My time in Cambodia had come to an end and next was Laos, which would be the hammock life on Don Det Island for a few nights. Firstly I needed to get there from Siem Reap, which would involve 3 buses and a boat before I would step onto Don Det Island.
I left Siem Reap by mini bus at 8am on the advice by my hostel it would take around 7-8 hours to reach my destination but as I learnt from my travels that the projected time is always much shorter. We first spent 6 hours on the mini bus that took us from Siem Reap to a rest stop in the middle of nowhere near to the Laos border. We were ordered off the bus and told to wait for another bus. A lady behind the café counter called us up and gave us ferry tickets before the next bus finally arrived 90 minutes later.
There was a little bit more space on this mini bus compared to the first journey and I felt a lot less like a sardine. It stopped just before the border and the entire bus was ushered into a wooden shack where a man proceeded to tell us our visa would cost $45 instead of $35. Apparently ‘weekend rates’ and ‘border closing’ tomes were the reason for the increase but with very little option but to pay we all handed over our passports and waited over an hour for his return. Ordered back on this bus we were taken to the immigration building and then loaded onto another mini bus that would take us to the ferry terminal.
The ferry was more of a local taking us on his wooden boat over to the island from the mainland and as there was the usual delay we all decided to get a cold beer to take the edge off what had been a pretty tiring day. Just in time for sunset we boarded the boat and 20 minutes or so later we finally stood on the island of Don Det. I had been chatting to a couple of German guys on the bus Fabian and Mathias, one of whom was already staying in the same hostel as me called Easy Go Backpackers and the other needing a place to stay. Darkness at this point was upon us and after a walk of 30 minutes and 10 hours since leaving Cambodia we were checked in.
The island itself is very small, has no roads and only a bridge apart from the neighbouring island Don Khon, which you can also stay on but has less of a backpacker vibe and is a little more expensive. Easy Go Backpackers was the only hostel on the islands and offered dorm rooms for 25,000 Kip (£2.50) as well as private bungalows for 50,000 Kip (£5.00). A dorm room was sufficient for me as I was only expecting to stay here for two nights. With all 3 of us very tired but in need of food and more importantly a beer we took the walk back to the main part of the island finding a sports bar who would later show Swansea City so it was the perfect spot to relax. The other guys left around 10:30 but I stayed until the game had finished and left happy as we stormed to a 3-0 victory.
The next morning I was woken at 9:30am by Fabian asking if I wanted to join people from the hostel for a boat festival. With most things on this trip of course I said yes and quickly got dressed before walking into town and stopping off at a bar called Adam’s Place where we bought boat tickets. Then about 50 of us all crowded onto a wooden long boat for what would be a 2 hour journey to the island the festival was taking place on. I had no idea what to expect but had been told it was something that rotates around a different island each year and sounded like the Laos equivalent of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race.
The boat turned into a party boat very quickly after docking. Adam who had organised everything had put a massive cooler on board and was selling beer for around £1 a bottle. Within 15 minutes of leaving the dock everyone had a beer in their hands, the music was blasting and people were chatting away. This atmosphere remained for the next 2 hours until we reached the island for the boat festival and most of us were already in the merry stage and we weren’t even at lunch yet. The island was packed with both locals and tourists who had come to enjoy the festival. Market stalls and shops covered the dirt road that ran along the edge of the island and there was certainly a party atmosphere.
We all headed to restaurant for a quick bite to eat before Lewis (Who owned the bar I watched the football in), Steve and I took a walk until we came to a cocktail bar set away from the packed crowds. We did catch a glimpse of one of the races from the decking area while enjoying a few buckets of cocktails and I mean actual buckets as well.
The few hours that we had on the island seemed to fly by and it was already time to head back to depart. We caught up with the others who had paid to use a hotel pool, boarded onto the boat and the party continued. We stopped off on the way back for a sunset swim in the Mekong River before all jumping back on the boat for the last hour back to home turf.
Everyone at that point wanted to different things, some wanted to eat and some wanted to keep on enjoying the beers. I went back to Lewis’ bar to watch the Super Sunday football and got a takeaway Indian from across the street before finishing my night bar hopping until the early hours of the morning. I rolled in around 5am and went straight to bed.
I eased into my morning the following day and the early part of it was spent on a hammock with the German guys having a spot of breakfast and relaxing. I had been due to leave today but promptly booked on for another night as I wanted to see some of the island first before I left. Around midday Fabian and I decided to hire a couple of bikes from the hostel and take an afternoon cycle around both the islands. We first cycled to the bridge linking Don Det and Don Khon where you do need to pay 35,000 Kip to cross (£3.50) and this also included a ticket to one of the two waterfalls on the island. After a quick stop at a small temple we had arrived at the first of the waterfalls and took a walk around.
The waterfall also had signs for a beach so we continued the walk down to what was the beach and found a café with a dozen or so small huts. Keeping with the relaxed life in Laos we both ordered some drinks and spent the next hour chilling in the hammocks watching the world go by.
The journey from there continued around the island of Don Khon passing through at times some very thick jungle and not very bicycle friendly gravel tracks. The wooden bridges were also a lot to be desired. There used to be railway tracks that the French used and the bridges were basically planks of wood attached to the old metal tracks that had remained. Health and safety was not really a thing here and this could be seen in the bridges build quality. The landscape surrounding us the entire way though was fantastic.
We had come to the second waterfall, which included a crossing over another bridge. We took a walk on foot for this one as it swayed rather a lot and I required both hands to hold onto the side to avoid the risk of getting tossed into the rapids below. I did though pose for a quick picture. The other side was the 2nd waterfall, which was a lot smaller than the 1st but the rapids were equally as fast. As well as the waterfalls there were a few other paths you could take and we had a little look around before returning to our bikes and coming across to little puppies that came running towards us.
The bike ride concluded back around the rest of Don Khon before returning over the bridge to Don Det and taking the short journey back around to our hostel through the small villages and rice paddies before darkness set in. Dinner plans for the night were at a restaurant called Garden Restaurant back on Don Khon so we boarded the bikes once more a cycled through the moonlight that was actually better than a headlamp back across. I enjoyed a spectacular home cooked Laos Green Curry that was all cooked and prepared on a fire stove and the vegetables were all fresh from the market.
I had booked a bus for the next day departing for Savannakhet at 10:30am the following morning. As it was a later start than normal for my bus journey we all enjoyed a few beers in the hostel bar before heading off to bed. I still hadn’t packed and wanted to make sure I also had time for another fantastic egg and bacon sandwich the hostel have.
I had very quickly settled into the slow and relaxed life in Laos and coming into the south from Cambodia found the 4000 islands a perfect starting point. There was around another 8 days for me in Laos so my journey would now be making my way north to see a few more places before crossing into Thailand.