Been there... DON DET!
What can we say about Don Det? It was the last stop on our Laos adventure before making our way to Cambodia. We spent one night here but easily could have spent 4-5. Don Det is a backpacking utopia located in the south of Laos, part of the strange yet beautiful 4000 Islands archipelago on the Mekong Delta.
Upon arrival we were instantly immersed into a lovely mix of riverside bungalows and restaurants overlooking the Mekong mixed with quaint rural homes where locals go about their day. As we were only here for 1 night, we made the most of it by exploring the main island by foot and getting a good feel for the place. As hot as it was, the island is stunning – filled with great places to chill in a hammock, drink some beer Lao or eat some amazing food, we were spoilt for choice.
We are staying in Lebijou Guesthouse, which is just fine. At $17USD a night for a double with A/C and private bathroom you can’t complain but there are no frills at this one, it is simply just a room and we saw many more which looked nicer, even a couple with a pool!!
We had some brill fruit salads, shakes, took many pictures before stumbling across Adam’s bar, a local spot where you can buy great food and drinks and happy shakes and weed if that’s what you like 😊 I had a coffee shake and watched the world go by in a beautiful cuddle puddle atmosphere to escape the midday sun
In the evening we were welcomed by a beautiful sunset – one of the best in South East Asia before spending the evening more amazing Lao food. Tomorrow we will leave Lao to head to Cambodia – on of my favourite countries and I am really looking forward to seeing how it has changed over the last few years.
We have been pleasantly surprised with Pakse, as much as we are only here for 1 night, we have managed to pack a whole load in, and it’s been really enjoyable. Situated about 4 hours south of Savanakhet , Pakse is the capital of Champasak Province in southern Laos. Its name means mouth of the river, and it’s located on a peninsula between the Mekong and Xe Don.
The first stop on our itinerary today was to visit the incredible Bolaven Plateau which is one of the main reasons that many visitors even find themselves in Pakse. It’s about a 40minute drive and it was roasting hot so being told we could swim in the waterfall when we arrived was beyond brilliant! It is made up of a large plateau that is covered in rivers, majestic jungle and cascading waterfalls and we stopped at one of the largest for an icy cold swim and some group piccies while enjoying the sunshine!
From there we visited a smaller coffee and tea farm located about 5 minutes away where we were able to sample local teas and I had the best fat white of my life. FINALLY, a good coffee in Laos! It was wonderful. They even had Kopi Luwak coffee…the most expensive coffee in the world. The price for a single cup of luwak coffee runs $ 35 to $80 and a one pound bag of beans costs $100 to $600 – mostly because the process involves it being shit out by the civet cat. Rare but even as a coffee lover I wouldn’t go near it.
For sunset we packed a lot in as we went to visit the Golden Buddha. Up a huge hill across the Mekong from downtown Pakse sits a giant golden Buddha at Wat Phou Salao. We took the road but passed many locals getting in their 10,000 steps and walking up. It is beautiful up there are had great views of the Japanese friendship bridge.
We finished the evening Check out the happy hour at the rooftop bar of the Pakse Hotel and Restaurant. La Panorama has two-for-one cocktails and the most gorgeous views of the sunset.
Vientiane & Kong lor
This post will be chatting a little about Vientiane but mostly about Kong Lor – our destination after we left Vientiane as we were only there for 1 night. Vientiane, despite being the capital and largest city of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, there's not a whole lot to do. We stopped along the way to visit a few beautiful temples, as well as the Lao version of the Arc De Triomphe which was a less busy, slightly less impressive version of the infamous French monument. Overall, we are glad it was only a 1 night stay, but our accommodation at SYRI Boutique was actually ace…especially as we were upgraded to a 1 bed suite equipped with projector screen!
From Vientiane, we drove about 6 hours to Kong Lor, a small village situated in the countryside in Southern Laos. Over 500 families live here but to be honest you wouldn’t be able to tell as it is a ghost town. It is becoming famous for the Konglor Cave and has a number of homestays, a few guesthouses which have their own onsite restaurant. We are staying in Thongdam Guesthouse and it is brilliant! We have our own Bungalow, with hammocks, balcony and nestled into the surrounding hills. It is costing us 80000kip per night so less than $15NZD – it’s great and we have no complaints at all!
Vang Vieng is one of those towns that you read about in blogs and news articles as a backpacker metropolis with a plethora of activities, bars, restaurants and fantastic vibe, easy to spend a few days. Quite honestly, we were a little disappointed. As much as Vang Vieng could have been and maybe in the past was this bustling party town, now it seems a little run down, and filled with cheap booze and drugs mixed with a corrupt policing system that puts all tourists a little on edge.
However, we were here for 2 nights so gotta make the most of it, and we did. We arrived and checked into Galaxy hotel, which for $33NZD per night was pretty good. We have a tv. (albeit with 100 Thai and Laos channels), a balcony, A/C and a private bathroom…ok, it’s actually great. There are much cheaper places in town but for what It’s worth we like it.
On our first afternoon we walked around the town checking out what makes this riverside town special…and that’s just it, it’s the Nam song river and the tall limestone mountains that surround the town. From a distance it’s truly picturesque…then up close it’s a little manky. This could be due to it’s disastrous past when inner tubing down the river gripping bucketful’s of vodka became the thing to do in Vang Vieng. Only a few years ago bars along the river offered unlimited alcohol to go with dangerous zip lines and waterslides. Western kids, many from nearby Australia, got drunk AF, and dozens lost their lives. Since then the Laos government has been working hard to close these down and make it a safer place, unfortunately with unlimited free booze in 2 bars from 8-9PM corrupt police and numerous outlets to buy drugs, I found there was some polishing still needed to make this town the gem it could be.
The sunset here is beautiful mind you and we managed to nag a spot at a cool river bar to watch it on the first night deciding what activity to do the following day. As we are pretty tight on cash and spoilt as we have done pretty much all adventure activities we decided that hiking the mountains would be the way to go.
What a beautiful, and I mean beautiful city. Lonely planet describes this UNESCO world heritage site to slow your pulse and awaken your imagination with its combination of world-class comfort and spiritual nourishment. Sitting at the sacred confluence of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan (Khan River), nowhere else can lay claim to this Unesco-protected gem's romance of 33 gilded wats, saffron-clad monks, faded Indochinese villas and exquisite fusion cuisine. Quite a mouthful, hey?
Well LP isn’t wrong and within the 48 hours of being here we walked, sampled many amazing foods in the markets, and ventured to the most infamous activity near the region – Kuang Si Falls. We really recommend checking out both the night and the morning markets while here as well as the temples doted around the city. We stayed in a nice hostel called ‘Little freedom friendly’s place’ for $20NZD a night for double private with bathroom and one of the best breakfasts we have had – so big!
The highlight for us however, was the Kuang Si Waterfall and we got a private taxi for 70,000KIP pp including the entrance fee so overall it cost about $13NZD pp – it is worth it!
So, a little bit about the falls:
Location | 29km south of Luang Prabang, Laos
Kuang Si Falls height | 50m drop
Kuang Si opening hours | Open every day from 8am until 5.30pm
Kuang Si entrance fee | 20,000 kip
Hiking time from bottom to top | around 15-20 min (40-60min return trip)
Visiting these falls was somewhat breath-taking and as much as it is very touristy we never once felt it was overcrowded. We were able to swim in the incredible turquoise waters of the pools, and hike to the top for beautiful views of the surrounding lush green countryside. We spent about 3 hours there and it was enough to explore the area as well as the bear sanctuary which in a non profit organisation relying on donations at the bottom gate.
OH TIP** On the way back -ask your driver to stop at the buffalo ice cream factory where you can try buffalo milk ice-cream – it’s expensive at 15000kip per scoop but after the hike and swim, it is much needed. We had the lemongrass and ginger and it was YUMMMMSO!
So, I am writing this from the boat on day 2 of our Mekong river adventure. We left at 9am yesterday morning to embark on what I felt a little daunting, 8-hour sail down the river on a slow boat to reach our accommodation for the night xxx homestay. I think for my overactive monkey mind when I was told 8 hours originally, I panicked as I know I overanalyse every detail and felt a little uncomfortable being confined for this amount of time…however, my mind has been changed completely. This past 2 days have been simply wonderful and such a unique experience I cannot recommend it enough.
From leaving the town of Houay Xai we cruised down the Mekong taking in the peaceful sights along the way including swimming buffalo, local fisherman, children swimming along the banks of the river and various birdlife flying past along the way. At midday we were welcomed to a fantastic buffet lunch with 5 different Lao dishes, fresh fruits and a help yourself tea and coffee station. The weather by lunch time was beautifully sunny, so we moved the roof and turned one of the areas into a sundeck where we could bask in the midday heat and chit chat about our lives and adventures.
Around 4pm we arrived at the homestay and to be honest time flew by, this may have been from all the interesting conversation we had through the day or the fact that the boat has beer Lao so we made our arvo a pretty social, boozy type of event. Upon arrival we hopped into our swimmers and despite the river being freezing cold, all (bar 1) jumped into this river to refresh before dinner. Dinner, like lunch was incredible and I think today I may have eaten more in 1 day than I usually eat in 3… tbh not a single fuck given as it was just too good…and when else will I do this again?
This special Lao 'Baci' ceremony takes place after dinner in the village hall. It consists of prayer, drinking Lao whiskey, and the people of the village tying 32 cotton bracelets (representing the 32 components of your soul) around your wrist. The ritual is thought to protect you, bring you good luck and health, and leave a small piece of you wherever you go in your travels.
Now, the homestay itself, as there are only 6 of us in the group we were split into 2 separate local houses separating the girls and boys and shown where we would sleep – essentially a small cuddle puddle on the floor with some fleecy blankets and a pillow each surrounded by a mosquito net. It was actually perfect, but we were warned it would not be comfortable.
Hey! I'm Ally. I left the UK in 2011 to move overseas and ended up in New Zealand - my new home. This year we are taking a gap year to loop the world stopping in some AMAZING destinations - and I'm passionate about sharing these adventures with you!