 kip ($25) for an hour trip. Had they looked legit I probably would have paid it… but they did not… so we headed back up the road of crazy puddles and down the 3.7kms to the lookout.
And boy am I glad we did! We didn’t see any dolphins, but we came aross the most beautiful lookout I think I’ve ever seen! (big call, I know, but it even had a perfect rainbow! and misty rain off in the distance!)
By this stage it was also 6pm and the sun was setting so we high tailed it back to the main island. Thank god Mitch had the genius thought to pack our headlamps as by the time we arrived it was pitch black!
Amazing islands, amazing day…