Don Det Islands: A Paradise – Sept. to Oct. 2005

Don Det Islands: A Paradise

We spent one deliciously relaxing week at Don Det, one of a group of many islands named “4000 Islands” less than 30 km. from the Cambodian border. We chose a bungalow that had a balcony and two hammocks overlooking the Mekong River – all for the grand sum of $1.50/night.

We spent a good 5 ½ days trying to erase the last vestiges of Cambodia from our bikes, our bags, and our clothing. We finished with a micro-cleaning of the bikes and an in-depth repair job with help from Gordon, the local Kiwi who was also a bike mechanic. We were happy to find that our bikes had survived Cambodia!

Although we had a lot of work to do, Don Det was the perfect place to do it. It was the most relaxing place in the world. Overlooking the fast-flowing river, it was perfectly silent and calm. We were there during the low season, so there were very few tourists on the island. Apparently, it was completely quiet only 8 years ago, when the first half-dozen tourists came to the island and all shared the same bungalow (the only room for rent on the entire island). We were told that there were about 25 tourists on the islands when we were there and that it held up to 500 during the high season! We were lucky to have come when we did. It was to perfect place to de-stress after Cambodia.

Everyone was unbelievably friendly – the locals and tourists alike. We met Vincent and Magali, a French couple who had taken the trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia, then visited China, where they bought two bikes and biked south to Vietnam and Laos. They had taken up bikes while already on the road!!! Stephane and Vincent compared notes and maps while Magali and I shared in a lot of laughs and the delicious chocolate cake made by Oy, the local Aussi who came around every afternoon selling his cake and doughnuts baked over a wood fire. If I was craving chocolate because we hadn’t eaten it in a long while, the locals had never before even seen chocolate! One local woman, the wife of a Belgian, had taken to eating the chocolate cake every day, until her husband told her that their baby (she was pregnant) would turn dark brown if she didn’t stop!

The two islands of Don Det and Don Khon (connected by a bridge) are really beautiful. Life is very simple and rustic. People live in small houses similar to those found in Thailand and Cambodia. The rice, which we saw being planted in Cambodia, had had the time to grow waist-high. Few people lived in the interior of the islands; most lived on the water’s edge. Although the waterfalls on Don’t Det weren’t as large as the Khone Pha Pheng Falls, they were still very impressive. The whole area was gorgeous, and the view of the lush green mountains on the other side of the river from “the beach” was spectacular.

The islands were supremely quiet; there were no cars, and no roads, even. There was no electricity or running water – only a couple of generators that a few people ran for a couple of hours a day. When it was dark, it was very dark. The enormous trees on the islands on the other side of the river looked like big, black mountains. People went to bed with the sun and rose with the sun. The only sound was the sound of a few fishing boats sputtering to life in the wee hours of the morning.