The Island of Don Det
This Island once was somewhat of a secret among backpackers in Southeast Asia and famous for being the ultimate place to get away from it all – but times have changed. However, if you are looking for a place to chill out and spend some days enjoying good company while watching the sunset over the Mekong, Don Det could still be the perfect island for you. But be aware that you will be surrounded almost exclusively by western people who read the same guidebook. If you are searching for authenticity and some real Lao experience, we recommend you to just skip the island. There is not much Lao left in there.
How to get there:
There are local buses running every day from Pakse and Champassak to the three major destinations (Don Khong, Don Det and Don Khon) of the “Si Phan Don”, which means “4000 Islands”. The bus will drop you at the bus station near the harbor next to a working ATM, where tuk-tuks will be already waiting for you to offer their service. Don’t be fooled. It’s at maximum a 5 minutes’ walk to the harbor. If you bought a combined bus+boat ticket you will receive your boat ticket there, if you show your bus ticket at the desk. The boat ticket is really cheap anyway, so there actually is no need to buy the combined one if you don’t want to. From there a small wooden boat will take you in less than 10 minutes to the island of Don Det; to Don Khon it takes a few minutes longer.
It is possible to buy combination tickets of bus+boat at most of the guesthouses at Pakse or Champassak but they will of course charge you some extra Dollars for the pickup service to the bus station. Beware, it happens a lot that they sell you more expensive tickets for a “special transport” service, but in the end, whatever you might have paid, you’ll end up in the same rusty and crowded local bus as everyone else. So it might be a good idea to get to the bus station (it’s in town) and buy your ticket there to not be scammed. The Bus ride takes around 3.5 hours and the one-way ticket costs 40.000 Kip (Combo-ticket Bus+Boat with pick up service from your guesthouse: 65.000 Kip)
Starting from the north point of the island, there basically only exist two roads on that island leading south. One follows the east side of the river bank (commonly known as the Sunrise side) and the other follows the West side (The Sunset side). The Sunset side is known to be quieter, because most of the river bars are located on the Sunrise side. But the further down south you go on the sunrise side, the quieter it gets and you will find nice places to stay. Anyways, the sunset side is much nicer. Although the bungalows there usually are more expensive, it is worth paying the difference in our opinion – we changed after one day. But you should know that the heat on that island can be a real pain, and the afternoon sun will heat up the sunset bungalows even more until unbearable temperatures. But this is nothing that couldn’t be treated with an ice-cold beer.
Sunset Bar and Guesthouse
The Sunset Bar and Guesthouse has well maintained wooden bungalows facing the river at the Sunset side, each with a nice balcony over the Mekong, incredibly beautiful views, mosquito nets and simple but private bathrooms. Good value for the money (80.000 Kip). After checking out many placed in that area, that is our recommendation to stay at the Sunset side.
Check the Tripadvisor entry for the Sunset Bar and Guesthouse.
Le Bi Jou Guesthouse
Le Bi Jou Guesthouse is a great alternative for those who want to escape the heat. Although it lacks the backpacker flair, this relatively new guesthouse offers spacious and very clean rooms with private bathroom, good mattresses, and most importantly Air Conditioning! (100.000 Kip with Fan/ 150.000 with AC). The views are nothing special since it is located facing the street on the northern part of the island, just in front of the Jasmin Indian Restaurant, but you can´t have it all!
Food and Drinks:
Jasmin Indian Restaurant
Jasmin Restaurant is located on the main street in the northern part of the island. The place is simple but serves really outstanding Indian food for the cheapest prices we found so far in Laos. Vegetarian Mains cost 10.000 Kip and fresh Naan bread only 5.000 Kip. We ate there several times because the food was just amazingly tasty. The same family also owns the Jasmin Indian Restaurant in Pakse, and we were more than happy to have found it again in Don Det. The food is just superb.
Relaxing, Chilling, Drinking…
THere really is not much to do apart from relaxing in one of the many river bars… The best (and only) way to enjoy the island!
Go tubing (if you must)
You will find several shops on the island that rent tubes for 10.000 Kip a day. But you probably won’t see a lot of people doing it, with good reason: Tubing in Don Det is nothing but boring! Anyhow, if you still want to give it try, the sunset side is where you should go. The view is much nicer and the riverbank is less dirty – you will still see piles and piles of plastic trash under every bungalow or bar. No reason to worry for the locals, the next high water of the Mekong will wash most of it away…
To go tubing on the sunset side, you already need to start on that side since the currents at the northern tip of the island are too strong and will push you east towards the sunrise side. Conclusively, don’t try to start from the beach at the north-eastern point of the island.
Go on a Kajaking Tour
Many agencies offer Kajak tours around the islands with a stop at the Waterfall on Don Khon. There is a slight chance you’ll see some dolphins, but we heard the thing was actually quite boring and the full day trip could easily have been finished after 3-4 hours without extensive breaks.
Watch the Sunset
Probably the best place to watch the beautiful sunsets of Don Det is from the Restaurant at the “Little Eden” Guest House which is the furthest north on the Sunset Side. You’ll have an open view on the Mekong with its little islands and a sky lit in orange.
Explore the Khone Phapheng Waterfalls
The Khone Phapheng Waterfalls, located on the nearby island Don Khon, are worth a visit. If you are not looking forward to a 90 minutes’ walk, rent a bike for just 10.000 Kip. It’s easy to find, follow the sunrise road down south and cross the bridge to Don Khong. After crossing you’ll have to pay 25.000 Kip entry fee and the further path will be explained to you.
Interested in reading more?
Why don’t you check out our blog entries: Don Det (Si Phan Don) – Chilling at the “4000 Islands” | Towards New Horizons