Don Det used to be a really off the beaten track place only five to ten years ago. While even still today you won't find the same crowds here as in Vang Vieng for example, tens of guesthouses have mushroomed around this once well kept secret. The installation of electricity poles and wires is now completed and Don Det does now have 24 hour electrical service. This will most likely lead to increasingly more services and development.
Don Det is somewhat of an attraction for backpackers and is often compared with the much less relaxing Vang Vieng. Backpackers, mostly in their 20s and 30s come to this island to relax. Some stay a day or two, some for weeks and a few have decided to stay for good.
- Ban Nakasang is 2 1/2 hours by mini bus or around 3 1/2 hours by local transport from Pakse. Local public transport leaves from the southern bus the station in Pakse.
- Cambodia The prices recently are more expensive for the local transport than they are for the chicken bus. Many visitors like the local style transport but if price is an issue then shop around.
Don Det is a small island. The walking path is 7.2 km, and takes about two hours.
It is possible to rent bicycles for 10,000 kip from guesthouses and restaurants. Mountain bikes with 21 gears go for about twice that. Most tourists who do this cycle over the old railway bridge to Don Khon. The cost of crossing the bridge is 20,000 for a day pass.
There are not so many temple or culturally important sites to see in Don Det, but the island and tranquil surroundings are the real gems. Anywhere you walk you will be greeted by smiling locals, stunning islands and scenery and a new experience. The temple on Don Kon is interesting enough and has a very old stupa that is not typical for the region. It is also on the way to the waterfall.
If laying in a hammock in front of your bungalow isn't enough for you, there are some other very relaxing things to do in Don Det:
- Swim in the Mekong River. There is a little beach where boats drop people off. It's possible to swin in the waters infront of most of the guesthouses. There are even little fish in the water, which nibble off dead foot skin, if you keep still enough.
- Tubing. Rent a tube and float in the Mekong river for a few hours. 10k for a tube, and another 15k if you want to be driven out a bit by boat. Bring some beers and or water and have fun. 10,000 kip.
- Waterfalls. Go see waterfalls on Don Khon island.
- Dolphin Watching. Take a boat tour and see dolphins
- Take any one of the numerous scenic tours to outlying islands. The sunset barbeque tours offered going north of the island to pristine sand beaches are also quite good. The people in this region are the main asset and do not hesitate to mingle with them. Even if the language is a barrier they will be more than nice.
- Go on one of the numerous kayaking trips available in the area.
You can get US Dollars or Kip from 4000 Island Bar, Adam's Rogue in town or Little Eden, which is located near town. They charge your Visa or MasterCard for a commission of 6-10%. The nearest Bank is on the mainland in Ban Nakasang. There are two ATM's there, Lao Development Bank and BCEL. They also provide western union services for emergencies. Best to use before going to the island. Most guesthouses will provide boat trips there and back for about 50,000 Kip, waiting for you while you do your banking. Banking hours are between 8:30-15:00.
The food situation is always changing now and has developed from simple dishes like fried rice to Belgium stew soaked in Guinness. The following is a small preview of what you can expect.
- Rib Shack. Now serves hamburger joint but not ribs.
- Mr Mans restaurant (opposite Mr Mans accommodation) has an excellent and inexpensive menu. Try their lentil curry and rice soup.
- Adam's Bar and Restaurant is located at the main Northern tip of Don Det. Has a variety of Asian and Western food, and a variety of shakes and cocktails. Hosts open mic acoustic sets, late night parties and barbecues at hours notic. Can get the latest movies, music, and TV series uploaded onto your MP3 player and hard drive and computer. Also has a free DVD lounge, plunge pool, darts, Wi-Fi and a Nintendo Wii.
- 4000 Island Bar located on the main sunrise strip by the beach is an excellent restaurant serving Asian and Western food. Stunning views of the Mekong along with the islands best pool table and the latest DVDs. English speaking staff. Has WiFi.
- Paradise Restaurant Located about 10 minutes south of town. Serves island cuisine and is noted for its lentil curry/pumpkin, pumpkin burgers and chicken burgers. The French rave about the crêpes and the Israelis about the shakshuka. The menu has a wide variety of foods with large portions at low prices. The menu includes the 'Don Det Manual' with information about the island and an excellent map to photograph.
- King Kong restaurant located in the south of Don Det has an ever increasing array of Western foods, including pizza, fish and chips and Sunday roasts. It's famous for the King Kong double cheeseburger. The owner, Mini, is polite, friendly and always ready for a game of poker.
- Mr. Vong's restaurant , approximately 500 metres north of the bridge, offers good homestyle Laotian food. The proprietor speaks excellent English, and is a wealth of local information.
Beer Lao available everywhere for between 10,000 & 15,000 Kip.
A plastic water bottle of rice whisky, lao lao, is also widely available for 10,000 Kip.
Fruit shakes cost from 8 - 12000+ kip
Marijuana is widely available anywhere on the island but should be used discreetly. Unlike Vang Vieng the police don't make a business in collusion with dealers to bust people but that is subject to change at any moment. So far there are not many places offering 'happy shakes' but if you find a 'hangover special breakfast' it could have Valium or other drugs in it. If this isn't your thing avoid such places.
Dozens of Guesthouses from 50,000 Kip (although can be as little as 20,000 during the low season) a night and up - all have basic bungalows that usually have a porch with a hammock, a bed and a mosquito net. There might be a little difference between the conditions of bungalows, mattresses and mosquito nets. The most important thing when selecting your accommodation is whether you want to stay on the sunrise or sunset side of Don Det. Bungalows on the sunrise side are normally cooler. The morning sun is not as hot as the afternoon sun on the sunset side.
In general the bungalows in the north and sunset tend to be more centered to the party crowd and the places in the south tend to get more of the nature lovers. The area around sunset and Hua Det are higher density tourist areas and the feeling of being in Laos is being somewhat lost.
Don't expect late nights out partying though because there is a curfew that oftentimes changes, it is now 23:00 closing time strictly enforced. In the areas away from the main settlements you can still basically walk around at will if you fancy a midnight stroll.
Most, if not all, accommodations have Wi-Fi. However, even in internet shop/cafés the connections are slow.
- Bungalows Peace & Love, Sunset Side (About a 5-minute walk along the sunset side path), ☎ +856 20-999-380-89, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Owned by a very kind and accommodating family, these simple yet clean bungalows, with shared bathroom, overlook the Mekong River.
- Mr. B's Guesthouse (About a 5-minute walk along the sunset side path). Check-out: 10:30. The bungalows are simple with nothing more than a double bed, fan/ac and mosquito net, but for the most part, you will be out on your private deck soaking up the sunset on your very own hammock. Shared bathrooms, cold water showers, best sunset view of the Mekong, bike rentals available, food is pretty cheap. 30,000 kip for your own bungalow.
- Long Island Guesthouse, Near the French Bridge (From Nakasang, take the ferry boat to Don Khon. From there walk south to the French Bridge, cross it and turn left at the first path. Small family store with a big tree in front of it, is the landmark. Turn left down the path. First guesthouse on the left. Long Island Guesthouse. Big gate. From Don Det, walk towards the French bridge, at the end of the path cross over the road keeping the small family store with big tree in front of it to your left. First guesthouse on the left. Long Island Guesthouse. Big gate.), ☎ +856 205 5730556. 6 am - 11 pm. Located just below the French bridge on Don Det is the Long Island Guesthouse. Beautiful traditional grass roofed en suite bungalows, spaced well apart in the most quiet and tranquil location on the entire island with the largest and lushest tropical garden on the island. From over-sized balconies, you can enjoy a great view of the Mekong from your hammock. Lovely private atmosphere for couples, nature lovers and those wishing to spend time away from the tourist ghetto on the north of the island. Gay friendly.
- Paradise Guesthouse (About 1.1 km from the northern beach (ferry) on the eastern bank), ☎ +856 20-772-26925. Check-out: 11:00. Owned by a sweet Lao family. Watch the sunrise and moonrise from the hammock of your Mekong River bungalow with beautifully decorated shared bathrooms with sit-down toilets, mosquito net, fans, electric 24/7. Restaurant is open 06:00-21:00/22:00 (depending on season). Boating trips can be arranged with the family. Wi-Fi. 50,000 Kip high season, 20,000 kip low season.
- River Garden Guesthouse (About a 5 minute walk north of the French Bridge)), ☎ +856 20-5274785. Run by Aek, a charming Lao guy who speaks excellent English and is usually willing to chat. Bungalows have nice river views across to Don Khon, private bathrooms (cold water shower) and a lovely little riverfront restaurant that is cantilevered out over the river. Good food at the little restaurant and Wifi available. 35,000.
There are three internet cafes on the island. They charge 400 kip per minute. Free Wifi is available at most of the restaurants.
Alternatively if you have a SIM card and a laptop or a smart phone you can avoid the net cafes altogether. The prices for connecting at them is quite expensive by Lao standards and if you can do as much of your online business while you are in Pakse. Tigo offers EDGE service and the coverage on Don Det is excellent although spotty in some rural areas of Laos. ETL offers slower GPRS data connections but is more reliable. Unitel has 3G coverage as of February 2012. Either way the service is dirt cheap. Buy your SIM in Pakse at either office and have them connect it for you before going onwards. As of January 2015 a Unitel SIM costs 10,000 kip (includes 5000 kip call credit) and for 100,000 kip 5000 mb/month data packages are available.
With the recent installation of microwave towers and power poles the prices of connectivity should drop dramatically as has been the case in other places in Laos.
- Don Khon - An aged colonial era bridge built by the French connects the islands of Don Det and Don Kon. It is possible to visit the Dolphin viewing area and the waterfall before exiting to Cambodia. The prices for this service exceed those of what you can expect to depart from Nakasang but you need a combination of boats and ground transport to do it this way. Depending on your budget it is well worth it.
- Stung Treng - A bus service operates daily rides to Cambodia. A ticket to Stung Treng including the boat to mainland is about US$6. Even though ticket sellers and bus operators tell you that the bus/van is going to Stung Treng bus station / centre - they may not be telling the truth. If there are not enough passengers to fill an entire van to Stung Treng, you will be dropped at a small shack 3 km outside Stung Treng. There is no infrastracture whatsoever and no motos are available. The driver will promise that he called a moto driver to pick you up and leave. The moto will never show up. Your only option is flagging down any vehicle going to Stung Treng, or walking.
- Kratie - The same bus company operates buses to Kratie. Cost USD 9.