Si Phan Don, also known as the 4,000 islands, was final stop on my whirlwind tour of Laos and it was definitely the highlight. Located in Southern Laos, Si Phan Don is where the Mekong breaks down into many rivers and channels, forming thousands of tiny islands.
I would be spending a week on Don Det, the most well-known of these islands. You won’t find any fancy villas here – dozens of $5 a night bungalows line the river, each one with a bed, balcony, hammock and not much else. The island only recently got 24 hour electricity, there’s very little wifi and no ATMs.
You come here to relax, to chill out, and to do absolutely nothing. And that’s exactly what I did.
As soon as I arrived, I knew that I would find it so easy to be incredibly lazy here – that I would spend most of my days lying in a hammock, napping, reading books, catching up on some TV shows. That’s exactly why I forced myself to leave my hammock and go exploring on my very first day!
Renting an extremely old and rusty bicycle from my guesthouse owner, I set off in the early morning to explore Don Det, as well as the neighbouring Don Khon to the south.
I was alone for much of the journey – on a road that seemed to stretch for miles ahead of me, there was not a single person in sight. The only sounds were my groaning and panting as I struggled to ride for more than 5 minutes at a time in the dry, dusty heat.
Reaching a crossroad, I decided to take the path leading to the “beach”. After racing down a small slope, I was greeted by a stretch of sand dunes lying before me. A single small bar could be found at the edge, offering ice cold beer and a couple of hammocks to lie in.
As I reached the water’s edge, I noticed I wasn’t entirely alone. Several children were shrieking and splashing in the water, a man stood in the distance, attempting to catch fish by hand, an elderly lady in the foreground washing her clothes in the Mekong. It was so delightfully foreign and I could have spent all day there.
After a beer and a nap, I was back on my bike again. Reaching the crossroads once more, I decided to head in the opposite direction: towards the waterfalls.
Feeling unimpressed by the waterfalls that were more like a river, I decided I had done enough exploring for the day (and the week), and raced back to my bungalow to have a well-deserved nap. I napped a lot on Don Det.
I stayed on Don Det for five more days and I could have stayed a lot longer. Despite preparing myself to be offline for a week, I was excited to find that much of the restaurants now offer wifi.
I spent most of my afternoons hanging out on this restaurant’s balcony, getting some writing done, drinking a hundred mango shakes and watching the adorable children playing in the Mekong.
When I wasn’t spending hours trying to get pages to load with the slow and painful internet, I was lying in my hammock, enjoying having the silence broken every few minutes by a longtail noisily chugging past.
My favourite time of the day on Don Det was early morning.
Awakening every day to the sounds of laughing children bathing in the river, I’d force myself out of bed and onto my balcony where I’d watch the island slowly begin to wake up. I’d laugh as I watched my guesthouse owner washing her plates in the river, realising why I’d been so sick over the past few days, and then cringe as I watched her begin to brush her teeth with the water.
This was the final photo I took on Don Det. I needed to catch an early morning bus to Siem Reap and as I checked out of my bungalow, I glanced across the river to see this spectacular sunrise.
I was really going to miss this place.
Don Det was the most peaceful and chilled out place I visited in Southeast Asia, which is saying a lot! it’s the perfect place to come if you’re burnt out from travelling and in desperate need of some relaxation.