Saturday 9th December 2023 – Don Det
We left Kratie at 7am on a van that was, surprisingly, in good condition. I had been a bit apprehensive on the border crossing, as reviews were very negative in Google. Tourists even called it the most corrupted border ever! One of their complaint was that the Laos eVisa was not recognised at this border. However, checking in the eVisa page of the Laos website, it listed very clearly which borders accept the eVisa, and this one is not one of them! Furthermore, you have to tell which border, of the 8 listed, you will use your eVisa, so it should be idiot proof. I guess some tourists are a mix of oblivious and completely dumb.
Exit from Thailand was easy and fast. No fees to pay. Once our passport stamped, we walked to the Laos side. I must say the border was big and … completely empty. Only a couple of other tourists and the staff in their offices. The most quiet border ever. No touts, local fixers, translators, opportunists and hundreds of random people who usually populate borders in places like Africa or Central America.
At the Laos counter we paid our visa fee, 40 USD, which was clearly posted and also, shock and horror, a 2 USD fee. I could not believe the amount of bitching and moaning about those 2 dollars in the online reviews! Some were saying it was illegal, people having fights with the border officials ( never a good idea!) ….. Obviously, those people have never crossed a border in Africa where after paying for visa, local tax, road tax, carbon tax and other taxes, we would often be down 150 dollars each! That was back in 2018, I don’t think it would be any cheaper now!
Our border crossing was one of the easiest and fastest ever. Then we met immediately with the van going to Don Det, or precisely, the ferry terminal to catch the ferry. I write ferry in a very loose term…. More like local long boats transporting anything and anyone, anytime.
A large group of tourists was waiting for the “ferry” when we got there. Initially, with the usual laid back and unorganised Laos style, long discussions ensued at to which of the tiny boats could cram the tourists in. None was the very obvious answer as they were too small and we were about 20 or 25.
Eventually a long boat that had been there all the time was selected. All that took a while. Finally we all piled on the boat, made a huge pile of luggage at the front and off we went.
Luckily no backpack or suitcase fell on the water!
Our group even included what we thought must be a group of Chinese influencers, cute puppy in tow, constantly filming themselves, pouting for the camera, wearing the most “fashion victims” clothes. It provided entertainment during the crossing I guess.
Don Det is a small island on the Mekong. The area is called the 4000 islands. The Mekong in that region is very wide and indeed there are many islands. The main village in the island is nicely geared for tourism but manage also to remain a place where people live, farm, fish and generally live their lives, whether the tourists are there or not. It is very laid back, friendly and pleasant.
During our week stay we explored the island on bicycles. We took a scooter to explore the next bigger island, linked to Don Det by a bridge, visiting local waterfalls. No one, either for the bicycle or scooter, asked for our names, ID, hotel name, or even took a deposit. I guess there is little risk of the bike disappearing in the island!
We also took a kayak tour. The way up the river we were on a long boat, with our kayaks, as the currents can be very strong. Along the way our boat broke down and by the time we started paddling to get near a Sandy island to get on our kayak, the engine restarted so we started our kayaking at the right place, I suppose, but a bit late.
We finally got on the kayaks and it was really nice to go down the enormous river. The currents are strong in some places and it is also very disorientating to find our way as there are so many islands and it is extremely wide, it can be like a maze. We had a guide, by that I mean a lad who spoke zero english.
After a while we saw a beach on a large island, with some boats and people swimming. We got there, through very strong currents. Even a low level this river can be very treacherous if you are not local. We stopped and had a swim. The water was very shallow there, but suddenly there was a big drop and you would loose your footing while at the same time being caught in the current. We decided to stay in the shallow water. I am a strong swimmer but did not fancy my luck of being able to swim back to shore if I got into the deep end.
Our stay in Don Det was idyllic. Early evening we would walk to the west side bars of the village, to have a drink and admire the sunset, watch the fishermen, the locals swimming and the spectacular view over the mighty Mekong.
Sadly, the rare river Irrawaddy dolphins that lived around are gone and less than 300 of them remain in the world. Some in Cambodia, few in Myanmar and maybe a handful in Indonesia, according to WWF page.
The village offered a big variety of food and the French influence means lots of baguettes! Funny enough, most tourists seem to be French! Again!
Don Det has been a fantastic introduction to Laos and a place not to miss if you come as a tourist.
Next: Off to explore Laos countryside on scooters!