Don Det used to be a really off the beaten track place only five to ten years ago. However, since the changes to the tubing scene in Vang Vieng in 2012 which saw the majority of bars closed down, the young party crowd has moved here. Don Det has many cheap guesthouses and bars catering to the lower budget tourist and is now very much on the backpacker trail. Don Det recently acquired 24 hour electrical supply which will most likely lead to increasingly more services and development.
Don Det is somewhat of a mecca for backpackers and is comparable with the Vang Vieng prior to the changes made to improve its safety record. Tourists, mostly in their 20s and 30s, come to this island to party, drink, consume narcotics and relax. Some stay a day or two, some for weeks and a few have decided to stay for good.
Ban Nakasang is 2.5 hr by mini bus or around 3.5 hr by local transport from Pakse. Local public transport leaves from the southern bus station in Pakse (LAK 8). Price is 40,000 kip oneway to Nakasang (21/11/2013).
Cambodia The prices recently are actually more expensive for the local transport than they are for the chicken bus. Many visitors like the local style of transport but, if price is an issue for you, then you should shop around.
Don Det is a small island. The walking path is 7.2 km, and walking around it takes about two hours.
It is possible to rent "sit up and beg" bicycles for 24 hours for 10,000 kip from guesthouses and restaurants. Mountain bikes with 24 gears go for about 30,000 (only one supplier - Long Island resort - near bridge). Most tourists who do this cycle over the old railway bridge to Don Khon. Crossing the bridge carries a "fee" of 25,000 kip for a day pass to the island and doubles as a ticket to see the big waterfall.
There are not so many temples or culturally important sites to see in Don Det. That being said, the island and tranquil surroundings are the real gem people come to see. 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 swim in the waters in front of most of the guest houses. There are even little fish in the water, which nibble off dead foot skin, if you keep still enough.edit
Tubing. Rent a tube and float in the Mekong river for a few hours. 10 kip for a tube, and another 15k if you want to be driven out a bit by boat. Bring some beers and or snack10,000 kip. edit
Dolphin Watching. Take a boat tour or full day kayak tour to see the rare Irawaddy dolphins of which there are less than 20 left (in this part of the Mekhong) on the Laos/Cambodian border. edit
Take any one of the numerous scenic tours to outlying islands. The sunset barbecue 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 you should not hesitate to mingle with them. Even if the language is a barrier they will be more than nice.
One of the numerous kayaking trips available in the area.
Open Air Cinema @ The Last Resort, Sunset Side, . 6-10pm. (Please note that this is only during the high season Nov-April)Attend a screening at The Last Resort's regular open air cinema night (every other night). Projecting onto a large screen amongst the atmospheric backdrop of the teepees, a large bonfire and the natural sounds of the nearby jungle, this is a perfect way to relax and enjoy a newly released or classic film from the past. BBQ, Ice cold beer, cider, soft drinks, cookies/cakes, freshly roasted coffee and peanuts also available. Capacity of 25 people so book tickets at The Last Resort to avoid disappointment.30,000 Kip. edit
Island Life, Sunrise side south of Don Det, . 6-10pm. Island life is a relatively new place on the island. It is a for profit aquarium and reptile center. It is somewhat mired in controversy as far as what is allowed and what is the ethical limit of of keeping wildlife on the island. The owner seems to have good intentions but on second glance is trapping wildlife for profit. Make up your own mind about the place but please ask questions about the breed and release program there. Ask where any charitable donations go to from the profits of this place as well. The owner is a very friendly guy and should welcome any enquiries one may have about the morals and legalities of capturing and attempting to breed wildlife in Laos.10,000 Kip. edit
Mountain Biking, Near the French Bridge south end of Don Det ((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(0)205 5730556, . 6-6pm. At the Long Island Guesthouse you will find the only mountainbikes available to rent in the 4,000 island area. The bikes are 30,000 Kip per day until 6 PM or available on a 24 hour basis if you stay at the guesthouse. They are new Treks with front suspension.30,000 Kip. edit
You can exchange US Dollars, Pounds sterling, Euro, and Thai Baht for kip from Adam's Bar and Rogue ipod shop in town or Little Eden, which is located near town. They accept MasterCard or VISA cards, for which the fee is 6%.
There are 3 banks and an ATM on the mainland (Ban Nakasang), where they do cash advances through either the MasterCard or VISA systems. They also provide Western Union and Money Gram services.
There is not a single automatic teller machine (ATM) on the island, however on both Don Det and Don Khon a number of money changers allow you to use your card to withdraw Kip from your account at the 6% fee. They accept Visa, MasterCard, and UnionPay.
The food situation is always changing now and has gone from simple dishes like fried rice to Belgium stew soaked in Guinness. How you choose to eat in the area will depend upon your budget and personal preferences. The following is a small preview of what you might expect.
Paradise Restaurant, (about 10 minutes south of town). Paradise serves island cuisine and is noted for its lentil curry/pumpkin, pumpkin burgers and chicken burgers. The French rave about the pancakes 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 free map. Wifi. edit
Mr Mans restaurant (opposite Mr Mans accommodation) has an excellent and inexpensive menu.
Jasmin Indian Restaurant. Lonely Planet describes the service here as ‘sluggish’ which is a polite way of saying that they are downright rude. Expect to be left waiting while the staff and owner meander around the restaurant ignoring you and when they finally get around to serving you it will be with an attitude that is borderline surly and gruff at best.
Adam's Bar and Restaurant. is located at the main Northern tip of Don Det. Adam's has a variety of Asian and Western food and a great variety of shakes and cocktails. It is the only bar on the island and is able to host open mic acoustic sets, late night parties, and barbecues at 24 hours notice. It has its own free Wi-Fi service to customers. At Adam's you can also get the latest movies, music, and TV series uploaded directly onto your iPod, mp3, hard drive, and computer within minutes. Adam's entertainment includes a free DVD lounge, plunge pool, darts, and a Nintendo Wii.
King Kong restaurant located in the south of Don Det with a selection of Western foods, including pizza and fish & chips. The owner, Mini is quite friendly and is always ready for a poker game.
Hanoumans, 50m of arrival beach (In front of 4000 islands). Open daily 08:00-23:00 Aug-May. Big variety of food, especially Thai. Many spirits and cocktails. Inexpensive, friendly and quite efficient. Working Wi-Fi. edit
Street View Cafe, (about 10 minutes south of town). Small and compact cafe and bar, Has a good selection of Burgers and other western treats 30,000 - 60,000. This place also has a nightly BBQ 50,000 - 60,000, portions are generous and the food is great, definitely worth a go while your on the island. Beer Lao 15,000edit
Beer Lao and Namkhong Beer are widely available for 10,000-15,000 kip.
A plastic water bottle of rice whisky, lao lao, is also widely available for 10,000 kip. Fruit shakes generally cost 8,000-12,000 kip
'The Funktion Room', Sunset Side of Don Det (15 mins from the main town, just after the Teepees), (email@example.com), . 8-8. ‘The Funktion Room’ is an organic farm and café offering freshly home roasted, fair trade coffee from the Bolaven Plateau in Laos, a range of dishes and drinks using eggs, vegetables, fruit and herbs organically grown and harvested on site with shakes, smoothies, mocktails, cocktails, home-made cakes, cookies and biscuits also available. Specialities include Frog Pad Kapow (all frogs are caught on Don Det by the owner), chilli, green bean and coriander omelettes and lemon grass mojitos. Exclusively funk, soul and disco playlist.edit
Rooms at dozens of guest houses cost from 20,000 kip low season/50,000 kip high season - 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 sunset side can get really hot in the afternoon since the afternoon sun is much hotter than the morning sun. There are bungalows scattered all along the sunrise side until the bridge to Don Khon. On the sunset side, most of the guesthouses are on the northern half of the island.
In general the bungalows in the north and sunset tend to cater more 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. Avoid buying tours from such locations as they charge much more than other places.
The service is generally poor and free of smiles but rooms are cheap, although don't expect them to be cleaned every day.
Don't expect late nights out partying as there is a curfew, the times of which often change. It is now 23:00 and, whilst strictly enforced, you can still walk around after midnight in areas away from the main settlements
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(0)205 5730556, . 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. Mountain Bikes for daily rental. They have also just added the only swimming pool on Don Det island. edit
The Last Resort Don Det - Teepee Accomodation, Sunset Side of Don Det (From boat landing ask for directions to sunset side of island. Follow path for approx 2 km. Teepees will be on right after you have passed all other accommodation), . The Last Resort is made up of a handful of beautiful teepees, constructed using only locally sourced materials. More than just a guest house, The Last Resort attracts like minded individuals who are seeking a more natural and communal alternative to the other accommodation available on the island. In addition to regular cinema nights on our big screen and the teepee accomodation, The Last Resort offers a range of entertainment including a table tennis table, selection of board games (Don Det Monopoly, Scrabble, Articulate, Pictionary), organized sunset/fishing trips and cooking courses with local Laos families. Breakfast is served daily between 8-10 and a communal meal using herbs and vegetables grown in the garden is served daily around 7 or 8pm. For bookings, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bungalows Peace & Love, Sunset Side (About a 5-minute walk along the sunset side path), ☎ +856 20 9993 8089. Owned by a kind and accommodating family, these simple yet clean bungalows, with shared bathroom, overlook the Mekong River. edit
Mr B's Guesthouse, (5 min walk along the sunset side path). checkout: 10:30. The bungalows are simple with nothing more than a double bed, fan/air-con, mosquito and shared bathrooms with cold water showers. Good views of the Mekong. Bike rentals available and the food is pretty cheap.30,000 kip for your own bungalow. edit
Paradise Guesthouse, Sunrise Blvd (About 1 km from the northern beach on the Sunrise side), . checkout: 11:00. Owned by a lovely local family. Watch the sunrise and moonrise from the hammock of your Mekong River bungalow with the most beautiful shared bathrooms in all of SE Asia, mosquito net, fans, electric 24/7. Restaurant is open 06:00-~21:00 depending on season. Boating trips can be arranged with the family as well as a trip to the ATM.30,000-50,000 kip. (13.98294,105.92257)edit
River Garden Guesthouse, (5 min walk north of the French Bridge)), ☎ +856 20 527 4785, . Bungalows have nice river views across to Don Khon, private bathrooms (cold water shower) and a lovely little river front restaurant that is cantilevered out over the river.80,000. edit
Tawan Daeng Guesthouse, Don Det, Laos (From the old French bridge in the south near Don Khon, walk north with the Mekong on your right. Second guesthouse.). checkout: 11:00. Owned and operated by a lovely local family, these comfortably modern, en-suite, bungalow rooms are nestled on the bank of the Mekong river with hammocks featuring beautiful river views and magnificent sunrises. The restaurant serves delicious Lao traditional meals as well as western food at reasonable prices. Only 2 minutes stroll from the old French bridge. The quiet relaxing atmosphere of this guesthouse makes for a very pleasant stay. 40,000 to 80,000 Kip. (13°57'52.74N,105°55'15.26E)edit
Kulapkao and Pavean Guesthouse, Sunset Side, Don Det (Approximately a 10 min walk along the Sunset Side of Don Det from the ferry landing.). 4 beautiful bungalows and a brand new dormitory room make up the Kulapkao and Pavean Guesthouses located on the sunset side of Don Det. With stunning views of the Mekong river, Kulapkao offers great value accommodation for solo travelers, couples and larger groups wishing to stay together in the dorm. Run by an incredibly sweet Laos family who make a real effort to look after you, this is the perfect place to relax in Don Det. Being located away from the town in Don Det makes the Guesthouses more peaceful and the mixture of Laos and Western food from their restaurant across the path means you may not want to venture too far from your hammock!!! The restaurant also features a large wooden decking area perfect for catching the sunset with a Beerlao :) The dormitory is capable of accommodating up to 5 people and the bungalows are designed for two. edit
Happy Bar Sunset View Bungalows, Happy Bar Sunset Street (5min walk on the west side of the island), . checkin: 11am; checkout: 10:30am. Happy Bar & Sunset View Bungalows is one of the oldest guesthouse on the sunset side of the islands with a variety of newly furnished rooms ranging from riverside bungalows with hammocks and beautiful river views and sunsets. There's also en suite rooms in the courtyard concrete build with double fans and optional Air-Con. There are 2 penthouse rooms located on the upper level en suite, kingsize beds, double fan and a balcony. The restaurant serves both Asian and western food at reasonable prices and there is a small shop opposite for all your essentials.Also runs boat tours, 3-6 hours, trips up the river to remote sandy beaches with islands tours of river life. The trips vary from an afternoon out for a sunset or a full day with BBQs prepared on the beach or tubeing down the Mekong River between Laos and Cambodia30k-100k kip. edit
There are three internet cafes on the island. They charge 400 kip per minute. Free Wi-Fi is available at most of the restaurants around Don Det now.
Alternatively if you have have a SIM card and a laptop or a smart phone you can avoid the internet cafes completely. The prices for connecting at them is quite expensive by Lao standards and if you can, do as much as possible of your on-line business while you are in Pakse. There are a variety of companies offering affordable 3G service and the coverage on Don Det is excellent although spotty in some rural areas of Laos. Either way the service is cheap. You can purchase a SIM that provides data to your phone at any shop selling them. If you need a USB dongle for data for your laptop you should buy this in Pakse.
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.
There are 2 times to leave the island; 08:00 to go South, 11:00 for all points North.
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.
Siem Reap - The easiest way to Siem Reap is to organize a trip to the border which costs about $5. On the Cambodian side it will cost $23 for a direct mini van to Siem Reap. It drops you 5 minutes walk from pub street and arrives around 7:30 PM. You can book ahead with this company: http://www.asiavantransfer.com
(This uses the new paved road)
Cambodia - The buses that cross the border to Cambodia are very expensive compared to inland bus prices in Laos and Cambodia. A tuk tuk from Ban Nakasang to the border takes half an hour and costs around $6. The Cambodian border is right next to the Laos border, from where you can share a minivan (1h) to Stung Treng for about $5 each.
It is possible to buy tickets almost in every guesthouse on the island. The more distant ones can also arrange the boat to the pier in the morning. The prices seem standardized and include the ferry ticket. Two different companies operate services from the bus station in Ban Nakaseng. Sorya buses are the only ones to cross the border. Expect to wait around for a while for the bus to come (the Sorya bus starts in Pakse at 7:30am). Tickets to Phnom Penh cost about 30 $. Since the road is in a rather bad state, the bus seldomly gets to Phnom Penh before 10 pm.
Stung Treng - A bus service operates daily rides to Cambodia. A ticket to Stung Treng including the boat to mainland is about US$ 16. Even though ticket seller and bus operator 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 3km outside Stung Treng. There is no infrastructure 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.
A new VIP minivan service of $40 USD going directly from Stung Treng to Siem Reap is now operating daily from the Laos/Cambodian border. This service takes only 7 hours compared to the 13 or 14 using the current route and WIFI, water and comfortable seats are all included as part of the package. For more information visit The Last Resort (teepee field) on the sunset side of Don Det, which is only open during the high season. As of June 2014, there were two businesses that offered this VIP minivan service. These places were Adam's Bar, and another local business just south of Adam's Bar. Unfortunately, tickets sold there were scams. Travelers were told there would be WIFI and only 10 passengers to a van. However, once crossing over into Cambodia, 16 passengers were crammed into a van, with no shoulder or leg room. Everyone was forced to pay an additional $2 fee per person to cross a river via ferry while the locals paid $1 or less. After the ferry ride, travelers were guided to an old, beat-up van, where they had to wait an additional hour because the driver of the van had no gas. Fortunately, Siem Reap was still the destination at arrival; however, do not expect WIFI or leg room despite being told it is included in the service.
It is also possible to kayak across the border to Cambodia. Apparently the visas are sorted out beforehand in the morning and you kayak across the Laos/Cambodian border (which also doubles as a dolphin tour) and pick up your bags on the other side before proceeding to Stung Treng. Speak to 'Wonderfull Tours' who can arrange it for you.
Kratie - The same bus company operates buses to Kratie (about US$19) which will be just fine.
Pakse and Attapeu - A big bus brings you to Pakse in 4 hours. It leaves at noon. It goes further to Attapeu. It's theoretically possible to take the local buses at 07:00, 08:00 and 09:00 but, according to a long term farlang island resident, these are next to impossible to catch unless you're extremely lucky and happen to get a boat to take you to the mainland in the morning.
Savannakhet - it is possible to catch an onwards bus from Pakse if you arrive in good time before the last hourly bus departs at 16:00. Don't expect a quick and pain-free ride though. Buses may stop, for example, for nearly an hour to pick up a consignment of car batteries. Expect a 5 hour journey on a good day. 50,000 kip from Pakse to Savannakhet. This same bus then travels onwards to Tha Khek
SCAM ALERT: Some agencies will cheat you and tell you they sell a ticket to the international bus to Cambodia (Phnom Penh Sorya bus company, which provides a comfortable VIP bus through all the way), but when you get to the bus station in Ban Nakasang, the ticket will be switched in the last minute to a "Angkor Paramount Express" ticket, which is the worst way of going to Cambodia (Awfully packed vans and old busses with lots of dust and unnecessary long waits). If you want to be sure, it's better to book at Pakse, or find a way to get an official Sorya ticket at Ban Nakasang.
SCAM ALERT 2: When you are coming from Don Det a guy (wearing fancy clothes, nice shoes, a tablet and an expensive looking watch) will be waiting for the travelers at the bus station in Ban Nakasang, from where you will get into a minivan to the border. After checking your ticket he will give you some immigration papers to fill in and ask you to put these papers together with $30 and a photo in your passport and return everything to him. He will tell you that he is only helping you as he will handle the immigration for everyone together at once, which saves you a lot of time and effort. He claims that the stamps are $2 dollars each and the health check obligated by Cambodian law is $1. After crossing the border very quickly and with no trouble everyone was returned their passport with a Cambodian visa and a stamp and the guy left back into Laos with a lot of money. From the three fully packed minivans only one couple took the risk by doing everything by themselves and they arrived 30 minutes later (which was not a problem at all because the minivans at the Cambodian border left two hours later...) and payed just $27. And guess what? No health check! So my advice if you want to cross this border, don't be scared and arrange everything by yourself just as you would do at any border crossing. This saves you three dollars and prevents the guy from getting very rich by deceiving tourists!