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Don Det : Two more islands down, 3,997 left to go apparently!

Don Det Travel Blog

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A scrummy omelette and Lao coffee put away and I’m on one of the 8.30 long tail style boats south along the Mekong river for nearly 2 hours to get to Don Dhet and Don Khon.  Two of the main, habited islands that sit at the southern most extremity of the Si Phan Don ( ‘Four Thousand Islands’ ).  I am now travelling with Hueng Chan (aka ‘Gray’, from South Korea), Aiden (Ireland) and Sven ( Germany).  All good people.  Upon arrival at the more backpacker oriented Don Dhet Grey and I jump in the first 40,000 Kip ($5.30) shared room we come across assuming this’ll be the cheapest in town but this is far from the case.  With so much development and competition in recent years a decent enough private bungalow with contained bathroom can be had for 30,000 ($4) Kip so always wise to not go for Option 1 right off the bat.

As stated, the northern tip of Don Dhet - where the boats set down - has become very heavily developed towards backpacking tourism.  Cafes, restaurants, pseudo-bars, tour and travel agents and (slooooooow) internet cafes.  That said, this is still not a massively beaten part of the travel path, so ‘heavy development’ is relative here.  Relative to the rural quietude that is the key note of Lao life in general, and especially laid back here in the Si Phan Don.  It is quiet.  Super-relaxed.  And not over-hustled or bustled by either touts or tourists.  Yes ‘happy’ food stuffs and drinks and ‘buckets’ are available but not shoved down your throat.  And yes ‘tubes’ can be rented at prices that pail in comparison to those in Vang Vieng (8,000 - 10,000 Kip compared to 50,000 + 50,000 deposit at V.

"Don't take my bike!"
V) but here you really will just gently flooooooat away down this beautifully scenic and verdant stretch of the Mekong with your sunhat and coke rather than drunkenly doggy paddle 5 yards at a time.  The ‘backpacker free zone’ is the umbilicaly linked island of Don Khon to the south where I gather an even more ‘authentic’ stay can be had, but your budget will ramp up as a result.

Grey, Sven and I dump our bags hire some bikes and cycle off, leaving Aiden to go in search of relaxation and ‘happy’ness.  Both Don Dhet and Don Khon are pretty small islands 5 - 7km in circumference each but bike is the best way to get around for sure.  Aside from a circuitous observation of Lao village life (again always slightly fused with tourist concerns here) there is little of visual interest to see on Don Dhet, although the views of the here seductively blue-green waters of the Mekong on the east and west shores are great.

  To the southwest of the island is the concrete bridge (formerly part of the small French rail line on the islands) that spans between the two islands.  Heading south over the bridge brings you on to Don Dhet.  On the far side of the bridge a fee of (I think?) 9,000 Kip ($1.20) must be handed over if you wish to continue in land to see the waterfalls and other sights of the island.

First off the boys and I stop off to arse about at an old rusted steam train engine, hearkening back to the French colonial presence here.  A deathly quiet Buddhist temple resides here too.  A monk (or is it one of the ‘White Nuns’? : female Theravedic Buddhist adherents) lies almost emaciated and prone upon the floor in a meditative pose.  Not to be disturbed.

Gray and Stevie :D
  We then continue along the bumpy, rutted, dusted and stone-scattered cycle ways towards one of the southern ‘beach’ areas of the island.  Less a beach than a point where some sand nominally interacts with water and allows boats to dock.  Here (as at other points of the island) boats can be commandeered in an attempt to glimpse one of the shy, retiring and extremely endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins however dolphin pestering is something I (and the boys) will decline to do during our stay.  Their environment is not protected here as in their deeper water swimming grounds further south in Cambodia.  Read ‘The Hungry Tide’ by Amitav Ghosh and watch a nature-doco instead people.

The natural highlight of Don Khon really is Tat Somphamit or the Li Phi Falls.

The Li Phi Falls
  Here the previously gentle passage of the Mekong through the Si Phan Don is churned up as the waters must jostle, clatter and cascade across fragmented rock bases and down innumerable eroded chutes and passages ’til they can head further south.  A fair old noise is thrown up by the waters as you can imagine.  Li Phi Falls means, in local lingo, ’spirit trap’ and it is believed that evil spirits are trapped here as the waters pass through.  Watching as a bunch of plastic bottles and coconut husks toss and tumble ineluctably in the white frothing waters for one imagines all time, this seems a believable idea.  Here we meet Mario (from Portugal) snapping keenly away.  He will become the latest member of our little travelling circus and continue on with Grey and I through Cambodia and into Vietnam.
Stevie, Sven, Gray and Mario
  We all attempt to clamber and scramble across an inadvisable passage of landscape to get some cooler closer shots from the upper reaches of the falls but Stevie (ever the ’sensible’ / boring one) pulls back to the bikes.  Mostly terrified at the prospect of slipping and dunking my brand new (uninsured) camera into the Mekong.

All these thrills and spills aside it’s farewell to Mario for now, and back astride our bikes for a nicely timed return cycle to Don Dhet to pedal gently along its western flank and find ourselves a nice quiet spot to sit and stop and spot us a beautiful Mekong sunset.  Which is precisely what we do.

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Dont take my bike!
"Don't take my bike!"
Gray and Stevie :D
Gray and Stevie :D
The Li Phi Falls
The Li Phi Falls
Stevie, Sven, Gray and Mario
Stevie, Sven, Gray and Mario
A cooler, clearer looking Mekong a…
A cooler, clearer looking Mekong …
Some weirdy, tasty drink thing fil…
Some weirdy, tasty drink thing fi…
Gray and Sven take in the view fro…
Gray and Sven take in the view fr…
Old train from French colonial era
Old train from French colonial era
Temple Naga
Temple Naga
Beach on Don Khon
'Beach' on Don Khon
Inquisitve Lao girl
Inquisitve Lao girl
The rocky carpet bed of the Li Phi…
The rocky carpet bed of the Li Ph…
The final roaring descent of the L…
The final roaring descent of the …
Our new pal Mario, Gray and Sven c…
Our new pal Mario, Gray and Sven …
Tree Print (Don Det)
'Tree Print' (Don Det)
Sven!
Sven!
Mekong, Don Det sunset
Mekong, Don Det sunset
Golden Mekong
Golden Mekong
Don Det
photo by: Stevie_Wes