After my epic motorbike bail, I needed someplace to just sit and relax. Someplace where lying prone in a hammock or on a cushioned bamboo mat is the most strenuous activity of the day. Enter Don Det, in the 4,000 islands in Southern Laos. A friend told me after emerging from a harrowing bike trip through the jungles of Cambodia bruised, battered and beaten, he recovered on Don Det. Once you get here, you immediately sink into a slower routine. After a cramped and uncomfortable night bus journey from Thaket, our group of travellers look like blood-eyed zombies shuffling through dusty streets looking for accommodation.
We meander down the sunset side of the tiny island and I set down my bag at Oi’s Sunset bungalows, which has a quaint restaurant overlooking the river, basic bungalows with a hammock out front. The owner, Oi, was sitting on one of the tables with Sel, an Australian backpacker who planned to spend a few days on Don Det and is going on two weeks.
“Every day I say I’m going to leave, but it just doesn’t happen,” he said with a self deprecating smile. That day he even had a bus ticket in hand, yesterday’s date scratched out and it was looking like another date change was in his future.
Also caught in the Don Det net was Harri, a tall Finnish guy in his late 20s, who estimates he’s seen almost 100 sun sets from this very deck.
There’s a t-shirt that says “Been there, Don Det,” Sel said. “I don’t buy it because if you’ve left Don Det, you haven’t really done Don Det.”
On the first day, I lay on the cushioned floor, did some reading, writing, journaling while Alt-J and Ratatat played in the background, talked to Sel and Harri, ate some fresh spring rolls and met some friends from the bus for dinner at an Indian restaurant. That’s about it. For once, I relished in the luxury, the freedom of doing nothing all day and not feeling guilty about it.
On Friday, I met another Don Det devotee, this one likely a lifer. His name is Manni. He’s from England, of Indian decent. He has a long goatee that’s braided and swings back and forth when he talks. He’s usually wearing a lazy smile and even lazier baggy clothes and you can usually find him working behind the bar at Happy Bar or Regge Bar or rolling a joint or offering someone pot cookies. If he was a character in a movie, he’d be Khumar, from Harold and Khumar Take White Castle. That day he organized a boat trip to one of the tiny islands that makes up the 4,000 islands. It’s a sandy heap about the size of a train cart and about 15 of us pile out of the boat and set up bamboo mats and a stereo speaker. We soaked up the sun for about half an hour before a deluge of rain followed us to our little island. Some took shelter in the narrow boat and others jumped into the river. We watched the sun set, sinking deep over the Cambodian border, turning the sky magenta, crimson and gold. The boat took us back and for dinner, Manni impressed us all with a delicious dinner of shakshuka, an Israeli dish of tomato, garlic, cheese and poached egg, served with garlic bread.
On Saturday, an English girl named Cassi and I rented bikes to head over to the larger island, Don Khon, which is connected by a bridge. We rode impossibly slow down the dirt track, dodging the muddy bits in the middle and waving to children as we passed the secluded villages at the south end of the island. We rode our bikes to the waterfall, which rushed down a wide and gradually sloping path, split up here and there by large rocks. Unlike some tall, cascading waterfalls, this one had a power and fury that reminded me of the Niagara Falls and I got a little home sick. I said to Cassi that even though I’m from a place with one of the most famous waterfalls in the world, I never get tired of exploring another one, of appreciating the different dynamic that pushes the water over the edge. We peddled down to the beach and shared a lap and sticky rice, a traditional Laos dish of minced meat flavoured with garlic, lime and chili. When we got to our guest houses, we felt positively spent after the strenuous activity and proceeded to plop back into the hammock.
On Sunday morning, I got a few girls together and led a yoga class on the desk of Oi’s place. Luckily, Harri and Sel were still sleeping, otherwise they would have surely scoffed at our physical exertion. Afterall, Don Det is a sleepy little place, where one can easily spend the entire day lying down. The perfect place for a weary traveller to recover.