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 Lao life proceeds much as it must have done a century ago, save for the addition of a few motorised tractors.
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. In recent times there has been some progress with the building of some concrete houses, but it's still a place with a great deal of authenticity. There are a few beautiful wats and some small, pre-Angkorian ruins, but the main attraction is simply the atmosphere.
Until recently, the only accommodation available has been a small 'community lodge' and homestays with local families, with only a trickle of tourists coming to pay a visit. Now there is a luxury resort on the island, La Folie Lodge, which seemed totally devoid of customers when we visited. The community lodge costs 30,000 kip a night, the same as a homestay with a local family, plus about 20,000 kip per meal.
You can visit Don Daeng on a daytrip or stay in the community lodge or in one of the local homes, but it's probably best to make arrangements for overnight stays in advance. Call Mr Kham on (020) 5527 5277.
Highly recommended for a taste of real Lao life, and given the cautious pace of development as a tourist destination, Don Daeng is likely to keep its local flavour for many years to come.
How to get there
Don Daeng 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 fixed at 40,000 kip each way per boat to Champasak and less to Ban Muang, where the boatmen haven't cottoned onto the fact that it's possible to charge foreigners a little more.
You can bring a motorcycle to the island (a handful of locals use them as well) and you'll need one if you place to traverse the entire length and breadth of the island, given that it's a good 12 kilometres long. You'll find that buzzing around on a motorised vehicle though is completely out of sync with the experience the island has to offer – rent bicycles in Champasak or at the Community Lodge instead, or explore by foot. You definitely won't be in a rush to get anywhere.
Getting to Um Tomo from the island is a bit of a hassle and it's better to organise this from the Champasak side of the river or at the very northern end of the island, where you're more likely to find a boatman.
By Adam Poskitt
Last updated on 23rd June, 2013.