Finding Paradise in Laos
Laos is a wild and wonderful country with so much to see but if you could only visit one place, head south to the island of Don Khon. It is situated in a remote archipelago in the majestic Mekong River know as "4000 Islands" located just north of the Cambodian Border. There are no flights or major cities anywhere nearby so it takes some effort to get there but holy crap is it worth it!
To get to Don Khon you will most likely take a longboat to the island of Don Det. Don Det is much more popular with the intrepid backpackers that make it to this region. It is youthful and a bit of a party place. If this is more your style then stay there. Don Khon is connected to Don Det by a bridge. It is the relaxed, more chill sister island of Don Det.
For me Don Khon is paradise. It is slow-paced and rustic and friendly. My daughter and I stayed in a 3 room guesthouse run by a lovely local family. It was simple, but immaculately clean and very comfortable. The spacious balcony of our room hung right over the river. We could sleep in hammocks outside or on the bed inside.
Let me tell you about sleeping in those hammocks! I don't think I've had many experiences that compare with this. At sunset the world goes quite. The villagers cook their dinner and are off to bed early. You can hear the animals calling and cooing as night darkens. With no light pollution the sky fills with an endless sea of stars that simply cannot be conveyed in words. Falling asleep with the lullaby of the river flowing right below me and the gentle swaying of my hammock was heavenly. Waking up to snow white egrets skimming the jade-smooth river was magical. One by one plumes of smoke rose up from the riverside huts as the islanders started their preparing their breakfasts. Sunrise turned the water golden and it was time to get out and find some good adventures.
As lazy and relaxed as I make this island sound, there is plenty of adventure to be had. We rented $2/day bikes and took every trail we could find. This island is famous for its waterfall but an old man who lived on the island told us not to pay the entrance fee and gave us directions to an even better waterfall hidden in the forest. It did not disappoint and we had it all to ourselves.
Be careful when swimming because the Mekong currents are very strong even if the water looks still. I found a few pools that the river branched into where the water was shallow and calm. There are also several dilapidated walking bridges going to some smaller islands. I waited until I saw someone local walking across before we risked these bridges and even then some of them were pretty freaky. We managed to see 5 of islands just on foot or by bike.
We had already seen the Irrawaddy Dolphins just days before in Cambodia but locals were offering tours to see them here as well. We did not take any of these tours so I cannot say how they are. There are only 92 of these rare freshwater dolphins left on earth spanning 3 countries. It would be worth going if the boaters turn off their engines as they approach their habitat and do not chase the dolphins.
I have travelled for over two decades, across 4 continent and this place is up there as one of my top favourite places on the planet. Don Khon feels like going back in time to a much simpler existence. Good food, long days exploring, beautiful nature, friendly people....what more can you ask for?