Don Det: sunsets and chill in Laos

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There’s a place in Laos where the concept of time just stops. There are no minutes, no hours, only days or weeks that blur together in a haze of tranquility, lazing around, and brilliant sunsets.Don Det, one of the 4,000 islands  (Si Phan Don) dotted through the Mekong River in the south of Laos, used to be a pretty well-kept secret amongst more intrepid travellers as the place to get away from it all.

While times have changed and a definite backpacker vibe exists these days as more travellers discover it, this little island paradise has thankfully still retained its chill factor and beauty.

It took us two uncomfortable overnight bus trips and a longboat ride to get from Luang Prabang in the North down to the island, but it was every kind of ‘worth it’ imaginable once we finally arrived - particularly as we were still on our way to a full recovery after being sick.

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The island itself is a mix of gorgeous little riverside bungalows and restaurant/bars overlooking the Mekong, a quaint little rural vibe coupled with the feel of a life lived along the river with the constant movement of fisherman and boats throughout the day.

Most accommodation is found scattered on either the sunset or sunrise sides of the island, for obvious reasons. We chose to stay on the busier sunset side of the island because, well, do you really need a reason when there are sunsets involved?

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This is the first of two things you need to know about Don Det: the sundowns are ridiculously on point. We’re talking a glorious, streak the whole sky with colour kinda deal, every day. The sunset side of the island is also cooler during the day too, a definite bonus.

The second thing you need to know about Don Det is that you’re not really supposed to do anything while you’re here except chill. Seriously, the whole reason you come to this little island hideaway is to laze about in a hammock reading or hang out on cushions on the floor of a restaurant with some friends occasionally ordering a Beerlao and some tasty food.

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We broke this last rule on two occasions (we’re not very good at sitting still): 1) when we hired a bike and cycled around the island for a couple of hours (which we highly recommend) and 2) when we booked a full day kayaking tour with Mr Mo's Guesthouse that took in the impressive Khone Papheng waterfall, a trip to the Cambodian/Laos border, and the chance to witness the incredibly rare Irrawaddy Dolphin in its natural habitat. Winning.

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If you're looking to break some more of the rules of chill yourself (or just to raise your heartrate to a normal level again), you can also hire a tube and float down the Mekong - though we did witness a snake swimming across the river, so be wary!

On the topic of rule breaking, the relaxed feel of the island could have a great deal to do with the fact that almost all food and fruit shakes can be turned into ‘happy’ versions (ie. infused with marijuana, ganja, weed, pot, for those playing at home).

We didn’t partake in this ourselves as it’s not really our thing (no judgement if it’s yours!), but it definitely seemed to hold a magical appeal to the groups we saw partake, then become quieter and quieter until they slipped into afternoon dreams in their hammocks.

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Don Det is the kind of place that draws you in and gently envelops you with its paradise promises. In fact, we met many a traveller there who planned to only spend 3 days and were instead beginning their second or third weeks with no signs of departure on the horizon.

And all of them agreed: the beauty, peaceful vibe, and syrupy slow pace of Don Det makes it a pretty special place.


What's the most chilled out place you've visited in your travels? Share your experiences in the comments below! 


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