Trip Start Mar 09, 2010
60Trip End Jun 11, 2010
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The 4000 Islands in Laos is just over the border from Cambodia and is a small cluster of little islands on the Mekong River. The 4000 Islands are all pretty undeveloped and the one we would be staying on, Don Det, only got electricity a few years ago. The island also does not have any ATMs and, as far as we know, no AC.
Don Det is supposed to be a really relaxed, laid-back place, so we were expecting to find a quiet island that still had some people around. When our boat arrived at the "beach" with everyone else from our bus who wasn't still back at the shore arguing over the $2 ferry charge, a guy hanging around seemed surprised to see us coming and said to Corey, “Whoa, nice to see some people are finally on the island!” Apparently, we were coming during a quiet season, even for this place
It was already dark and we had had a long day, so we were anxious to quickly find a place to stay. The beach where you arrive is at the north end of the island, and you can either go west, down the sunset side, or east, down the sunrise side, to look for accommodation. It seemed like most of the action was down the sunrise side, so we headed down there and soon found a guesthouse with cheap bungalows and, more importantly, plenty of hammocks. Our bungalow consisted of one window, one bed, a mosquito net (with too many holes in it), a weak fan, and a squat toilet. But for under $4 a night, we were satisfied.
It was getting late and we knew that Laos is supposed to have some sort of national curfew where everything closes around 11, so we went back to the street to find some food. Walking along, it seemed like that guy from the beach was right – there didn’t seem to be anyone around anywhere. We finally found ourselves in front of an Indian place that must have had 75% of the people on the island in it and figured we would try it. Corey commented that there is probably one restaurant every night that has a big crowd because once one or two tables sit down, the same waterfall effect that brought us in takes over. The food was pretty weak, and Corey refused to eat anything after a swarm of bugs attacked him and his naan
The next morning, we woke up early with the sun and decided to have a walk around the island to do some exploring of what was around. We spent the morning following the trail down the sunrise side to the bottom of Don Det but wanted to save crossing the bridge to Don Khon for the next day, so we just followed the trail back up the sunset side. It was a really hot day and whenever we found ourselves out of the shade, we were baking in the sun. We also almost took a few wrong turns near the south end of the island that would have gotten us lost and probably back in Cambodia.
Walking through the island was really nice. It seemed like a beautiful, natural place that has been totally sheltered from modern development with the people still living a much simpler life. There were a few times when we were walking around that I felt almost bad for being there exploring their little local island, as if just by being there as a westerner traveler, I was corrupting their traditional ways and leading to a break from their simple lives. Everyone was so friendly though, and as you walk along the river by the hundreds of bungalows all the way up and down, everyone says “Sabaidee” with a smile and you learn very quickly how to say “Hello” in Lao
After putting in some quality hammock time, we busted out Bananagrams for the first time on the trip and played with some of the other people staying in our bungalows. The games were getting intense and we completely lost track of time, so the only sunset we caught was the fringe of the purple and pink clouds on the river, but it looked like we missed a good one.
One of the guys we met, Frankie a Canadian, knew of a restaurant where the guy didn’t mind playing the music and letting people hang out past 11, so we went there for dinner. It was a pretty cool place on the sunset side with some nice floor pillow-seating, and there were a lot of other people there hanging out. We had a fun time, and it got even better when Frankie had a few drinks and his rampant anti-Americanism and apparent pro-Somali pirate sentiments came out, leading to some interesting conversations. Walking home, I didn’t even know there could be so many stars in such a clear night sky
The next morning, we woke up early when the sun made our room unbearably hot and rented bikes and headed over to Don Khon, a larger, nearby island just over the bridge. On the way, we stopped at the bakery on a recommendation from some American guy we met walking around the day before. This bakery was run by an Aussie baker who packed up and moved to Don Det 7 years ago. He makes everything fresh each day, and the food was incredible. When we were leaving, we saw him putting some fresh focaacia bread and chocolate/banana doughnuts into the oven and knew we would be back in time to get those. We ended up going back two more times before we left the island.
Biking was a much better way to get around the island, and we crossed the bridge to Don Khon. On Don Khon, we visited a waterfall that was not exactly the smallest natural waterfall but nice nonetheless. On our way back, we had to pull off the narrow road so that six songtows of Asian tourists could go past to the falls, and, for some reason, they all thought that Corey and I were hilarious because they kept waving, laughing, and taking pictures. Literally, each truck that came by had at least one old woman taking photos of us.
There really isn't all that much to do on Don Det except relax, and the rest of the day involved more hammock and Bananagrams, but this time, we managed to control ourselves and got to the beach for sunset. It was nice, but there were a few too many clouds. That night, we went back to the same restaurant, but this time, we had so many people that Frankie decided to basically rearrange the whole restaurant so that it turned into one huge family-style table with everyone sitting on the sides. That night had another great sky for stars, and we went to bed, ready to say goodbye to the 4000 Islands the next morning.