From Ban Lung in Cambodia it took the better part of the day to cross the border into Laos and then continue on to Don Det. Boarding the mini-van at 7.30am we did a lap of the town picking up other foreigners and locals before we were on our way. We frequently stopped on the way to Stung Treng picking up more passengers until there were about 20 of us in a mini-van made for 10. Although the bus was packed the trip wasn’t that bad and we got into Stung Treng at about 10. It was then a 3 hour wait before we were on our way again but this time it was just foreigners and the number of seats in this mini-van matched the number of people. The border crossing was fairly straight forward and the onward trip to Don Det was a breeze. The bus drops you at Ban Nakasang where we boarded a Long tail boat for a short but scenic trip to the island.
Don Det is one of the larger islands that make up Si Phan Don (4000 Islands), a group of islands, sandbars and rocky islets at the very southern tip of Laos on the border of Cambodia. This archipelago is set within the mighty Mekong River, the world’s largest freshwater fishery, the river has its beginnings in Tibet and then snakes its way through China to Laos, often defining the border with Thailand, then continuing on through eastern Cambodia with the delta finally breaking out into the South China Sea in Vietnam.
Once at Don Det, a guy I had met on the bus and I searched for somewhere to stay finding a place on the eastern side of the island, almost on the water with private rooms and shared bathrooms for only 20,000 kip ($2.50) per night!
Don Det was a really nice spot and a great change from Cambodia, it was green, mountainous and the Mekong was now a turquoise green rather than the mud brown I had experienced at Kampong Cham. The island is dotted with guesthouses but it definitely isn’t the party island that the Lonely Planet made it out to be. There were a fair amount of tourists but the atmosphere was quiet and mellow. Over the next couple of days we explored the waterfalls of Don Khon, the neighbouring island by pushbike and the other surrounding islands by Long tail boat.
Don Khon was much quieter than Don Det, fewer guest houses and fewer tourists. The bridge between the two islands was constructed by the French originally for a railway line that ran from the small wharf on the South of Don Khon through to Don Det.
After crossing the bridge the first stop was a Theravada Buddhist Wat. On the way to the temple we both got a couple of hitch hikers when a couple of the kids jumped on the back of our bikes. The pathway wound through dried rice patties bordered by a village all the way to the Wat. It was a small complex consisting of a Wat, an open-air Wat and the monk’s residence. There were a couple of young monks pottering around and a few of the school children making a ruckus.
Leaving the Wat behind we crossed through the middle of the island, passed some small villages before reaching the pathway to some falls on the eastern side of the island. These falls were only 1-2m high but stretched for 50-100m. The area was littered with bamboo fishing contraptions; I have no idea if they were still in working order or how they worked. The river was wide, rocky and there was small falls spread sporadically across the horizon. We ventured out and explored for the better part of an hour.
We then headed along the edge of the island, south, through forested areas to the old French port. From the top of the port the view looked as though I was looking across an expansive lake dotted with islands and sandbars, not the Mekong River, the view was awesome. Following the pathway of the old railway line we cut back through the island to the Tat Somphamit falls which a huge amount of water pumped through. It’s strange to think that all the water, all around, is all just the Mekong and not a number of rivers and lake systems which is how it seems.
The following day a group of us, by coincidence it was the group from border crossing bus ride, and another couple from Europe all took a Long tail boat ride through the islands stopping at a beach (sandbar) for a swim and then onto another beach for the sunset. The ride through the islands took us past a number of fisherman, some villages and parts of the Cambodian border. It was a stunning sunset over the water with Long tail boat fishermen in its shadow.
From Don Det I travelled with with a few friends I had made in Don Det to Parkse. Parkse is the base for a popular motorbike loop around the Bolaven Plateau which I considered doing but didn’t have enough time. The others did the trip and I later learned that they really enjoyed it and that it was an amazing circuit. From here I travelled to Tha Khaek were I considered another motorbike loop up to Kong Lo Cave. Although all the feedback from the other travellers at the guesthouse I was staying at was all positive, time was still going to be an issue and there were no bikes available for the following day so I decide I would just bus to Kong Lo Cave.