4000 Islands really sounds like something else doesn’t it? Are there actually 4000 islands in Don Det? We wanted to find out what all the fuss was about as we settled in for the mammoth trek South from Luang Prabang to get there.
3 mini buses, an overnight sleeper coach and lastly a packed long tail boat was an experience in itself. “Are we there yet?” jokes wore thin quickly but we knew it was all part of the fun, “We’ll get there in about 3 weeks”.
Staff at the Vientiane bus depot did nothing whatsoever to help us find the right sleeper for the overnight bit of the journey and other bemused travellers around us were having exactly the same luck “Our ticket says it departs at 7, it’s 830 now .. it still isn’t here”. We walked round in circles for ages, feeling hopeless and dreading a night on the depot floor.
But of course we found the bus in the end and our aggravation turned to excitement as we boarded “Finally! Yes!”. We shared beds on one level and were glad we were next to each other and not shacked up all cosy n sweet n all with a local!
We all popped sleeping pills (normal procedure for many travellers in SE Asia – anything to avoid drivers ‘skills’ in the night).
We wished each other a great kip ahead “See you in the morning guys!”. Out like a light, all 4 of us woke as the bus ground to a halt the next day. Feeling dazed but buzzing we were shunted onto yet another mini bus, where we met again with “mental” Irish Coilin Farrell from Vang Vieng. Finally it was the last leg on the long tail boat “hope our bags don’t fall off the front!”, we chugged onwards to our final destination.
Don Det immediately struck me as remote and peaceful, wooden shacks lining what you would describe as the “Main Street”, it was basically a mud track up the middle of the island with a little shop on the right of the beach you arrive at, some rusty bikes for hire and not much else. I remember saying ”Wow! I love it here” as my feet touched the dusty floor outside the shop. Don Det was barren and beautiful.
We found a place that brought a new friend – well it found us, ”Mr B” was craftily waiting for the boat’s arrival as we ground to a halt on the shore. He charmed us and we wanted to see his place that “overlooked sunset”.
”Mr B’s” bungalows not only overlooked the river, came complete with hammocks, a jetty to jump off and a chill out area to do what the hell we liked with Lion King Whiskey … it came with a bearded Englishman. Introducing James, an addition to our group who felt like he’d always been with us.
– That first day we found ”Adams Bar”, run by two British brothers, this was the ultimate chill out place. Fellow backpackers smoked, drank “the only cider imported from Somerset in the whole of Asia”, smoked more and lazed about watching films. My diary entry for that day says ”Watched Human Traffic, Gravity and Pineapple Express”. The day drifted away easily, it was perfect after the long journey down.
– That night I went back to the room early feeling ill and woke up in the middle of the night to find a weird local man pretty much sitting on my pillow! The room was pitch black and I only realised when I turned the light on that it wasn’t one of my friends who wouldn’t move when I repeatedly told them to “You’re annoying me now, get off my bed!”.
Our bungalow was off the main track of the island, you had to cross a little field to get to it .. he’d followed us there.
The scream that came out of me as I turned on the light was like no other sound I’ve heard from my body before or since, it was hands down the most frightening time of my life on the road.
We got him out of the room only for him to try and return through the back door about an hour later. It was really creepy and made me realise how vulnerable you can be on the road.
If I hadn’t of woken I dread to think what may have happened. Lesson learnt; always lock your door (both doors!) always!!
– Crisis averted, the next thing to concentrate on was saying bye to Sina. She left the next day, it was rubbish waving her off but we were excited for what was to come next for her. We had a big breakfast with a cafe cat as a our table buddy and wished her all the luck in the world as her trip went on to Cambodia.
– We decided to explore the island by bike for the day and perfectly timed, Morten and Soren arrived just as we were off to hire some rusty companions “let’s wait for the boys!”. We pretty much had to carry our bikes at points as they were close to falling apart but we managed to cross over to Don Det’s sister island to check out the amazing waterfalls of Don Khon. It’s the biggest fall in South East Asia, it was impressive “no we can’t swim in it, unless you wanna die?”.
It was a memorable day of fun and freedom. We found a bar by the falls, played pool, ate, drank, chatted and then all fell asleep together on cushions around our little table overlooking the water. That was the only time on my whole travels that I had a sleep like that with everyone, by accident we just drifted off, we were so relaxed in each others company, from that moment on our friendship was set in snooze!
– Don Det is known for its bonfires on the beach and we made the most of them, “Ben’s rapping along with that guy and his didgeridoo!”. We also made the most of the chill out spot back at our bungalow, “let’s play Kings”. We got absolutely smashed on Lion King Whisky. It was so, so cheap and it went down so very well with coke!
Irene became affectionately known as “Ian” and Morten became “DJ Morten”. “Morten put some more music on!” was heard often within our little group. Hilltop Hoods and Ben rapping whenever he felt like it (or whenever we told him to “rap Ben! Go!”) became the soundtrack of our 4000 Islands time.
The first night the boys were there the “Dream Team” was born, cliché and often said among groups of travellers I’m sure but that’s what we felt we were, everything just clicked, we had the best fun, laughing constantly, all completely at ease with each other .. we really were just living the dream on that little paradise island.
– We saw signs on the island for “tubing” and imagined it to be bonkers like Vang Vieng, “let’s go!”. It was the complete opposite of the multiple bars, shots and drunk stops of VV but it was such a good day. We meandered down the river twice, staying together as a group by catching our feet under each other’s tubes. “We need to get out here unless you wanna keep going and end up in the waterfall .. unless you wanna die?”.
Some Don Det must do’s;
– Visit the Zombie nation; The Reggae Bar was a collective group of the most stoned people I have ever met in my life! We ordered food there one night and it came out about an hour late and with 3/4 of the order mixed up/ missing. Staff so mong’d they couldn’t talk, what a delightful part of Don Det! The way that place is run has to be seen to be believed!
– The Jasmine curry house on Don Det is unreal, the boys ate there a couple of times and we had a big group meal there one night with us and some others staying at Mr B’s. It was amazing! Such good value, so much choice, the layout of the place is super-basic but the food is just super!!
– The Adams Bar brothers run a shop were you can get all the music / films etc that you could possibly want to put onto your laptop/ iPad etc. “I’ve just got 7 films for $10”.
It’s an absolute must-visit to keep supplies for when you’re in transit on the road. That was some of the best cash I spent in Asia – I wished I had loaded more than 7 films after I left!
It’s hard to capture the feeling I know we all felt when we were together on 4000 Islands. We managed to sink our Jetty behind our bungalows (sorry Mr B). We jumped off it and swam out to one of the other islands behind us, we turned the jetty into a hairdressers “girls please brush my hair for me, I’ve got dreadlocks”.
Me, Irene and Amy watched “Frozen” in our room one morning, the little simple things made us happy. We watched sunsets from our bungalow, we lazed in hammocks and watched the world drift by.
Don Det made me really appreciate friendship on the road, it was the biggest group I’d travelled in so far. A group of people who in other lives would never have even met spent days together like there was no tomorrow, it was a special few days.
Everyone left a day before me, I was going to go with them but I had plans to reunite with Jen again in Cambodia and then I saw an ad for an “Adams Bar beach party” and my mind was instantly swayed, I wasn’t going anywhere just yet!
I felt weird at the thought of being on my own again but it was an excited weird, I was in my third month away by this point, I knew I could do it all on my own again no matter how much I wished the gang was staying on to enjoy the fun by my side.
I remember waving everyone off as I had my tube around my waist ready for the beach party. It was a sad but quick goodbye to the Dream Team times “Love you! Be good!”.
The party boat was filling up quickly on the other side of the little beach that the gang were leaving from .. I bid them good times with a smile and turned towards the party boat, the party wouldn’t have itself, on I hopped! Let’s go, again!!
(We all separated on 16th March 2014)