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Si Phan Don (4000 Islands)

August 6, 2012

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On a trip like this, talking to strangers and being social is key. However, by nature, I’m generally pretty anti-social except when I’m around my friends, and I generally dread meeting new people under any circumstances. Obviously, I can’t be an asshole to everyone all the time, but I can certainly try.

In 4,000 Islands, Laos, I generally ignored most every chance I had to make friends. I came onto Don Det island on a boat with four other people, two of which I’d met before in Vientiane, but when we arrived on the island I pretty much ditched them at my first opportunity. They seemed like nice enough people, and I’m sure I could have checked into the same guesthouse as them and hung out, but I bailed.

I didn’t want to tag along with them for fear of being pegged as “creepy.” In general, I spend so much time being paranoid about people thinking I’m a creep that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I went my own way, to find my own guesthouse. One of the first ones I checked out was run by this really energetic lady, and she said there was wifi in the restaurant. The current residents of the guesthouse spoke well of it. A couple was also looking at rooms with me, and they decided to stay there right away. I decided to keep looking, the bathroom wasn’t quite nice enough for the price, and plus, no in-room wifi. By leaving, I felt like I was alienating everyone in the room.

I found my own place further down the way. The bathroom was a little nicer, but there was no wifi at all for the same price as the first place. While waiting to see the room, a couple happened along, and they wanted to see it too. When the proprietor showed up, I called dibs on the room, and the couple slunk away.

If you are adding it up, there were now at least 11 people on Don Det island that would have thought unfavorably of me at this point, and I’d been in town for like 5 minutes.

The hotel that I rejected is between “town” and the place I took, so I passed by it several times a day. The lady who runs it was always smiley and nice and said hi. Meanwhile, at the hotel I did choose, the staff was almost never around, and my neighbors on either side were total weirdos.

To my left was the dreadlock couple. I always wonder about these couples. Mainly, when they originally met, did zero, one, or both of them have dreadlocks? I feel like I can’t properly judge them without knowing this, but I certainly didn’t want to have a conversation with them to find out.

To my right was a French woman and her two sons, only the two sons are way too old to be sharing a tiny bungalow with their mother. These bungalows are maybe 50 square feet with one bed, and I’d guess that these French kids are around 19 and 16.

Antisocial behavior aside, Don Det was a fine place to kill a few days. My bungalow was right on the river, complete with a hammock. A lot of the riverfront bars and restaurants had hammocks as well. It was indeed a lazy town. Oftentimes, some bars or restaurants would appear to be open, but the staff wouldn’t want to serve anyone, they were too busy lounging around. For such a lazy place, I ended up being pretty active.

On my first day in town, I took a walk around Don Det, the island I was staying on. On my second day, I rented a bicycle and rode to Don Khong, an adjacent island. The next day, my last, I went kayaking, which was more difficult than I’d imagined. I’m used to hiking and biking exercise, but I don’t get much upper-body work on the road, so paddling was a bit grueling, particularly upstream. However, seeing 3 or 4 extremely endangered Mekong Dolphins and a couple large waterfalls made the effort well worth it.

Don Det was my last stop in Laos. It lies at the very southern tip of the country, so close to Cambodia that we actually ate lunch on the Cambodian side of the river while kayaking.

On to the Pics!

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The boat ride to Don Det. Getting to Don Det from Pakse is easy, I took a minivan for 55,000 kip, which included the boat ride. It only takes a couple hours. Pakse, being a major transit hub, is easy to reach from Thailand, Vietnam, or anywhere in Laos. Be aware that there are no ATMs on Don Det, so stock up before you go.

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Outside of the small Don Det town, the island is very rural. Rice and veggies sold in restaurants in town are grown right here.

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This is the old French railroad bridge that connects Don Det to Don Khong. On the Don side, expect to pay 20,000 kip to access the waterfall, the beach, or pretty much anything.

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One of the large waterfalls nearby. The falls around here are the largest in Southeast Asia by volume. They also landlock Laos a bit more, as the Mekong is not navigable here to get to Cambodia.

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Pretty awesome caterpillar.

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Don Det town.

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More waterfall action. This is Khone Phapheng, the largest of these waterfalls.

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Kayaking the Mekong.

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