Referred to by some as Khao San Road on the river, Don Dhet is a classic backpacker hub with just a fraction of the shenanigans that take place on Khao San Road. Now well-established on the backpacker trail through Laos, the number and quality of rooms on Don Dhet continues to climb steadily. The scenery is indeed beautiful and the ambience very relaxed, but Laos this is not. Anyone who tells you differently has eaten too many banana pancakes.
If you're on the way here expecting to experience the local culture, prepare to be very, very disappointed. If, on the other hand, all you want to do is relax in a hammock for a week (or a month), meet and talk to travellers and eat traveller food then you're in the right place.
Certainly it's a beautiful area, with daily sunsets and sunrises equally stunning and a wealth of activities on offer – hiking to waterfalls, taking boat or cycling trips, general hiking, camping and extended hammock laying. You could busy yourself here for days or weeks.
You can easily visit nearby Don Khon by crossing the French Bridge, where there are great waterfalls, rusty trains, and the occasional glimpse of an Irrawaddy dolphin.
Electricity arrived in Don Dhet just a few years back and all rooms now at least have a light and a fan. And the fan you will absolutely need as most rooms are extremely stuffy due to the intense heat of the day, which doesn't seem to go away overnight. Especially now that most bungalows come with tin roofs, which compound the issue of the heat. Particularly brutal are the sunrise bungalows in the early morning and the sunset bungalows from about 15:00 onwards.
When we previously visited Don Dhet, rooms were still available for $1 per night. Now, the cheapest you will find is around the $3 per night mark or a little higher, depending on the season. And even these rooms are difficult to find and are extremely basic -- more like camping than staying in a room.
Most bungalows these days are moving toward private bathrooms, but there are still plenty around that share facilities. Overwhelmingly, we found that those with shared facilities offered fairly poor value as they were often priced similarly to those places with private bathrooms.
The accommodation on Don Dhet runs along three sides of the island: the northwest side (sunset side), the northeast side (sunrise side) and the southeast side (facing Don Khon).
For some, this is what travelling is all about. Relaxing by the river, living cheaply and meeting new friends. For others, it's exactly the opposite of what they are looking for. It all depends on what you want from your journey and only you can be the judge of whether this place is a good one or not.
By Adam Poskitt.