“ Country: Laos / World Region: Asia „
Don Det is a river island located in Southern Lao on the border with Cambodia.
Don Det is actually just one island out of about 4000 on this part of the Mekong. At no other part of the Mekong does the river run so wide. Here it's a few kilometres from one side to the next.
To get here from Pakse, the region capital, it takes about 3 hours by minibus, a little longer by local transport. Coming from Stung Treng in Cambodia takes about 2 hours by minibus or more once you take into account waiting times at immigration at the border where you can get visas for both countries on arrival.
Any minibus or tuk tuk will drop you off at a small beach from which you have to get a longtail boat the remaining 10 minutes to Don Det. There is a fixed price of 20,000kip each way, you have to pay this to get there so there is no point in trying to haggle. Just pay up or swim!
Once on Don Det you can choose from plenty of budget accommodation running down the Eastside of the riverbank. Pretty much everything here is geared towards backpackers and electricity only runs with electrical generators until about 11pm. After that the island is pitch black. A torch is absolutely essential!
The cheapest bungalows start at around 20,000 kip in low season, which is cheap even by Lao standards. Generally think no more than about 4 or 5$ for a double.
Many of the riverside guesthouse bungalows have hammocks where you can watch the world go by on the river. Most guesthouses also double as resturant/bars. There is even a cheap Indian resturants that's pretty okay! The bars can serve some pretty strong cocktails and buckets.
Many Guesthouses sell very cheap marijuana and do not mind guests smoking discreetly in the hammocks by the river but advise to be weary of the very occasional policeman who will wander on the main dirt track running down the island. Remember it's illegal in Lao to be caught in possession of drugs, many Laotion people do not like it and although you will only have to pay a fine of $3-500 for possession of marijuana or opium (that will go straight into the policemans pocket) if caught, you should think very carefully before buying. If you do choose to buy, do it discreetly away from locals in your guesthouse.
Aside from chilling (or getting stoned) in your hammock and just enjoying the life on the river go by there are a few options for the more active;
You can hire a bicycle (1$) and cycle to Don Khong, the neighbouring island, which is acessible by a bridge over the river. On the way you can see the ruins of the only railway the French built here in Lao to transport timber from one side of the island to the other and then onto boats and onto Phnom Penh in Cambodia further south. There is a small steam engine and some railway lines rusting away.
But towards the south of Don Khong is a series of rapids and waterfalls that are quite impressive though in wet season it's just a raging torrent of brown muddy monsoon water and not so pretty!
Then there is a stretch of beach that is actually very pleasant in dry season (strong currents and submerged in wet season, though still nice) and a great place to swim. It's usually very quiet and there is a singular resturant open selling noodle soup and cold drinks/beer Lao if you get hungry, though this was swept away during the floods in 2008. It may well have been rebuilt by now. Just across the river is Cambodia! ou are right on the border here and if you check your mobile phone it should say 'Welcome to Cambodia'!
It's also possible to arrange a longtail boat from here to take you out on the river to go River Dolphin spotting. The freshwater dolphins are becoming increasing rare and it's really 50-50 if you will see them or not but even if you don't it's a nice couple of hours on the Mekong anyway and you could pursuade the fishermen to stay on the river to watch the sunset.
Finally, kiyaks are available for hire at about 3-5$ a day. You can hire a guide but in dry season it's pretty safe to go alone, just make sure you get a life jacket and don't go near the waterfalls further south or stray across into Cambodia! Kiyaking is a great way to visit other islands in the delta if you are feeling fit! Many of the islands don't get many visitors at all so the sight of kiyaks landing on the island drives to kids crazy and you'll be greeted by flocks of curious and over excited kids!
Don Det is a great place to relax before heading into Cambodia or vice versa. It's definitely worth making the trip this far south because there is enough to do for a few days even if you aren't looking for some R&R in a hammock!
Don Det is one of the two biggest Islands of 'the 4000 Islands' in the south of Laos, a stretch of the Mekong river at the Laos/Cambodia border. There some bigger, inhabited island but mostly it consists of tiny small landforms and sandbanks.
If you are coming from Laos you can get a bus from the capital Vientiane to Pakse. From Pakse you can get a Minibus that brings you to the ferry to Don Det. Book it with a travel agent and negotiate the price a bit, that's easier than organising it yourself. Bus Vientiane-Pakse 135000kip Pakse-DonDet - 55000kip
If you come from Cambodia book it in advance with a travel agent. There's no way of organising it yourself as you wont make it to the border on your own. From Phnom Penh to Don Det 20$. Watch out, they tell you that you can do it i one day but that's a lie, you'll have to spend the night in a GH in Stung Treng!
Don Det and Don Khong are the town main tourist spots and linked via a bridge (5000kip fee to use the bridge.)
Most backpackers find themselves on Don Det as accommodation is a lot cheaper. Expect stilled houses lining the waterfront, one next to each other. They are all basically the same, small rooms in most cases without fan), bathroom with cold water and squat toilet attached to the rooms and a big balcony with hammocks overlooking the river. All GH serve drinks and most serve food to very reasonable prices.
Expect to pay:
30000kip per night/double room
10000kip Banana pancake
9000kip bottle of BeerLao
15000 fried noodles
Accommodation on Don Khong is more pricey but therefore you get western toilets and fans.
There's not a lot to do - and that's the main attraction. We totally forgot about time swinging the whole day in a hammock kindly provided by our guesthouse, enjoying banana-pancakes and a drink from time to time. The location is perfect, the mighty Mekong, lots of green and traditional stilled houses.
The scenery is stunning, there's no other word for it. In monsoon season everything is green, rice paddies are everywhere, you get woken up in the morning by crowing chickens and you don't even have the possibility to do something - you are forced to relax! For those who find that hard and are always looking for the next sight - have a 'happy pancake' and enjoy the view :-)
'Nothing to do' is not entirely true, there's a small waterfall and even a beach! The Mekong beach was great, it was a nice,sunny day and of course it was a lot of fun bathing with a water buffalo herd :-)
For both of the attractions you have to go to Don Khong. If you walk it takes roughly 1 hour to the waterfall and 1 1/2 to the beach.
You can rent bikes at most GHs but they are quite useless in rainy season as it's far too muddy.
One of the main attractions is to go dolphin watching. For this you have to go to the Mekong beach and talk to the local fisherman to take you out on their boot. When we were there they wanted 8$ each for 3 hours tour.
We didn't take the tour as the guys that just came back told us that they haven't seen anything. Be prepared for that - dolphins don't turn up just because you pay to see them.
Asides from being a 'happy place' Don Det is also considerable 'lucky'. If you walk the way to the waterfall you'll see to your left and right tons of four-leaf-clovers growing in the rice paddies. They seem to grow only in the water and normally cover the whole surface of the ponds.
There is a Internet Point on Don Det but it's incredibly expensive and the connection is not too good. Don't expect any shopping opportunities there, the highlight is mosquito repellent and shower gel - buy everything you need in Pakse.
Oh, and there's NO ATM on DonDet!
The only downside of this place is the transport to Cambodia. It's really expensive and you certainly don't get your money worth. The transportation is in Minibuses that are full of people - on the inside and on the roof! 19 people in a Minibus without the promised AirCon and the floor full of firewood so you knees where up to your chin wasn't that much fun. As people were also sitting on the roof and there was nothing to cover the luggage, we arrived in Phnom Penh with soaking wet backpacks.
The way to Cambodia is quite long and annoying tbh, first you go by boat to the mainland, there you change in a minibus that brings you to the border - you can get a visa on arrival for Cambodia there (Please always check this info before you go as these visa situations change quite frequently). At the border you have to pay 1 or 2$ stamp fee to both the Laotian and Cambodian officials - it's not an official fee but they wont let you cross if you don't pay it.
Don Det is an island in Si Phan Don in Laos