Sail back in time
Published/Last edited or updated: 31st January, 2017
Across the Mekong river from Champasak and only accessible by boat, Don Daeng island will delight visitors with its bucolic scenery, languid pace and car-free pathways.
The island is part of the UNESCO World Heritage recognised “cultural landscape” that encompasses Wat Phu and Um Tomo. Ten villages and almost just as many temples dot its edges while the centre is largely given over to rice fields. Life here remains traditional and authentic, chiefly revolving around the river, rice and religion. It’s worth stopping at a couple of wats and the ancient stupa in the middle but the main attraction is simply the atmosphere.
A single bumpy trail follows the circumference of the island while a single road runs east-west right through the middle. The most fitting way to explore is by foot or bicycle. Those short on time can bring a motorbike, though you’ll find that buzzing around is completely out of sync with the experience.
To stay overnight, there’s either high-end La Folie Lodge or homestays in Ban Hua village, located at the northwestern tip of the island. The best way is to have the tourism office arrange it and the boat transfer—the service is free of charge, English is spoken at the office and they can communicate any dietary restrictions.
The homestays here don’t see many tourists so the advance notice gives the family some time to prepare. It would be possible to show up and try fixing it on the spot, though communication may be a challenge. The homestay costs 30,000 kip per person and 20,000 kip for dinner. A boat costs 50,000 kip one way, holding up to four people. Bringing a bicycle or motorbike may be a little extra.
Homestays are simply a room in a family home. Expect basic conditions and sleeping Lao-style with a mattress on the floor. Bathrooms usually have squat toilets with bucket flush and can be either inside the home or in a separate outhouse. Most locals go to the river at sunset to bathe.
There is a purpose built “community lodge” accommodation 500 metres from the village, at the very northern tip of the island. It’s a single long house used for tour groups—if you have enough people, the tourism office can arrange for its use, cost is 40,000 kip per person. Conditions are also basic, there is just a toilet and you are on your own unless you prearrange for a 20,000 kip per person meal to be delivered.
The Champasak tourism info centre is at the roundabout. In theory it’s open daily 08:00 – 18:00.
To get to Don Daeng, the most direct way is from the main boat landing in Ban Phapin two kilometres north of town. There’s usually a few boats waiting. With a motorbike it should cost around 40,000-50,000 kip. Getting to Um Tomo from the island is challenging unless you speak Lao, but not impossible. The tourist information centre in Champasak can organise a day trip by boat that includes Don Daeng and Um Tomo; we were quoted 350,000 kip.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.