If you have braved the way through southern Laos, you deserve Don Det. I never felt more at home. It was, hands down, the most authentic SE Asian place I ever visited. The villagers live in the same manner as the generations before them, with only the addition of a few rows of guesthouses. You share the same toilet facilities with your adopted family. All the tiny naked toddlers stare and wave at you - goggle eyed. And napping in hammock over the Mekong River is forever etched in my mind's eye.
Warning: The mosquitos are intense. After the sun falls, your flashlight is the only electric light for miles. No amount of deet can save you. I typically went to bed early, like the locals, seeking refuge under my mozzie net.
I stayed at: ponepasak guesthouse.
Don Det is my heaven. This tiny 1 x 2 kilometer island is charmingly sweet. One well-worn path loops the island, and renting a bicycle from a guesthouse is the best way to see things (although walking is the best way to make new friends, which you will). When I was there, I doubt there were a dozen other travellers, and those there were all very like-minded and open to the warmth and stories of the locals. Take a walk in any direction and any local in earshot will holler a "sabaidee!" your way, and a trail of little kids will creep behind you. I had one little guy in stitches when I started whistling - it cracked him up trying to mimic me. For some reason, I had John Denver's "Country Roads" stuck in my head during my stay, and I whistled it constantly. Mama at rasta cafe will win your heart, "you EEEAT! goooood! suh-peak lao!" which is your prompt to say something in lao. On the west side of the islands, at the aptly named "Sunset Cafe", you can have a Beer Lao and some fantastic food, served up with a sparkling show of reds and oranges burnt across the sky. Thomas and I biked over the bridge to Don Khon, where we found a guide to lead us to the Somphamit Falls (1.5 kilometers from the bridge). These falls are nothing like Kuang Si (Laos), Somphamit is thunderously powerful.
My home on don det was at phonepasak, run by the dynamite madame pihm and her precious family. She's a fabulous cook - ask for the delicious moc pa. One morning Mr. Pihm came in with twitching catfish hanging from his fingers, "Dinner!" he hollered and laughed. Madame Pimh steamed it for most of the day, wrapped in banana leaves, coconut and sweet seasonings... delicous. Stay any length of time and you'll feel like part of the family, eating at the table with kittens rolling around under the daughter's chair, and eating what's served not what you order. There were days I hardly left my hammock though, a good mafia book and some music, you hardly noticed time pass. As I was half-way through my trip, and I felt I'd earned some dedicated hammock-time. I could not have imagined or dreamed a better place on this planet. Even the mozzies couldn't dampen my joy!
...... Written in 2005 when I visited (travelogue & photos). God willing, life on Don Det hasn't changed much & hasn't been bombarded by the Bankok hippie-backpacker crush.....