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Don Det: Wayside/Back in Time

Si Phan Don; The Four Thousand Islands. It is an area at the very southern tip of Laos where the Mekong river stretches to immense proportions, resulting in innumerable islands and sand bars; the number of which varies depending on the water level (it is said the river can be as wide as 14km during the wet season).

Choosing one of these islands was easy. Don Det was described as something along the lines of “no electricity, no tv’s, no worries”, a place where bungalows reached out over the water, with hammocks swinging on their verandahs.

Riding in the thin, long, wooden boat across the water to Don Det, our surroundings looked more like a flood plain than a river. You couldn’t see where the water stopped; each piece of land rising up out of the water was simply navigated around to reveal more of the cool, flowing water, and more islands.

We ran into the sandy shore of one island, stepped out into the water and onto land, and carried our bags through the dust until we found a guesthouse. We took a simple bamboo bungalow containing nothing more than a thin mattress on a wooden frame, and a mosquito net, with the standard-issue hammock on the balcony that looked out over the water. For $1.50 US a night, it was hard to argue.

And so we spent our days on Don Det mostly reading, and sitting in the Sunset Bar watching the sun fall into the water, and gazing out lazily to the river and its fishermen floating slowly past. The small wooden boats, perhaps 2 feet wide and 20 feet long, would be gently pushed along by a guy in the rear gently pushing his oar through the water. At the other end, somehow balancing at the very tip of the boat, was the man with the net. He would stand patiently with the net curled up in his hands, before hurling it out onto the water, to land flat in a perfect square and close in around the unsuspecting fish.

To sit and watch these men perform a craft mastered over centuries, as the sun sank low in the sky behind them, was to take a trip back in time; a time before sunset bars and overnight buses and ‘happy shakes’ (basically a shake with some marijuana in it, which was equally as popular in Vang Vieng, whether it be a shake, a pizza, of a piece of cake).

Don Det, for the most part, functioned much as I guess it has for years; self-sufficient, with little regard for the happenings of the world beyond the mighty water that surrounds them. We took walks around the island, along a narrow dirt path that followed the water’s edge. It led us past the huts of endless farms, where we dodged chickens and playful puppies, listened to the snorting of fat pigs tied up in the dirt, and paused to let huge water buffalo cross in front of us from the paddock to the water. The other hazard were excitable little kids, who apparently liked nothing better than jumping on the back of unsuspecting red-heads.

It was as I crouched down on the path one day, playing with a small puppy that was trying to claw Bec’s toenails out; they saw me from about 10 metres away, and came screaming towards me. The first little kid was on my back before I could even think about standing up. He was followed by another 4 kids, aged around 2 or 3 I’d guess, all jumping on my back to form a 5 person piggy-back ride. My saviour was a motorbike that came speeding down the path, before I was grabbed by the hand and led to the smiling parents of one of the kids, before they all lost interest and went charging off towards the chickens clucking under the nearby wooden hut.

It was peaceful and relaxing on the island, but I think Bec and I had got our fill of doing nothing during our last month or two in Europe, and so after just 3 nights, we left Don Det and Laos, and headed towards the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, in search of a little more adventure.

And the very next day, we would certainly get that.

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One Response to “Don Det: Wayside/Back in Time”

  1. couch blogger Says:

    I wonder if you can post some pictures ?

  2. Posted from Germany Germany

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