After having done the Takhek Loop by motorbike followed by another motorbike trip around the Bolaven Plateau, Chris, Dolf and I were exhausted. Riding had just took its toll and we were ready for some days of relaxation and idleness. The 4.000 islands and especially the island of Don Dhet in the middle of the mighty Mekong River seemed like the perfect place to do so. It is very small, no cars and has the reputation to be one of the most relaxed places in Laos. It should also be our last stop in Laos before entering Cambodia and also the place where we would split.
After yet another long and dusty ride with a local songthaew (shared pickup) and a quick boat ride we made it to Don Dhet in the afternoon. We heard that it would be hard to line up accommodation at that time of the day but we wanted to try our luck and walked past the busy village down to the southern tip of the island. Seeing lots of signs stating “full”, our hopes diminished before we finally got lucky. The first night in three nice bungalows was arranged and the plan was to find an even better place on the riverfront the day after. We quickly got to like Don Dhet. The atmosphere was very relaxed, little guesthouses and restaurants scattered along the river banks and a view of the so called 4.000 islands that is unmatched. Especially in the south it is quiet and serene with the nights just disturbed by the concert of frogs and crickets. After having some good food and some beers, we finished the day lying in our hammocks and making plans for the next days.
After breakfast the next day our task was to find a nice place right by the river. After a few tries we were successful and secured two bungalows at Mr. Tho’s Place, owned by a nice family and with our little private beach. That should be our home away from home for the following days. The first half of the day was spent reading, checking e-mails and just resting. It felt good not to be in a rush and being able to take it easy. In the afternoon we rented bicycles to explore the island and its bigger neighbor Don Khon. We went across the old french railway bridge and went straight to the Sophamit waterfall. It was more impressive than we expected and we spend quiet some time around the fall. On the way back we stopped at a guesthouse to speak to the owner about arranging a fishing trip for the next day. It was all set and we were supposed to meet at 5 a.m.
Another Try at Fishing
The night was short and me and Chris got up in the dark. Surprisingly awake, we met our guide at the guesthouse and took of for half a day of Mekong fishing. Cruising in a little longboat to a remote island upstream was already an experience. The sunsrise that accompanied us for the whole ride was even better. It was a little cloudy and the reflections of the rising sun were amazing. Everything was tinted in a blueish color changing to a bright red then giving way to the bright ball of light. It was impressive ad while Chris was already preparing our fishing gear, I couldn’t help but staring at this natural phenomenon and taking pictures. The river was already busy by that time with boats chugging up and down the Mekong. We casted our rods to try our luck and hopefully do better than in Muang Ngoi a couple of weeks before. Unfortunately this remained a hope for me whereas Chris actually caught three small fishes which were not exactly big game but very interesting since we had never seen species like that.
Kayaking, Dolphins and Asia’s biggest Waterfall
Another highlight was the kayaking trip we did. It was easy paddling along the Mekong, nothing to challenging but still fun. We took in the beautiful scenery along the riverbanks and paddled ahead of our group to race with our guides. By midday we paddled into the habitat of the famous Irrawady Freshwater Dolphins which can only be found in that area and in Cambodia. We paddled for a bit and were actually able to spot a few of these mammals. Though it were always very quick encounters it was a very impressive experience taken the fact that nowadays only 7 or 8 dolphins are left with numbers still on the decline. The trip was topped of with a visit to the Khon Phapheng Falls, the biggest waterfall of Southeast Asia. Although I had already seen a lot of waterfalls by that point, the sight of this natural spectacle was breathtaking. The masses of water running down the steps and the thought, that this has been going on for thousands of years already, left us awe-inspired.
Since this would be our last evening together, we had to treat ourselves and went to a German owned guesthouse named Mama Leua’s. Lutz, the owner and his wife Pheng prepare some marvelous food and we all ordered Schnitzel with salad and fries on the side. We were ready for some Western food and I have to say that this was among the best food I have had in Laos. We finished the day with some beers reminiscing about the good times we had.
The next day Chris and Dolf left for Cambodia. They were on a tight schedule and had to make some visa arrangements in Phnom Penh. I decided to make full use of my Lao visa and stay 2 more nights on the island. I spent the days reading, writing e-mails, updating my blog and just relaxing in the hammock. I had sundowners to go with the marvelous sunsets, did some more fishing and spent time with Louis, my new roommate. It was a relaxed time which I really needed. Refueled and full of anticipation I was ready to enter Cambodia and another chapter of my adventure.
Don Dhet was better than I expected. I heard stories of it having already turned into a new Vang Vieng. This maybe true in parts of the village but you can really relax and get away from everything once you go further south. And this is exactly what we did. I personally needed those days of relaxing and recovering since the motorbike days had taken it’s toll on me. If you travel long term, you generally need some time off every once in a while and I think I was ready for that. Don Dhet was the perfect place gain some new energy and inspiration.