Si Phan Don: Don Khong, Don Khon & Don Det, Laos
Initial Thoughts: The 4000 islands of Si Phan Don are known for having a relaxed pace of life. I first noticed this laid back attitude upon arrival to Don Khong. We’d been dropped off outside an unstaffed, barebones tourist office. As we began to look around, a young man ambled over from a nearby restaurant and waved an arm in the general direction of the village. Along the one and only road, we soon found a handful of family-run guesthouses that offered affordable rooms and simple restaurants on wooden decks that overlooked the river. Everywhere the staff reclined on chairs in the sun waiting for clients to arrive should the universe present them. Hours of operation were fluid, price lists were rare, paperwork was nonexistent. Clearly, these islands were a place to wile away the day in a hammock watching the river flow by below. For the ambitious there were long walks to be taken, sunsets to be watched, waterfalls to be photographed and beers to be drunk.
Best Moment: After a few relaxing days lounging on Don Khong my friends and I get up the enthusiasm to explore the island from tip to tip. After dismissing the idea of bicycles due to distance and extreme heat, we rented motorbikes. I was a bit hesitant to drive one but since motorbikes are a major form of transportation in Southeast Asia, I figured I needed to learn eventually. Don Khong was an ideal place to learn as it has only one main road which circumnavigates the island so there are few corners, little possibility of getting lost and absolutely no traffic lights. However, with the 4000 islands being what they are, the only place to rent a motorbike was from the back of the convenience store. Without a license, without any experience and without signing a single thing, I was handed a set of keys and (after begging them to find me one) a helmet. Once I shakily started the bike and got rolling I realized that it had no working speedometer, no gas gauge, no signal lights! Luckily for me on a completely flat island with no speed limit those things didn’t really seem to matter. We travelled throughout the island and stopped for countless photos. We passed fields filled with water buffalo slowly munching on the rice stalks. We stopped at empty beaches for refreshing swims. We ate unknown dishes at tiny roadside restaurants. I gained my confidence on a motorbike and learned to love the freedom that comes with Southeast Asia’s favourite form of travel.
Take Away: On the small islands of Si Phan Don, the villagers know each other well and informally cooperate to run the guesthouses, restaurants and shops that cater to visitors. In these communities there is very little separation between personal and private. Instead of living rooms families gather on porches. Restaurant restrooms often double as the family’s main bathroom. Children and animals seem to come and go, unmonitored and unclaimed. I found this extremely disconcerting at first. I am a fairly private person and an introvert at heart. Being immersed in a society without personal boundaries made me feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t imagine having strangers routinely walking through my bathroom with my toothbrush on display! But slowly over my weeks in Laos, I came to appreciate and respect this style of communal living. In the west, as our lives become more insular, we are slowly being cut off from our neighbours, our families, our communities. Spending time in the communal villages of Si Phan Don, I began to more fully appreciate the value of that essential human connection.
You can see more photos of my time in Si Phan Don on the Global Locavore Facebook page!
Now It’s Your Turn: Visiting Laos is as easy as buying a Laos Lonely Planet and booking your ticket! Ok, there might be one or two steps afterwards, but truthfully that’s pretty much what I did!
A recent addition of a country specific Lonely Planet has been my best travel companion. It contains information about visas & border crossings, accommodations & local food choices, intercountry transportations methods and tons of activities. I never travel without one and wholeheartedly recommend buying one before visiting a country for the first time.