Had we been in Thailand or the South Pacific, the destination "The Four Thousand Islands" would perhaps mean crystal green waters, white sand beaches, palms and paradise. In land-locked Laos, however, you may find palms and a different kind of paradise, but The Four Thousand islands of southern Laos do not embody tropical beauty as the name may decievingly imply. During the drier seasons in Laos, the Mekong river allows its nearly "four thousand" tiny little "islands" to emerge from its basin to create, the area known as The Four Thousand Islands. During the wet season, and when the river is high and rapid, the islands are fewer, of course. Many of the islands are no more than people-sized lily pads, while others are larger, habitable destinations during the dry season. There were a few different islands frequented by tourists and written about in the trusty Lonely Planet- Don Det, with $1 bungalows and electricity provided only between 7 and 10 PM, and Don Kon, where the living was a bit less rustic. While in Tadlo, our friends Glen and Annie had told us what a great and mellow time they had had at "Mama Rasta's" in Don Det- that the vibe was extremely laid back, with many other backpackers and not much to do but sit in hammocks and jump from the front deck into the brown waters of the Mekong. We decided to heed their advice. With our new friend Anna, we were scammed into paying way too much for a small boat taxi from the mainland town, but decided that it was worth the $1.50 each to leave this particularly dirty and unpleasant place and get ourselves to Don Det. Again, I was not expecting anything close to paradise as I arrived at one of the Four Thousand Islands, but I was not expecting what I saw, either. The few restaurants and bungalows on the banks of Don Det seemed as though they were being gobbled up by the Mekong, some leaning sideways towards the river, and others falling forwards. It was not disheartening, just unexpected, and at once I knew we were in for a fine adventure in the southern islands of Laos.
Mama Rasta had only one bungalow left in her fine establishment, and we offered the room to our friend Anna and off we went to find ourselves another $1 accomodation.
It wasn't difficult to find, as the island is very tourist-oriented in its own special way. The farmers of the island seemed to all have bungalows for rent, and these bamboo structures were mainly settled along the river bank, next to the family's water buffalo, pigs and own living space. In this way the island offered quite a unique environment- waking to roosters perched on your porch in the morning, and the first being to say "good morning" to on your way to breakfast was the family of water buffalo chomping away on their grass next door. Bikes are the only means of transportation, and the roads are simply dirt paths and are shared by animals and humans alike.
The entire island runs on a a generator, and at night we would gather at Mama Rasta's and share a drink with our friend Anna and perhaps some other travelers, eat some coconut curry soup and listen to reggae that "Mama" wouild always have playing from her worn stereo. We'd find our way back to our bungalo at night with a dim headlamp, attempting to remember where the biggest piles of buffalo droppings were in the path.
Our days were spent riding bikes and exploring the island and nearby don Kon, where the Mekong breaks into a gushing brown waterfall. We bathed in the Mekong (after I got over my fear of feeling dirtier coming out than I did going in) when the bucket showers provide to us in the outhouse at our bungalow proved less enticiing.
Despite the rustic living, the ants under our barely-there mattress, buffalo poo outside our door, squat toilet outhouses and no showers, there was something really magical about our time on Don Det. It has been said that the further south you go in Laos, the lower your blood pressure drops. By the end of our only two days on Don Det, we understood completely.