What we say:
This truly tranquil, beautiful island is located just off the shore of Champasak town, with about 2,000 inhabitants who make their living primarily through agriculture. It's part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that also encompasses Wat Phu and Um Tomo, and it constitutes nothing so much as a living museum, where rural Laotion life proceeds much as it must have done a hundred years ago.
The locals adhere to a very traditional lifestyle, living in wooden Laotian houses on stilts, raising chickens and water buffalo, gathering hay and planting rice. We found it to be one of the most remarkably authentic experiences of Laotian culture available along tourist trail, and well worth a visit. There are a few beautiful wats and some small, pre-Angkorian ruins, but the main attraction is the atmosphere.
It's a new site that is undergoing careful development, with an eye towards preserving the character of the island, while generating some income by attracting tourists. Thus far, the only housing has been a small 'community lodge' with 10 beds in two shared rooms, and home-stays with local families, and only a trickle of tourists have come to pay a visit. The lodge costs 20,000 kip a night, same as a home-stay with a local family, plus about 15,000 kip per meal. The tourist infrastructure here is still a work in progress -- ten bungalows housing two rooms each are being constructed on Ban Bang Sai, including a small swimming pool and restaurant, along a sandy stretch of beach on the Mekong river. Look for rooms to become available around the beginning of 2007, prices to be determined.
In the meantime, you can still visit on a day trip, and a stay in the community lodge or in one of the local homes. It's definitely not a place where you can just show up and find a room -- on our visit, there were no staff at the lodge and no one to talk to on the island itself about booking a room. Booking ahead is all-but essential, either through the Visitor's Center at Champasak or by calling the Provincial Tourism Authority in Pakse at (031) 212 021. Three-day, two-night, English-language tours can also be arranged, including a trip to Wat Phu and Um Tomo.
Be aware that the locals frown upon unmarried men and women sleeping alone in the same room, but since most of the current sleeping arrangements are in common rooms, this shouldn't be too much of a problem -- just be very respectful and accept whatever sleeping arrangements you're given. Highly recommended for a taste of real Laotian life, and given the cautious pace of development as a tourist destination, Don Deng is likely to keep its local flavour for many years to come.
More detailsJust across the river from Champasak
How to get there: Don Deng is only accessible by boat -- ask around at one of the boat piers, either on the Champasak or the Ban Muang side of the river. The price is pretty much fixed at 30,000 kip each way. You can bring a motorcycle to the island (a handful of locals use them as well) but you'll find that buzzing around on a motorized vehicle is completely out of sync with the experience the island has to offer. Rent bicycles in Champasak or at the Community Lodge, or explore by foot. You definitely won't be in a rush to get anywhere! Day trips on boats owned by the locals to Um Tomo depart from the southern tip of the island, prices vary from 20,000 to 50,000 kip each way depending who you deal with.
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