Across the border to Laos - Don Det

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Mr Phao

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Sunday, February 26, 2012

We got dropped off by a boat on Don Det, one of the islands under the title of 'Four Thousand Islands' and started trying to find somewhere to stay. This was made a bit difficult by not knowing where we had been dropped off and other backpackers we met telling us that the places that way were full.  But somehow we managed to time arriving at our first choice place perfectly as the very chilled owner (Mr Phao) had just discovered that he did actually have a bungalow available.  The restaurant overlooks the river and so we sit on cushions and mats on the floor and have lunch while they get the bungalow ready.  The bungalow is basic but has hammocks outside, perfect for watching the river and so we’re quite happy.  Especially when a water buffalo runs passed, closely followed by its owner trying to control it.  We chose this end of the island as it was less built up and it seems that we’re surrounded by farmland and the bungalows are more of a sideline business. Later in the afternoon when it starts to cool down, we take a wander into the main strip on the island which is a bit more built up with plenty of family run guesthouses and restaurants but no way as bad as Lonely Planet makes out – they make it out as a big party place but it was all pretty chilled when we were there.

We quickly realise the Laos island life is very laidback, probably the most laid back place we have been.  So much so, that if you want a beer you go and help yourself from the fridge, if you want to order you have to go and coax some family member at perhaps taking your order.  Saying that it’s a good place to be, once you know the system!  We have drinks on the sunset side of the island, on cushions again, they don’t really do chairs here either.  Then choose a French Laos restaurant for dinner.  Afterwards, we walk back along a very dark path to try and find our guesthouse, there is only recently main grid electricity here so they don’t waste it on lighting when there is a tv to power.

Next day we get another lesson on Laos culture, don’t try and order breakfast the day after the family has been to a wedding.  45 minutes after we had ordered, Mr Phao’s wife comes over to tell us that she didn’t have bread so could we have pancakes instead.  We eventually get our breakfast and then Mr Phao rocks up with the shopping (he went by boat), we’ll forgive them as think they probably had a big night last night and are running a bit behind! 

We rent some bikes for the day and cycle around Don Det and the adjoining Don Khong – we have to pay $2.50 each to cross a 20 metre bridge which seems excessive but think Laos are cottoning on to squeezing pennies from tourists.  Both islands are nice to see, sleepy little settlements, farms, random livestock strolling about, school children on scooter and children shouting ‘Sabaidee’ (Laos greeting), all keep us occupied.  For the hottest part of the day, we shelter in a restaurant by the river.  This has to be the most laid back restaurant I have ever been in as there at least two people asleep on the cushions but then I think that is one of the draws of Four Thousand Islands. 

Evening time we have sunset drinks again and go to an Indian for dinner where a 12 year old girl manages to keep on top of serving the whole restaurant while her family cook in the kitchen – I like to hope she goes to school during the day but I’m not so sure.

On our second day, we’re even lazier than our first (we must be adjusting to Laos time).   We spend the morning in the river at the beach (which comes complete with its own water buffalo) as it’s the coolest place to be, literally the only place you can feel comfortable in the sun.  Followed by a lazy afternoon in cafes and then a trip on the river at sunset.  Our guide takes us around some of the islands and we pass many villages.  At this time of the day everyone is having their daily bath in the river which seems to be a big custom here.  There are plenty of kids splashing around and waving to us on the boat.  We stop at an island in the river, which during wet season must be at the bottom of the river, where a family is farming.  Our guides show us the watermelon, peanuts, and cucumber they are growing and how they keep their fish fresh.  The fish that are caught are kept in nets still in the river and so only when our guide buys one for his family is it killed.  We go for a watermelon instead which is tasty, apparently because it doesn’t have ‘medicines’ – we think he meant pesticides.  We have found that a lot of things in Laos are organic as they wouldn’t think of using chemicals on their crops.  Jonny then goes for a swim in the river while I take photos (I’m still not too sure about what I’m meant to wear when swimming so err on the side of caution as Laos people are quite modest), then we head back to our island.  We have dinner at a family restaurant that has a deck over the river that would not pass health and safety at home, with absolutely no barriers between you and the edge.  We enjoy the feel of being in a family restaurant with cats and dogs running about the place, one family member snoring in a hammock in the corner and another family member settles himself down for the night on cushions next to us.  It’s early nights in Laos as everyone gets up by 6am or so to take advantage of the coolest part of the day.  We’re slowly realising that we’ll have to do the same!      
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