Been There, Don Det – Laos

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When we entered Laos we had three weeks to travel before having to return to Bangkok for a flight to Myanmar.  Not wanting to rush things, we weren’t 100% sure that we would make it to the south. We have found the ‘take it slowly’ style of travel usually worked out better for us. We also found that travel in Laos was SLOW, especially compared to a more developed country like Thailand. Overnight buses here were rare, and straight, flat, paved highways were not as common. When we reached Ban Nahin with another week and a half ahead of us, we hadn’t yet decided where our next destination would be. There were options that were just a little south of us: Tha Khaek, Pakse, and the Bolaven Plateau. However, the mention of Don Det passed our ears more than one time from other travelers during our couple days in the Ban Nahin area. Having been told multiple times that Don Det is an amazing and perfect place to chill and relax we made the decision to hightail it to the island and take our final week to relax and enjoy the very different and beautiful landscape of Southern Laos.

Traveling to the Mekong Delta

laosbus-NK31

The trip from Ban Nahin to Don Det was next to impossible to do in a full day. As it was, we were lucky that the trip we were about to make would only take three vehicles, even if the first two  were by far the most uncomfortable rides we’d had during our entire time in Laos. Our intended itinerary when departing from Ban Nahin looked like this: Ban Nahin to Tha Khaek, Tha Khaek to Pakse, spend the night in Pakse (hopefully near the bus station), the following morning go from Pakse to the ferry port to  Si Phan Don (The 4000 Islands) where we could get a boat to Don Det.  (Don means “island” in Lao). Our first leg of this journey was on a very crowded songthaew that was stuffed with an even cocktail of one part locals, one part backpackers, and 2 parts extra cargo on top. The ride was longer than we’d gone before in the uncomfortable back of the truck bench seats of a songthaew, taking half the day to get us all the way to Tha Khaek.

We thought for sure this would be the most uncomfortable portion of the trip since our bums were on a wooden board and space was pretty limited. The ride was a bit over three hours, and surprisingly it went by fairly fast. Other than the not-so-glamorous ride conditions (which are expected when riding a songthaew) things went pretty smoothly. No vehicle breakdowns, no going in a direction we weren’t expecting, not too many stops along the way. We got dropped at the main bus station in Tha Khaek which was bustling with people and incoming and outgoing buses.  Here we were able to buy tickets to Pakse on a larger ‘normal’ bus which would be arriving in less than an hour. As we purchased our tickets we were pretty confident that things would be smooth sailing for the remainder of the journey. Oh how wrong we were about that.

Appearances can deceive, and this was exactly the trap we fell into on our lovely bus connecting us from Tha Khaek to Pakse. Seeing the already very full bus pulling into the station, Amanda boarded as soon as she could and was lucky to find some of the last seats together. This was somewhat of a relief as we had narrowly escaped sitting next to a vomiter. Why people were vomiting on this bus is truly a mystery because the road was paved and straight as an arrow the entire journey. We soon got our first taste of what taking a non-aircon bus in Southern Laos was like as well. Many of the windows on the bus barely opened (probably because they were old and jammed shut) and even when they did it wasn’t much help to the rising heat. We had officially found what we called the ‘Souther Laos sauna’. Being a ball of sweat wasn’t the only gift the heat brought us on the ride. It also heightened the mixture of aromas (from food to body odors) making our sauna officially a ‘aromatic sauna’. And the heat must have been melting the glue that was holding the bus together because Amanda’s seat was completely in the furthest reclined position with no way of sitting upright and the seat across from us was literally falling into the isle (like it wasn’t connected to the bus). Things were falling apart left and right. We closed our eyes, put in our earbud headphones, and tried to softly let our mind and any kind of agitation melt away with everything else on the bus.

Even though the distance between Tha Khaek and Pakse was only a 330 km the trip ended up taking us a total of seven hours. This included some random stops, one being at a metalworking factory where a forklift came and unloaded a motorcycle and some huge pipes that had apparently been strapped to the top of our bus. How we missed this before boarding we don’t know.  This took a good forty minutes, and added to the dramatic nature of the entertaining journey.  When we did finally arrive in Pakse it was late, dark, and the bus station appeared to be a ghost town. In fact we weren’t even sure it was a bus station at all. Despite the help of some passengers on the bus who spoke some english we were left confused, hungry, tired, and standing in the dark not knowing what to do. The obvious thing was we needed to find a place to sleep. We had assumed that there would be some kind of accommodation near the bus station. Our assumption had been completely incorrect, assuming this was the ‘bus station at kilometer marker 8′. We tried to walk along the road and ask locals but no one seemed to understand and nothing resembled anything like a hotel or guesthouse.

Finally we gave up and decided to start back-tracking and walking in the direction of the last guesthouses we saw on the main road the bus had come down. They weren’t exactly close by but we also knew that they were in a reasonable distance (meaning we could walk there in less than an hour). Amanda being tired and frustrated decided to give the ol’ hitchhiking thumb a try. Surprisingly a truck stopped on the side of the road and allowed us to jump into the back. He toted us the couple kilometers down the road where there seemed to be some accommodation options available. After tackling a couple more small obstacles we found a place that had a room for about $10. This seemed high to us since we had been averaging $4-5/night and our first reaction was to keep looking. At this point our brains were not functioning though and we soon realized this after re-examining the situation and weighing our options.  This is a common trick your brain will play on you after traveling for a while. You fall into the ‘budget’ trap and your vision of what is realistic can become narrow. This is especially the case for those who have no income or planned income in the foreseeable future. It is a mixture of fear (not having enough money down the road) and just plain brain-warping (getting used to things being a certain, usually low, price). It is a powerful spell that can play tricks on a travelers mind and psyche that we caught ourselves falling victim to far too often.

Slapping ourselves back into reality we took the room, showered, and dug into our bag for a Mama Noodle (there is a reason we carry an emergency supply of food with us). Yes… it had been one of those nights and sitting in our bed slurping a Mama Noodle brought us comfort in so many ways. With some noodles in our tummies and our heads a bit clearer we put our fears behind us and came to the decision that in the end it would be easiest to pay for the transfer service the hotel could set up for travelers going to Don Det. For $10/person they offered a pick-up from the hotel in a mini-van that would go directly to the ferry port and the boat ride to the island was included in the price as well. Sure we could save maybe $2-4 by doing it on our own, which sounds like a lot more when you are comparing 55,000 kip per person to 80,000 kip per person.  These conversions and currency in the thousands is only one little element of the magical mind-warping spell that goes on (and then when you start to think you could buy a days worth of meals for that amount too…). Anyway, in the end we realized no matter how many thousand kip we were saving, was it really worth it at this point? No. We put any doubt and money fears aside and did what was logical and worth an extra couple bucks to arrive to our final southern Laos destination with ease.

The next morning we awoke refreshed, reassured, and ready for a new day. We had plenty of time in the morning to relax and grab some food before the transfer picked us up at 8:15am. We found a sandwich stand (or more like a sandwich scooter food cart) across the road. At only $0.75 a sandwich we enjoyed a sandwich breakfast and loaded up our day packs with extras for the day ahead of us, just in case we ran into any unexpected delays like yesterday. Deciding to do the organized transfer was the best decision we could have made. The trip was the complete opposite of our travel the day before. The van was super comfortable, air conditioned, and didn’t make any stops until it arrived at the ferry dock of Ban Nakasang (less than two hours of travel time).

 

This is the 'ferry terminal' to Don Det.  Pretty casual.
This is the ‘ferry terminal’ to Don Det. Pretty casual.

 

Ban Nakasang is the closest transportation point on the mainland to Don Det.  In Laos it is called the ferry area but really the better way to describe it is the boat loading area. The boats are the same long-tail motorized boats you see in other parts of the country and Southeast Asia. They make a few trips everyday between Ban Nakasang and various islands of the Mekong River. In this southern most part of the country the boats are like cars. None of the islands are all that big and therefore a car is pretty impractical and useless if you live on the islands. A boat however is a necessity. And you will see just about anything loaded onto these boats (or ferries as they like to call them). Other than the typical loads of people, luggage, and cargo we saw motorcycles, cows, and monks hitching a ride between islands on these longboats.

 

The transfer to the boat from the van was somewhat seamless, yet in less than four hours total we had arrived to Don Det. Again, we arrived armed with advice from our fellow bungalow neighbors in Ban Nahin. They had warned us it can take a while to find a place, especially if you wanted to compare prices. Their advice: one person stay on the beach with the bags while the other checks out some places and makes a decision. Amanda took bag duty again and Ben went bungalow hunting.  As Amanda hung out on the beach she took in the scenes. Water buffalo that were out for a little swim in the muddy waters of the river slowly moved up onto the sandy banks to layout and sun themselves.  A couple children in their underwear were out playing not far from the buffalo as an angry mother came running after them with a stick.  And all the while travelers would float by, some stopping to chat about absolutely nothing specific.  This was our first real glimpse of life on Don Det.

Commutes can be a drag.
Commutes can be a drag.

 

Getting To Know Don Det

The island of Don Det used to be a really off the beaten track place but that has been fast changing over the last several years.  In fact only five years ago the island didn’t even have electricity at all.  Today electricity runs throughout the island 24/7 and many places even have wifi (although it can be hit and miss as far as how well it is working).  Guesthouses, restaurants, and bungalows are being built (old school style using hands and manual labor and often incorporating locally sourced materials) all around the island to continue to accommodate the increasing number of visitors.  Even with the increased number of visitors and businesses to accommodate them Don Det still feels very much removed from what most people would consider developed.  The only ‘roads’ are the two main dirt paths that run on either side of the island (sunset and sunrise side).  If you ask where something is you will usually be given one of these descriptors, sunset or sunrise side, and from there you are on your own to find it.

Sunset Hammock - Don Det

 

Ben returned with a pretty good lay of the land and survey of what guesthouses were around, what they offered, and how much they cost. And to top it all off he had scored us a bungalow at $4 a night ($6-7 seemed to be the average of most places). Malina Bungalows were located on the sunset side of the island and were fairly quite. It turned out that the bungalow that we were staying in (one of three) was probably a part of the ‘older and original’ bungalows.  Now the family had newer, cleaner, and slightly larger bungalows on the property just next door.  Of the two bungalows next to us the owner’s family lived in one of them.  We appreciated the character (and price) of the original bungalow and in some ways felt like a part of the family for the few days we were there.  Other than the three bungalows and the shared bathroom there was a little restaurant that was fashioned as most the other ‘restaurants’ on the island. A deck that stretched over the sloping banks where the island met the river with some tables and pillows set up for people to eat, drink, and just hang out and relax.

 

Don Det is known as somewhat of a haven for backpackers and we witnessed this as soon as we stepped off the boat. It draws the typical crowd of people mostly in their 20s and 30s doing long-term travel or living a nomadic life (just like us).  Some stay a day or two, some for weeks, and more and more people are deciding to stay for several months. We also heard it referred to as the Khao San Road on the river, which was a funny yet very fitting description.  As far as getting a cultural experience this would not be the place to come.  But for those looking for a spot to relax on the river, meet new friends, and live cheaply, Don Det is perfect. Our little guesthouse spot was a reflection of how much of the island was. A place to kick back, relax, lay in a hammock and read a book, or stretch out on the deck pillows and take a nap. Since these were our last few days in Laos we welcomed the complete down-tempo pace and settled into this different but still very welcoming ‘island life.’

One morning we decided to get a better feel of the island (as well as get some exercise) before it got too hot.  We decided to walk around the perimeter of the island of Don Det and see as much as we could.  We left at 8am, and chose to go counter-clockwise from our bungalow in order to see the new scenery first.  As we walked, we realized the island is not as small as we thought.  It has an ‘everyone’s your neighbor’ kind of feel which is wonderful, but after walking past the last guesthouse on the sunset side, we found there was plenty of island left.  There was a wide open section of dried out rice paddies spanning from one side of the island to another.  The strange thing about rice fields is that when they are not in use, they look so dead you can be sure they’ve been abandoned forever– yet in all likeliness it would be replanted and used again when the rainy season returned.  Nearby is the only temple on the island, which itself looked fairly abandoned thanks to its placement surrounded by the bone-dry paddy fields.  We also saw a lot of water buffalo doing what they do best — meandering into the water.  There may not be a more aptly named creature on earth.  After walking to the northernmost point of the “sunset side” (aka West side) of the island, we started heading down along the opposite edge of Don Det, which was a treat.  Here we got a better taste for the locals of Don Det.  The villagers had a small town on this end, tucked away from the tourists.  There was an old bridge that attached Don Det to the neighboring island of Don Khon, but we did not explore this as tourists had to pay, and we were on foot and not needing to add more distance to our walk.  Glimpses to the local life became more frequent over here, as we passed the school and watched little girls in uniforms playing a game which involved throwing their shoes like in ‘horseshoes’ and the older men gambling over a game of Patong (the Laos version of Bocce).  We further oogled over their wonderful raised herb gardens, made either out of bamboo or in dead canoes.  In all, it took us about two hours to walk around the island at a leisurely pace, which was much larger than we thought, although we appreciated the smallness of the backpacker community there and neighborly nature of it all.

bicycle power and herb gardens

 

Happy Island

One of the first things we noticed about Don Det is abundance of ‘happiness’. We had been told that Don Det is a destination sought out by those who enjoy cannabis so we had been expecting that part. What we hadn’t been expecting was how open everyone on the island (locals and travelers alike) were about smoking it, sharing it, it’s availability for purchase, and it’s existence in food items. We don’t think there was one restaurant on the island which didn’t offer a ‘happy’ section of food items to guests. It was in everything; shakes, pizza, cookies, soups, pasta, pork chops and more. These people got creative with their happiness! Some places would even have ‘baggies’ (of marijuana) listed on the menu as well. The point was that weed was everywhere. And even if you weren’t smoking or eating it, you were sure to still be feeling that relaxed ‘no worries man’ lifestyle. Neither of us being huge Mary Jane partakers instead enjoyed a non-happy hookah and a couple beer Laos on occasion and just embraced the atmosphere.

Get Happy - Don Det

In all odds, there is probably a correlation between the amount of ‘happy’ items consumed on Don Det and how long one stays on the island.  For us, we were just happy to have most of our overland travel in Laos behind us, and enjoying hammock time and good, cheap food.  Our favorite item had to be the kebab — Ben got one with chicken, but Amanda’s was fantastic, having fried pumpkin instead of meat.  We’re still drooling over it today.

 

Movie Madness

Who would think that one would get caught up on the latest movies on an island in the middle of the Mekong delta? Especially on an island that only a few years ago didn’t even have electricity.  Don Det may be more connected today (with electricity and wifi) but it still remains a land which separated from law and regulation.  Just like the laws regarding marijuana, the laws regarding copyrights just didn’t seem to exist here (or many places in SE Asia, for that matter).

Adams

Our first movie experience was at Adam’s Bar and Rogue (which is known just as Adam’s). This bar/lounge/restaurant, or whatever else you want to call it, ended up being a favorite spot for us and we returned on multiple occasions over the few days we resided on Don Det.  In the afternoons or sometimes at night we would come here to relax, have a beer or food, watch a movie, and unwind even more than we were already unwound. The front part of the venue was a huge semi-open area with long tables on the floor between mats and triangle pillows that people could prop themselves up on to watch whatever movie that was playing on the TV toward the front of the room. One side of the room had a couple circular high bar tables next to the actual bar. In the back you had the typical deck setup and would usually find groups of people plugging in (when the internet was working) or hanging out together. There was also a small section that looked like it used to be a sort of built-in hot-tub but now was full of turtles, as well as a video game corner complete with sofas shaped in a U around the main video game television.

The front section would always be playing a movie and the back section would always be playing music. And the cool part was that on each table there was a huge ‘bible’ of movies and music you could purchase. In fact you could even purchase an external hard drive loaded with hundreds of movies and/or songs of your choice.

the last resort

 

Our second movie experience was at the fairly new, remote, and cozy ‘outdoor theater’ at The Last Resort.  We had read somewhere they showed movies every night at 7:30pm and decided it would be a nice way to relax after our first day on the island.  The Last Resort was named for the reason that it is pretty much the last ‘guest house’ on the sunset side of Don Det.  The walk to the ‘resort’ is about thirty to forty minutes from where the boats drop off and pick up (which is the most dense part and focal point on the island) .  It is unique because the accommodation is actually teepees (instead of the typical bungalow) constructed using locally sourced materials.  This resort was built and is owned by a British guy who came to the island a couple years ago to make it his home.  He highlights the space as a place that is self-sustaining and offers much more: extras like regular BBQ nights, an open kitchen for guests, breakfasts with fresh herbs and spices from the garden, freshly brewed coffee from local beans, and movie nights.

When we arrived at the resort we came to learn that the whole “movie every night” thing was still in the process of being set-up and worked out.  But we lucked out because the owner and some of the current residents had all decided to make the night we arrived a movie night.  The scene was casual and the there was something about being here in this quite corner of the island that made things seem even more laid back and relaxed than the rest of the island (if that is even possible).  The outdoor theater is cozy on a small deck (although not an overhang deck like most) with limited space for maybe a maximum of fifteen people.  We were about nine that night so it was perfect.  Just like every other deck set-up it had the pillows (triangular ones included), mats, and some small tables.  To add to the ambiance and the large living-room feeling there were comfortable sofas  in the back and some hammocks hanging on the sides.  The owner set up a projector and screen for the big movie showing.

Between Adam’s and The Last Resort we saw Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street, Team America, and Pulp Fiction.  Not bad considering the admission price was the cost of a beer or some food which we would have probably purchased with or without the movie.  We could get used to this for a while, and apparently many other travellers had as well.

Kayaking The Mekong River

After a couple days of downtime we were ready to add some more activity into our lives.  The big activity (and the one that had been recommended to us by others in Ban Nahin) was the full day kayaking trip.  We had seen the large groups leaving in the mornings down the river.  Each morning we were amazed to see there seemed to be just as many people as the day before (between 35-50 people).  Wanting to sign up with the best company possible (since it was all the same price) we tried to ask around before making our final adventure purchase.  It turns out that even though there are over twenty places selling the full day kayak trip and pretty much any person (or dog for that matter) will sell it to you, there are really only two companies that run the show.  After some back and forth on which one we should go with we bit the bullet and just made a choice based on gut feeling, Mekong Adventure Tours.

Our adventure would begin bright and early starting with the included breakfast and coffee at 8am.  By 9am we were in our snazzy lifejackets, numbered off (with the large numerals written in sharpie on our arms), and in kayaks floating on the water.  In some ways it was pretty cool to see almost 30 kayaks floating together down the river; and in other ways it made maneuvering a bit more challenging.  Ben and I paired up in a double and after a few minutes seemed to have our flow in sync with each other.

The group moving out from the bungalows of Don Det
The group moving out from the bungalows of Don Det

The first hour was relatively easy.  The flow of the water was steady and the thing we had to pay the most attention to was where the guide went and making sure we followed (exactly) to avoid grounding our boat.  This meant maneuvering around the mini-islands of green that were everywhere and the rocks and rapids.  We also had some unexpected obstacles of water buffalo that were taking a dip every now and then.  Being on the water and moving our bodies felt great.  The scenery was pleasant and  we were in good company with friendly and happy locals as our guides and easy going travelers along for the ride.  After about an hour of kayaking we came to a place where we all banked the kayaks and a group gathered them onto a truck bed.  Just a bit further down the river was the first of two waterfalls we would be seeing that day.  Even though this first one was the ‘small’ fall, it was still a bit too large for our kayaking experience.  We got to give our upper bodies a break while we hiked along the land to see the fall.  Here we relaxed and basked in the sun on the rocks while dipping our toes in the cold waters.  We also saw a traditional fish catching method up close and personal, as the water levels were low.  When the water is higher, these traps are set up in the form of long, horizontal dead-ended alleyways in the water.  So when the water level covered this corridor-looking frame made of branches tied together, water could pass through, but most debris and fish in the water would be trapped.  They would not be able to swim back out of the trap because of the placement near the small waterfall meant there were rapids and a lot of water flow going against them.  Fishermen could then clear out the fish daily to eat.

DCIM100GOPRO

From here, we walked a bit further to meet up with where our kayaks had been transported to, past the waterfall.  Back in the kayaks and on the river we noticed that the water was flowing a bit faster now.  Crowd management was key on this section of the trip and the guides would try to gather us in large pooled areas to monitor the amount of kayaks that would go through certain passages to avoid bottlenecking.  Unfortunately for us this wasn’t completely successful.  We waited our turn and did exactly as the guide said, going when we were instructed to go through the fast moving narrow rapid way around rocks and plants.  But our excellent kayaking skills were no match for the boat that had bottomed out (and got stuck) on a rock ahead of us.  We tried to paddle backwards and slow ourselves but the momentum of the current was not having any of it, and eventually we found our kayak turned sideways stuck as well.  While the kayak ahead of us freed itself we tried to turn around only to be met by more oncoming kayaks and the current.

 

Moments later we were swimming and our boat was flowing freely downstream.  Luckily there were a ga-gilion other kayakers that managed to help us and grab our kayak ahead of us.  The waters weren’t deep so drowning wasn’t as much of a worry as being hit by other kayaks and scraped along the rocks.  Five minutes later we were soaking but back in our kayak like nothing had happened.  No items (camera included) were lost or destroyed (thank you dry bag!) and other than Ben collecting a few scrapes and bruises we survived.  Not long after reloading into our boat the fast flowing narrow water passageways emptied into the expansive delta which resembled a large lake.  Now the real fun would begin…. paddling!

DCIM100GOPRO

At first we enjoyed the change of scenery and the fact the the many boats could scatter across the landscape with lots of room to spare.  But after forty minutes of full on paddling we began to realize the beauty of the fast moving rapid waters, even if it did mean an occasional overturned boat.  Together we moved as a loose group into what is know as the Mekong Delta.  Here we waited and watched hoping to spot the now almost extinct freshwater Irawaddy dolphin.  Unfortunately, the space that is reserved for these dolphins is very small.  There are supposedly approximately 75 of these dolphins living in this part of the Mekong Delta near the Laos/Cambodia border, and immediately adjacent to them are a bunch of fishing nets and traps.  For a supposedly protected species, it wasn’t surprising to us at all that a handful of these dolphins die each year in fishermen’s nets.  The only upside to the now tiny habitat these freshwater dolphins have is that you have very good chances of seeing these dolphins if you come when they are active.

Floating in our kayak among the other kayak pods we felt at peace.  We would watch and observe as the silence of the nature around us would be broken by the long motorized dolphin watching boat tours.  Somehow being in our kayak we felt much more in tune with nature and the dolphin watching process.  We were happy with our decision to choose kayaking over any of the other tours offered.

After almost thirty minutes we weren’t sure that we would be spotting any dolphins, but laying in the sun and the break from paddling was glorious.  Our patience eventually did pay off.  Just before we headed in toward another island for lunch, we had a mini group of dolphins grace us with their presence.  We could see their spray and fins as they glided below the water surface.  From our viewpoint they looked very much like the dolphins you would see in the ocean off the coast of California.  They were after all still a dolphin, just in a different type of water.  After hanging out with the dolphins for a few minutes we paddled into shore for our lunch which was included in the price as well.  It was a good thing they included all these meals because we were sure working up way more of an appetite than we had expected.

Our final stop would be at Khone Phapheng Falls.  This is the largest waterfall in SE Asia (measured by amount of water flowing).  We had to do a quick paddle to get to the mainland from the island we were on for lunch. Once we reached the mainland we disembarked and carried our kayaks up to the songthaews where some locals loaded them on top while we gathered underneath.  As we dragged our kayak up the sand and rocks to the songthaew our weary and sore arms really began to show. Since we were loading the kayaks atop the trucks and it was roughly 4pm by the time we arrived at Khone Phapheng Falls, we assumed our paddling work was done for the day.

Thanks to Patrick Allen for "buying us lunch"... AKA paying for our kayaking trip in the 4,000 Islands!
Thanks to Patrick Allen for “buying us lunch”… AKA paying for our kayaking trip in the 4,000 Islands!

Amanda at falls - Don Det

 

We entered the park area as a group and then slowly scattered about to view the falls from various viewpoints. After about an hour of viewing the falls and sharing a coffee we were back in the songthaews in route to the main ferry/boat loading area.  We (along with the others travelers) began to contemplate how they got all the kayaks back to the island. Did they load them on one of the motorized boats to take back? That would be silly. Maybe our work for the day wasn’t done. This idea slowly sunk in as we mentally prepared ourselves with the physical work that may well be ahead of us.

The songthaew made a stop near the ‘ferry’ docks (where we had originally gotten the boat to the island) only the stop was for using the ATM and not boarding the motorized boats. There were no ATMs on the island so for those who were running low on money (or didn’t have enough cash to pay for the trip when they signed up) this was an added benefit of being able to make a ‘cash run’ so they could  return to the island and perhaps live for another two or three weeks off their ATM withdrawal without having to make/pay for a separate ferry trip back to the mainland. With many travellers wallets reloaded, the drivers rounded everyone up back onto the songthaew and and drove us down a bumpy dirt road northward.  Then, just as we had suspected, our kayaking was not yet over.  We were on the mainland, so it meant we had to kayak back to Don Det from there in order to get the kayaks back for the next day’s tour.  We were quite exhausted at this point, but at least we felt like we were really getting our money’s worth out of the kayaking trip.

As we slowly gathered ourselves, we noticed everyone seemed to be moving much slower now than when we first loaded  the kayaks into the water nine hours ago. Luckly it was a fairly easy paddle ahead of us with slow flowing calm waters for a majority of the way. The sun was just beginning to set and the views were beautiful. Despite being exhausted we were glad to be floating in a tranquil state of bliss along the water watching the sunset colors paint the sky. It had been an intense and long day but this really was the perfect way to finish it off.

Sometimes you are taking a chance with these excursion and adventure lead activities, but we were pretty satisfied with the day we had. To us it was worth the money and a great way to add some exercise into our lazy Mekong delta island vacation.

Sunset - Don Det

 

Bangkok One Way Ticket

After a day of recovery (yes we were a little sore after our kayak adventure) we decided to leave our lazy island and head back to Thailand. It was hard to believe we had been in Laos for three weeks now. We took a lot of time to reflect on the weeks we had been in the country and cherish the last moments. We couldn’t have been more happy with our last minute decision and change in plans to come to Laos. It had offered us so much more than we had expected and we had begun to fall in love with the nature, people, simple way of life, and general charm of Laos. We understood now why people end up staying here for months, or continue to return again and again.

So on our last day we bought a ticket from the owner of our bungalows to get off the island, to Pakse, and then across the border back into Thailand’s large border town, Ubon Ratchathani.  Aside from some overbooking of a bus for one leg of the trip that required us to sit in plastic chairs in the aisles, the ride went alright from Don Det to the border.  The border crossing was easy as well, and Ben made a point of picking up a $1 bottle of local whiskey with our remaining cash before crossing into Thailand.  We were then transported by a different minivan to Ubon, and were able to get an overnight bus to Bangkok within an hour for a good price.  It worked out well and had us arriving in Bangkok roughly 24 hours after we had left Don Det.  Just in time to get ourselves in order and digest our time in Laos before we geared up for the next big adventure around the corner: Myanmar!

For the rest of our photos from our relaxing last stop in Laos, click HERE.